Hanjo Berressem: Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy

Gilles Deleuze's Luminous Philosophy Book Cover Gilles Deleuze's Luminous Philosophy
Hanjo Berressem
Edinburgh University Press

Reviewed by: Timothy Deane-Freeman (Deakin University)

There is a kind of light which is perceptible only on the “other side” of darkness, in a movement through the colour spectrum, through the shadowy non-colour, black, and beyond, where we discover a luminescence immanent to the universe itself. This is certainly the light which plays upon the impossibly black surfaces of Pierre Soulages’ Outrenoir paintings, constituting, in Alain Badiou’s words, “a light other than light” which opens up “the painterly landscape of a world without borders and of an infinite potential of perspectives…” (2017: 21-22). This is likewise the light seething beneath Bacon’s canvases, which will need to be “cleaned” of the figurative clichés already covering them, such that it might be captured in the aleatory diagrams of the artist (Deleuze 2003: 86-87). And it’s precisely this light which is the object of Hanjo Berressem’s impressive and accomplished study, Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy, a monograph which aims, in the author’s words, “to develop a coherent image of Deleuze’s philosophy from two of its conceptual leitmotifs: light and crystals” (1).

Berressem’s reasons for centralising these two motifs are multiple. The notion of light, he will argue, captures the affirmative and optimistic spirit of Deleuze’s thought, its playful and joyous elements. At the level of Deleuze’s metaphysics, light provides us with a persuasive means of drawing out his Spinozism in the vocabulary of 20th century physics, of which more shortly. Finally, this approach opens up a new and productive way of thinking about the Deleuzian individual– as the crystalline centre for a refractive “play” of this immanent light, of which it constitutes a temporary and contingent means of capture. Of course, these three axioms are fundamentally linked. But perhaps most importantly, a symbiosis of light and crystals serves as a means of overcoming the traces of a problematic dualism, or even of dialectics, which some commentators have read into Deleuze.

If, following the latter, individuals (understood in the broadest possible sense) constitute transient centres of organisation on an energetic plane which is both their source and ecology, then we appear, in fact, to inherit two complementary, yet formally distinct planes in need of reconciliation: on the one hand, a plane of already constituted individuals, on the other, a plane of pre-individual forces, which serves as their condition. The oscillation between these two registers, such that their distinction is neither absolute, nor collapsed into the monism with which Deleuze will be charged by the likes of Badiou (2009), constitutes a central problem for Deleuze, and, as such, for his many commentators. Indeed, as Berressem notes, this tension, between Deleuze as a thinker of absolute deterritorialization, multiplicity and schizophrenic becoming(s), and Deleuze as the heir to a monistic “doxa of the body,” to use Badiou’s phrase (2009: 35), poses an immediate problem: “how to think the paradox of this conceptual simultaneity?” (21). And it is this task, indeed, upon which Berressem embarks.

For Berressem, this schism can be meaningfully thought using the twin images of light and of the crystal, which become a means of affirming the inter-dependence of these planes, and as such the radical immanence upon which Deleuze is so insistent. As Berressem explains:

…the notion of the complementarity of the plane of light and of the plane of crystals is one figure of [Deleuzian] affirmation. As the complementarity of these two planes suffuses Deleuze’s thought from its beginning to its very end, it allows us to draw a line of light through his work: a line of white light refracted by crystals (1).

This latter pairing, of crystalline individuals through which light passes—which, indeed, constitute temporary and refractory “captures” of light—thus offers up a compelling means of approaching the daunting parallelism Deleuze inherits from both Spinoza (the two formal series of thought and extension) and Bergson (the metaphysical dyad of virtual and actual), overcoming the Cartesian, or even, following Zizek (2012), Hegelian residues we might be tempted to identify in Deleuze’s work.

Further, once the infamous “plane of immanence”—the all-encompassing, yet necessarily elusive condition of Deleuzian metaphysics-—is modelled as a plane of “light,” with crystals conceived as temporary spatial orientations or polarisations of this light, we have transposed its form into one which is eminently compatible—though importantly, irreducible—to the image of the Universe we inherit from contemporary science. Physicists, indeed, dedicate themselves to the actualised functions of this “light” – a term which, in the context of their work, refers no longer to that band of the electromagnetic spectrum which is “visible,” but rather to the radiant chaos of electromagnetic waves, perceptible through instruments and mathematical modelling (gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, radio waves). And in the same way that the human eye is situated within a particular band of perception, science too can only “see” those modalities of light which are actualised before its topoi, established on its particular plane(s) of reference.

Art, meanwhile, as we have seen, captures this light through its own perceptual techniques, forming it in concrescences of paint and celluloid, rendering visible its multiple and subterranean affects. While philosophy, finally, instigates its own luminous relation, tracing this light’s virtualities and “counter-effectuations” (Deleuze & Guattari 2009: 159), its potentialities and compossibilities, its becomings as opposed to its being—in other words, its invisibilities—such as constitute, in the vocabulary of a Deleuzian set theory, “a thread which traverses sets and gives each one the possibility, which is necessarily realised, of communicating with another, to infinity…” (2013a: 20). It is this luminous “thread” which serves philosophy’s entwined purposes, of resisting the doxa of “closed systems,” and of forging hitherto unthought connectives.

In part, the author’s success in advancing this “luminous” reading of Deleuze is due to his exploration of some of the dimmer corners of the Deleuzian oeuvre. Present are the usual suspects—Simondon and Bergson, Spinoza and Leibniz (Guattari, meanwhile, receives his own complementary volume[1])—however of equal importance to Berressem’s excavation of this “conceptual spine” are figures often considered peripheral to Deleuze’s project—Lucretius, D.H. Lawrence, Serres—whom he nevertheless plums for significant insights into the mechanics and becoming of Deleuze’s concepts.

Indeed the book’s argument for a hermeneutic centralising these “lines of light” (59) begins with a text which has seen relatively little attention in the well-tilled field of Deleuze scholarship (Ryan J. Johnson’s rich intervention aside[2]), 1961’s “Lucretius and the Simulacrum,” best known as an appendix to The Logic of Sense. In the book’s first chapter, Berressem reconstructs Lucretian natural philosophy as we find it in De Rerum Natura, the extraordinary text in which Lucretius defends the Epicurean “rain of atoms” (corpora) by positing the clinamen -that unpredictable swerve of atoms which creates the world of things and vouchsafes the possibility of free will. From this early text, Berressem will derive not only a profound and persistent Deleuzian affection for life, nature and change, condensed here in the Lucretian figure of Venus, but will also begin to elaborate the conceptual simultaneity of pointillism and dynamism, such as persists throughout Deleuze’s oeuvre. As Berressem explains, “the moment of the clinamen is of fundamental importance for the genesis of the world, as well as, on a much smaller scale, for the genesis of Deleuzian philosophy…” (29).

This model, according to which a rain of atoms (or perhaps more properly, as we will shortly see, photons) is subject to an unpredictable barrage of collisions, explains the genesis of the dappled and complex multiplicity we call life. If the atoms simply fell straight down, then their parallel trajectories would never intersect, and no phenomena would ever adhere. In their swerving and subsequent collisions, however, the aleatory and chaotic becoming of “nature” is unleashed – a nature which, from its very beginning, must not be thought in terms of any mechanism or determinism. This is because the inter-energetic processes unleashed by the “event” of the clinamen can be reduced neither to a dynamic logic of causal series, nor to a fundamentally pointillist atomism. Rather, each atom, whilst perceptible only in its processual (or actualised) dynamisms and collisions, retains, in spite of this, a shadowy virtuality, which persists and is never fully actualised. In Deleuze’s words, this is therefore a Universe in which “each causal series is constituted by the movement of an atom and conserves in the encounter its full independence,” (1990: 270) which is to say a set of virtual characteristics which persist outside the plane of actualised causes and effects.

In this context, Berressem argues that against a Cartesian lumen naturale, Deleuze will consistently embrace a Lucretian lumen veneris. Over a rational light which might ultimately render visible all of God’s creation, Deleuze will favour a light, “made up of a multiplicity of diffractions and absorptions that are sustained by a constant solar emission… this multiplicity of light, its diversity and the singularity of its instantiation, allows one to conceptualize a luminous philosophy” (34). The clinamen, in other words, in providing a model of the noetic inextricability of both virtual and actual “sides” of any object, becomes the first “event,” in Deleuze’s philosophy, a term which we can read as fundamentally entwined with two others which recur throughout Berressem’s book: the individual and the crystal.

The vocabulary of crystallisation, of course, stems from Deleuze’s engagement with Gilbert Simondon, whose philosophy of individuation is only just beginning to make its proper influence felt in the Anglophone academy. For Simondon, “crystallisation” offers up a model of the genesis of the individual which is immanent, ecological and processual, eschewing what he will claim is the profound inadequacy of philosophy’s preferred model-Aristotelian hylomorphism. According to this latter model, the individual is comprised of an innate matter upon which a determinate form is imposed, as it were, “from above.” The crystal, however, is the product of an autogenesis, according to which environmental energies are transformed or “transduced” around an initial event or locale, itself haphazard and contingent. As Simondon explains:

A crystal that, from a very small seed, grows and expands in all directions in its supersaturated mother liquid provides the most simple image of the transductive operation: each already constituted molecular layer serves as an organizing basis for the layer currently being formed… the transductive operation is an individuation in progress; it can, in the physical domain, occur in the simplest manner in the form of a progressive iteration; but in more complex domains such as the domains of vital metastability or of a psychic problematic, it can advance in constantly variable steps and it can expand in a domain of heterogeneity (2009: 11).

Here, in a microscopic model of Simondon’s broader project, crystalline individuation is traced from the example of relatively simple mineraloid transduction, up to the levels of complex biological, psychological and collective individuation.

And developing upon this project, Berressem dedicates impressive and methodical work, drawing on findings in biology and chemistry, to establish not only the possibility of discussing living individuals as crystalline—albeit not solid crystals, rather liquid or quasi-crystals—but also of speaking meaningfully of virtual individuals—be they psychic, noetic or philosophical—in terms of crystallisation. As he explains:

Similar to the way matter crystallizes itself into specific forms from within a field of vectorial and energetic potentiality, mind crystallizes itself into specific thoughts from within a field of vectorial and intensive potentiality… This is why for Deleuze, philosophy, as the art of thought, needs to open itself up to the non-philosophical: to link its concepts to pre- and non-philosophical plateaus and parameters. Only under this condition does it make sense to talk of crystals as ‘seeds of thought’ (28).

In other words, not only do crystals, conceived as “events” at the level of actualised matter, provoke the crystallisation of “thoughts” and “Ideas” in philosophy, but these same noetic crystals must be understood not as innate or immaculate, but rather situated within their own energetic and affective milieux or ecologies.

In his second chapter, Berressem zooms in, turning to an account of the refractive functioning of such a “crystalline” thought itself. Via a detailed treatment of Deleuze’s early engagement with Hume, in particular his elaboration of the subject—and later of the individual tout court—as the contraction of a habit, Berressem moves to a discussion of Deleuze’s noetic philosophy as it emerges in Difference and Repetition. Here, Deleuze claims that much of what is considered thought is in fact nothing but a habitual “recognition,” which sees, in keeping with the Kantian model, the faculties engaged in a harmonious function of “representation.” Philosophical thought, however, in keeping with its project of breaking with doxa, should strive to escape the model of recognition, taking as its object not the unified beings of an already thinkable representation, rather the multiplicities of an unthinkable becoming. In this context, Deleuze will sketch a cognitive model according to which the faculties “fail” in recognising their object, and embark upon a mutual experience of provocation and constraint – each thrust back into contact with that which is its “own,” and entering into a differential inter-agitation which is productive of the new.

Berressem draws out the already refractory model such a thought presupposes, positing philosophy as that style of “crystalline” thinking which is able to transform the unity of received light into such problematic multiplicities. As he writes, “in a process that is comparable to the refraction of white light into the spectrum of colours, crystallization refracts monism into multiplicity” (24). And while this “luminous” conception of thought finds plenty of implicit support in Difference and Repetition itself, Berressem’s work in drawing out the subtle yet consistent vocabulary of light throughout the book—such that it might be linked to the broader figure of a Deleuzian “luminosity”—is genuinely accomplished, providing fertile yet underemphasised connectives with a constellation of other Deleuzian texts.

The crystal, then, provides us with a model of thought and of its object, both of which constitute refractory crystallisations emerging through transduction around a particular germinal “event.” But, to return to the question with which we began, how are we to reconcile these particulate individuals with the pre-individual flows or forces which are their condition? How, in other words, are we to move from an atomist monadology to a crystalline ecology?

Essential here is Berressem’s use of the motif of photonic wave-particle duality, the “elemental complementarity of particles and waves” (32), which recurs throughout Luminous Philosophy. Quantum mechanics, in many ways, begins with the problem that neither the concept of the particle nor of the wave, as inherited from classical physics, properly explain the unique behaviours of photons at the quantum level. Photons, indeed, occupy an indeterminate space between these theories, such that, as Albert Einstein concedes:

…we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do (1938: 278).

In other words, elementary particles are interchangeably either individuals, flows or aerosols, depending upon the particular mode of visualisation, theorisation or of thought which is brought to bear upon them.

And this same indeterminacy can be expressed in terms of light and crystals, such that, as Berressem explains, “crystals are the effect of polarization, of the spatial orientation that defines, for instance, electromagnetic, gravitational or light waves” (23). Considered in this photonic sense, then, both waves of light and refractory crystallisations of light constitute the same ontological substance, albeit “thought” in formally distinct modes. In this way, Berressem restages Spinoza’s “parallelism”—such as Deleuze more or less retains—between a plane of extension and of thought, using the motifs of a luminous physics to maintain their ontological simultaneity as substance, God or nature.

Berressem’s third chapter traces this particle-wave model of parallelism into Deleuze’s work on both space and time, prosecuting fertile and original discussions of The Logic of Sense, The Fold and A Thousand Plateaus. Here, the author himself enacts a folding of the philosophy of time advanced in The Logic of Sense onto that of Difference and Repetition, in order to differentiate two temporal registers conceived in terms of light -an infinity of Chronic “strobes” or “pulses” constituting the microscopic physical adherences necessary for the maintenance of a “present,” alongside an immaterial, Aionic time, “an empty, intensive, virtual duration that is open to both a past and to a future” (118). Transposed into the author’s preferred metaphysical category of light, these alternate temporal modalities become “a diffuse aionic glow that suffuses a scene against the stuttering of the chronic strobe…” (118). Alongside temporality conceived in these luminous terms, Berressem here pursues the model of a crystalline space through Deleuze’s Leibnizian monadology, which sees the latter’s radically singular atoms reconceived as folds, pleats or fractalizations of immanent substance. The discussion in this chapter is of an immense richness, however in order to treat what I take to be the book’s fundamental themes, I will leave detailed explication to one side and direct the interested reader to Berressem’s text.

For now, it suffices to say that the model of wave-particle complementarity—alongside a “refractory” and affirmative model of philosophy—is brought to bear in what is the crowning achievement of the book, its final, long chapter, entitled simply “Luminous Philosophy.” Here, Berressem interweaves a discussion of colour in Deleuze’s 1956 essay “Bergson’s Conception of Difference” with discussions of light in the 1978-81 lectures on Spinoza, his work on cinema and his study of Francis Bacon. Across each of these latter works -as Berressem rightly notes- earlier, more disparate and allusive discussions of light consolidate and centralise, such that by the time of Cinema I: The Movement-Image, Deleuze will explicitly give us a “plane of immanence […] entirely made up of Light” (2013a: 67).

Cinema, after all, is the art of the photon, and Berressem devotes meticulous exegetical work in support of the claim that Deleuze’s two volume study of film constitutes not simply a quaint, “aesthetic” corner of the Deleuzian oeuvre, rather the central articulation of concerns present in Deleuze’s thought since at least as far back as his encounter with the Lucretian clinamen. In these books, Deleuze, drawing on Bergson’s idiosyncratic metaphysics of the “image,” gives us “the universe as cinema in itself, a metacinema” (2013a: 67), composed through a multilateral framing, splicing and montage of energetic states- an individuation of light commensurate with that enacted by the camera on its own microscopic scale.

But cinema, like philosophy, relates not simply to the “actualised” modalities of light- profoundly capable, as it is, of rendering visible virtual operations like those of thought, dreams and temporality. In this context, Cinema II: The Time-Image provides Deleuze’s most elaborate discussion of the crystal, which he identifies in the “crystal-images” of certain auteurs, the likes of Zannussi, Welles, Ophüls and Resnais. Their films, in combining images of dream, reality, falsehood, illusion and documentary, thus produce indeterminate relations between light’s actual and virtual dimensions, relations which, in terms of the refractory structure of the crystal, must be conceived as inherently productive. As Deleuze explains:

These are ‘mutual images’ […] where an exchange is carried out. The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind. It is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by their nature double (2013b: 73).

Berressem’s originality, in linking this luminosity to that which he has carefully excavated across Deleuze’s oeuvre, is to suggest that the two cinema books, taken together, thus form such a crystal, abiding at the very heart of Deleuze’s thought, and staging a parallel encounter between light’s actual (movement-image) and virtual (time-image) modalities. As Berressem explains:

The point-at-infinity of Deleuze’s cinematographic projective plane lies in the crystal space between the two books; the point-at-infinity where its two sides meet in a conceptual tête-bêche… it is this unthinkable point that marks the ultimate crystal moment in Deleuze’s philosophy. The ideal identification of the virtual and the actual at philosophy’s point-at-infinity (213).

As such, we find ourselves in the very “heart of lightness,” the centre of the immensely productive crystal constituted by Deleuzian philosophy, in the refraction between virtual light, actual light, philosophy and (cinema as) non-philosophy. This characterisation, whilst serving admirably to locate the cinema books at the heart of Deleuze’s oeuvre, and plugged in to a much broader ecology encompassing even his earliest works, likewise serves to draw out the key conceptual dimensions along which Deleuze’s most microscopic and localised arguments take place.

Clearly then, as I hope to have demonstrated, there is much of both use and of value in this study, which deserves to be recognised as a philosophical treatise in its own right, beyond the realm of Deleuze scholarship. The failings of the work are few and far between, and reflect the difficulty of ever fully accommodating a philosophical project of such bewildering breadth and erudition as that of Deleuze. One omission, perhaps, is Deleuze’s admittedly obscure politics, which -particularly as it calcifies in his collaborative works with Guattari- is largely absent. It’s possible indeed that the cleaving of Deleuze and Guattari in two, whilst opening up a set of fertile potentialities, comes at the cost of the overarching tenor of their project, both together and after their collaboration, which is marked by the long, and here unmentioned, shadow of May ‘68.[3]

A relative absence of meditation on the particular modes of individuation (or of crystallisation) engendered by capitalism -an essential theme for Deleuze as for Guattari- is mirrored in a more generalised eschewal of the agonism which, despite his explicitly “affirmative” position, often characterises Deleuze’s thought. There is a sense indeed, throughout the book, that the “luminosity” Berressem hopes to emphasise elides some of the critical edge animating Deleuze’s philosophy- an amicability evinced by the relative absence not only of Deleuze’s “enemies” (the Hegelian negative, Platonist idealism, Cartesian interiority, capital) but also the venomous source of the unique form of affirmation which Deleuze takes up- the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche, indeed, an infrequent reference here, advocates an affirmation which is not so much “luminous” as Dionysian, rooted in a valorisation of the shadowy violence of life. And Deleuze, like Nietzsche, will caution against any conciliatory or peaceable reading of his concepts, warning, in Difference and Repetition, against “the greatest danger […] of lapsing into the representations of a beautiful soul” (1994: xx). The beautiful soul, in this context, is that reader for whom all differences are recuperable under the arid rubric of “toleration,” for whom “there are only reconcilable and federative differences, far removed from bloody struggles…” (1994: xx). Berressem is not, of course, this naïve figure, but his relative silence on questions like the catastrophe of capitalism, as on dogmatic thought, “control,” and the loss of our “belief in the world”—and many other themes of a “Dark Deleuze” besides—mean that he does occasionally run the risk of being read in this way.

Alongside this politically muted Deleuze—a figure I admit many “Deleuzians” might well approve of—we also encounter a profoundly systematic Deleuze, as evinced by Berressem’s early statement of intent:

…if one considers every perceptual and cognitive process as one of pattern production and pattern recognition, a pattern of Deleuzian thought begins to emerge: Hume, Lucretius, Simondon, Difference and Repetition. All of these develop, in a logic that recapitulates that of difference and repetition proposed in Difference and Repetition, philosophical theories of the incarnation of the virtual in the actual (71).

While there is nothing wrong with this characterisation per se, underemphasised, perhaps, is the disjunctive and “differential” articulation to which Deleuze submits his own concepts.

Deleuze, like Nietzsche, is wary of any “systematic” reading of his thought, such as might reinscribe the monistic and proscriptive tendencies he will identify in “Royal” philosophies. In favour of building an exclusive or closed system, Deleuze will offer a necessarily “shifting,” consistently dynamic philosophy, which changes its concerns and vocabulary across his works. As he himself explains:

We all move forward or backward; we are hesitant in the middle of these directions; we construct our topology, celestial map, underground den, measurements of surface planes, and other things as well. While moving in these different directions, one does not speak in the same way, just as the subject matter which one encounters is not the same… (2006: 63)

Indeed the impressive continuity Berressem endeavours to establish across Deleuze’s oeuvre, linking early discussions of the Lucretian clinamen to his very last works on the immanence of “a life,” perhaps comes at the cost of those moments of discontinuity and of rupture which Deleuze himself is at pains to inject.

In the context of the increasing ubiquity of communication technologies at the end of the last century, Deleuze laments, in a 1990 conversation with Antonio Negri, a contemporary conflation of “communication” and “creation,” suggesting that genuine creation instead has a fundamental affinity with rupture, incommensurability and silence. “Creating has always been something different from communicating,” he explains, “the key thing may be to create vacuoles of noncommunication, circuit breakers, so we can elude control…” (1995; 175). Berressem’s book creates a rhizomatic topology of interconnection, such that every part of Deleuze’s oeuvre can be plugged into a metaphysics of crystals and of light. However, the contemporary political task—should we still hope to read Deleuze’s metaphysics as a politics—is perhaps of a different order.

As Andrew Culp has written, in his book Dark Deleuze, in many ways the shadowy opposite of Berressem’s work, “the necessity of ‘taking another step’ beyond Deleuze avant la lettre is especially true when both capitalists and their opponents simultaneously cite him as a major influence” (2016: 2). As Culp continues:

…the first step is to acknowledge that the unbridled optimism for connection has failed. Temporary autonomous zones have become special economic zones. The material consequences of connectivism are clear: the terror of exposure, the diffusion of power, and the oversaturation of information (2016; 4).

In other words, whilst identifying subterranean connections across Deleuze’s oeuvre, as between Deleuze’s metaphysics and contemporary science, is an enormously fertile endeavour, such work should always be conducted with the important caveat that non-communication and discontinuity -between individuals, as between disciplines and ideas- remain fundamental dimensions of Deleuze’s own philosophy.

These criticisms, however, are peripheral to the book’s many merits and great richness. There is much here of value not only for Deleuze scholars but for those interested in contemporary metaphysics, post-phenomenological thought, linkages between contemporary science and philosophy and more. Indeed, taken alongside Berressem’s accompanying volume on Guattari, which does indeed take a more concretely socio-political approach to its metaphysics, the work undertaken here is of a quite impressive breadth and quality. Gilles Deleuze’s Luminous Philosophy is a book which deserves, on this basis, a wide and enthusiastic readership.

Works Cited

Badiou, Alain. 2017. Black: The Brilliance of a Non-Color. Translated by Susan Splitzer. Cambridge: Polity.

Badiou, Alain. 2009. Logics of Worlds: Being and Event, 2. Translated by Alberto Toscano. London: Continuum.

Berressem, Hanjo. 2020. Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Colebrook, Claire. 2002. Understanding Deleuze. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Culp, Andrew. 2016. Dark Deleuze. Creative Commons.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013(a). Cinema I: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Bloomsbury

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013(b). Cinema II: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Bloomsbury.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2003. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel Smith. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Negotiations, 1972-1990. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1990. The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. London: The Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. Two Regimes of Madness – Texts and Interviews 1975-1995, David Lapoujade ed. Translated by Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina. New York: Semiotext(e).

Deleuze, Gilles, & Guattari, Félix. 1994. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill. London: Verso.

Einstein, Albert, & Infeld, Leopold. 1938. The Evolution of Physics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, Ryan J. 2017. The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Simondon, Gilbert. 2009. “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis.” Translated by Gregory Flanders. In Parrhesia, No.7: 4-16.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2012. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. Abingdon: Routledge.

[1] Hanjo Berressem, Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020. The relationship between these simultaneous sister volumes, the author explains, is such that “although each book can be read as an individual text, the two correspond to one another in such a way that when they are read together, an immaterial book emerges in the mind of the reader” (xvii). In the service of this virtual volume, square bracketed “hyperlinks” point the reader to corresponding passages in each book’s “actual” sister. This structure serves the obvious and immediate function of elevating Guattari’s thought to its proper place – distinct from, yet complementary to that of Deleuze. Despite the broad success of this innovation, Guattari’s absence was felt, at times, in the exegetical flow of the present work. The task of separating these two disruptive pupils remains a difficult one.

[2] Ryan J. Johnson, The Deleuze-Lucretius Encounter, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

[3] For a convincing argument to the effect that Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborations, as well as their subsequent work, are instigated by the “events” of May ’68, see Claire Colebrook, Understanding Deleuze, Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2002.

Mauro Carbone: Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution

Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution Book Cover Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Mauro Carbone. Translated from French by Marta Nijhuis
SUNY Press
Hardback $80.00

Reviewed by: Keith Whitmoyer (Pace University)

Carbone’s most recent work, now available in English, marks a critical moment in the author’s philosophical development: the passage from an original reader and interpreter of Proust and Maurice Merleau-Ponty to a completely original contribution to the history of philosophy. In a way, this contribution has been in development at least since Carbone’s The Thinking of the Sensible: Merleau-Ponty’s A-Philosophy, but clearly, in this recent work, it reaches a new level of clarity that now operates beyond the auspices of interpretation. I would like to take the opportunity to clarify what Carbone brings to the history of philosophy. What he has found in the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and Proust, which now, in Philosophy-Screens is thought beyond them, is the reversal of Platonism. In this respect, we can place Carbone’s work in this history of what Merleau-Ponty calls the history of a-philosophy, a history that includes Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche and more recently the work of Deleuze.[1] What is the sense of Platonism here and how could such an ambitious claim be justified?

At the center of this question, which is also the center of the text, is the screen. It was already Plato who, in his famous Cave Allegory, first thought the screen, and if the history of philosophy is a history of footnotes to Plato, as Whitehead said, then philosophy has always been a rumination on the screen. The screen, on one hand, is what Lyotard has called the “specular wall in general,”[2] a surface that has the dual role of being a window (revealing) and at the same time a curtain (concealing), which in this dual role becomes inscribed and invested with a historical and dynamic form of signification: the skin, the canvas, the cinema, the TV, the electronic device, the wall of the cave, the list goes on. It is through Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams that Carbone traces Lyotard’s specular wall to the origins of philosophy in Plato. The film documents the Chauvet Cave in France, home to the best-preserved cave paintings known to exist, dating back at least 32,000 years, making it 14,000 years older than the famed caves of Lascaux. These paintings, Carbone notes, “celebrate the enigma of images themselves, as well as the enigma of the surface that is invested with such a celebration and therefore delimited from the surrounding space.”[3] The Chauvet cave is an instance of what Carbone calls the “arche-screen,” “understood as a transhistorical whole gathering the fundamental conditions of possibility of ‘showing’ (monstration) and concealing images on whatever surface. In our culture such a whole has been opened and experienced through the human body itself.”[4] I will return to the significance of the human body mentioned here. For now, I want to mention that the Chauvet cave, as a “variation” of the arche-screen, serves as a vehicle for the legibility of the cave in Plato’s allegory.

The cave of the allegory, as Carbone shows, is a space organized around its functions of revealing and concealing, that is, a space constituted precisely in terms of an arche-screen. On one hand, there is the more obvious screen, the καταντικρύ, the cave wall standing in opposition to the sources of light where the shadows dance and play. This surface is ostensibly one of revealing, since it is a necessary condition for the appearance of the images (shadows). Its disclosive function, however, is inextricably bound up with another screen, the τειχίον, the “low wall” that functions to conceal the mysterious figures who constitute the spectacle as they carry the σκευαστῶν, “artificial things,” along the enclosed path. This second screen, Carbone notes, “performs the double function of concealing by offering a protection and of selecting things to be shown—which are both, actually, characteristic of the arche-screen.”[5] The two screens operative here are, in a sense, so inextricably related to one another that it would be useless to attempt to separate or compare them, and it seems that only together is the arche-screen’s instance of the cave constituted: the concealing movement of the low wall, which selects the artifacts by occluding the puppeteers, is a moment of the disclosive, opposite wall on which the shadows are cast.

There is a second arche-screen’s instance present here, however, in which the concealing-revealing movement of the shadow play is embedded. We recall that, for Plato, while the shadow play is initially disclosive—a world is indeed made present to the prisoners—this disclosive function is simultaneously one of concealing since what are disclosed are precisely shadows—shadows that both indicate and at the same time occlude the σκευαστῶν. This is the first arche-screen described above. These “artificial things,” in their turn, however, have the same dual movement: they show themselves to the prisoner who has turned away from the shadows toward the fire but precisely here they too both indicate and conceal the things themselves that wait on the outside. This is another, second arche-screen. The prisoner eventually is dragged up a rough and steep path into the light of day where she beholds the “things themselves.” These things, now beheld in a shadowless light, are supposed to signify the είδη, the “ideas” of what is. It would seem that here we encounter a surface that reveals only and conceals nothing, and this is, therefore, not an arche-screen in the sense described but the foundational condition of possibility for the others, the ἀρχή, the origin of all other screens and arche-screens. I want to pause briefly here and note that it seems to be this moment of the allegory that becomes foundational for Western metaphysics since Plato—that philosophy henceforth will understand itself as the pursuit of this origin, seeking out that absolute surface on which it can inscribe itself but which will at the same time conceal nothing, leaving no trace of latency or depth.

But Plato seems to be very careful here, and upon further reflection it may not be obvious that we arrive in such a space on the journey out of the cave. I think that this pause is critical for understanding the significance of the arche-screen, the philosophy-screen, and Philosophy-Screens. Is the outside that Plato imagines truly a space without depth? Is it correct to say that in that space there is disclosure only and that any movement of concealment is absent? The presence of the είδη, their very legibility, is premised on their coming to light, and therefore their visibility is made possible only through an accompanying concealment: the visibility of things always rests on the invisibility of light. The prisoner encounters things illuminated by the light of the sun but precisely then the light itself remains invisible. It seems, then, that even here we encounter an arche-screen, a twofold movement of revealing and concealing, an event of what Heidegger called Unverborgenheit, “unconcealment,” which he always preferred to refer to the Greek word ἀλήθεια, “truth.” I believe that it the question of truth that stands at the center of Philosophy-Screens and that Carbone’s work should be understood as an elaboration and continuation of—rather than a commentary—on a work by Merleau-Ponty at one point titled “The Origin of Truth.”[6]

What re-reading the cave allegory through the arche-screen teaches us is that, contrary to the historical reading of Plato that understands truth in some super-sensible beyond, that which always is and never otherwise, call it Being or ideality, is in every case implicated by and in its sensible reverse. Each event of unconcealment is coupled with concealment, every surface is both a screen and curtain, revealing and concealing: the tattooed or scarred skin both outwardly manifests its meaning and yet simultaneously conceals certain depths; the printed page both outwardly manifests its intended signification and yet always conceals an un-thought element; the speech of the other signifies her wishes and yet, as Proust understood, always conceals a person that we cannot know and who cannot know herself. It is also here that we encounter what I have described as Carbone’s reversal of Platonism: in the figure of a re-thinking of the relationship between sense and idea and the manner in which these two operate as the two poles of the arche-screen. This figure is articulated by Carbone, via Merleau-Ponty and Proust, under the rubric of the “sensible idea.” In Philosophy-Screens, he describes these as

ideas [that] are inseparable from their sensible presentation (that is, from their visual, linguistic, or musical images for instance, but even that they are instituted by these very images as their own depth. … an order of ideas that—just like aesthetic ideas for Kant—cannot be reduced to concepts, ideas that the intelligence, as such cannot grasp, because—as Merleau-Ponty emphasizes—they ‘are without intelligible sun. … the essences of certain experiences, which only similar experiences can, sometimes, fully manifest, but cannot be defined by any concept.’[7]

Such remarks are prefigured in Carbone’s 2004 book, The Thinking of Sensible: Merleau-Ponty’s A-Philosophy:

Proust describes ‘ideas’ which do not preexist independently of their sensible presentation. Rather, they are inseparable from and simultaneous with their sensible presentation, since only the sensible presentation provides us with the ‘initiation’ to them: ideas which, ‘there, behind the sounds or between them, behind the lights or between them, recognizable through their always special, always unique manner of entrenching themselves behind them’ (VI 198/151).[8]

The sensible idea, for Carbone, is perhaps illustrated most clearly in Proust’s descriptions of love, especially the “little phrase” that captures so essentially—and yet so indescribably—the pathos of Swann’s relationship with Odette and later the love between the narrator and the elusive Albertine. Carbone notes in The Thinking of the Sensible:

Merleau-Ponty explains that Marcel Proust characterizes melody as a ‘Platonic idea that we cannot see separately’ since ‘it is impossible to distinguish the means and the end, the essence and the existence in it’ (N 228/174). He alludes to the fact that, for the main character of those pages of the Remembrance, a peculiar idea of love is incarnated in the sound of a melody—the melody of the petite phrase of Vinteul’s sonata—to such an extent that the idea of love becomes inseparable from Vinteul’s listening.[9]

It may be worth attending to some perhaps length passages from the Recherche in order to express more fully the sense of the sensible idea. These are from the scene in The Fugitive where, after Albertine’s death, the narrator gradually begins to forget and understand that he no longer loves her. The passing of this love is linked to the petite phrase, the lifespan of which has passed through the loves of Swann and Odette and through the loves of the narrator and Albertine. The phrase is both its sensible, carnal expression in the music and at the same time the very sense and meaning of a love that has now passed; that is, its essence inextricably bound to its existence:

In the Bois, I hummed a few phrases of Vinteul’s sonata. The thought that Albertine had so often played it to me no longer saddened me unduly, for almost all my memories of her had entered into that secondary chemical state in which they no longer cause an anxious oppression of the heart, but rather a certain sweetness. From time to time, in the passages which she used to play most often, when she was in the habit of making some observation which at the time I thought charming, of suggesting some reminiscence, I said to myself : ‘Poor child,’ but not sadly, merely investing the musical phrase with an additional value, as it were a historical, a curiosity value…. When the little phrase, before disappearing altogether, dissolved into its various elements in which it floated still for a moment in scattered fragments, it was not for me, as it had been for Swann, a messenger from a vanishing Albertine. It was not altogether the same association of ideas that the little phrase had aroused in me as in Swann. I had been struck most of all be the elaboration, the trial runs, the repetitions, the gradual evolution of a phrase which developed through the course of the sonata as that love had developed through the course of my life. And now, aware that, day by day, one element after another of my love was vanishing, the jealous side of it, then some other, drifting gradually back in a vague remembrance to the first tentative beginnings, it was my love that, in the scattered notes of the little phrase, I seemed to see disintegrating before my eyes.[10]

Plato seems to have been troubled by the Heraclitean idea of change—that all things come to pass in a state of flux, the “ever-living fire, kindled in measures and extinguished in measures.”[11] Beyond the deflagration of the sensible, Plato sought to ascend to a presence outside of time and its vicissitudes: the εἶδος. The sensible idea, precisely because it is not outside of time, emerges only insofar as it is lived, only insofar as it is experienced. Love is no doubt an ideality “expressed” by the petite phrase. But love, precisely in its ideality, is never a “love as such” extricated from those who do and have loved. Insofar as the petite phrase expresses this ideality, it expressed precisely the love of Swann toward Odette, the love of the narrator for Albertine, with all of the shades and textures of sense entailed by that love that was lived. In this way, as Proust indicates in the passaged cited, love, even its ideality, is subject to generation and decay—it lives and dies, and it was this vitality of idealities that Plato could not conceive in his desire to escape from time. It is this vitality, however, that is restored to the ideal in the sensible idea, and this is the more precise sense in which Carbone’s work, including Philosophy-Screens, seeks to reverse Platonism. Because the ideal is lived—because it is nothing other than the sedimentation and concretion of sensible experience, the manifest, τὀ αληθής, is in every case the inverse, the fold of the concealed,   ἡ λήθη, what has passed into oblivion.

I would now like to turn to the figure that articulates this reversal, the screen. The screen in this context should not be construed simply a technology or an apparatus, nor should this be understood as a perhaps useless preoccupation with our historical and cultural phragmaphilia. The screen, rather, is the site of so many reversals, crossings, and intersections, a refractory point, one might even say an aleatory one. In this respect, the human body too is a screen, which can “produce images by being interposed between a luminous source and a wall … or by being decorated with inscriptions, drawings, colors, or tattoos.”[12] The screen, then, is in a sense nothing new and has been with us as long as we have been with ourselves, that is to say, as long as there have been surfaces that conceal and reveal (the skin, the curtain, the written page, etc.). What is new—what Carbone gives us in Philosophy-Screens—is a re-configuration of this surface that opens up paths of thinking and philosophical expression heretofore un-thought: not just a screen but a philosophy-screen, philosophizing in accordance with the screen, to allow the screen itself to be the vehicle of thinking and philosophical expression, indeed, what Carbone quite perspicaciously calls, following Deleuze, “philosophy-cinema.”[13]

Philosophy-cinema should not be conceived as making films about philosophy—this is not a question of documentary or filming philosophers speaking, lecturing, etc., nor should it be considered biography or even in terms of the more recent perpetuation of philosophy pod-casts. It is rather a new way of thinking about what it means to think and what it means to express thought. Platonism (and this history of Platonism) has given us the βίβλος, the Book: a monumental artifact in which the absolute truths of Being are inscribed, outside of time and beyond the vicissitudes of history and life. As Husserl and Derrida have shown, the history of the Book is simply a moment in the history of writing, the constitution of idealities through repeated acts of articulation and reactivation.[14] To philosophize cinematically, to bring forth philosophy-cinema, is to think in a manner that no longer takes the form of writing and no longer presupposes or requires monumentality—it is profoundly non-graphic, that is to say, no longer rests on the necessity of γρᾰ́φω, the cutting or chiseling into stone at the beginnings of writing and from which all subsequent writing is derived. To philosophize cinematically is to allow for, even to welcome, the passage of thought in time, its coming into being but also what Nancy has described as its partance, its flight and departure.[15] It is this temporal element that writing, in its function of constituting the ideal as such, attempts to erase—where the inscription into stone is the attempt to erase time—and it is this temporal element that cinema allows us to think again. Philosophy-cinema, then, is not the attempt to escape—to escape time, escape the cave—through the constitution of a monument that mirrors the a-temporality of “truth” but is rather the effort to allow for escape: the flight of thought into its self-concealment and oblivion, the passage of life and experience that cinema has always attempted (and perhaps always failed) to make visible.

This sentiment is expressed both at the beginning and at the end of Philosophy-Screens: the effort to think again and in a manner that allows for the temporal partance of thinking, its objects, as well as its modes of expression. Deleuze is referenced a second time in Part I of the book, “What Is a Philosophy-Cinema?,” in a quote from Difference and Repetition:

The time is coming when it will hardly be possible to write a book of philosophy as it has been done for so long: ‘Ah! The old style…’ The search for a new means of philosophical expression was begun by Nietzsche and must be pursued today in relation to the renewal of certain other arts, such as the theatre or the cinema.[16]

Carbone adds:

In short, Deleuze found that the novelty of the cinema implied a renewal of the philosophical questions concerning to only our relationship to ourselves, to the others, to the things, and to the world, but also—and inevitably—concerning philosophy itself: that is, concerning its expressive style and, hence, the very style of its own thinking. Indeed, the question of the ‘philosophy-cinema’ does not belong to a single thinker. Rather, it involves a whole epoch, as the Preface to Difference and Repetition suggested. In this sense, it is a question regarding thinking itself.[17]

The renewal of philosophy, of its expressive style as well as the style of its own thinking are indicated by the refractory and reflective surface of the screen. The screen is perhaps not always even a surface but rather a point at which lines, trajectories, and forces curve, displace, and integrate but only as the inverse of a disintegrative movement. The screen, then, is precisely the point of alteration in the sense that there is no longer a “one” but only the repetition of others, of differences. As Carbone says,

Such logic [of screens] inevitably ends up exceeding and hence contesting that of concepts, to which it had been claimed to be reducible, in spite of all. However, in the gaps between the fingers of our hand, squeezing in the gesture of seizing—the gesture on which the modern action of conceptualizing was shaped—we increasingly feel that sense is slipping away. Without falling into a rhetoric of the ineffable, the philosophy to be made is called upon to account for this.[18]

The screen, in a complex of senses, makes philosophy-cinema possible; it allows for a modality of thinking freed from the βίβλος and its monumentality. Insofar as it inserts itself back into the flow and lapse of time, philosophy-cinema no longer conceptualizes itself in terms of the Begriff, that which is to be grasped and taken hold of, but allows for—perhaps even welcomes—the slippage of sense as it passes through our grasp. Must we then be content with some alternative between philosophy in its traditional self-assessment on one hand—Book, concept, grasp—and some form of irrationalism or untenable skepticism? No, because the alternative between these is a false one. We need not choose between the traditional instantiations of philosophy and nihilism, for there are modes of thinking and expressivities that are neither; these are the uncharted territories for thinking that have perhaps only been indicated. Philosophy-Screens: From Cinema to the Digital Revolution takes us down such a path and opens the way for a philosophy that will perhaps be the new standard for thinkers yet to come.

[1] See Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Notes de Cours 1958-1959 et 1960-1961 (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), 278; and Carbone, Mauro, The Thinking of the Sensible: Merleau-Ponty’s A-Philosophy (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2004), xiii.

[2] Carbone, 46.

[3] Ibid., 65, italics Carbone.

[4] Ibid., 66.

[5] Ibid., 67.

[6] Published posthumously and under a later title as The Visible and the Invisible.

[7] Ibid., 34; 37; 69.

[8] Carbone, 2004, 40-41.

[9] Ibid., 30.

[10] Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. V, “The Fugitive,” 755-56.

[11] Heraclitus, Fragment B30.

[12] Carbone, Philosophy-Screens, 66.

[13] Ibid., 3; the reference is to Italian translation of The Logic of Sense, translated into English by Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina, ed. David Lapoujade, “Note to the Italian Edition of The Logic of Sense,” in Two Regimes of Madness (New York: Semiotext(e), 2006), 66.

[14] Probably the most important text in this regard is Derrida’s commentary on Husserl’s text, “The Origin of Geometry.” See Derrida, Jacques, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavy, Jr. (Licoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

[15] See Nancy, Jean-Luc, Noli Me Tangere: On the Raising of the Body, trans. Sarah Clift (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 28.

[16] Carbone, 3; Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, XXI.

[17] Carbone, 3.

[18] Carbone, 109.

Lee Carruthers: Doing Time: Temporality, Hermeneutics, and Contemporary Cinema

Doing Time: Temporality, Hermeneutics, and Contemporary Cinema Book Cover Doing Time: Temporality, Hermeneutics, and Contemporary Cinema
Horizons of Cinema
Lee Carruthers
SUNY Press
Hardcover $80.00