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

Nina Zimnik

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

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


1. Introduction

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

Such ideas have serious implications, and Gilles Deleuze was among the first great thinkers of our time to draw the consequences. This paper has a twofold purpose: I will try to link Deleuze's theories of the cinematic image back to some of the Kantian aesthetic imperatives that propel his argument, and second, I will read the art of the German Jewish artist Gabriele Leidloff through Deleuzian categories of visuality, in particular with regard to Deleuze's call for new images of the body.

Deleuze watched films, many of them, and, in 1985, he published about 700 pages of dense prose called Cinema Un and Cinema Deux. What actually constitutes the subject matter of his books, has been a subject of contest but the title might actually yield some information: Cinema One and Cinema Two. Indeed, Deleuze set forth the idea that all of cinema divides into two types, neatly to be separated into two volumes, namely The Movement Image and The Time Image. In these texts, Deleuze mentions hundreds of films, and he celebrates what I imagine was the cinematic repertoire of the Parisian 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 the academic public they deserve because film professors aren't sufficiently well-trained in the philosophical background Deleuze employs when he talks about film (if his enterprise could at all be described like this), and, supposedly, philosophers don't even know a film image if they see one. Since the Cinema books present a radical break with the history of the semiotic principles of inquiry that have hitherto informed (Saussure-based) film theory, such critical remarks tend to precipitate a probing into the 'use' of the Cinema books. One of the interesting questions that arise from his books for me in this rather profane context is the following: does Deleuze develop a theory of the image that can be transposed, at least in parts, and/or perhaps because of its generality, to thinking about non-cinematic forms of the image? e.g. does he open doors for discourses about experimental visual techniques? (1)


2. The Lost Object of Art

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

Cinema's concepts are not given in cinema. And yet they are cinema's concepts, not theories about the cinema. So that there is always a time, midday-midnight, when we must no longer ask ourselves, 'What is cinema?', but 'What is philosophy?' Cinema itself is a new practice of images and signs, whose theory philosophy must produce as conceptual practice. For no technical determination, whether applied (psychoanalysis, linguistics) or reflexive, 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 elaborate and the attempt to read a piece through Deleuzian categories is a daunting task, especially if one sticks to one's semiotic guns ("psychoanalysis, linguistics") and does not venture into Bergsonian philosophical territory. Yet, as so often with Deleuze, the contrary is true as well--it's perfectly possible to interpret images with Deleuzian categories, cinematic and non-cinematic ones. Therefore, this article will be able to refer to chapter eight of The Time Image, a chapter whose first subheading carries the title "Give me a body."

In other words, I am arguing for an 'applicability' of the Deleuzian enterprise, more precisely of elements thereof, to the interpretation of images, in the case of the art we are about to see, non-cinematic images. Why can this transposition be done? Because Deleuze is perfectly Kantian in his approach to art. Remember the idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant who lived in provincial Germany and never saw great art, developing his aesthetic theory while contemplating door knobs and lace patterns? A personal homology is, however, not what I am getting at. Deleuze's books are ample testimony that he did, in fact, see a lot of films and the footnotes suggest that he meticulously worked his way through the Cahiers. Yet, it is precisely the myriad of cinematic examples in the Cinema books that are confusing since their exemplarity is questionable: No one could, when reading possibly process the information Deleuze provides since one has either not seen the films or doesn't remember them sufficiently to have them support what Deleuze is trying to say at the given point of his argument (2). This gesture had, of course, a venerable predecessor in the history of aesthetics. If with Kant the art object disappears in the four moments of his discourse in the Third Critique and Kant thus opens the door to the first theory of abstract art, to understand a passage of the cinema books, you don't necessarily have to see the films that propel the argument, if that's indeed what they are supposed to do. For the films and written argument might simply have a virtual relation, or as the director of a reading group I attended put it when a student asked whether it is possible to see the sequences Deleuze discusses: "you don't have to see 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 approach to the object of art. WWII has fundamentally transformed our psyches and phenomenology of perception, calling into question the status of truth and the possibility of action. Cinema took note. The images registered the sociological, political and epistemological differences that define the eras as pre- or post-WWII. Before WWII, one had the regime of the so-called "movement image", afterwards the regime of the "time image." These concepts may not mean much to you right now. Keep in mind, however, the most basic thrust of Deleuze's argument: the relation of time and thought is imagined differently in the postwar period; it was Newtonian before the war and is Kantian afterwards. Under the impression of the destruction of WW II, the world had literally fallen apart, and so had thought. Remember when Adorno 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 now fundamentally and irrevocably disturbed. The faculties of the mind might not be able to bridge the gap that the chock of WWII left behind: it is that which human beings cannot and must not be able to comprehend--"can not" because it is simply too horrible and "must not" because then we wouldn't heed its ethical imperatives. Belief in unity, identity and totality has been shattered for good; we are witnessing the inception of the postmodern. If reason were to speak in Kantian tongue after WWII, it would say: "give me a concept for all the sense data", but understanding would fail to do so. This state of affairs precipitates an aesthetic of oscillation and a probing of thinking into representation. The process thus initiated causes the mind to temporarily produce unstable syntheses between immediate sense data and reason: thus, reason is in the image (think of it as a Kantian work of art) . . . "the responsible writer must be an imagologist. . . ."

This philosophical framework is one of the pillars of Deleuze's mediation on cinema. Let me cite the examples of the only monograph today on Deleuze's cinema books, the brilliant, concise text Deleuze's Time Machine by David N. Rodowick who tries to explain the two different visual regimes that Deleuze traces. Rodowick thinks the movement image is best exemplified by a scene in Buster Keaton's film Sherlock, Jr.: Buster jumps from a rock situated in water, and--cut--lands in a snow bank. Here, time is subordinated to space: "time serves as the measure of space and movement, it can be 'seen' only through the intermediaries of space and movement" (Rodowick 9/10). The time image is best exemplified by the aesthetics of La Jetee by Chris Marker: lying motionless, a prisoner of war is forced to travel in time. Here, time "is no longer reduced to the thread of chronology where present, past, and future are aligned on a continuum (Rodowick 4)--it becomes a form, namely the form in which the prisoner relates to himself, which orders the episodic movements in time that constitute his life and that he 'remembers'. The image of time is thus "released from its subordination to movements linked with physical actions" (4).

Let us hear Deleuze on time:

"The time is out of joint'. Time is out of joint, time is unhinged. The hinges are the axis around which the door turns. Cardo [hinge of the door, the semantic root of "cardinal" numbers], in Latin, designates the subordination of time to the cardinal points through which the periodical movements that it measures pass. As long as time remains on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it is the measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view of ancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is now movement which is subordinate to time. . . . Time is no longer related to the movement which it measures, but movement is related to the time which conditions it" (Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy vii).

You just read the introductory passage of Gilles Deleuze's preface to his 1963 text Kant's Critical Philosophy; the same meditation on temporality defines the regime of the time image of the Cinema books.


4. Housing Problems

According to Deleuze, in the post WWII era, thinking needs to harbor forth into new structures since the old ones, unity, identity etc. have fallen victim to epistemological destruction. Thinking errs; if it were to speak, it would it say "Give me body"--which fundamentally implies that the body is no longer a hindrance to thought.

"[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 from thought, life . . . The attitude of the body relates thought to time as to that outside which is infinitely further than the outside world" (The Time Image 189).

The body prefigures the unthought, that which is housed in the gaps of the heritage with which the destruction of humanity bestowed the post WWII era; that unthought before which conceptual thinking fails. Deleuze writes, this unthought is hinted at by the cinema of the nouvelle vague that liked filming common, normal bodies or the by ceremonial body in experimental films by Andy Warhol. Thought needs a new home. Just like reason might have ventured out of the taxonomy of words and their phallocentric Saussurean logic. The camera registers the nomadic mind. Investigating the body, it searches for a new "pratique" of thinking. The body thus filmed is "a spatial sign of time that passes" (Rodowick 168). "It is never in the present time because time passes: the body registers and accumulates its past experiences; it anticipates the future reactively as repetition of the same, or affirmatively as the anticipation of new potentialities and transformative forces" (Rodowick 168). Or as Deleuze puts it, "to think is to learn what a non-thinking body is capable of, its capacity, its postures" (The Time Image 189). The body thus filmed or produced by radiographic imaging as in the work of Gabriele Leidloff, is not a static mass, is not the self-identical body that the theatricality of the cinema presents in a make-belief structure. This body is rather a potentiality, an ensemble of forces, an undecidable figure that opens an interval of a virtual past and an indeterminate future. It is a surface where disparate temporal perspectives overlap and 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 Gabriele Leidloff. Leidloff's work presents a critique of the idea that we are 'flooded by images'. This may be so, she thinks, but the images that we get to see are always the same, namely variations of what she calls "situative processes of movement": what gets filmed, taped, generated most is the body or a set of bodies in variations of the same positions, (i.e., positions that are defined generally by the aesthetic apparatus of television). To explore this state of affairs and to comment on it, Leidloff makes use of conventional forms of visual representation, (i.e., of TV aesthetics and narratives and applies minimal distortion to these techniques).


5.1. Leidloff, 1997

[ click image to view movie ]

As off the mid nineties, Leidloff started to explore radiographic imaging (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) and sonography (ultrasonic) as camera techniques and stages scenes with dummies (3). The 'bodies' thus represented are constitutive of visual paradoxes: what you see is matter because radiographic imaging registers the density of the object: the whiter the space, the denser the material of the represented object. Yet the body as matter is translated back into surface in radiographic imaging, (i.e., first into the images of the radiographic representation, and second, being moved by videotaping techniques, these surfaces are transposed to the surface of the video).

One of Leidloff's 1997 pieces is entitled . . . It is a video loop featuring first an ultrasound image of a Barbie, a dummy that is slowly being moved, followed by a cat scan of a female mannequin, then by the depiction of the medical apparatus, of the machinery employed to reproduce the body, (i.e., the cat scan apparatus itself is videotaped). On the soundtrack of the cat scan shots, one hears the explanatory phrases of a radiologist with whom Leidloff has been cooperating. In these first sequences, not much is left of the so-called body: one has to look hard to make out the representational content of the image. In the case of the first shot, (i.e., of Barbie, the eye of the onlooker merely registers moving contours that effectuate a spatial configuration of what seems to be a female head). This assumption can only be made one the basis of a collective visual repertoire: the recognition of the silhouette of the head relies on the immediate availability of the popular profile of the dummy in our memory, (i.e., the sequence works with an aesthetics of the physiognomy of the female body that is through and through commercialized). The title of Leidloff's work must be seen in view of this commercialization as well; it refers to the plethora of pornographic websites that can be found on the Internet. Yet, although these references do come up, the referentiality of the visuals is ambiguous to the point that referentiality itself becomes a question. Once one has indeed identified a head and read it as a specific type of feminine profile, the head's movement automatically suggests life, yet, this life is simulated by a dummy.


5.2. Leidloff, 1997

[ click image to view movie ]

One of Leidloff's ongoing aesthetic concerns has been narrative structure. 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 shot sequence that uses a certain amount of images per second, obeys the 180 degrees rule etc. Here, Leidloff's own body that looks as lifeless as that of a mannequin is prominently displayed and juxtaposed in a shot-counter shot sequence with the sonographically generated representation of a man, (i.e., a dummy). Yet, although initially constructing a heterosexual encounter, their gazes don't meet, thus violating the homogeneity of illusionary space. Again, posing the question of referentiality, man and his simile cannot be told apart: Leidloff's body looks inanimate but the man's 'body' looks alive because the artist moved the dummy. Thus, the images of . . . are copies of those structures of the body and the sequential ways of presenting it that have been exhausted by the visual culture of this century. To put it differently, Leidloff firstly produces metaphoric constructions of the body, of the various technical layers that constitute 'a body'. These 'bodily' subjects or objects are then inserted into the forms of the contemporary collective imaginary of the West. Deleuze speaks of heeding the body in its potentiality. Here we have undecidable figures that are not just fuzzy representations and can therefore not be read or understood completely or properly (like the 'man's' movements). Their very undecidability not only generally imposes the question of representation and but also of a certain subject matter, the representation of the heterosexual encounter, in particular.


5.3. Leidloff, Ugly Casting, 1997

[ click image to view movie ]

Last year, Leidloff's installation Ugly Casting (1997) toured. Ugly Casting consists of images taken from death masks that 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. Leidloff photographed them slightly distorted by using photographic techniques of blurring, and in some photos, arranged them in a homoerotic version of the Hollywood kiss. Calling attention to the importance of mediality itself, she installed a video loop of these images next to the photos. Transposed to video and cut in the sequential order of shot and countershot, the close-ups of the masks comment on the way our experience of narrative structures prefigures our ideas of what we see: even though 'the fundamental things don't change', a kiss is not a kiss.


5.4. Leidloff, Ms. Olga de Mooy, 1996

Ms Olga de Mooy

The 82 min. video Ms. Olga de Mooy (1996) pursues the questions of representation and narrative structure from another angle. Ms Olga de Mooy features an old lady from Stamford, CN, who engages in her daily rituals. The piece presents investigation of movement. Leidloff's camera meticulously registers the slow gestures with which the old woman puts on her make-up, combs her hair etc. On video (4), her body moves slowly but not too slowly such that one would be able to clearly identify slow motion. In fact, it is old age that dictates Mooy's mobility or lack thereof and undermines the viewer's expectations of speed; no artistic or technical device was employed. Yet, since some of the movements seemed staged, one does not know for sure whether technique is involved or not. Since the representation hovers between reality and the possibility of its malleability through technical manipulation, the viewer is continuously thrown back to the question of technique. What seems like a constructed image, is factually a real-time representation (at least on video). In other words, the image that is supposed to be (self-)present, a real one, or to speak with Deleuze, an 'actual' image, cannot be told from the image that is not self-present, i.e. from the virtual image, in this case from a manipulated image (the virtual image that Deleuze denotes as an image of the past, as an image also linked with absence). If the difference between the representation of the real, (i.e., the actual, and the virtual cannot be told, then the capacity to decide as such has collapsed and the distinction between virtuality and reality itself is problematic henceforth). Thus, Ms Olga de Mooy precipitates the "heart of the optosign" to cite Deleuze: if actual and virtual image coincide in one image, one has arrived at the regime of the so-called crystal image (5).


[ click image to view movie ]

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


5.5. Leidloff, Moving Visual Object, 1997

[ click image to view movie ]

Another 1997 video is Moving Visual Object. The piece is an assemblage of the representation of the funeral of the Princess of Wales. The artist zapped from station to station on her TV during the ceremony. As the frame in the image indicates, the image is produced by filming the US TV screen. Moving Visual Object shows the TV representation of the coffin that was at the center of last year's spectacle and that was slowly and ceremoniously being moved through the streets of London. Such images are necessarily bound to incite the imagination since the viewer interprets the box as containing the body of the Princess lying in the coffin. In short, the spectators of the procession and the TV spectators of the funeral hallucinate upon a moving black box--an allegory of the reception of TV. Seen in conjunction with Ms Olga de Mooy, this piece presents a further virtualization of the body; namely a complete reduction to its virtual dimension, its absence. The actuality of the body has in fact disappeared since the body in its actuality is not seen: it is nothing but the box that suggests its status of actuality. The constitutive representational absence of the body, its virtuality in the box as an image, (i.e., as a TV image, has taken over).



Artist: Gabriele Leidloff

Text: Dr. Nina Zimnik

Websupport: Christian Hildebrandt

Copyright © Enculturation 1998

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