Having an Idea in Cinema


by Gilles Deleuze

Transcription of a Lecture Deleuze gave in May 1987 at the FEMIS school. Published in ‘Deleuze & Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture’ (eds. E. Kaufman and K.J. Heller, University of Minnesota Press, 1998). Translated by Eleanor Kaufman.

I too, would like to pose some questions. Pose them to you and to myself. They would be in this vein: What exactly do you, who do cinema, do? And for me: What exactly do l do when l do, or hope to do, philosophy?

I could pose the question otherwise: What is having an idea in cinema? If one does or wants to do cinema, what does having an idea mean? What happens when one says: “Wait, I have an idea’? For, on the one hand, everyone clearly knows that having an idea is an event that rarely takes place; ‘it is a sort of celebration, very uncommon. And then, on the other hand, having an idea is not a general thing. One does not have an idea in general. An idea – like the one who has the idea – is already dedicated to this or that domain. It is sometimes an idea in painting, sometimes an idea in fiction, sometimes an idea in philosophy, sometimes an idea in science. And it is certainly not the same thing that can have all that. ldeas must be treated as potentials that are already engaged in this or that mode of expression and inseparable from it, so much so that I cannot say that I have an idea in general. According to the techniques that l know, I can have an idea in a given domain, an idea in cinema or rather an idea in philosophy.

What is having an idea in something?

So I begin again with the principle that l do philosophy and that you do cinema. Given this, it would he too easy to say that since philosophy is prepared to reflect on anything at all, why wouldn’t it reflect on cinema? This is ridiculous. Philosophy is not made for reflecting on anything at all. In treating
philosophy as a power of “reflecting on,” much would seem to be accorded to it when in fact everything is taken from it. This is because no one needs philosophy for reflecting. Only filmmakers or cinema critics, or even those who like cinema, can effectively reflect on cinema. These people have no need of philosophy in order to reflect on cinema. The idea that mathematicians would need philosophy to refiect on mathematics is comical. 1f philosophy had to serve as a means of relectíng on something. it would have no reason to exist. If philosophy exists, it is because it has its own coment.

What is the content of philosophy?

It is very simple: philosophy is a discipline that is just as creative und inventive as any other discipline. And it entails creating or even inventing concepts. And concepts du not exist ready-made in the waiting for a philosopher to seize them. Concepts must he made. To he sure, they are not made just like that. It’s not that one just says one day, “Look, I’m going to invent such and such a concept,” no more than a painter says one day, “Look, I’m going to make a painting like this,” or a filmmaker, “Look, I’m going to make such and such a film!” There must be a necessity, as much philosophy as elsewhere, for if not there is nothing at all. A creator is not a being who works for pleasure. A creator does only what he or she absolutely needs to do. The fact remains that this necessity – which, if it exists, is a very complex thing – makes a philosopher (and here, l at least know what the concerns of the philosopher are) propose to invent, to create, concepts und not to concern himself or herself with reflecting, even on cinema.

I say that l do philosophy, which is to say that I try to invent concepts.
What if I say, to you who do cinema: What do you do?

What you invent are not concepts – which are not your concern – but blocks of movements/duration. If one puts together a block of movements/duration, perhaps one does cinema. It is not a matter of invoking a story or of contesting one. Everything has a story. Philosophy teils stories as well. Stories with concepts. Cinema tells stories with blocks of movements/duration. Painting invents entirely different types of blocks. These are neither blocks of concepts nor blocks of movements/duration, but blocks of lines/colors. Music ìnvents other types of blocks, equally specific. Beside all this, science is no less
creative. l don’t really see oppositions between the sciences and the arts.

If I ask a scientist what he or she does, the answer is that the scientist also invents. He or she does not discover – discovery exists, but it is not what
defines scientific activity as such – but rather creates just as much as an artist. It is not complicated: a scientist is someone who invents or creates functions. And the scientist is the only one. A scientist as such has nothing to do with concepts. On the one hand, it is precisely- and fortunately – for this that there is philosophy. On the other hand, there is one thing that only a scientist knows how to do: invent and create functions. What is a function? There is a function as soon as at least two wholes are put into correspondence. The fundamental notion of science – and not just of late but for a long time – is the notion of the xhole. A whole has nothing to do with a concept. As soon as you put wholes into correlation, you obtain functions and can say, “I do science.”

If anyone can speak to anyone else – if a filmmaker can speak to a scientist, if a scientist can have something to say to a philosopher and vice versa – it is according to and by function of each one’s creative activity. It is not that talk of creation took place – creation, to the contrary, is something very solitary but it is in the name of my creation that I have something to say to someone. If I lined up all these disciplines that are defined by their creative activity, l would say that there is a limit common to all of them. The limit common to all these series of inventions – inventions of functions, inventions of blocks of movements/duration, inventions of concepts – is space-time. If all the disciplines communicate together, it is on the level of that which never emerges for itself, but which is, as it were, engaged in every creative discipline, and this is the constitution of space-times.

An example of a cinematographic idea is the famous sight-sound dissociatìon in the relatively recent cinema of Hans-jürgen Syberberg, the Straubs,and Marguerìte Duras, to take the best-known cases. What is common to these, and in what sense is this dìsjunctíon of the visual and the auditory a properly cinematic idea? Why could this not take place in theater? Or at least if this happened in theater, if the theater found the means, then one can say without exception that the theater borrowed it from cinema. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but the operation of disjunction between sight and sound, between the visual and the auditory, is just the sort of cinematographìc idea that would respond to the question, What, for example, is having an idea in cinema?

A voice speaks of something. Something is spoken of. At the same time, we are made to see something else. And finally, what is spoken of is under what we are made to see. This third point is very important. You can tell that here is where theater cannot follow. Theater could take up the first two propositions: something is spoken of, and we are made to see something else. But at the same time what is spoken of is placed under what We are made to see – and this is necessary since otherwise the first two operations would have no meaning or interest whatsoever. This can be restated: speech rises into air, while the visible ground sinks farther and farther. Or rather, While this speech rises into air, what it speaks of sinks under the ground.

What is this, if only cinema can do it? I am not saying that cinema should do it but that cinema has done it two or three times; I can merely say that it was the great filmmakers who had this idea. This is a cinematographic idea. It is extraordinary in that it provides a veritable transformation of elements at the level of cinema, a cycle that in one stroke makes cinema resonate with a qualitative physics of elements. This produces a sort of transformation, a great circulation of elements in cinema, beginning with air, earth, water, and fire. All that I say does not diminish the story. The story is always there, but what strikes us is why the story is so interesting if not for the fact that all of this is behind it and with it. In this cycle that I have just defined so rapidly -where the voice rises while what it speaks of flees underground – you can recognize most of the Straubs’s films, their great cycle of elements. Deserted ground is the only thing that can be seen, but this deserted ground is heavy with what lies beneath. And you respond: But what is known about what lies beneath? It is precisely of this that the voice speaks. It is as if the ground buckles with what the voice tells us, and with what comes, in its time and place, to reside underground. And if the voice speaks to us of corpses, of the whole lineage of corpses that come to reside underground, at this very moment the slightest quivering of wind on the deserted ground, on the empty space under your eyes, the slightest hollow in this ground – all of this becomes clear.

I would say that, in any case, having an idea is not on the order of communication.

This is what I’m getting at. All that we speak of is irreducible to any form of communication. This is not a problem. Which is to say what? In the first sense, communication is the transmission and the propagation of a piece of information. But what is a piece of information? As everyone knows, this is
not very complicated: a piece of information is a grouping of order-words. When you are informed, you are told what you are supposed to believe. In other words, informing is circulating a keyword. Police statements are aptly called communiqués. information is communicated to us; we are told what we
are supposed to be ready or able to do or what we are supposed to believe. Not even to believe but to act as if we believed. We are not asked to believe
but to behave as if we believed. That is information, communication, and apart from these order-words and their transmission, there is no information, no communication. All of which underscores that information is precisely the system of control. This is clearly of particular concern to us today.

lt is true that we are entering a society that can be called a society of control. A thinker such as Michel Foucault has analyzed two types of societies that are rather close to us. He calls the former sovereign societies and the latter disciplinary societies. He locates the typical passage of a sovereign society to a disciplinary society with Napoleon. Disciplinary society is defined – and here Foucault’s analyses are rightly famous – by the accumulation of structures of confinement: prisons, schools, workshops, hospitals. Disciplinary societies require this. This analysis engendered ambiguities in certain of Foucault’s readers because it was believed that this was his last thought. This was certainly not the case. Foucault never believed and indeed said very precisely that disciplinary societies were not eternal. Moreover, he clearly thought that we were entering a new type of society. To be sure, there are all kinds of things left over from disciplinary societies, and this for years on end, but we know already that we are in societies of another sort that should be called, to use the term put forth by William Burroughs – whom Foucault admired greatly- societies of control. We are entering into societies of control that are defined very differently from disciplinary societies. Those who look after our interests do not need or will no longer need structures of confinement. These structures – prisons, schools, hospitals – are already sites of permanent discussion. Wouldn’t it be better to spread out the treatment? To the home? Yes, this is unquestionably the future. The workshops, the factories – they are falling apart everywhere. Wouldn’t systems of subcontracting and work at
home be better? Aren’t there means of punishing people other than prison? Societies of control will no longer pass through structures of confinement. Even the school. The themes that are surfacing, which will develop in forty or fifty years and which indicate that the most shocking thing would be to undertake school and a profession at once – these themes must be watched closely. lt will be interesting to know what the identity of the school and the profession will be in the course of permanent training, which is our future and which will no longer necessarily imply the regrouping of school children
in a structure of confinement. A control is not a discipline. In making high-ways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control. l am not saying that this is the highway’s exclusive purpose, but that people can drive ìnfinitely and “freely” without being at all confined yet while
still being perfectly controlled. This is our future.

So let us consider information as the controlled system of order-words that are used in a given society.

What does the work of art have to do with this?

Let us not speak of the work of art, but let us at least say that there is counterinformation. There are countries ruled by dictatorships where, under particularly cruel and difficult conditions, counterinformation exists. ln the time of Hitler, the jews who arrived from Germany, and who were the first to inform us of the existence of extermination camps, engaged in counterinformation. It must be noted that counterinformation was never sufficient to do anything. No counterinformation ever disturbed Hitler. Except in one case. What was the case? And here lies its importance. The only response would be that counterinformation only effectively becomes useful when it is – and it is this by nature – or when it becomes an act of resistance. And the act of resistance is neither information nor counterinformation. Counterinformation is effective only when it becomes an act of resistance.

What is the relation between the work of art and communication?

None whatsoever. The work of art is not an instrument of communication. The work of art has nothing to do with communication. The work of art strictly does not contain the least bit of information. To the contrary, there is a fundamental affinity between the work of art and the act of resistance. There, yes. It has something to do with information and communication as acts of resistance. What is this mysterious relation between a work of art and an act
of resistance when men who resist have neither the time nor sometimes the necessary culture to have the least relation to art? I don’t know. André Malraux develops a beautiful philosophical concept; he says something very simple about art; he says it is the only thing that resists death. Let’s return to where we began: What does one do when one does philosophy? One invents concepts. I think this is the basis of a beautiful philosophical concept. Think –
What resists death? One need only see a statuette from three thousand years before our time to find that Malraux’s response is a rather good one. From our point of view, we could then say, rather less elegantly, that art is what resists even if it is not the only thing that resists. Where does such a close relation between the act of resistance and the work of art come from? Each act of resistance is not a work of art while, in a certain sense, it is all the same. Each work of art is not an act of resistance and yet, in a certain sense, it is.

What is having an idea in cinema?

Take the case, for example, of the Straubs when they perform this disjunction between auditory voice and visual image, which goes as follows: the voice rises, it rises, it rises, and what it speaks about passes under the naked, deserted ground that the visual image was showing us, a visual image that had no direct relation to the auditory image. But what is this speech act that rises in the air while its object passes underground? Resistance. An act of resistance. And in all of the Straubs’ oeuvre, the speech act is an act of resistance. From Moses and Aaron to the last Kafka film (Class Relations) and passing through – now this is not in order – Not Reconciled or The Chronicle Of Anna Magdalena Bach. Bach’s speech act is his music, which is an act of resistance, an active struggle against the partitioning of the profane and the sacred. This musical act of resistance culminates in a cry. Just as there is a cry in Woyzeck there is a cry in Bach: “Outside! outside! Go on, I don’t want to see you!” When the Straubs underscore the cry, that of Bach or that of the old schizophrenic in Not Reconciled, thìs reveals a double aspect. The act of resistance has two sides. It is human, and it is also the act of art. Only the act of resistance resists death, whether the act is in the form of a work of art or in the form of human struggle.

What relation is there between human struggle and the work of art?

It is the strictest and for me the most mysterious relation. Precisely what Paul Klee wanted to say when he said: “You know, the people are missing.” The people are missing while at the same time they are not missing. The people are missing: that means that this fundamental affinity between a work of art and a people who do not yet exist is not, and never will be, clear. There is no work of art that does not appeal to a people who do not yet exist.

Transparent Things: Mary Helena Clark’s films & influences


25 March 2013 20:30 OFFoff Cinema, Gent

What are we seeing when watching images flickering on the screen? One could say that the cinematic experience always involves an unique play of imaginary presence (perceptual experiences, fantasies, illusions) and real absence (what is represented but not really there). The act of perception may be real, but the perceived is merely a shade, a phantom, “a hallucination that is also a fact”. It is this fundamental tension between presence and absence, actual and perceptual, the visible and the spectre of the hidden, that is at the heart of Mary Helena Clark’s work. Taking cues from the fantasy and illusion of early cinema as well as the material and formal exercises of the avant-garde, her hypnotic pieces explore cinema’s primitive magic, hurtling us down the secretive rabbit holes of the moving image. After having screened several of Mary Helena’s films in previous years, Courtisane will once again showcase her work during the coming Courtisane festival (17-21 April 2013), with the screening of her latest short film, Orpheus (outtakes). As a prologue to this year’s festival, Courtisane will present at OFFoff six films by Mary Helena Clark together with a selection of works by other filmmakers that have inspired her practice.

“Here is a selection of my films from 2008 to 2012 with work by Hans Richter, Anne McGuire, John Smith, Ernie Gehr, Anne Robertson and Saul Levine.

Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21 begins the program with an exploration of constructed space. It’s a minimalist play of dimensionality, finishing with a reinstatement of the flatness of the screen space. Anne McGuire’s I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong still startles me with the spontaneity of her performance. You can almost hear the twists of her mind and feel the tension of the single performer on stage, threatening to turn tragic. And like McGuire, John Smith’s a major and recurring influence. Leading Light, an early work, straddles lyrical and structural modes of filmmaking, using the basic tools of exposure and sound perspective to playfully undermine the veracity of film. Also, I am partial to movies made in bedrooms. Ernie Gehr’s Untitled (1977) was described to me by Ken Eisenstein years before I ever saw it. So for me, there’s a stacking up of the told-film, the film itself, and then how that film lingers in the mind, like a play of tenses. The shifts in Gehr’s film are magical whether imagined, experienced, or remembered. Going To Work by Anne Robertson is one of her quieter pieces. This diary film observes the world with a disconnect that rings true, with a mundane profundity that can hold the viewer in bewildering stillness. Saul Levine’s Dream Story gives me goosebumps. It’s directness reminds me of why I want to make films. The title of this program is taken from a Nabokov novel of the same name. He writes, “When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object…Transparent things, through which the past shines!” ”

Hans Richter
Rhythmus 21

Germany, 1921, 16mm, b&w, silent, 3’30

“I conceive of film as a modern art form particularly interesting to the sense of sight. Painting has its own peculiar problems and specific sensations, and so has film. But there are also problems in which the dividing line is obliterated, or where the two infringe upon each other. More especially, cinema can fulfill certain promises made by the ancient arts, in the realization of which painting and film become close neighbors and work together.”

Mary Helena Clark
By foot-candle light

USA, 2011, digital video, color, sound, 9’

“A walk through the proscenium wings. You close your eyes and suddenly it is dark.”

Anne McGuire
I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong

USA, 1997, video, b&w, sound, 11’

A wonderful witty work about nostalgia and desperation. Ann McGuire portrays a Kennedy-era singer performing in a space where theatre meets television. McGuire’s Garlandesque gestures provide both a sense of tragedy and humour. I am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong weaves narrative, performance, memory and history into a ironic and haunting work of unique proportions.

John Smith
Leading Light

GB, 1975, 16mm, color, sound, 11’

“Leading Light uses the camera-eye to reveal the irregular beauty of a familiar space. When we inhabit a room we are only unevenly aware of the space held in it and the possible forms of vision which reside there. The camera-eye documents and returns our apprehension. Vertov imagined a ‘single room’ made up of a montage of many different rooms. Smith reverses this aspect of ‘creative geography’ by showing how many rooms the camera can create from just one.” (A.L. Rees)

Mary Helena Clark
And The Sun Flowers

USA, 2008, digital video, color, sound, 5’

“Based on the true story of the wallpaper in my bedroom.”

Mary Helena Clark
After Writing

USA, 2008, 16mm, color, optical sound, 4’

“Scraps of text gathered from molding filmstrips and peeling chalkboards are photographed and intercut with pinhole shots from a schoolhouse. “

Ernie Gehr

USA, 1977, 16mm, color, silent, 5’

“… a delicious slow pulling of focus over four minutes in which snowflakes, streaming like intercepted chalk marks, fall in front of what seems to be a field, then a pond, and finally is recognized as a brick wall.” (P. Adams Sitney)

Mary Helena Clark
Orpheus (outtakes)

USA, 2012, 16mm, b&w, optical sound, 6’

“An impossible film project: Buster Keaton stars in the outtakes from Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus, made by me for the cutting room floor.”

Anne Charlotte Robertson
Going To Work

USA, 1981, Super8 to video, color, sound, 7’

“Anne took the written diary form and extended it to include documentary, experimental and animated filmmaking techniques. She did not shy away from exposing any parts of her physical situation or emotional life. She became a pioneer of personal documentary and bravely shared experiences and observations on being a vegetarian, her cats, organic gardening, food, and her struggles with weight, her smoking and alcohol addictions, and depression (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Romance (or lack thereof) and obsession are long-running themes in her films, as is the cycle of life.” (Harvard Film Archive)

Mary Helena Clark
The Plant

USA, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 8’

“A film filled with clues and stray transmissions built on the bad geometry of point-of-view shots.”

Mary Helena Clark
Sound Over Water

USA, 2009, 16mm, color, optical sound, 5’

“Blue water and blue sky meet on emulsion.”

Saul Levine
Dream Story

USA, 2001, digital video, color, sound, 5’

Dream Story is about a dream I had of Marjorie Keller.”

DISSENT ! Hartmut Bitomsky


28 March 2013 20:30 Galeries, Brussels
in conversation with Stoffel Debuysere

“As once stated in a Brecht play: if two things come together, you need a third thing. The third thing, back then, was political film making”. For about ten years, the film work of Hartmut Bitomsky could hardly be dissociated from that of Harun Farocki. In the second half of the 1960’s they both formed the backbone of the Projektgruppe Schülerfilm, an initiative of Berlin students building on the leftist intellectual legacy by combining militant cinema and Brechtian didacticism. After their studies, they continued to make a number of films together, and consequently co-founded the Filmkritik magazine as an outlet for their cinephile enthusiasm. But it was only a matter of time before their ways parted: “Farocki comes from Eisenstein, and I come from Rossellini. He is very fond of montage, I am more interested in life”. Although they are both exploring a critical-essayistic perspective, Bitomsky considers documentary film as an instrument for articulation rather than for deconstruction. So, each film he has been making since the 1970’s provides some sort of map, its routes leading us through unruly territories, covering themes such as memory, history, technology and image culture. In this fourth installment of the DISSENT ! series a selection of Bitomsky’s films will serve as the starting point for a conversation on cinema, documentary practice, image and reality.

Before the talk, on March 28th, we’ll be screening
Hartmut Bitomsky & Heiner Mühlenbrock, Deutschlandbilder
1983-84, 35mm, b/w, German with English subtitles, 60′
“The film is composed of excerpts from more than 30 documentary films that were made and shown in the period between 1933 and 1945. The documentary films present a clean and self-confident Germany and a people of nature lovers, who respect its traditions, is devoted to progress and has an appreciation for beauty. This was something the Nazis particularly liked; they had a pronounced need for beauty. They loved films and they made ample use of them. Most of the films deal with work, leisure and work again. They indulge in a certain kind of populism, one that casts a look of understanding at the simple man. In this way they function like a reversed plebiscite: the regime confirms its people because they show themselves to be devoted and able and because they participate in everything with creative enthusiasm. Today, however, we must ask ourselves what these films can still tell us. They are profoundly hypocritical, and their intention is to conceal which function has been assigned to them. The more they intend to show, the more they seem to need to keep secret. What can be studied in the films is how film pictures are managed: how they are engaged and turned into instruments, how they are arranged and edited, how commentary and sound is added to them, and how they were taken and used. The Nazi film-makers took great pains to do this. Like advertising strategists, they wanted to seduce. The films and their pictures are like masks that show one face and at the same time cover another. Pictures were taken from reality served to hide reality. Kracauer wrote about this that “The Nazis falsified reality just like Potemkim; instead of cardboard, however, they used life itself to build imaginary villages.” (HB)

DISSENT ! is an initiative of Argos, Auguste Orts and Courtisane, in the framework of the research project “Figures of Dissent” (KASK/Hogent), with support of VG & VGC. The visit of Hartmut Bitomsky is supported by Galeries and Goethe-Institut Brussels.

Also read ‘The documentary world by Hartmut Bitomsky.

How can the relation between cinema and politics be thought today? Between a cinema of politics and a politics of cinema, between politics as subject and as practice, between form and content? From Vertov’s cinematographic communism to the Dardenne brothers’ social realism, from Straub-Huillet’s Brechtian dialectics to the aesthetic-emancipatory figures of Pedro Costa, from Guy Debord’s radical anti-cinema to the mainstream pamphlets of Oliver Stone, the quest for cinematographic representations of political resistance has taken many different forms and strategies over the course of a century. The multiple choices and pathways that have gradually been adopted, constantly clash with the relationship between theory and practice, representation and action, awareness and mobilization, experience and change. Is cinema today regaining some of its old forces and promises? Are we once again confronted with the questions that Serge Daney asked a few decades ago? As the French film critic wrote: “How can political statements be presented cinematographically? And how can they be made positive?”. These issues are central in a series of conversations in which contemporary perspectives on the relationship between cinema and politics are explored.