In Dublin, Precarity was exhibited in the context of a conference on “Movement, Precarity, Affect: Deleuze and art”. The conference was organised by Radek Przedpelski and Steve Wilmer. The brilliant photo Radek had made that served as the conference logo compelled me to ask him to also document the installation. I knew his photos would be much better than mine. And I as too distracted, with the triple task of overseeing the installation, preparing and giving my own keynote lecture, and socializing, especially hanging out with my former PhD student Niamh Ann Kelly. Radek’s logo photo keeps haunting me. It is almost a summary of Deleuze’s thoughts. For Deleuze, concepts are the essence of philosophy; for me, concepts are the indispensable tools for the practice of cultural analysis. In an essay on the political nature of Deleuze’s thought, Paul Patton phrases the inherently political nature of philosophy as follows: “Philosophical concepts … fulfill their intrinsically political vocation by counter-effectuating existing states of affairs and referring them back to the virtual realm of becoming (2010, 139) Like images, concepts have the power to act because they make alternative states of affairs thinkable and thus promote their becoming. A concept can be seen as a fluid, “becoming” point of coincidence, a condensation, an accumulation of its own components. The submerges stones in this brilliant photo are how I see concepts, linked by the water’s ripples.
Here are some snippets of my lecture. In the current academic climate shamelessly identified as neo-liberal as if the term meant new and free, what is being destroyed is, in addition to other important things, the imagination. And yet, the imagination is what we need most, for it is our primary task, as academics in this world of regulated violence and misery, to think “out of the box”, and deny the legitimacy of the box’s existence and presence. Which is why it was so useful to bring together, in this conference, the imagination with the imaginative thoughts of Gilles Deleuze. Few philosophers have been as productive in promoting creative thinking. And few have been so keen on exploring what they had learned from predecessors – which is what philosophy’s primary vocation seems to be. Of my personal sources of inspiration, he wrote a book about each: Leibniz (see Quoting Caravaggio), Spinoza (see Reasonable Doubt) and Bergson (see Thinking in Film). Hence my additional eagerness to participate, already triggered by the conference’s title, that contained the keywords of my approach to art: Movement, Precarity, Affect.
The interest of this conference is not simply how Deleuzian ideas can help us understand art better, and thus be better art critics. One does not “apply” his ideas. The relationship is mutual and multiple. Deleuze’s thought itself can be considered artistic in that sense; and conversely, it argues and demonstrates that art has cognitive and intellectual contributions to make to our work, including on other things than art. His writings would be a great help to feed what Arjun Appadurai has termed “the research imagination”. The movement and affect as aspects of the imagination in my title are best suited to deal with the middle term, precarity. This is an example of the relation between Deleuze’s thought, art, and problem-solving.
Here is just one example of many that demonstrates Deleuzian imaginative philosophy – two short quotes from Cinema 2: the Time Image
The question is no longer
what we see behind an image but rather,
how we can endure
what we see in it already
(to foreground the artistic quality of the thought I read it like poetry)
If all the movement-images, perceptions, actions and affects
underwent such a change, was this not first of all because
a new element came onto the scene which was to prevent perception
from being extended into action to put it in contact with thought?
I am not a philosopher, nor a Deleuze specialist. My paper thinks with Deleuze, rather than being on Deleuze. And we think “in film”. I have learned from Deleuzian thought to appreciate relationality between domains rather than boundaries.
I call that mobile relationality fed by affect, inter-ship, and try to bring it to bear on our work as intellectuals. And I don’t just mean “interdisciplinarity”. I want to add another “inter-ship”: that between analyzing and making, as a way of liberating, expanding, and deepening our insights. In this context I present some elements from what I call “thinking in film” in order to demonstrate the intellectual contribution of creativity. Filmmaking shares three areas of activity with analysis, but then on multiple levels: sharp and imaginative looking, which includes framing and visualizing, or “imaging”; and before as well as during the making, in simultaneous processes, reading and writing; and thirdly, and most creatively productive, collaborating with others who each bring their own expertise and focus to the process.
Concretely, Deleuze on cinema is thinking in film, so that our project is literally unthinkable without Deleuze, for example, his reflections on kinds of images, and the fundamental ideas of movement, time and affect. To show their clarity in spite of Deleuze’s difficult writing I quote Paola Marrati who writes in a very useful short book on Deleuze and cinema: “between a perception, troubling in some respects, and a hesitant action, what surges is affection”. (2008, 35)
Thinking in film turns on the partly overlapping, partly distinct concepts of performance and performativity, especially the latter – the use of signs, such as words and images, that do what they say. Performativity can be a tool for challenging and destabilizing the social power of habit. The simple word “performance” has yielded an artistic genre that brings together an intense engagement with time, space, and the performer’s body in a live relationship with an audience.
Time slows down or speeds up; space is transformed into the invisible fictional space of the performance; and the body takes on ritualistic properties, which make the person doing the performance invisible in favour of another body we never saw before. Boldly, the artist steps out of her ordinary self and becomes someone else – not in imitation of an existing other person, but rather someone fictitious, of short duration. Yet in doing so, this other draws out time so that everything changes. If successful, a performance emanates “performativity”: the effect of an act on its recipients. This perspective places affect at the centre of attention and focuses analysis on the resulting interactivity of artworks. Instead of taking what is there to be seen on the painted surface, for example, affective analysis will establish a relationship between that spectacle and what it does to the people looking at it, and, precisely, being affected by it.
I take affect in the Deleuzian sense of intensity. Deleuze defines intensity in Difference and Repetition as a “qualitative difference within the sensible” (1994, 182). There is a subtle temporal discrepancy involved here, between perception and understanding. Deleuze adds that intensity can only be grasped, or felt, after it has been mediated by the quality it creates (182). This posteriority defines affect and makes it difficult to grasp, impossible to locate, yet crucial for political art. This affect is a condition for what “thinking in film” can do; it helps viewers watch with a delicate balance of empathy, hence, understanding, and critical distance, at the same time. We aimed to make the destructive power of habit affectively tangible. To make this more directly understandable I displayed the installation Precarity, and screen the film. How thinking in film works becomes clear right away. In school, Emma dreams away during classes about reality. She is talented, but she lacks commitment to the present, the world, and social reality. As a result, she is radically alone. How to explore this cinematically, in a way that makes it, say, philosophically understandable and affectively effective, while staying in touch with the literary masterpiece on which our film is based?
For this, and to explore what performativity can do for understanding, we staged particular kinds of looks to which social behaviors are bound and judgments frequently attached. This combination insures the power structure of social life – for which no one is held responsible. We tried to create a visual form of encounter where the kind of looks determines both the beginning of a relationship and the inequality at the heart of it.
I consider the task of the Humanities to be understanding, analysing, and explaining the importance and relevance of art and its thought – from the past as well as the present – for the contemporary world. I am interested in movement as an integration of physical and emotional movement; the trajectories of affect and perception. When I try to convince you of the point of “making and analysing in one” it is to foreground this double movement. Deleuze is with us, now through his Spinozism, then his Bergsonism. And we need all three braids of thought to get more out of Deleuze’s taxonomy of kinds of images.
Bergson’s book Matter and Memory states that perception is not a construction but a selection. The perceiving subject makes that selection in view of her own interests, as a form of gathering in duration. Perception is an act, of the body and for the body. This selection takes place in the present. Not only the interests of the perceiver motivate it, but also her memories. Charles looks at Emma, Emma at Charles, because, even before seeing each other, they each had an interest: say, to escape boredom.
But the viewer, too, has interests. And viewers bring their own memories, different for each, to the combination of recognition and newness that the experience of art is. When points of convergence occur, a beginning of cultural citizenship emerges.
At the end of the book, Bergson writes: “In concrete perception memory intervenes, and the subjectivity of sensible qualities is due precisely to the fact that our consciousness, which begins by being only memory, prolongs a plurality of moments into each other, contracting them into a single intuition.” (1991, 218–19)
That coexistence of different moments (or memories) binds viewers to what they see. That binding, not the value judgment about a work of art, is aesthetics. The story may be fictional; the contact with it is real. Spinoza already suggested that conclusion. Bergson considers the body to be a material entity, and he consequently sees perception as a material practice. This makes Bergson’s conception of the image synonymous with the moving image. But there is a deeper level on which images move; it comes closer to affect. The image itself – not its support – is both moving and material. It implies that it is multiple and functional – It does something. It is performative. That something it does can be individual, but also social; then the image becomes politically effective. This became a discussion point already during the opening of the installation. In 1907, Bergson coined the term “creative evolution” to account for this aspect of movement in the image, which occurs when the perception image, as Deleuze called it, morphs into a affect-image and makes the perceiver develop a readiness to act. This readiness – not the potentially resulting actualization - lies at the heart of the political potential of art and brings Spinoza back It implies endorsing responsibility as Spinoza saw it
“Affect” helps make connections on behalf of the cultural force of art. Through the old sense of aesthetics as binding through the senses, affect connects the aesthetic quality of art works to forging a contemporary politics of looking. Deleuze understood that we need a concept of perception different from the usual sense of that term, where perception is seen as either a somatic processing of the reality confronting the eye, or an interpretive construction of an image on the basis of visible elements. That the performativity of an image depends on the look one casts on the other means that the ontology of the visual is fundamentally dialogic and performative. The two kinds of looks are subject to judgment. But the performativity makes such judgments uncomfortable. That is the political effect.
What I call “the politics of allusion” is also an important element in this effect. In Flaubert’s novel, written at a time when nobility was already obsolete, yet still quite present, Emma’s final moment of illusion that her marriage can make her happy, is the Ball at the Vaubyessard Castle. This is a key moment; an experience of almost-belonging, but not quite, and after, definitely not. A contemporary equivalent, it seemed to us, would be a reception given by a commercial power; the association of pharmaceutical companies. This is a fourfold allusion, simultaneously invoking a combination of “pensive” threads: 1) to emotional capitalism; 2) to Homais, the pharmacist; 3) to the idea that today, Emma would be taking anti-depressants; and 4) to our previous work, on madness, where we opposed to the currently popular and devastating treatment with drugs, psychoanalytic treatment.
To understand, then, what the “actions” that images are consist of, I invoke the philosophers’ statement that concepts are centers of vibrations, each in itself and every one in relation to all the others (23): they resonate rather than cohere.