Commercial Philosophy?

In an interview with Cahiers du cinema following the publication of his cinema books, Deleuze describes his experiences in the cinema while studying as a philosophy student and the similarities he found between the two forms. In his studies, he was drawn to philosophers that were interested in introducing “real” movement to thought, so it’s no surprise that he found a commonality in film, an art form of movement. He finds cinema to be highly adept at displaying spiritual life, or as he defines it, “movement of the mind” (Deleuze 366). “The brain is the screen,” thoughts being the construction of molecules linked together in time (Deleuze 366). Deleuze turns to cinema when philosophical problems lead him there looking for answers, but the relationship goes both ways.

The part of this interview that most intrigued me was when the interviewer asks about the crisis of the cinematic auteur. The crisis being the current proposal that everyone is an auteurs, and bad ones at that. Deleuze answers with a discussion of the differences between advertising and art. He notes that advertisers that call their work “the poetry of the modern world,” have failed to realize that no art is created in regards to the public’s expectations. (Deleuze 369). Advertising is most definitely created with the expectations of the public in mind, even when it strives to shock. Art is created from the opposite of this, from unexpected places and thoughts. Here then he says there is no such thing as commercial art. There is art that is wildly popular, that requires financial means, or that is bought and sold, but if it is art, it is not commercial. The term auteur refers to artwork, but not everyone creating film is an auteur for Deleuze. A work of art should ask new questions, probe problems, and create new space and time, exactly what an auteur should be doing through film.

Considering Deleuze sees such similarities between cinema and philosophy, I was wondering what would be considered the commercial opposition of philosophy. Perhaps it is the entire genre of self-help books. In a way they traverse some of the same avenues as philosophy, for instance probing questions about how one should live, but again, we can see how Deleuze makes the distinction between advertising and art. Self-help books are constructed with the expectations of an audience in mind and seek to provide answers, however flimsy they may be, instead of breaking new ground and furthering inquiry into the basis of the questions they ask. Self-help books may become best sellers, but they appeal to a lower level of thinking that craves easy answers just as Deleuze describes poor cinema as appealing to the lower brain circuitry of violence and sexuality.

-HB

Gilles Deleuze, “The Brain is the Screen”, in Gregory Flaxman (ed.), Brain is the Screen:Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), pp. 365-373.

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4 Responses to “Commercial Philosophy?”

  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I wonder if it is productive to think about this concept in terms of the virtual vs. the possible — ie, in this configuration the “commercial art” that Deleuze says doesn’t really exist would be an art of the possible, as opposed to a more authentic art which could be said to be of the virtual.

    Advertisements or commercial art always give us what we want — either in the sense that they give us the images that we already crave, or they “give us” what we want in the sense of producing our wants in us. Either way, this is the actualization of the possible — the possible being the images we already have in ourselves as wants, or, the images that the commercial interests already possess which they want to inject into us. Conversely, a non-commercial art begins (either in the producer or the receiver) with a problematic unknown that the art (through the process of being created or viewed) makes real.

    Marshall McLuhan once said that “ads are by far the best part of any magazine or newspaper … Ads are news. What is wrong with them is that they are always good news.” [nytimes] And in Understanding Media he wrote that historians will “one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections that any society ever made of its entire range of activities.” (p 232) I think partly what he means here is this idea in relation to want. Ads will serve as the perfect documentation of the desires in us, and the desires that have been produced in us.

    The “lower level thinking” then that you mention could maybe be thought of in Bersonian terms. For example, think of that early Lumiere brothers short film “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat”. As the legend goes, when this was first screened the audience gasped and ducked out of the way because they thought it was so realistic. That film registered or connected with an instinctual, reflexive perception in the audience. Cinema quickly evolved into the pursuit of more delicate sensitivities beyond just an exciting action shot, but there will always be those aspects of cinema that simply appeal to this type of habituated perception (perhaps more so in lesser commercial cinema).

    In terms of what you wrote about a commercial philosophy, I’m reminded of a recent article in the New York Times titled “The Outsourced Life” which is all about a recent phenomenon known as the “wantologist”: a person whose job it is to help you think about and better articulate your wants. This is perhaps more “commercial psychology” than “commercial philosophy” but I think there is a connection. It is a kind of thinking and conceptualizing organized entirely around the individual and the individual’s (often commercial) desires. Before we completely condemn such a practice, it makes sense to pause and think about how in a society so inundated with commercial interests, perhaps a bit of coaching to cope with our desirous tendencies is not such a bad thing. Perhaps in a completely commercial society, a little commercial philosophy is an appropriate and necessary response.

    – Rory Solomon

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