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The Issue of Time and Memory in Cinema of Deleuze

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For Deleuze, the philosopher 'works alongside' the cinema, producing a classification of its images and signs but reordering them for new purposes. What makes cinema of special interest is that, as with painting-\ it gives conceptual construction new dimensions, those of the percept and affect-which should not be confused with perception and feeling.

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Just as Bergson never gives us a finite definition of duration, Deleuze does not offer a singular definition of the time-image, or give a clear indication of what he means by a “direct image of time.” We can, however, offer the following description based on Deleuze’s many suggestive morsels, partial insights, and descriptive metaphors. The crystal-image, which forms the cornerstone of Deleuze’s time-image, is a shot that fuses the pastness of the recorded event with the presentness of its viewing. The crystal-image is the indivisible unity of the virtual image and the actual image. The virtual image is subjective, in the past, and recollected

The virtual image as “pure recollection” exists outside of consciousness, in time. It is always somewhere in the temporal past, but still alive and ready to be “recalled” by an actual image. The actual image is objective, in the present, and perceived. The crystal-image always lives at the limit of an indiscernible actual and virtual image. With the crystal-image, Deleuze assigns a form of temporality that accounts for the “present/pastness” of the film image. The crystal-image shapes time as a constant two-way mirror that splits the present into two heterogeneous directions, “one of which is launched towards the future while the other falls into the past. Time consists of this split, and it is … time, that we see in the crystal”. David N. Rodowick sums up the time-image as one that fluctuates between actual and virtual, that records or deals with memory, confuses mental and physical time, actual and virtual, and is sometimes marked by incommensurable spatial and temporal links between shots.

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Time, to be sure, is not some palpable, perceptible thing. Its direct (unmediated, immediate) presentation in cinema will therefore not be something simply visible/audible. ‘Attached’ to the image, time will not merely freeze-frame a movement. Time will be that which arrests the movement of a movement into an action. A movement that will not extend into an action will remain suspended and this suspension will peel itself away from the seen/said structure of perception and language which pre-suppose some actuality prior to and outside of that which is given to me in a representation. Instead of a seen/said there will be presented strange, not-yet-actual entities born of familiarity but now autonomous signs of themselves: doubles and simulacra (Gilles Deleuze, 1995)

Signs of themselves, these entities are already pure reflections of language. The time-image is a description, not an action. Movement subordinated to time does not move into depths but instead flattens perception into a milieu wherein the familiar scene metamorphoses into a ‘that’ on which are inscribed pure ‘possibles’ (Gilles Deleuze, 1972). Doubled, enacted before acted, the time-image will present, or procure, or fabulate that which will only have been talked about because it will never have been actualized. The perfectly recognizable actual situation ‘leaks’ a non-actuality whose being is purely in-language: ‘There are Lulu, the lamp, the bread knife, Jack-the-Ripper: people who are assumed to be real with individual characters and social roles, objects and uses, real connections between these objects and these people -- in short a whole actual state of things. But there are also the brightness of the light on the knife under the light, Jack's terror and resignation, Lulu's compassionate look. These are pure singularities, qualities, or potentialities -- as it were pure ‘possibles’ . . . taken all together they only refer back to themselves’.

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To summarize, in speaking of the historical aspect of the cinema books, Deleuze calls it a “natural history rather than a historical history”. He denies that it is in any way teleologically oriented, implying a progressive development of images, signs or thought. Deleuze also claims that there are no “lines of descent or filiation” in the appearance of specific images or signs, it is just that particular images or signs can only appear under certain conditions, and these conditions happened to coincide with certain eras.

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‘On the Movement-Image’, in Negotiations: 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p. 50.

‘Klossowski or Bodies-Language’, Appendix II of The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 280-301

Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, trans. Richard Howard (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1972), chapter five, ‘The Secondary Role of Memory’, pp. 51-64

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