- The Desiring-Image: Gilles Deleuze and Contemporary Queer Cinema by Nick Davis
The Desiring-Image is not the first book to investigate the cinema’s articulation of desire in a Deleuzian idiom, but it is almost surely the most ambitious. Davis proposes the desiring-image as the sequel to Deleuze’s time-image. Recall that for Deleuze, the movement-image gives way after the trauma of the Second World War to the time-image: a cinema of duration and temporal accumulation in which time is figured directly and often irrationally, without reference to the movement and causality that organize the prewar movement-image. Davis’s central claim is that, in much the same way, in the late 1980s and in the wake of the AIDS crisis, the time-image dissolves in favor of the desiring-image, in which cinema figures desire as a productive force, not necessarily or paradigmatically localized in particular subjects or organized particularly around sex or sexuality. Not to put too fine a point on it, Davis offers up The Desiring-Image as a sort of third volume following Deleuze’s Cinema 1 and Cinema 2.1
Such theoretical ambition is a welcome rarity in recent film studies publishing. Thankfully, it is matched by Davis’s evident theoretical acumen. But The Desiring-Image is only sort of a sequel: unlike the Cinema books, it is marvelously lucid and carefully explanatory. The Desiring-Image [End Page 164] will serve as an excellent and accessible primer (or review) of Deleuze’s film theory for audiences well beyond Deleuze specialists. (It may even set the stage for a reluctant seduction of Deleuze skeptics such as myself.) Crucially, it is not, however, only that. Where much Deleuze-inspired work in film studies merely repeats the same reified concept-objects from the Cinema books by turns, ignoring the broader context of Deleuze’s (and Deleuze and Guattari’s) philosophy and falling into what Kara Keeling has memorably called “Deleuzobabble,” The Desiring-Image aspires to the oft-neglected Deleuzian charge to create new concepts.2 The real rarity of The Desiring-Image lies not so much in the quantity of its ambition but in its quality: this is an unabashedly creative book, both in its aspirations and in many of its particulars.
The Desiring-Image is by turns elating and exhausting. At its best, the book follows through on its Deleuzian promise to create new concepts. Its method for doing so is to explore and expand the combinatory possibilities opened up by the intersection of three fields: film theory, queer theory, and Deleuzian philosophy. As Davis points out, these fields have really only ever come together two at a time.3The Desiring-Image seeks to work each against both of the others. The value of such a methodological proposal does not lie in their intersection as such (although this promiscuous rapprochement between weirdly disparate fields is timely). In Davis’s hands, these intersections enable the real achievement of the book: the reinvention of “new queer cinema” as the desiring-image.
The promise of new queer cinema was always an anti-identitarian aesthetics of cinematic desire. In B. Ruby Rich’s sense of the term, starting in the early 1990s, films such as My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991) and Poison (Todd Haynes, 1991) offered up figurations of people and their desires, which departed, sometimes radically, from the easily understood and reified identity categories of “gay” or “lesbian.”4 Nevertheless, much of the scholarship around new queer cinema has redounded to a fairly conservative and identitarian project of canon formation, legislating inclusion or exclusion on the basis of who is fashioning representations of whom. Davis is able to show, convincingly, that the desiring-image is a name for a qualitatively new formation of desire arising in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which traverses not only “new queer” classics but also such unlikely candidates as David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988) and Naked Lunch (1991)—unlikely because of Cronenberg’s heterosexuality and...