Calling on Bergson and Deleuze…

Evening all,

This particular post is in response to Eddies ‘polaroid moment‘ and the suggestion that perhaps time/space are inherently at play within the photographic or cinematic image – and of course he is quite right.

The most rigorous exploration of this relationship between the image and time was developed by Gilles Deleuze in Cinema I  (the movement-image) and Cinema II (the time-image) which rely heavily on the work of Henri Bergson and his understanding of time and in particular – the concept of ‘duration’.

There are some brilliant resources for all of this and of course there are the texts themselves which are a challenging read but nonetheless worthwhile – but for our purposes we need to cut to the chase and look quite quickly if there are ideas we can extract.

This is what I’m currently looking at (amongst other things)

I’ve cut and paste a couple of parts of it that seem to tap into our current discussions about real-virtual for convenience…

Between Virtual and Actual
For Bergson, the present is a dynamic interpenetration of past and future. The aspect of our lived world that is here for us right now, in the present moment as that which ‘feels most real to us’, is what he calls the actual. When I hold an object in my hand, say, a coffee mug, it feels more real than the memory of a coffee mug, or an image of a coffee mug on a TV screen. That feeling of being more real is what allows us to tell an actual coffee mug from one which is less real, so to speak, or more virtual. An image of a coffee mug in memory, or in a film, is thus a virtual image, while the one we hold in our hand at any given moment is an actual image (and remember, everything is an image for Deleuze, because when he says image it is, for him, and following Bergson, a way of saying a ‘slice of the world’). Worldslices, or images, come in many shades of actuality, and some are more actual and less virtual, or more virtual and less actual, than others.

During periods of stress, in which we are focused on action, we find ourselves immersed in the present moment, it’s needs and exigencies. At this point, we exist mostly in the actual, there is very little virtuality in our world. Since the past and the future, represented in our present as memory and desire/fantasy/anticipation, are relatively weak at this moment, we can say that when concentrating on action, we exist mostly in the actual.

But as we dive deeper into memory and/or fantasy, that is, the realm of the virtual, we leave the present and its needs ever more behind. This is why it is perhaps best to equate the actual with the present, and the virtual with the past/future, or future/past, whichever you prefer. Because the actual will always feel more real, more present, than aspects of the past/future (except for in cases of hallucination). So, at least for humans and in relation to issues of time, the virtual is the past/future, and vice-versa. This isn’t to say that there may not be other examples of the virtual. For example, for Deleuze, an actual coffee mug produces a virtual image when reflected in a mirror. But as we will see, for Deleuze, images in a mirror have a peculiar temporal relation to the actuals they reproduce, more of which will be said in a bit.

Why Time is Freedom

Here we also see why it is that Bergson and Deleuze equate the virtual with freedom. For my dog, a creature of instinct, the actual almost always leads directly to a preprogrammed action. But for me, an actual impression may lead to an instinctual action, or reverie or fantasy or recollection, and with a much greater degree of latitude than my dog. When my dog sees his food, he is unlikely to be thinking of Proust the moment afterwards, while humans have this happen all the time. Which is why we only sometimes do what our instincts tell us, because the past may interrupt the present, and present novel ways of reading the present which may influence our future. Likewise, we may have all sorts of desires which draw particular aspects of our past into contact with our present in ways that disrupt the chain of instinct. The virtual past/future infused into the actual is what produces freedom from being enslaved to the moment. If rocks are fully enslaved to the moment, plants slightly less so, animals a little freer, only humans, as far as we know, can gain significant freedom, and this is because of our complex brains. Brains which store our futurepasts so as to use them to increase our options.

To sum up, the present is more or less the actual, and the past/future is more or less the virtual. Thus, there are two axes to time, not only. Yes, time presses ever further into the future, and we know this because our stores of memory increase over time. This could be thought of as the movement of time horizontally. Such movement, however, isn’t like moving from one pearl to another along a string of pearls, but rather, as a sort of increase in the memory store of the past as the future flows into it via the doorway of the present. However, in addition to a horizontal axis to time, there is also a vertical axis. The closer one is to the present, the closer one is to what in math would be the x-axis, the line of horizontal movement along which past, present, and future are distributed. But the further one dips into the virtual, the past/future, the more one expands upon the y-axis.

Let us say, for example, that in the middle of an action, for example, a morning walk, you encounter some animal you’ve never seen before. What is that, you wonder. As you dip into past memory to search for something that resembles this, you finally find some memories that seem to fit. This is the process of recognition. Recognition that is relatively automatic, and becomes habit, requires less depth of digging around in the past, but when you need to dig more deeply, there is a greater degree of the virtual in the present (more expansion on the y-axis). While it may also take more time to dig around in memory like this (and hence expand on the x-axis), this is not always necessarily the case.


and for a decent overview of Deleuze’s Cinema I and II books – although many sources for this…

Gilles Deleuze’s Bergsonian Film Project: Part 1

Here’s a copy-pasted chunk to try and digest…

The broad sweep of Deleuze’s two cinema books, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, is to chart a fundamental shift from classical pre-WW2 cinema [movement-image] to post-WW2 cinema [time-image] (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinsom and Barbara Habberjam. 1983. London: The Athlone Press, 1986; Cinema 2: The Time-Image. trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: The Athlone Press, 1989).

The former cinema, which finds its archetype in the Hollywood genre film, is dependent on movement and action. Characters in the movement-image are placed in narrative positions where they routinely perceive things, react, and take action in a direct fashion to the events around them. The movement-image is a form of spatialized cinema: time determined and measured by movement.

In the time-image, which finds its archetype in the European modernist or art film, characters find themselves in situations where they are unable to act and react in a direct, immediate way, leading to what Deleuze calls a breakdown in the sensor-motor system.

The image cut off from sensory-motor links becomes “a pure optical and aural image,” and one that “comes into relation with a virtual image, a mental or mirror image (Gilles Deleuze, “On the Movement-Image,” trans. by Martin Joughin, Negotiations: 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press), 1995, 52).

In the time-image, rational or measurable temporal links between shots, the staple of the movement-image, gives way to “incommensurable,” non-rational links. Because of these non-rational links between shots, vacant and disconnected spaces begin to appear (“any-space-whatevers”). As a consequence, the journey becomes a privileged narrative form, with characters in a more passive role, and themes centered on inner mental imagery, flights of fancy, and emotional and psychic breakdown. The result of this pure optical and sound image is, according to Deleuze, a direct image of time (a time-image or crystal-image).

Some fairly heavy stuff to get through but really potent too…

There’s more too….but I’m going to create another post for this as it might have some specific resonance with our work – The Crystal-Image….of time…



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