Thought and Image (Deleuze Cinema)


I’m reading chapters 7-8 of Cinema 2 as a single, complete, and coherent unit that touch upon the image as a work of thought. There are 3 complex parts to these reflections in chapter 7. The endpoint is to theorize the de-linking of the sensory-motor links that otherwise connect the human subject to the world, as well as connect the world to the human subject. Against phenomenology, the upshot is actually to free or redeem the world by severing the connection with which the intending human subject seeks to bind the world to that subject’s own clichéd representations. In chapter 8, the discussion returns to bodies and brains, to the reconstitution of the what for lack of a better word one can still call the “human subject” as figured in “the thinker” and “the people.” The driving concern is how to restore “belief in the world.”

Chapter 7


Relating to images and  concepts, there are three moments in the Movement-Image. The movement-image was the subject of Cinema 1 to which Deleuze now returns in chapter 7 of Cinema 2.

[I] The first moment moves from image to concept. The movement image is a shock to thought, forcing spirit to think the whole as dynamic effect of images. The subject FEELS in the image a “totally physiological sensation” that gives rise to thought. I THINK the whole as a subject. In the shock effect registered by the punch or by the sublime, thought is forced to think itself.  Dialectically, shock is produced by the simultaneous existence of two contradictory factors in the creation of a concept. Deleuze sees this in films by Eisenstein (pp.156-8).

[II] In the second moment, the movement of thought goes from concept to image and affect. Thought (i.e. the thought of the whole) shifts back to the malleable and agitated image, giving fullness and passion back to intellectual process.  This is sensory thought and emotional intelligence (Eisenstein). Thought moves from the whole back to a mass of agitated, mixed up images that express the whole. The whole is now conceived not as unifying logos, but as a drunken, giddy pathos that bathes in these images and spreads out in them. The image is loaded up with visual and sound features, actions, gesture. In internal monologue is reached the limits of the universe, an orgy of sensory repetitions, fountains, spurting fires, zig-zags, back to the figure which gives image affective charge that intensifies sensory shock (p.159).

[III] In the third moment, thought is established qua  identity between concept and image (the concept in itself in the image, the image for itself in the concept). In action-thought is established the unity of nature and man by which individual and mass are raised to “a supreme power,” identified with monism. Again with an eye on Eisenstein, Deleuze posits action-thought as the art of the masses,” produced in the image of a strange thing, this being the individuated mass, neither qualitatively homogenous nor quantitatively divisible. This unity will come undone in the Time-Image (pp.161-2).


The driving problem after World War II in postwar cinema and philosophy concerns belief in the world, which is now recognized as “intolerable.” One reflects back on the battered European cityscapes with which Deleuze begins Cinema 2. In the Time-Image, the dialectical movement-image (dialectical thinking itself) is now smashed –by history, in thought, in cinema. For Deleuze, a new way to think the image and to image thought unfolds in the shift from Eisenstein to Artaud (along with Blanchot and Heidegger). This is the meaning of the shift from the Movement-Image to the Pure Op-Son Image in avant-garde art and film.

In Cinema 2, Deleuze follows the lead set by Artaud. The starting point of thought now becomes the unthought, i.e. the impotence to think and to act, dissociative figures like figures of nothingness or “holes in appearance.” There is no longer a whole to be thought as was the case in the Movement-Image. Instead, thought aims at what cannot be thought in thought and what cannot be seen in vision. Suspending the world, the image is no longer conceived in sensory-motor terms between a person who senses and then acts rationally upon the world. We are no longer in the action-thought. The image is now purely visual. No longer “active,” the human becomes a pure seer, i.e. one who sees and is struck by the “intolerable in this world” (by which Deleuze means only the daily banality of the conventional cliché). Paradoxically, the only way out is not to think another world but to think and believe in this world that cannot be thought. By virtue of the absurd is the way by which to believe in life (pp.164-70).

Deleuze’s anti-humanist gambit is this claim. The less human the world, the more it is the artist’s duty to believe and produce belief in a relation between the human subject and the world precisely because the world is produced by people. Quite remarkable is the turn precisely here to “religion.” What Deleuze sees as the Catholic quality of film is the “grand mise-en-scené” twinning of Christianity and revolution in film attracting the art of the masses” and by which the world is transformed, or, one might say, even redeemed. Belief in the world reconnects the human person and the world, reconnecting the human who now sees and hears to what they see and hear, perpetuating life. There is a lot in Cinema 2 on Rossellini and religion. Whether we are Christians or atheists, as per Deleuze, our belief in the world, “before and beyond words,” is not in anything “other,” but in the flesh, with religious topoi sustaining belief in the body as germ of life (p.171-73).


How to restore belief in world is the problem picked up towards the end of chapter 7. The problematic starts with abandoning figures (p.173). “The problem” that makes us think, for example in the cinema of Pasolini, is introduced as an event from the outside. Film imposes a problematic, for instance, when an envoy from outside breaks into and disrupts the internal order of things, or when the exteriority of belief takes over thought. In films by Kurosawa, characters seek out problems until a purely optical world is reached. Can I hold my gaze on what I’m now seeing, when seeing sees the thought outside itself and outside knowledge and actions.

The time image sends us back to an absolute relation with the outside, which is beyond psychological consciousness or anything related to and thereby relative to the external world. The whole is now constituted not in terms of an association of images, but as a disassociation of differentiated images, the whole constituted no longer as one being but as a void that calls the image into question. Image is cut from the world. Sound is cut off from sight. There is no more out of field. The outside of the image is now replaced by the interstice between the two frames in the images. The whole gives way to a sequence of images, each sequence independent; instead of perfect, resolved harmonies, there are dissonant tunings and irrational cuts. Each series refers to a way of seeing and hearing for its own purposes.

The upshot comes at the very close of the chapter. It is precisely at the very break in the unity between the human and the world, when we have done away with the human point of view, when the subjective position gives way to the technical apparatus, that we are left, finally, with only the world and belief in this world (pp.173-88).


Chapter 8

Cut off from each other in chapter 7, two figures of the human subject are regrouped in chapter 8. These two are “the thinker” and “the people.”

“Give me a body then” is marshalled by Deleuze as “the formula of philosophical reversal,” a cinema of the body. After breaking off the human from the world, the everyday body is the first figure of postwar cinema. The body is not an obstacle of thought but that which plunges us into in order to reach the unthought. That is to say that the body doesn’t think as much as it forces us to think, to think that which is concealed from thought, i.e. life.

[1] First there is the everyday body, tired, waiting, despairing, the daily attitude of the Time-Image that puts the before and after into the body, time into the body. Body relates thought to time as outside, infinitely further than the outside world (p.189) (e.g. Warhol films, p.191). [2] Then there is the ceremonial body; the camera no longer follows the body on daily rounds but makes the body pass through a ceremony, introducing it into a glass cage or crystal, imposing carnival and masquerade which turns the body into the grotesque body, but also gracious and glorious until the visible body finally disappears (p.190).

These are two distinct poles. What matters more than one pole or the other is the passage between these two body postures, the everyday and the ceremonial-crystal. Deleuze relies here on what Brecht called the gest, defined as a formal link or knot combining attitude with physical gesture or posture. But for Deleuze, in the restoration of the image to postures of the body, “the attitudes of body” become categories of the spirt itself. The gest is social and political (as per Brecht), but also “bio-vital, metaphysical and aesthetic” (pp.192-194).

“Give Me a Brain” is introduced by Deleuze as the other figure or type of modern cinema, the cinema of the brain, the next step in this train of thought. The cinema of the brain (Antonioni, Resnais, Kubrick) includes concrete and abstract feeling, intensity and passion as much as does cinema of body (Godard). But in cinema of the brain, the brain and world are identical, for instance, positing an identity between landscapes are mental states. In Kubrick, the world itself is a brain. The identity of world and brain forms a limiting membrane that makes an inside and outside communicate. Inside is psychology, memory, depths. Outside is “the cosmology of galaxies, the future, evolution, a whole supernatural which makes the world explode.” Forces of death, the one passes into the other. But what moves between these two deaths, between what Deleuze calls two sides of death is the mixed up “whole moving life,” which is “at once that of the cosmos and of the brain, which send out flashes from one pole to the other,” here quoting Resnais, “feeling or love” as “mental function,” bringing together pathos and the orgainic (pp.204-10).

What Deleuze calls classical cinema (based on the movement-image) integrated images into a new whole and passes, the passage from one image to another being made upon the basis of association. Classical cinema assumed the idea of harmonious totality. In contrast, the new orientation in cinema and thought breaks apart an interior whole with its clear, continuous, rational association of images. The new image is acentric. It runs up against cuts or micro-fissures in the continuous network of brains. It is an increasingly probabilistic and fragile relation with the brain. No interiority of thought, but rather a force from the outside that attracts the inside. Deleuze no longer believes in a “whole as an interiority of thought,” but rather in a “force from the outside which grabs and attracts the inside.” Breaks now assume absolute value, while association is now subordinate (pp.210-12).

What is a brain? The brain is the cut that cuts out the image, that cuts and puts to flight the internal association of the classical image, that “summons an outside beyond any external world” (p.212). The cut (i.e. the cut or interstice between two series of images) stands out on its own interposing between the one image and the other image. Deleuze calls this the “irrational cut.” The cut now determines the character of the relinkage, rather than the linkage subjecting the cut to its own logic. Another way to put this, is that by means of the irrational cut, each individual image is independent, just like the individual note stands out in atonal music. The arrangement is not a smooth transition, one image after another, but rather one image plus another, each shot de-framed in relation to the next. Appearing in its own, it takes its own life (in its own right) in the form of the blank white or black screen (pp.213-14).

In a concluding coda, Deleuze identifies brain with cinema. This is cinema: a “flickering brain which relinks or creates loops.” With life now freed from “axes of organic representation,” power passes into an “inorganic life,” arabesques and point cuts. Now, everything can function as screen, including the bodies of protagonists and spectators. Virtual film “goes on in the head, behind the pupils.” brain, i.e. sensing and thinking, is now conceived simultaneously as screen, film stock, and camera. The cut grows larger, absorbing all images (pp.214-15).

The final step of the essay on image and thought proceeds from body and brain to the creation of “a people.” Whereas the people are always present in classical cinema (Eisentein), modern cinema, i.e. European cinema, starts precisely with this insight derived from Kafka and Paul Klee: “the people are missing” (p.215-16; emphasis in the original). The people are no longer addressed. They have to be invented. Waxing no doubt in a primitivist vein, the reference here is to minoritarian (Jewish) and third world people. Deleuze sees in third world cinema the image in which are invented a people. The people emerges out from ghettos, camps, and shanty towns, in agit-prop and in trance, which for Deleuze (in some odd way echoing Durkheim) constitutes the true foundation of a people. Cinema makes possible an “assemblage which brings real parties together, in order to make them produce collective utterances as the prefiguration of the people who are missing” (pp.216-24, 224).

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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