Guide to Deleuze’s “The Movement-Image”, Part II: From the Affect-Image to the Relation-Image

A perception-image: the image of perception as seen by a fly.

So, a continuation of sorts of my last post on teaching Deleuze’s Cinema I & II. Today I was teaching the second half of The Movement-Image, from the second half of the affection-image through the impulse and action to relation-images. And there are certain things that trip up my students, and my own attempts to explain these images that, when worked through, can make the text so much eaiser. So here’s some things to keep in mind . . .

There are no solid bodies for Deleuze. No objects in Deleuze’s world (cinema books, yet also beyond) are ever fully real. That is, they are always temporary conglomerations of forces in balance. What looks like a real objects, say, a coffee mug on my table, is really a careful balancing act between the forces acting to implode it and explode it, tear it to bits, shred it, etc. What appears to my eyes as a concrete object is a balanced binding together of disparate sub-molecular quantum particles that can fly off into space at any moment, dissolve before my eyes, and which eventually will decompose and separate out. A concrete object is a temporary aggregate, only the slowness of its decomposition makes it seem real to my eyes. Let us call any such entity, a temporary balance of forces that move together a BODY.

Bodies are surrounded by backgrounds, and composed of forces. All bodies exist against a background, and are composed of balances between forces. Different images in The Movement-Image will then modulate these in a wide variety of way, each explained below.

Perception-images are about perspective. All images in our world, and all those which are capturable by cinema, come from a particular perspective. When this happens, we say they are perspective-images, images of the perception of a slice of the moving universe, such that our perspective/perception shows up in the image in the very form it takes. When I view the coffee mug on my table from my chair, it looks different than when I view it sitting on the floor. The shift here is a shift in my perspective, and it shows up in the form of the perception image of the mug.

An Affection-Image: a scene from the opening of Tarkovsky's Solaris, in which we see ripples in the water, and the movement of the reeds under the water. A leaf floats by. While more than just an affection-image, this image most definitely captures the rippling of the water and reeds, and thus it is an affection-image (if also, in this film, much more!)

Affection images are images of entities in the process of being altered by qualities. When a quality, anything you can describe by an adjective (ie: wetness, redness, hardness, angryness, etc.), plays itself out over the surface of a body, that body acts as an image of affection. Deleuze in many places describes an affection as the ability to receive or exercise a power. Light affects my eyes, just as my eyes can be affected by light. Not only bodies can be affected by qualities but also locations (ie: scene slowly fading to red, a face contorting in pain), by also scenes (ie: the light in an entire scene dims, an entire street gets windy). Just as Deleuze says that any entity that is affected is a type of face (he calls this faceity), a face-like surface which is composed of singularities which determine the possibilities of its affection by a quality which if exceeded it ceases to be what it is  (ie: a face has eyes, nose, mouth, a mug has a handle, etc.),  when a scene serves as more of a vehicle for an affect (ie: a street which isn’t important in itself, but in being a windy street), then that scene becomes an any-space-whatsoever, a space-whateverish, a space which serves merely as a vehicle for an affect. Let’s keep in mind that affections are ways in which entities impact or modulate or warp others. Affects are the ways in which one entity expresses the impact of another entity upon it. In Deleuze’s famous reading of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, we see the accusations made against Joan impact her and mix with her own self-affections (emotions) on the surface of her face. The little bits of space shown around the super-closeups of her face are what Deleuze calls disconnected spaces, which are types of any-spaces-whatsoevers. We should keep in mind, however, that you could easily have an affection image in the ripples a stone causes to form on the surface of a pool of water. That pool’s ripples are its affections. A pool like this likely has no singularities, because it is flat, but put a lily-pad and a small island in the pool, and instant singularities. It’s not necessarily important in an affection image to show the source of an affect. Even if the pebble is case into a pool in part of the pool that is offscreen, we can still see the ripples. If an entire scene fades to red, like they often do in Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, the affect comes from nowhere, as it were, but we still see its effects. If at any point we freeze the film, we get a static state of a given affection, which is what Deleuze calls a quality, while an entire series of such frames, a set of ripples in a pool, or the contortion of a face in anger, expresses a power. Sometimes films present several distinct domains, locations, characters, etc., which are dominated by a given affect, like Heaven and Hell. When this happens, Deleuze says we see lyrical abstraction at work, slightly different from the more rigidly coded affectively charged spaces of expressionism.

Impulse-images are attempts to image forces in a film. Sometimes something in a film seems as if animated by a force that seems to give it power as if from beyond. Crucifixes and religious relics may ward off evil spirits in a film, magicians may create explosions from saying words or particular gestures, fetish objects or particular body parts may seem to incite others to lust as if they were inspired by magic forces, products and commodities may make people desire them wildly, etc. In these cases, objects or actions seem to express a force from beyond. In these cases, the objects or actions image a force or drive (pulsion, in French). The poorly translated ‘impulse-action’ (l’image de pulsion) is an attempt to image a force or drive. Because these are abstract notions, however, we can only see their effects, and rarely the force itself. A magic wand may seem to possess force, a naked body may seem to draw people to it, a vampire may lust after blood as if the blood had a power over it, food may seem to draw the hungry to it, a neurotic may be convulsed with a symptomatic action by their unconscious. In all these cases, a force (pulsion) seems to make an object (Deleuze calls this a fragment, which come in several varieties) or an action (Deleuze calls this a symptom) express a force which derives from an originary world (otherwordly source of the force, always outside of the world of the scene). The chapter on the impulse-image is Deleuze’s attempt to outdo Lacan, for the unconscious here can serve as an example of an originary world, but it is not reducible to it. Deleuze also speaks of derived milieu in this chapter, these are locations which are permeated by forces, magical forces which may emerge from the very fabric of the location in question. The inside of the spaceship at the begining of Ridley Scott’s Alien is an example of this. The realm of the part-object of psychoanalysis, this is the domain of fragments and wholes that don’t correspond, a world of H.G. Giger. Impulse-images (perhaps better translated as images of force) rarely show us the force in question directly. However, when lightning shoots out of  a magician’s fingers, this is perhaps a rare example of a force shown directly in an image. Deleuze also describes how it is that forces may arise from the repetition of scenes, bodies, actions, etc. A repeated gesture can manifest a compulsion, a repeated scene can unleash magic powers, a repetition with a difference can change the meaning of the original, or cement it in place. Thus, a second coronation in a film may be either a bad repetition, or a liberating one, depending on which sorts of forces it unleashes into the world. Deleuze says that time first creeps into the movement-image in a semi-direct form in this manner.

The impulse-image, or image of force: Deleuze's 'derived milieu' are worlds suffused by forces, in which parts and wholes may switch relation at any time, like in an image by H.G. Giger

Action-Images are all about shifts in the balance between bodies, forces, and their environments. When a film clip shows an action, like the sweep of the blade of a samurai, we see the movement of a body, and yet, a body can only move when there is a shift in the balance of forces within it, in its environment, and the relation between the two. This is why Deleuze believes that an action and its situation are intimitely intertwined. The ‘tension in the air’ between two samurai, within their bodies, and between them, is then released when the bodies go into motion and convulse, moving us from one relatively stable state of bodies, environments (encompasers), and forces (Deleuze calls balanced pairs of forces in a duel a binomial), which come together as a situation (a set of entities which Deleuze calls a synsign), into a new situation. Situation, Action, new Situation, or SAS’. Films in which the situations are relatively well understood in relation to actions take this form, which Deleuze calls the ‘large form‘, and include films like traditional westerns and samurai films, traditional documentaries, traditional comedies, monumental history films (ie: how Rome was founded), and most other types of action films, and even dramas (words exchanged in dialogue are still actions!). There is also the ‘small form,’ ASA’, in which an action occurs outside of a clear link to a situation. This situation is slowly revealed, and then there is another action to throw everything out of balance again. Films dominated by this form show us actions but only explain these actions slowly, if at all. We see these in the film of manners and court intrigue, non-traditional documentaries (ie: Erol Morris), subversive comedies (ie: Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplain, in which an action occurs yet the situation is then never right for it), history films of intrigue, detective films, etc. Sometimes the task of a film is to discover the situation lurking beneath appearances, that which will allow for actions to not misfire (many of Kurosawa’s films are about extracting the question beneath a situation). Deleuze also speaks in this section about connected and disconnected ‘lines’ of action (line of the universe and broken or wrinkled line), and connected and disconnected spaces in which actions take place (Breath Encompasser versus skeleton or dispersed spaces). Here Deleuze compares actions in a scene to the breathing of the action-situation complex, and lines of action as either complete or broken, just like spaces may be organically connected, semi-connected, or truly disconnected.

The Relation-Image: What makes this key different from others? The relations it condenses . . .

Relation-images show the way an image relates aspects of a film beyond a given scene. When we see the scene in Hitchcok’s Notorious (Hitchcock is the primary director discussed by Deleuze in this chapter) in which Ingrid Bergman holds the key in her hand, at her husband’s ball, Hitchcock begins the shot by giving us a wide-angle view of the entire ball from above, only slowly closing in to end the show with a close-up of Bergman’s hand holding the key. The message is clear: all that is happening at this ball is meaningless in comparison to the significance held in the fact that Bergman possesses this key in her hand. For in fact, Bergman plays a US spy who has married a Nazi agent living in Brazil, and she has stolen this key to help her contact, Cary Grant, get enough evidence on her husband’s activities. She has to get that key to her contact before her husband realizes it is gone from his key ring and suspects her. By showing us the closeup of the key, Hitchcock isn’t showing us just a key, he is condensing a whole set of abstract relations in the film into a key which represents them, if indirectly. The relation-image is the imaging of relations in a film. Of course, its impossible to show relations (ie: she’s a spy, married to a husband that doesn’t know, she needs to figure out her husband’s Nazi plot before she figures out she’s a spy) directly. But the key can show them indirectly. This is why Deleuze calls the relation-image an attempt to image thought, for these abstract concepts are what unite together objects, actions, plots, actors, etc. The relation image is the first attempt to image a type of thought, and what we see here is the simplest form of thought that Deleuze will describe as being imaged in film. The significance of a relation-image is in the images before and after it in the film with which it is related. This is why a relation-image is simply a normal perception-image, or any other type of image, which has more meaning to it because of its relations to others. In this sense, it is like a word ‘love’, which gains more meaning when paired with other words, and that meaning can change, depending on whether or not we pair ‘love’ with words in the form ‘I love you’, or ‘You love him’, or ‘She loves you’, etc. Relation images are images whose significance lies outside of themselves, in relation.When an entity reveals relations by being a part of a series (ie: when you see my signal again, shoot!) or set of relations (ie: drop the money off with the man in a raincoat and bowler hat), Deleuze calls it a mark, while that which evidences that something is wrong or out of place is called a demark (ie: hey, there’s not supposed to be a boat over there!).

And from here, Deleuze moves forwards to The Time-Image . . .


~ by chris on April 13, 2011.

3 Responses to “Guide to Deleuze’s “The Movement-Image”, Part II: From the Affect-Image to the Relation-Image”

  1. des images riches
    et pourtant si simples,
    en un sens

  2. […] to authoritative ideologies.    Many theorists and thinkers have approached this from Deleuze (Cinema I and II, the Affective Image) to feminists such as Sara Ahmed. Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta Breitmore […]

  3. Its interesting to say that the image (impulse-image) can create a sense of some force beyond the image. And indeed it can and does. But this should not be understood as some inability to directly image a force. On the contrary the force is being imaged (expressed) in exactly the way it should be expressed. As beyond the image. As an abstract force. To express it any other way would be to suggest the force wasn’t an abstract force. Or to express some other type of force.

    So the impulse-image is not where one finds an “attempt” to express abstract forces. It is where one finds such abstract forces actually expressed.

    This is if we’re following the Deleuzian project. One can, of course, work against Deleuze, and transform everything Deleuze says into the opposite project (as Badiou tried to do).


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