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23.04.2009 / Enculturation, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1998

'Give me a body': Deleuze's Time Image and the Taxonomy of the Body in the Work of Gabriele Leidloff

In simcult, the responsible writer must be an imagologist. Sinceimage has displaced print as the primary medium for discourse, thepublic use of reason can no longer be limited to print culture.(Imagologies 4)

 

1. Introduction

Simcult and other neologisms of contemporary visual culturalcriticism aside, the Heideggerian philosopher of religion Mark C.Taylor makes his point unmistakably clear: "the responsible writermust be an imagologist." If one is to be a responsible writer, onemust 'see'. Responsible writers must enter visual culture. Thereasons for this imperative are obvious and imply change forcontemporary philosophy: culture is becoming more and more visual.Moreover, any criticism of culture, thought as such perhaps, is bound up withimages, Taylor suggests. In other words, Reason may not live here anymore, it might no longer dwells in words, not exclusively maybe oreven not all. If reason is not homeless in postmodernity to beginwith, it has moved in with image. Philosophy, Taylor argues,subsequently becomes the logic of images, a plurality of visuallogics, "imagologies."

Such ideas have serious implications, and Gilles Deleuze wasamong the first great thinkers of our time to draw the consequences.This paper has a twofold purpose: I will try to link Deleuze'stheories of the cinematic image back to some of the Kantian aestheticimperatives that propel his argument, and second, I will read the artof the German Jewish artist Gabriele Leidloff through Deleuziancategories of visuality, in particular with regard to Deleuze's callfor new images of the body.

Deleuze watched films, many of them, and, in 1985, he publishedabout 700 pages of dense prose called Cinema Un and Cinema Deux. Whatactually constitutes the subject matter of his books, has been asubject of contest but the title might actually yield someinformation: Cinema One and Cinema Two. Indeed, Deleuze set forth theidea that all of cinema divides into two types, neatly to beseparated into two volumes, namely The Movement Image and The TimeImage. In these texts, Deleuze mentions hundreds of films, and hecelebrates what I imagine was the cinematic repertoire of theParisian intellectuals of his generation.

Unfortunately, these texts do not cross disciplinary borders well.It has been said that Deleuze's Cinema books would never find theacademic public they deserve because film professors aren'tsufficiently well-trained in the philosophical background Deleuzeemploys when he talks about film (if his enterprise could at all bedescribed like this), and, supposedly, philosophers don't even know afilm image if they see one. Since the Cinema books present a radicalbreak with the history of the semiotic principles of inquiry thathave hitherto informed (Saussure-based) film theory, such criticalremarks tend to precipitate a probing into the 'use' of the Cinemabooks. One of the interesting questions that arise from his books forme in this rather profane context is the following: does Deleuzedevelop a theory of the image that can be transposed, at least inparts, and/or perhaps because of its generality, to thinking aboutnon-cinematic forms of the image? e.g. does he open doors fordiscourses about experimental visual techniques?(1)

 

2. The Lost Object of Art

Deleuze wrote in his preface that his theory on cinema is acontribution to philosophy, not a contribution to film history as thesequential arrangement of his books might indicate. At the end of hisproject he wrote a subdivision to his concluding chapter, only oneand half pages, that forestalls a certain criticism and lobbies forhis approach:

Cinema's concepts are not givenin cinema. And yet they are cinema's concepts, not theories about thecinema.So that there is always a time, midday-midnight, when we must no longerask ourselves, 'What is cinema?', but 'What is philosophy?' Cinemaitself is a new practice of images and signs, whose theory philosophymust produce as conceptual practice. For no technicaldetermination, whether applied (psychoanalysis, linguistics) orreflexive, is sufficient to constitute the concepts of cinema itself. (The Time Image 280)

Those were, literally, Deleuze's final words in the Cinema books.One can imagine Deleuze's taxonomy of the image is highly elaborateand the attempt to read a piece through Deleuzian categories is adaunting task, especially if one sticks to one's semiotic guns("psychoanalysis, linguistics") and does not venture into Bergsonianphilosophical territory. Yet, as so often with Deleuze, the contraryis true as well--it's perfectly possible to interpret images withDeleuzian categories, cinematic and non-cinematic ones. Therefore,this article will be able to refer to chapter eight of The TimeImage, a chapter whose first subheading carries the title "Give me abody."

In other words, I am arguing for an 'applicability' of theDeleuzian enterprise, more precisely of elements thereof, to theinterpretation of images, in the case of the art we are about to see,non-cinematic images. Why can this transposition be done? BecauseDeleuze is perfectly Kantian in his approach to art. Remember theidealist philosopher Immanuel Kant who lived in provincial Germanyand never saw great art, developing his aesthetic theory whilecontemplating door knobs and lace patterns? A personal homology is,however, not what I am getting at. Deleuze's books are ampletestimony that he did, in fact, see a lot of films and the footnotessuggest that he meticulously worked his way through the Cahiers. Yet,it is precisely the myriad of cinematic examples in the Cinema booksthat are confusing since their exemplarity is questionable: No onecould, when reading possibly process the information Deleuze providessince one has either not seen the films or doesn't remember themsufficiently to have them support what Deleuze is trying to say atthe given point of his argument (2). This gesture had, of course, avenerable predecessor in the history of aesthetics. If with Kant theart object disappears in the four moments of his discourse in theThird Critique and Kant thus opens the door to the first theory ofabstract art, to understand a passage of the cinema books, you don'tnecessarily have to see the films that propel the argument, if that'sindeed what they are supposed to do. For the films and writtenargument might simply have a virtual relation, or as the director ofa reading group I attended put it when a student asked whether it ispossible to see the sequences Deleuze discusses: "you don't have tosee them, it is of no use whatsoever. You need to think them."

 

3. Time Management

Let me start by trying to outline broadly the Deleuzian approachto the object of art. WWII has fundamentally transformed ourpsyches and phenomenology of perception, calling into question thestatus of truth and the possibility of action. Cinema took note. Theimages registered the sociological, political and epistemologicaldifferences that define the eras as pre- or post-WWII. Before WWII,one had the regime of the so-called "movement image", afterwards theregime of the "time image." These concepts may not mean much to youright now. Keep in mind, however, the most basic thrust of Deleuze'sargument: the relation of time and thought is imagined differently inthe postwar period; it was Newtonian before the war and is Kantianafterwards. Under the impression of the destruction of WW II, theworld had literally fallen apart, and so had thought. Remember whenAdorno asked: Can there be poetry after Auschwitz?, he didn't mean:Can we still have pretty art? or something like that but he meant:Auschwitz is the cause and the symptom that thinking is nowfundamentally and irrevocably disturbed. The faculties of the mindmight not be able to bridge the gap that the chock of WWII leftbehind: it is that which human beings cannot and must not be able tocomprehend--"can not" because it is simply too horrible and "mustnot" because then we wouldn't heed its ethical imperatives. Belief inunity, identity and totality has been shattered for good; we arewitnessing the inception of the postmodern. If reason were to speakin Kantian tongue after WWII, it would say: "give me a concept forall the sense data", but understanding would fail to do so. Thisstate of affairs precipitates an aesthetic of oscillation and aprobing of thinking into representation. The process thus initiatedcauses the mind to temporarily produce unstable syntheses betweenimmediate sense data and reason: thus, reason is in the image (thinkof it as a Kantian work of art) . . . "the responsible writer must bean imagologist. . . ."

This philosophical framework is one of the pillars of Deleuze'smediation on cinema. Let me cite the examples of the only monographtoday on Deleuze's cinema books, the brilliant, concise textDeleuze's Time Machine by David N. Rodowick who tries to explain thetwo different visual regimes that Deleuze traces. Rodowick thinks themovement image is best exemplified by a scene in Buster Keaton's filmSherlock, Jr.: Buster jumps from a rock situated in water, and--cut--lands in a snow bank. Here, time is subordinated to space: "timeserves as the measure of space and movement, it can be 'seen' onlythrough the intermediaries of space and movement" (Rodowick 9/10).The time image is best exemplified by the aesthetics of La Jetee byChris Marker: lying motionless, a prisoner of war is forced to travelin time. Here, time "is no longer reduced to the thread of chronologywhere present, past, and future are aligned on a continuum (Rodowick4)--it becomes a form, namely the form in which the prisonerrelates to himself, which orders the episodic movements in time thatconstitute his life and that he 'remembers'. The image of time isthus "released from its subordination to movements linked withphysical actions" (4).

Let us hear Deleuze on time:

"The time is out of joint'. Time is out of joint, time isunhinged. The hinges are the axis around which the door turns. Cardo[hinge of the door, the semantic root of "cardinal" numbers], inLatin, designates the subordination of time to the cardinal pointsthrough which the periodical movements that it measures pass. As longas time remains on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it isthe measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view ofancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal ofthe movement-time relationship. It is now movement which issubordinate to time. . . . Time is no longer related to themovement which it measures, but movement is related to the time whichconditions it" (Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy vii).

You just read the introductory passage of Gilles Deleuze'spreface to his 1963 text Kant's Critical Philosophy; the samemeditation on temporality defines the regime of the time image of theCinema books.

 

4. Housing Problems

According to Deleuze, in the post WWII era, thinking needs toharbor forth into new structures since the old ones, unity, identityetc. have fallen victim to epistemological destruction. Thinkingerrs; if it were to speak, it would it say "Give me body"--whichfundamentally implies that the body is no longer a hindrance tothought.

"[The body] is on the contrary that which it [thought, N.Z.]plunges into or must plunge into, in order to reach the unthought,that is life. Not that the body thinks, but, obstinate and stubborn,it forces us to think, and forces us to think what is concealed fromthought, life . . . The attitude of the body relates thought to timeas to that outside which is infinitely further than the outsideworld" (The Time Image 189).

The body prefigures the unthought, that which is housed in thegaps of the heritage with which the destruction of humanity bestowedthe post WWII era; that unthought before which conceptual thinkingfails. Deleuze writes, this unthought is hinted at by the cinema ofthe nouvelle vague that liked filming common, normal bodies or the byceremonial body in experimental films by Andy Warhol. Thought needs anew home. Just like reason might have ventured out of the taxonomy ofwords and their phallocentric Saussurean logic. The camera registersthe nomadic mind. Investigating the body, it searches for a new"pratique" of thinking. The body thus filmed is "a spatial sign oftime that passes" (Rodowick 168). "It is never in the present timebecause time passes: the body registers and accumulates its pastexperiences; it anticipates the future reactively as repetition ofthe same, or affirmatively as the anticipation of new potentialitiesand transformative forces" (Rodowick 168). Or as Deleuze puts it, "tothink is to learn what a non-thinking body is capable of, itscapacity, its postures" (The Time Image 189). The body thus filmed orproduced by radiographic imaging as in the work of Gabriele Leidloff,is not a static mass, is not the self-identical body that thetheatricality of the cinema presents in a make-belief structure. Thisbody is rather a potentiality, an ensemble of forces, an undecidablefigure that opens an interval of a virtual past and an indeterminatefuture. It is a surface where disparate temporal perspectives overlapand conflict without being resolvable into a sensomotoric situation.This body allies itself with the creative forces of thought,expressing its potential to metamorphose, to affect and be affected.

 

5. Moving Visual Objects--Four Works by Gabriele Leidloff

Let us now turn to the work of the GabrieleLeidloff. Leidloff's work presents a critique of the idea that we are'flooded by images'. This may be so, she thinks, but the images thatwe get to see are always the same, namely variations of what shecalls "situative processes of movement": what gets filmed, taped,generated most is the body or a set of bodies in variations of thesame positions, (i.e., positions that are defined generally by theaesthetic apparatus of television). To explore this state of affairsand to comment on it, Leidloff makes use of conventional forms ofvisual representation, (i.e., of TV aesthetics and narratives andapplies minimal distortion to these techniques).

 

5.1. Leidloff, 1997


As off the mid nineties, Leidloff started to explore radiographicimaging (one of whose forms is known as "x-raying" to the layman)."[K]nowingly appropriating the authority of medicine and science,"Leidloff now uses mainly cat scans (computer tomography) andsonography (ultrasonic) as camera techniques and stages scenes withdummies (3). The'bodies' thus represented are constitutive of visual paradoxes: whatyou see is matter because radiographic imaging registers the densityof the object: the whiter the space, the denser the material of therepresented object. Yet the body as matter is translated back intosurface in radiographic imaging, (i.e., first into the images of theradiographic representation, and second, being moved by videotapingtechniques, these surfaces are transposed to the surface of thevideo).

One of Leidloff's 1997 pieces is entitled. . . It is a video loop featuring firstan ultrasound image of a Barbie, a dummy that is slowly being moved,followed by a cat scan of a female mannequin, then by the depictionof the medical apparatus, of the machinery employed to reproduce thebody, (i.e., the cat scan apparatus itself is videotaped). On thesoundtrack of the cat scan shots, one hears the explanatory phrasesof a radiologist with whom Leidloff has been cooperating. In thesefirst sequences, not much is left of the so-called body: one has tolook hard to make out the representational content of the image. Inthe case of the first shot, (i.e., of Barbie, the eye of the onlookermerely registers moving contours that effectuate a spatialconfiguration of what seems to be a female head). This assumption canonly be made one the basis of a collective visual repertoire: therecognition of the silhouette of the head relies on the immediateavailability of the popular profile of the dummy in our memory, (i.e.,the sequence works with an aesthetics of the physiognomy of thefemale body that is through and through commercialized). The title ofLeidloff's work must be seen in view of this commercialization aswell; it refers to the plethora of pornographic websites that can befound on the Internet. Yet, although these references do come up, thereferentiality of the visuals is ambiguous to the point thatreferentiality itself becomes a question. Once one has indeedidentified a head and read it as a specific type of feminine profile,the head's movement automatically suggests life, yet, this life issimulated by a dummy.

 

5.2. Leidloff, 1997


One of Leidloff's ongoing aesthetic concerns has been narrativestructure. The . . . piece, for instance,comments on the creation of the heterosexual encounter on tape.Normally, a "boy meets girl" scene is shot in a shot-counter shotsequence that uses a certain amount of images per second, obeys the180 degrees rule etc. Here, Leidloff's own body that looks aslifeless as that of a mannequin is prominently displayed andjuxtaposed in a shot-counter shot sequence with the sonographicallygenerated representation of a man, (i.e., a dummy). Yet, althoughinitially constructing a heterosexual encounter, their gazes don'tmeet, thus violating the homogeneity of illusionary space. Again,posing the question of referentiality, man and his simile cannot betold apart: Leidloff's body looks inanimate but the man's 'body'looks alive because the artist moved the dummy. Thus, the imagesof . . . are copies of those structures ofthe body and the sequential ways of presenting it that have beenexhausted by the visual culture of this century. To put itdifferently, Leidloff firstly produces metaphoric constructions ofthe body, of the various technical layers that constitute 'a body'.These 'bodily' subjects or objects are then inserted into the formsof the contemporary collective imaginary of the West. Deleuzespeaks of heeding the body in its potentiality. Here we haveundecidable figures that are not just fuzzy representations and cantherefore not be read or understood completely or properly (like the'man's' movements). Their very undecidability not only generallyimposes the question of representation and but also of a certainsubject matter, the representation of the heterosexual encounter, inparticular.

 

5.3. Leidloff, Ugly Casting, 1997


Last year, Leidloff's installation Ugly Casting (1997)toured. Ugly Casting consists of images taken from death masksthat Leidloff found in the basement of a museum in Hamburg, Germany.Taken from men whom the Nazis had declared criminals and guillotined,the masks were intended for pseudoscientific purposes. Leidloffphotographed them slightly distorted by using photographic techniquesof blurring, and in some photos, arranged them in a homoeroticversion of the Hollywood kiss. Calling attention to the importance ofmediality itself, she installed a video loop of these images next tothe photos. Transposed to video and cut in the sequential order ofshot and countershot, the close-ups of the masks comment on the wayour experience of narrative structures prefigures our ideas of whatwe see: even though 'the fundamental things don't change', a kiss isnot a kiss.

 

5.4. Leidloff, Ms. Olga de Mooy, 1996

The 82 min. video Ms. Olga de Mooy (1996) pursues thequestions of representation and narrative structure from anotherangle. Ms Olga de Mooy features an old lady from Stamford, CN,who engages in her daily rituals. The piece presents investigation ofmovement. Leidloff's camera meticulously registers the slow gestureswith which the old woman puts on her make-up, combs her hair etc. Onvideo (4), her bodymoves slowly but not too slowly such that one would be able toclearly identify slow motion. In fact, it is old age that dictatesMooy's mobility or lack thereof and undermines the viewer'sexpectations of speed; no artistic or technical device was employed.Yet, since some of the movements seemed staged, one does not know forsure whether technique is involved or not. Since the representationhovers between reality and the possibility of its malleabilitythrough technical manipulation, the viewer is continuously thrownback to the question of technique. What seems like a constructedimage, is factually a real-time representation (at least on video).In other words, the image that is supposed to be (self-)present, areal one, or to speak with Deleuze, an 'actual' image, cannot be toldfrom the image that is not self-present, i.e. from the virtual image,in this case from a manipulated image (the virtual image that Deleuzedenotes as an image of the past, as an image also linked withabsence). If the difference between the representation of the real,(i.e., the actual, and the virtual cannot be told, then the capacity todecide as such has collapsed and the distinction between virtualityand reality itself is problematic henceforth). Thus, Ms Olga deMooy precipitates the "heart of the optosign" to cite Deleuze: ifactual and virtual image coincide in one image, one has arrived atthe regime of the so-called crystalimage.

 

However, Deleuze did not discuss the possible results oftransposing images from one medium to another. Despite our collectiveefforts, we could not simply illustrate this argument. We are simplyunable to duplicate the experience of watching Ms Olga de Mooy on video on the net. The technical possibilities are not only aproblem of the technology on our end (the video card e.g.), but alsoof the medium itself. What you see on your screen largely depends onyour machine's capacity for downloading. Thus, it is impossible forus to control the image in its temporality--which calls attention toDeleuze's overarching point: there is a form of time, in which timetakes place, so to speak. And, in this case, this place is defined bythe medium.The real image has been virtualized through itstransposition to another medium, and in the process, movement hasbecome subordinated to time.

 

5.5. Leidloff, Moving Visual Object, 1997

Another 1997 video is Moving Visual Object. The piece is anassemblage of the representation of the funeral of the Princess ofWales. The artist zapped from station to station on her TV during theceremony. As the frame in the image indicates, the image isproduced by filming the US TV screen. Moving Visual Object shows the TV representation of the coffin that was at the center oflast year's spectacle and that was slowly and ceremoniously beingmoved through the streets of London. Such images are necessarilybound to incite the imagination since the viewer interprets the boxas containing the body of the Princess lying in the coffin. Inshort, the spectators of the procession and the TV spectators of thefuneral hallucinate upon a moving black box--an allegory of thereception of TV. Seen in conjunction with Ms Olga de Mooy,this piece presents a further virtualization of the body; namely acomplete reduction to its virtual dimension, its absence. Theactuality of the body has in fact disappeared since the body in itsactuality is not seen: it is nothing but the box that suggests itsstatus of actuality. The constitutive representational absence of thebody, its virtuality in the box as an image, (i.e., as a TV image, hastaken over).

 


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Автор: Nina Zimnik

 
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