Thinking about the Image

Deleuze’s thoughts on cinema, and specifically the image, suggests a great detour from popular analysis. The image is not an internalization, but an externalization; the relation with the outside. An implication of internal images would be one that places the “self” as coming before change. Since Deleuze’s philosophy emphasizes change, the image must be that which is inside and outside the body. This notion is quite revolutionary for cinema and cinema studies because it puts images into relations, rather than looking at them as projections of an interior onto an exterior, but a relation that is simultaneously interior and exterior. As mentioned in class, Deleuze thinks about perception in a way that is in opposition to what most people believe. Perception, as Deleuze sees and expands on Bergson’s concepts, is a reaction toward an outside force rather than an interior consciousness. Previous beliefs on consciousness suggests an individual gains a heightened sense of an internal knowledge, whereby gaining access to some unforeseen state of a hierarchical being—meaning the consciousness seems to be separated from sensory stimuli. When Deleuze speaks of the frame he does so with the consideration of both what the frame encompasses and what it touches outside. This becomes his main critique of the psychoanalysis and semiotics, as they do not contemplate the implications of placing the individual over the process, over the change. An internal, or in this case, a projected image would suggest a consciousness that remains on the inside, and emphasizes the self as independent from a body and independent from external forces. Consciousness then would be—as discussed with Nietzsche’s problem with philosophy—something that is to be discovered rather than something that is in continuous flux. Passages from Cinema 1 and 2 illustrate certain examples of Deleuze’s thoughts on consciousness, not as a state to be unlocked, but as more of an exposure to different and obscure outside stimuli. The image as an external relation becomes exemplified in the connection between cinema, virtual and actual image. Deleuze writes,

The virtual image (pure recollection) is not a psychological state or consciousness: it exists outside of consciousness, in time, and we should have no more difficulty in admitting the virtual insistence of pure recollections in time than we do for the actual existence of non-perceived objects in space. What causes our mistake is that recollection-images, and even dream-images or dreaming, haunt a consciousness which necessarily accords them a capricious or intermittent allure, since they are actualized according to the momentary needs of this consciousness. But, if we ask where consciousness is going to look for these recollections-images and these dream-images or this reverie that it evokes, according to its states, we are led back to pure virtual images of which the latter are only modes or degrees of actualization (Deleuze, 80).

Deleuze, in a certain respect, is suggesting one be careful when discussing images in cinema, and not mistake a sort of consciousness for virtual images.  Cinema seems to be a form that is an interesting model for examining Deleuze’s notion of the virtual and actual. Film seems to illustrate the movement of virtual and actual simultaneously—in a constant state of motion from one to the other. However, can the same sort of affect be applied to the digital image or a combination of the two? After having recently been exposed to early examples of experiments in video, the question of an unforeseen or unpredictable perception is an intriguing topic.

Scott Bartlett’s 1967 film, Off/On may not be a perfect example, but the attempt is something to be admired as Bartlett is working with the possibilities of the video image. The most fascinating aspect about the project is the integration of video and film mediums—looping certain sections and using mirrors or refracting the digital image. The technological innovation, as well as the level of creativity on Bartlett’s part, expresses a great understanding of time-based mediums. It is surprising to see a project such as this emerge from the late 1960’s given that video is in its early and beginning analogue stages. The imagery is characteristic of the psychedelic culture of the era, but it is also a landmark of innovation. In the short Making of Off/On, it is explained that Bartlett used hand-made devices to produce the effect he was searching for instead of purchasing expensive industry equipment—crafting his own unique sets of mirrors and tools. As noted in the Making of, Bartlett is interested in primarily the connection between technology and culture. It is easy to forget that film is a technological medium, and it seems quite fitting to see the move toward experimentations in video. What does this exactly mean for time-based mediums? Who’s to say; however, what seems to be the direction digital art is headed is a combination and experimentation in joining multiple mediums, a sort of medium-mashing. Not to say this as altogether new, but it broadens the scope of possibilities made available by digital technology. One of the more simplistic, yet one of the most essential factors of digital, is the exact rendering of a copy—where a copy no longer has a stigma of degradation, but an exact rendering of the original. Now, the question seems to be is there such a thing as “the original” if the ones and zeros are exactly the same. Even if one uses the term copy, clone or replica these all have the denotation of a lesser value to an appropriated ‘original.’ It is quite exciting to see what will come out of this aesthetic question. It is almost reminiscent of the questions aroused with the introduction of photography and what it did to challenge paintings. In regard’s Deleuze’s concept of the virtual and actual in terms of Off/On, the digital image produces forms and shapes that at the time where extraordinary. There are certainly more contemporary examples, but one can see that technology is a pressing concern with dealing with cinema. The concern is now a question of how to use technology digital or otherwise in combination with cinema to produce what, as Deleuze would say, continuous multiplicities.



Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1989. Print.


j. lindsey


One Response to “Thinking about the Image”

  1. immanentterrain2 Says:

    I enjoyed this post because it has been a question I have asked myself as an aspiring filmmaker, and whether or not it’s “ok” if I shoot in digital. If I could afford film, I think I would opt for it, because I think it would force me to be careful about my decision making and execution.

    What interests me in terms of the digital and film debate in relation to Deleuze is that indexical nature of film. Where as with digital, I’m not sure the same can be said. What the senors and chips detect are immediately trans-coded from numerical representations back into into an image, but is not necessarily the same as film in terms of being a direct impression of an image.

    I feel you were right to point out that film is a technological innovation, and I think it is also the key when considering the two time-based mediums. When film was born, it allowed for something that we could not previously accomplish, capturing time.

    With digital, it gives this same ability to those who do not have the means to produce a film production, and this is a wonderful thing. However, just as modern cinema involves separating film from literature (at least in part), people who use digital should strive for differentiating it from film. What we see in a frame of film is always actual, but in digital, we’re now given the ability to manipulate, composite, and combine.


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