Creative betrayal can be a genuine form of fidelity: ‘one has to betray the letter of Kant,’ as Slavoj Žižek argues, ‘to remain faithful to (and repeat) the “spirit” of his thought’. (1) To elaborate upon, while extricating oneself from the work of a great precursor, demands that one play with aplomb the role of mediator, enacting a kind of synthesis between past and future, a synthesis marked by profound mutation. The self-declared ‘a-Deleuzian’ (‘neither pro- or anti-Deleuze’ (p. 10)) David Martin-Jones admirably negotiates this path in his latest work Deleuze and World Cinemas. The text is neither a bow to the venerable master, nor a simple application of Deleuzian concepts to ‘world cinemas’. Rather it is an attempt to forge a productive encounter between what Martin-Jones perceives as the ‘Eurocentric conclusions’ (p. 2) drawn by Gilles Deleuze in his Cinema books (2) and a plurality of world cinemas, ranging from Bollywood blockbusters to Hong Kong action films and beyond.
Critics grappling with the scope and ambition of Deleuze’s work have often deepened his conclusions with reference to the American and European cinematic traditions with which he was predominately concerned. This option is increasingly foreclosed. Debates regarding Deleuze’s film-philosophy have lost their novelty, replaced by an awareness of the limitations of the Cinema books–their universalising tendencies, their geographically limited range of sources and their ‘ahistorical’ approach (p. 204). The continued relevance of Deleuze to film theory now rests in the ability of scholars to convincingly demonstrate the applicability of his methodology beyond the temporal and geographical confines set by his original works. Martin-Jones does precisely this, persuasively refining and expanding Deleuze’s taxonomy of cinematic images in relation to a global ‘outside’. Emphasising the need to take into account the geopolitical context in which films circulate as well the socio-historical milieu in which they are produced and distributed, the text exemplifies a recent methodological shift in screen-studies, ‘which acknowledges precisely the aesthetic and cultural differences apparent in films from around the world’ (p. 11). The result is an original and wide-ranging reconsideration of Deleuzian ciné-philosophy in relation to an altered and continually altering global context.
Martin-Jones begins his analysis with an examination of the presence of spectacle in early silent cinema and the spaghetti western. An engagement with film-historian Tom Gunning’s work on the ‘cinema of attractions’ alongside a close-examination of Georges Méliès’ trick films, allows Martin-Jones to problematise Deleuze’s conceptual point of departure in Cinema 1. He argues that a specific form of the movement-image, termed the ‘attraction image’ is made manifest in Méliès’ cinema, wherein the splicing of the film enabled the eruption of non-continuous space-time as spectacle or trick. Martin-Jones attributes Deleuze’s failure to perceive the indirect expression of duration in fixed-shot film to his ‘over-reliance on Bergson’s philosophy’ (p. 64), which in emphasising montage, resulted in an unfair dismissal of early silent cinema’s capacity to express the whole. The continued existence of the discontinuous ‘attraction-image’ in the spaghetti western, Martin-Jones argues, offers further grounds for loosening Deleuze’s Bergsonian ties and allowing ‘very different archaeological layers of film history from various parts of the world’ to ‘“talk back” to his conclusions’ (p. 19).
In the following section, ‘History: Deleuze after Dictatorship,’ Martin-Jones shifts focus to cinematic negotiations of national histories. His lucid and contextualised readings of recent Argentinian melodrama and South Korean science-fiction films provide an excellent platform from which to reassess Deleuze’s ‘crisis-of the action image’ and its relation to the event of the Second World War. Comments regarding the ‘arbitrary, Eurocentric pinpointing of World War Two by Deleuze’ (p. 70) are, however, highly contentious, given the extent to which this event reshaped the global geopolitical scene, not least within the Eastern Asian region with which Chapter 3 is concerned. In a more balanced reading, Paola Marrati has argued that the caesura Deleuze ascribes to the Second World War refers not so much to the historical event as to the collapse of the conceptions of history provoked by this event. (3) In this sense, perhaps an engagement on Martin-Jones’ part with the temporal concepts of ‘becoming’, ‘event,’ or Deleuze’s Nietzschean inspired ‘time-as-series’–concepts that emerge in history’s wake–could have proved productive. The real strength of this section, and indeed of the book, lies not in Martin-Jones’ often unforgiving critiques of Deleuze’s work, but in the creative conclusions that he himself draws.
Chapter 3, ‘Folding and Unfolding History,’ is exemplary in this respect. Departing from both Deleuze’s Nietzschean inspired historical categories of Cinema 1 and his Kafkaesque analysis of minor cinema in Cinema 2, Martin-Jones engages with filmic works which ‘enfold’ indirect images of the ‘outside’ into the movement-images’ whole. The South Korean time-travel films analysed in this chapter bring past and present together in a manner which complicates the movement-/time image distinction. Drawing on the Leibnizian fold, Martin-Jones argues that Calla (Song Hae–sung, 1999), Donggam (Kim Jeong-kwon, 2000) and 2009: Lost Memories (Lee Si-myung, 2002) ‘self-consciously express the thinking of history, using techniques reminiscent of the “cerebral components” Deleuze identifies in the time-image’ (p. 107). The actualisation of the temporal dimensions of the time-image within the movement-image format enables the complex history of compressed economic modernisation experienced by South Korea to be rethought cinematically. Here, as in relation to Kamchatka (Marcelo Piñeyro, 2002), Martin-Jones seeks to modify or modernise Deleuzian concepts with a view to recognising culturally specific cinematic evocations of memory and temporality.
A similar trajectory is followed in Chapters 4 and 5, wherein Deleuze’s action-image is reconsidered in relation to Jackie Chan’s Police Story [Ging chat goo si] (1985), and Michael Mann’s crime-thrillers Heat (1995) and Collateral (2004). In Mann’s films, Martin Jones locates the presence of an ‘action-crystal,’ or the emergence of the crystalline structure of the time-image within the ASA’ action image. These oscillating movements of crystallisation facilitate a complex interrogation of contemporary LA, a ‘global gateway city’ (p. 171) defined by social and economic disparity, competing forms of ‘professionalism’ and complex multidirectional flows of people, wealth and ideas. The most engaging point of discussion in these chapters relates to the shifting nature of Deleuze’s ‘any-space-whatevers’ in a ‘post-national’ (p. 141) world of global capitalism. Proliferating ‘any-space-whatevers’–airports, shanty towns and container ports–are discussed in relation to Marc Augé’s ‘non-places’ and the work of Mark Shiel and Laura U. Marks. Against this strong theoretical backdrop Martin-Jones reappraises the action-film, finding the genre capable of negotiating and critiquing the economic and social transformations integral to the globalised landscapes, which float ‘quasi-autonomously’ around the characters (p. 184).
The introduction of the ‘masala-image’ in the last chapter alters the tone of the text. The question of the division between the movement-/time image, which haunts much of the work is still present, but Martin-Jones begins here to ‘do philosophy’ in his own name. If the ‘masala-image’ carries more weight than the aforementioned ‘attraction-image,’ it is due to the detailed contextualisation offered by Martin Jones. His discussion of the dharmic (rather than Bergsonian) whole provides a philosophically and culturally specific framework with which to consider the precise form of temporality apparent in popular Indian cinema. The importance of ‘spectacle’ re-emerges here, though the dramatic conventions and distinctive aesthetic of Indian cinema means that ‘spectacle’ is no longer a moment, but a force that structures the episodic movement of the films in question. While it would indeed be possible to trace Deleuze’s pre-defined image types onto popular Indian cinema, Martin-Jones’ nuanced reading and engagement with classical Indian conceptions of metaphysics compellingly demonstrates the importance of ‘listening’ to the films themselves.
In the conclusion to Cinema 2 Deleuze wrote, ‘there are many possible transformations, almost imperceptible passages, and also combinations between the movement-image and the time-image’ (4), transformations and passages made apparent in Martin-Jones’ text. For what are the ‘attraction image’ and ‘masala-image’, the ‘action-crystals’ and ‘adult-child seer’ if not culturally specific combinations of movement-image and time-image? The paradox at the heart of Deleuze and World Cinemas lies herein, for Martin-Jones bases much of his argument in the ‘arbitrary nature of the division between the two image categories’ (p. 1), a division which, as the above quotation makes clear, is in no way straightforward for Deleuze. The result is that Martin-Jones, on occasion, appears to reaffirm, rather than ‘advance’ (p. 234), Deleuze’s conclusions, making perceptible the ‘imperceptible passages’ which Deleuze had already pointed towards.
It is not always clear then where Martin-Jones begins and Deleuze ends, and this blurring is part of what makes Deleuze and World Cinemas such a persuasive text. While Martin Jones highlights the limitations of a theoretical cine-system based in Bergsonian models of temporality, he concurrently propels Deleuze into the future, revealing, in relation to a varied array of world cinemas, the continued significance of the philosopher’s work. Not all readers will agree with Martin-Jones’ liberal take on Deleuze and some will debate the extent to which the Cinema books, ‘adrift from their original philosophical moorings,’ (p. 234) remain the Cinema books. There can, however, be no doubt as to the importance of Martin-Jones’ project, the brilliance of his deeply contextual filmic analysis, or the originality and depth apparent in each chapter of the text. In repeating Deleuze’s work differently, Martin-Jones necessarily betrays the philosopher, but he betrays him in a manner faithful to the character of his thought. He betrays him well.
David Martin-Jones, Deleuze and World Cinemas, London and New York: Continuum, 2011.
- Slavoj Žižek, Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences, Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2012, p.11.
- See Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Continuum, 2005 ; and Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, London: Continuum, 2005 .
- Paola Marrati, Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, p.64.
- Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, London: Continuum, 2005, p. 259.