Deleuze as Logician of the Virtual: Reading the Cinema Books off Hegel’s ‘Logic’

by Christopher Vitale (crossposted at Networkologies)

Deleuze’s Cinema I and II as BwO for Hegel’s Logic?!?

At the end of Cinema II: The Time-Image, Deleuze states that these books are “books of logic.” Honestly, I didn’t notice this quote until I recently was reading a secondary source on the text (by Deleuze on Cinema, by Ronald Bogue) to refresh myself for teaching it to students. But it really his me as somewhat of a revelation: Deleuze’s book of logic, his ‘Grand Logic’, so to speak, is present in his books Cinema I: The Movement-Image, and Cinema II: The Time-Image. And as I’ve immersed myself in these books lately so as to teach them, it really has me thinking about the implicaitons of this.

In many senses, the Cinema books are Deleuze’s most systematic and grand undertaking, and represent, in many senses, the most complete formulation of his late philosophy. Certainly the book on Leibniz has much to say for it, as does his last work with Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, but neither of these encompass anywhere near the terrain as we see in the Cinema books. And yet, many readers of Deleuze see these books as of secondary interest if they are not themselves interested in film.

And yet, it seems to me that these works really do give us Deleuze’s Logic. And in fact, his attempt to take on, and outdo, one of the most famous works of logic ever written, namely, the famed Science of Logic written by Deleuze’s arch-nemesis, Hegel, in the early nineteenth century.

Much has been made of Deleuze’s anti-Hegelianism, and there was a time in which if you even suggested that Deleuze was influenced by Hegelian, you’d be laughed out of any philosophical conversation. Yet, within contemporary scholarship, it seems increasingly sayable in today’s climate to see the hidden influence of Hegel. As some have pointed out, Deleuze even wrote a book on one of his other rivals, namely, Kant, but there is no book on Hegel. Which is curious, it would seem. This is, it would seem to me, because Hegel is EVERYWHERE in Deleuze. Even if in reverse. For just as Marx said he wanted to stand Hegel’s Deleuze on his head, perhaps it is Deleuze who doesn’t so much stand Hegel on his head, but mate him with what complexity theorists have called a ‘strange attractor.’

Trying to Read Deleuze’s ‘Gest’

It seems to me that understanding a thinker, isn’t merely about reading all their works, for doing so focuses on what the philosopher says, on the surface. But what about all those points of what Bakhtin calls ‘hidden polemic’, in which a thinker is sparring with an unnamed enemy, producing what seems like odd diversions within their texts for those who don’t know the context? Without knowing when Deleuze is sparring with Lacan, Hegel’s heir, for example, is to miss half of Deleuze. Nearly as much as missing when he’s sparring with Hegel.

Rather, when studying a philosopher, we need to understand their relation to their times, how they saw their own influences. We need to recreate a thinker’s milieu, we need to read all their sources. Only doing so give us more than the gesture of a given thinker, but their gest. According to Bertolt Brecht, a gest is a gest in formation, suspended, so to speak. To understand a thinker, we need to know how they formed their gesture, and why. What were the conditions of possibility for their gesture? For Deleuze, Hegelianism was crucial, for it was precisely the paradigm of Kojeve, of Lacan. It was what needed to be displaced. Of course, Hegelianism isn’t Hegel.

According to Harold Bloom (in A Map of Misreading), each author has a primary influence that they need to kill off in order to be born, one whose influence they fear showing in their work lest they appear derivative, but whose name is evident in its symptomatic absence throughout their work. While Bloom was writing about literary authors, this ‘anxiety of influence,’ which Bloom gets from reading influence through the Freudo-Lacanian nothing of the Oedpus complex (each other ‘kills their father’, so to speak), haunts the corpus of philosophers as well. For Deleuze, I feel, that missing yet ever present father is Hegel. Which is why, it seems to me, that Deleuze’s facile hatred of Hegel (see his discussion of Hegel in Dialogues, for example) is a red herring, meant to throw us off the trail. As Bruce Baugh has argued, Hegel is never mentioned by Deleuze except for if to slander or impugn, and seems to not even deserve the treatment of a respected enemy, one that Deleuze famously said he wanted to ‘understand how [he] works’, as with the case of Kant (see Baugh’s essay in the Graham Jones anthology Deleuze’s Philosophical Lineage).

Deleuze’s Deductions?

But what is the Cinema project but Deleuze’s take on Hegel’s massive Logic, or, how could we make that argument? The point here is not to simply notice Deleuze’s incessant use of threes, which is more the influence of Peirce (who himself was influenced by Hegel). No, it is the structure of the books themselves. For in fact, the books have an inner movement, and in the second book, Deleuze in fact says that these various images he is describing (ie: perception-image, affection-image, etc.) are DEDUCED from one another (for more, see Section 2 of the Chapter “The Recapitulation of Images and Signs” in Cinema II). That is, all in the universe is movement-image, but some movement-image is also perception-image, and some perception-images are also affection-images, on down the chain till we reach direct time-images such as hyalosigns, chronosigns, etc. What is fascinating about all this is that Deleuze argues that the relation between these is one of deduction. Each can be derived from came before, and each that comes before virtually contains what comes after.

For in fact, the book is structured, like Hegel’s Logic, backwards. Hegel eventually must get us to the logic of the concept, such that the logic of the concept must contain all that came before as parts thereof. He starts with the logic of being, then essence, and each can be used to understand the world as a whole, but from a particular limited point of view. What comes after then contains what comes before, so that climax comes with the subject-object of universal history, namely, the Concept in the process of coming to know itself as Spirit.

This would seem to be in contrast, however, to Deleuze’s work. which goes from the most general form of all that is, namely, the movement-image, and it is true, the movement image, which contains its many parts and sub-steps, acts in a manner similar to the logic of being in Hegel’s work. For we eventually see its limitations, and move to the logic of the time-image, which contains the logic of the movement-image within it, and yet goes further. Just like the logic of essence in Hegel, the sections on the time-image describe subjectivity, and we then see, retrospectively, the limitations of what comes before, such that the time-image sections seem to contain, as it were, the movement-image at a higher level of development. Perception, affection, and action are reworked within recognition, recollection, dreams, etc.

What Are ‘The Powers of the False’, Exactly?

Deleuze's Logical "Crystal in Formation": Federico Fellini filming on the set of 'Otto e Mezzo'

But what of the final third of the book? If we keep our comparison going, we would expect to get the climax here, the Deleuzian equivalent of the Hegelian logic of the Concept, the point at which we see the subject-object which retroactively encompasses the interrelation of the two parts which come before.

And yet, Deleuze’s text seems to take a swerve when it gets to the section on the ‘powers of the false’. Up until this point, Deleuze describes the images and signs related to the sensori-motor schema, and then the time-image which displaces this, which gives us internal life, pure time as it exists inside subjectivity. But as he describes the breakdown of even the time-image in postwar cinema, in the dissociation of ‘sheets of the past’ and ‘peaks of the present’, he then moves to what seems, at least at first, like a set of random investigations of the various aspects of film in the postwar period not covered in the earlier chapters: sound, reading, conceptual thoughts, etc.

At least, this is how some have conceptualized the final third of the book (see Rodowick, for example). And I agree with one thing – this section, which contains some of Deleuze’s most powerful sections of writing, in these books or his others, linking abstract philosophy to politics in some fantastic prose – seems to have tired a bit of organizing things so rigidly. The final third is MUCH less systematic than the preceding parts. But after reading the Bogue text, some of the structure became a bit clearer to me: in a sometimes non-linear way, Deleuze goes about investigating a cinema of the body, then mind, then meaning. But to what end?

What interests me here is that it seems that Deleuze has already done these things earlier in the text – but in the context of the pre-war use of the movement-image (body), post-war use of time-image (mind), and his thorough critique of any attempt to read films from a linguistic and/or Saussurian point of view (basically, everywhere in the text). Why then the seeming recapitulation?

The key, it seems to me, is the point of transition, the section in which Deleuze talks about the ‘powers of the false’, what is in many ways the turning point of the work. Up until this section in the book, cinema’s image seeks to give a more truthful account of the world, either via motion and the body, or of the inner world humans experience via time-images. But once we get to the powers of the false, we begin to see that the point of cinema isn’t to give the truth, but to produce new worlds, new ways of being. And the whole book has been leading up to this, working us up to see that the whole of what preceded in these works, and the crisis it seeks to describe in western cinema and philosophy, leads us to this key, Nietzschian insight.

Everything that follows after his investigation of the ‘powers of the false’ is thus a recapitulation of what has already been done, but liberated from the need for truth. Just as he works hard to shed the sensori-motor schema of the body in moving from the movement-image to the time-image, what he must shed in the transition from the time-image to the powers of the false is the very notion that subjectivity is necessarily human. If the time image shows us anything, it is that embodiment, thinking, and meaning are producable through forms of subjectivity which are not necessarily bound to the hollow gourd of the cartesian cogito. For in fact, just as cinema has worked hard to shed the sensori-motor-schema, now it must shed the cogito. It must become inhuman, posthuman. It must teach us how to give rise to a subject-object of history which is beyond the individual human and its atomized and reified notion of body, mind, and meaning.

The ‘Song of the Virtual’ as Subject-Object of History But Beyond Subjects or Objects . . .

And this brings us back to Hegel. Deleuze’s goal is to give us the subject-object of history, but to make it post-human. And of course, Hegel does this, for his concept is transpersonal, even beyond the human. But how Deleuze’s ‘subject-object’ different?

In everything, it would seem. For the goal is not, as with Hegel, to show that the “real is rational”, but rather, that the “real is virtual”. That is, Hegel works to show that all must have been the way it is, and that had not one set of accidents shown up, Spirit would have found others that could play a similar role. The contingent contents that helped Spirit to reach its goals are part of its universal plan. Hence, as Zizek always argues, “the Spirit is a Bone.” But the coming to consciousness of the subject-object of history does not give rise to the new, the power to produce the new, for the Concept for Hegel is always nothing more than an unfolding of what it always already was. And of course, for Deleuze, this is also the case, the coming to consciousness of the subject-object of history, to use Hegelian language here, is simply the unfolding of what it always was, but what this always was is pure difference, the virtual. The whole point of history, and his logical enterprise, is to allow the virtual to come to consciousness, so to speak, in and through the limited humans who tap into it. And rather than simply give rise to the same, it gives rise to pure difference.

This is, of course, where the left and right Hegelians back in the mid-nineteenth century disagreed: is Hegel a philosopher of radical freedom, or simply the freedom to understand constraint? Deleuze’s project is profoundly Hegelian, yet with a crucial difference, and that is difference itself. Unlike the ‘sage’ which Hegel described, Deleuze’s artist does not know, but does, creates, creates worlds. And this artist is not necessarily human, but flows in and through and beyond and within humans. Deleuze desires to give birth to the artist of which humans are merely a part.

And this is why he says, ‘give me a body’, for we need a new body for this artist, and it needs to be created out of parts it carves out of the stuff of the universe. And it needs a mind, with which it can bring ‘the innermost and outtermost into contact’ by its ‘folds’. For just as for Hegel “the Spirit is a Bone”, for Deleuze, “the Brain is the Screen.” Film has taught us how to think, and how to think beyond the human. It has given us a Brain-screen, through which we see that beyond the fact that the subject is the object and object the subject, here we see that mind is world, and world is mind, and neither are necessarily human and tied to the cogito and its tiny gourd. And beyond this, we need collectivity, a politics, a ‘people yet to come’, composed of these supra-human artists brain-bodies, and this people then needs to learn to reread the world, to tell its story, to give birth to itself by giving birth to its language and story.

These are the powers of the false: the new body, the new mind and its brain, the new people and its language. The powers of the false give rise to these. And it is here we see that while Deleuze perhaps lost some of his organizational prowess towards the end of this work (wouldn’t you, after writing that much brilliant stuff?!), that he is in fact giving us a literal double of Hegel’s logic. He mirrors Hegel at every step, and yet explodes him from within. Deleuze gives us a mirror-double of Hegel’s logic, but one which is itself a direct image of time, in which actual and virtual interpenetrate. Deleuze’s logical work is a crystal-image, yet unlike Hegel’s, it is not self-contained (as Deleuze famously describes the films of Ophuls as giving us a perfect ‘time-crystal’). No, Deleuze is the Fellini of philosophy. He give us the crystal perpectually in the process of formation, the seed-crystal which is always ever different.

Beyond the Human, Beyond the Cogito, Beyond the Subject

Deleuze's moving image

And in the process, we have a displacement of the human centered-ness of the Hegelian project. For while Hegel’s project is transpersonal in some senses, it is supremely human, all too human, in others. For the very terms of his investigation are those of ‘subject’ and ‘object’, ‘in-itself’ and ‘for-itself’. These terms are not merely the content of his project, but they describe also its form. On the contrary, Deleuze’s structures are actual and virtual, and the difference is all the difference in the world. For at the end, we start where we began, not with the image of the human subject-object projected on to the size of the cosmos coming to consciousness, but of the virtual-actual coming to develop itself.

And this allows us to look back at how Deleuze does structure the ‘deductions’ between the images in the earlier parts of the book. For on the one hand, we see an abstract evolution from firstness to secondness to thirdness, recapitulating Peirce’s triad of triads which for him gave rise to what he called a process of ‘evolutionary love’. Peirce himself was taking on Hegel’s logic, this is beyond question. And it is in fact this structure, beyond perception, affection, action, etc., which structures these movements. We see a purely LOGICAL movement from one end to the other of the Cinema books, and perception, affection, action, etc., are merely the potential permutations whereby the virtual has been incarnated on our world. There is no ‘for-itself’/’in-itself’, with its underlying ‘subject/object’ here structuring the deductions. The deductions are logical, beyond Hegel. For despite Hegel’s attempt to get beyond his own anthropomorphism, the terms of his deduction are human from one side to the other. But Deleuze, via the influence of Peirce, managed to complete what Hegel could not.

But from a Hegelian perspective, is not Deleuze’s book in fact the history of the coming to, what can we call it but ‘consciousness’ (?), of the universe by means of humans, but moving beyond? For evolution seems to have started from movement in matter, then movement to the ability to perceive, then to process on a basic level, then to react, then to remember, but then to give birth to culture, language, and eventually, self-liberation. Deleuze’s cinema books are in fact also the universal history of the universe, given to us in books on film. They are also his doubling and displacing of Hegel’s Logic. Even down to its details (Deleuze has odd seeming asides where he takes on things like tropes, figures, even syllogism!), Deleuze keeps his real sparring partner in sight. It may seem on the surface to be Lacan, but the stakes are much deeper than this. Deleuze needs to kill off the father so as to give birth to himself, and that father, conscious or not on Deleuze’s part, seems to go by the name of Hegel.

Logic for Liberation

Deleuze’s Cinema books: a logic for our times. A taxonomical logic for the virtual as it unfolds, from the persepctive of our current life on earth, learning from how cinema teaches us to see the world. For what is cinema, but the ‘bone’ that allowed this spirit to give birth to itself, the contingent which allowed the necessary of the new to shine forth at every instant? For just as with Hegel’s text, all is contained within the end, for the virtual is both time and that from which time emerges. It is, in this sense, the power of the false itself, both motion and stasis in eternal return of the differing unsame.

Despite being a logic, however, this logic is far from stuffy, or static, two charges often leveled against logic. No, this logic is also a handbook for liberation. For Deleuze is a Spinozist, through and through. And in fact, Spinoza was himself a large influence on Hegel, and through him, Marx, and many have argued for a ‘left’ reading of Spinoza as of late, certainly since Deleuze. In an excellent recent work (Suplus: Spinoza, Lacan), A. Kiarina Kordela argues that Marx was himself a true disciple of Spinoza, even if inadvertantly.

To understand the Cinema books, it seems to me, can help us understand the quesiton, posed by Nietzsche: how does one give birth to a dancing star? Let us hope that we have learned something from Deleuze on how to do so, while also learned his fear of dissolution, of the various ways you can ‘botch’ giving birth to a BwO. Which is precisely what Deleuze does to Hegel’s Logic.

And in the process, Deleuze teaches us how to liberate ourselves, even from the constraints of necessity, from the constraints of logic, the body, the cogito, and language. But its not enough to simply say, one must also show . . .

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~ by chris on April 28, 2010.

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