- The Expression of Time (Spinoza, Deleuze, Cinema)
Whatever exists expresses the nature, i.e., the essence, of God in a certain and determinate way.Baruch Spinoza
[Deleuze's] works on cinema … are essays in applied expressionism.Pierre Macherey
The concept of expression appears in Gilles Deleuze's two-volume study of the cinema as early as the second page of Cinema 1: "We take snapshots, as it were, of the passing reality, and, as these are characteristics of the reality, we have only to string them on a becoming abstract, uniform and invisible, situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge. … Whether we would think becoming, or express it, or even perceive it, we hardly do anything else than set going a kind of cinematograph inside us."1 These, however, are not Deleuze's words. Deleuze is quoting a passage from Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution, a passage in which becoming—substance considered in its aspect of incessant metamorphosis—is understood as [End Page 1] something that can be perceived, or thought, or expressed and, moreover, as that whose perception, or thought, or expression always involves something like a cinematographic process. Here I am not concerned with the fact that Deleuze quotes this passage only so as to turn it against itself and to use it against Bergson by showing how Bergson himself had articulated a rather different, more adequate, and more distinctly cinematographic conception of becoming ten years earlier in what Deleuze calls "the extraordinary invention of the first chapter of Matter and Memory"—that is, "the discovery of the movement-image, beyond the conditions of natural perception."2 Neither am I concerned with the fact that in this passage Bergson is caught in a decidedly Spinozian moment, since to perceive, to think, and to express correspond approximately to Spinoza's three kinds of knowledge: imagination, reason, and intuition, respectively. Here and throughout I am concerned with Bergson only to the extent to which he constitutes the conduit through which the concept of expression makes its oblique and surreptitious entrance in Deleuze's two-volume study of the cinema.
This entrance is so unremarkable that it needs to be repeated in an identical manner before expression can be quietly established as the pivotal concept of this entire project: on the fourth page of Cinema 1, in fact, expression recurs twice more, once again embedded in a quotation from Bergson's Creative Evolution; it is only at the end of that page that expression emerges in passing within Deleuze's own words, when he identifies cinema directly and unequivocally as a medium (moyen) of expression.3 This notion—cinema as medium of expression—will be the primary concern of my essay, and I shall return to it. For the moment, I would like to note how these opening pages of Cinema 1 articulate a particularly complex nexus between subject of statement and subject of enunciation that sets the tone for the entire two-volume study. At the level of the statement, Bergson is deployed in terms of the relevance of his explicit discovery of the movement-image and of his implicit discovery of the time-image for a philosophical theory of the cinema.4 At the level of the enunciation, Bergson is vacuolized and turned into a veritable Trojan horse for introducing the concept of expression. This, of course, is the concept that Deleuze had posited as the exegetical key to the entirety of [End Page 2] Baruch Spinoza's thought in his epochal study of this thinker fifteen years prior to the appearance of Cinema 1, namely, in Expressionism in Philosophy. And this is also the concept that Deleuze redeploys here in what I would argue constitutes at once the onto-epistemological foundation of his engagement with the cinema and an ex post facto intervention into his earlier exegesis of Spinoza's thought. What makes the relation between level of statement and level of enunciation—as well as the textual subject produced by this relation—especially complex here is the fact that in this particular case this relation is not one of negation (i.e., neither one of contradiction nor one of antinomy) but one...