Posts Tagged ‘Aesthetics’

Explosive aesthetics: adorno & the art of detonation

May 7, 2010

A presentation which I gave last night. It probably makes more sense in my head than in the note form here – there are sections that I didn’t write but did deliver – so I’ll tidy it up soon. Essentially about the realisation of the sublime in art through a sort of technical transposition that takes it from natural to art beauty. Trajectory goes Kant, Adorno, Mutually Assured Destruction, auto-destructive art: in a loose sense to do with non-present presences.

The picture above is of a tower built to test a nuclear device that is vaporised in the explosion. Interesting temporary architectural form.

By way of context: This presentation, and I apologise for this now, is non-deliberately open ended. It’s intended as drawing together a few threads that I intend to explore further in the dissertation, based, primarily, around an exploration of Benjamin’s interpretation of ruins in light of a dual reading of catastrophe, as a disastrous event, and in his terms as ‘missed opportunity’. So, for example, how we get from [image hiroshima pre and post] to [image lea valley pre and post]. If we leave aside the issues of Benjamin’s interpretation, what I wanted to focus on here, was how we get to the status of ruin, explosive imagery and the sublime, and its transposition, as Adorno sees it, from nature into art.

I just wanted to show this clip to start with, which, is I am informed, of the test of the Tsar Bomba. The Tsar Bomba is the largest nuclear device in terms of yield to ever have been tested. It was detonated by the Soviet Union over the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, located in the Arctic Ocean north of Russia, in 1961. The estimated yield – measured in tons of TNT – was 50 megatons (50 million tons), to contextualise that, Fat Man and Little Boy, the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima had yields of around 20 kiltons (20 000 tons).   The scale of this is illustrated rather nicely, but in a manner I find entirely incomprehensible in this image. [image of blast cloud] The reason for mentioning this is not just by way of process – so how we get from this (pic of thing) to this (ruin) – but that it allows us to deal with the concept of the sublime.

The sublime, for Kant, is an expression of beauty. It is one of the parts of the judgement of beauty. The sublime, is then further reduced into two categories. The first, as related to the mathematical, the second, as related to dynamics. For Kant the sublime is the ‘shudder’ of alternation between two instances of recognition of an overwhelming. It is, in the sense of the person to the object, the overwhelming of an inability to intuit, in mathematical terms, the scale of something – a mountain – or to grasp the force of something – a storm for example. Although Kant states that these are instances when we feel the sublime, he holds that the objects they relate to are not actually the objects of the sublime. What is constituted is the second instance of overwhelming, not of us to the object, but of the object to the idea of absolute totality or freedom. The shudder of the sublime, is then the alternation between the overwhelming of us by the object, and the recognition of the overwhelming of the overwhelming object in its relation to absolute totality or freedom.

As Kant holds that beautiful objects express a purposiveness without purpose – beauty does not pertain to a concept as the knife does to the knife maker’s idea of it – a dual process is instantiated. The first layer provides the admittedly counter-intuitive exhibition of the non-purpose of the sublime object: its size or force as end, rather than means. But the second layer, the alternation to the idea of a purpose in the recognition of the sublime object in relation to the idea of absolute totality or freedom qualifies the judgement.

Caveat: *moral culture needed for judgements: we can only recognise the sublime because we recognise our rationality*

What we then see in Kant is an attribution of the sublime to nature. What we see in a nuclear blast is the unnatural expression of a natural reaction. The technically prompted excursion into uncontrollable nuclear fusion. Of course, the parameters of the reaction can be roughly set through the material used in the bomb, but the reaction once started, unfurls within and up to its own limits. In the fleeting form of the fireball and mushroom cloud that develops out of it, we see the intermingling of the mathematical and dynamic sublime. The overwhelming scale combined with destructive force. As Jeremy Bernstein writes of witnessing a nuclear test:

‘What I saw defies description. The photograph… gives some sense but not of the scale. [image of cloud from the test ‘smoky’ that Bernstein describes] At first there was no noise. Then came the shock wave that made a disagreeable click in my ears and finally the rolling thunder of the noise. The Joshua trees were aflame as if in some obscene pagan rite. The bomb had evaporated the tower.’1

In this intermingling of overwhelming scale and force that illustrates the sublime potentiality of the destructive act. The consistent description of mushroom clouds as beautiful points to some overwhelming transcendence of the technical possibility expressed in nuclear power beyond its destructive purpose. We should be wary of the fetishisation of the mushroom cloud as solely aesthetic object outside of its historical context, but it points towards the critical aesthetic potential – the explosive quality of this potential – that Adorno holds that we find in art.

The treatment of the Kantian sublime in Adorno runs, both in and against aesthetic tradition, as a continuation of the project of de-alienation. The sublime takes its form in aesthetic works under which the ‘pressure of truth content, transcends itself’ to ‘occupy the position that was once held by the concept of the sublime.’2

While Kant holds that the sublime is found in nature, Adorno notes that the sublime was co-opted during the enlightenment so as to be the ‘historical constituent of art itself’.3 What this points to is the move of the sublime from its defining of natural to art beauty. As such, art becomes ‘in itself what was previously attributed to it as its cathartic effect on another spirit: the sublimation of nature.’4

What this means for the potential of art to convey the sublime – and through this the ideas of totality and freedom – is in its interpretation as ‘an art that shudders inwardly by suspending itself in the name of an illusionless truth content, though without, as art, divesting itself of its semblance character.’5 But for Adorno the object of the sublime, the mountain or storm, are not the representations of an overwhelming force, but the image of a ‘space liberated from fetters and structures, a liberation in which it is possible to participate.’6  This space, free of the alienating forms of dominance that society under capitalism – under a dubious relation to nature – structures, is the goal of the negative dialectical project of Adorno.

If this is then the goal of art: to inform us of a space beyond that which is presented to us as one of liberation, freedom, beauty realised in a capacity beyond that of the negation of the present, then its important to ask just how does Adorno get to the pronouncement that ‘art is profoundly kin to explosion’? 7

Given Adorno’s striking – and necessary – negativity towards the social relations that constitute the functioning of society under capitalism, the explosive quality of art is realised in a number of ways. Dialectically, Adorno exploits the antagonistic unity of the artwork as a constitutive factor of the artwork, so that it exceeds its limits, its semblance, exploding and at once unifying itself against the idea of an organic whole. So while the artwork’s success can be measured in truth content – the manner in which it sets itself against society to reveal a structural arrangement that could be – its power is expressed through its explosion of the generalising effects of the categories that it inhabits.

The explosive power of the artwork is thus derived from the inherent antagonism of the dialectical constitution of its form and content. This antagonistic unity speaks to the intimate relationship that informs, and obfuscates the nature of the form and content of the artwork, in that the two are not easily drawn into separate strands, but necessarily enmeshed in the whole. So while Adorno states – following Rimbaud – that art must be absolutely modern, that is, heterogenous, it is not enough for the form to merely change if the content is retrograde or derivative. The reverse is then also true. The artwork then plays on this dialectical unity in order to provide it with the explosive qualities that allow it to extend beyond itself, the ‘monadological’, to quote Adorno, structure of both the dialectic and the artwork.

Given the Marxist content of Adorno’s aesthetic theory it is not enough to deal with the artwork qua artwork, as an isolated entity devoid of its historical context. It’s here, in what approaches a prompt or actualisation of critical thought, that we again see recourse to explosive imagery.  In the same manner that Benjamin tried to instantiate messianic time as a mode of seeing history as more than the pacifying linearity of the bourgeois account, Adorno holds that the artwork has the power to ‘explode’ the ‘undialectical, gapless continuum of tranquil development’. 8

The continuum here has as its referent the organic composition of a history of artistic development, but in the monadological quality of the artwork, is extended out of this to society. To refer to this continuum as undialectical is to cede to the accepted, bourgeois, notion of history as it is, to ignore the potentialities of new modes of living, of changed social relations. The artwork thus responds to its historical context – in its truth content – by aggregating, by ossifying the sediment of history in its core. For Adorno, the dialectical process inherent in the artwork is one that constructs its own inner time, so that when Adorno writes:

‘What appears in the artwork is its own inner time; the explosion of appearance blasts open the continuity of this inner temporality. The artwork is mediated to real history by its monadological nucleus. History is the content of artworks. To analyse artworks means no less than to become conscious of the history immanently sedimented in them.’9

We see that the explosive quality of the artwork is thus its power to actualise consciousness. To offer us the awareness of an society orientated around spaces of liberation – an orientation once glimpsed in the natural sublime, but transferred to the language of the artwork.

I’d like to read Adorno’s pronouncements on the explosive power of art through the work and theory of Gustav Metzger, the Polish-Jewish artist who came to Britain as part of the Kindertransport programme prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. Metzger, was and is, a committed political activist and early proponent of the need for positive action with regards to the threat of climate change. I’d like, because I think that it approaches the overtly political response that Adorno decries, to leave aside his more recent work including the Flailing Trees installation, and instead, focus on the period from around 1959 to 1980. We must bear in mind that the ambitions that Metzger held for auto-destructive art were perhaps not fully realised, that the works that we have, especially in the period mentioned, are the first tentative steps towards a wider realisation.

Metzger, is known as developing the concept of auto-destructive art and the art strike. The former, first devised in 1959 as ‘primarily a form of public art for industrial societies’10 and issued in manifesto form in 1960.11 The significance of industrial societies for Metzger, revolves around the (misused) capacity of technology. Coalescing as a dialectical response to the ‘chaos of capitalism and of Soviet communism’, the ‘co-existence of surplus and starvation’ and ‘the increasing stockpiling of nuclear weapons’12, auto-destructive art plays on the technical absurdities of a society predicated on waste, productive and consumptive coercion and miss-articulation of technical capacity

We can locate two threads in Metzger’s work that perhaps speak to the formulation of the artwork – the successful formulation of the artwork in Adorno’s terms – as well as a  response to a society dominated by a culture industry that maintains that ‘the outside world is the straightforward continuation of [the world] presented on the screen.’ 13

Situating Metzger’s work in the context of Cold War logics of inexorable escalation allows us an insight into both, the auto-destructive tendencies of his art, as well as the potential effectiveness of the notion of the art strike. Returning to the Tsar Bomba, we see the absurdity of a nuclear device escalated in scale to a point of tactical uselessness. While it exhibits a bizarre inverted logic of non-deterrent as deterrent, precisely because the Russian weapon was so large as to require a semi deconstructed plane to drop it for testing. The tactical results of this escalation amounts to a weapon that would have been easily intercepted because it required slow moving bombers to transport and deploy it. The scale of the detonation is then a strategic response to its tactical ineffectiveness. By realising its status as non-deterrent deterrent in its political purpose: that is, in the expression of an escalation towards an unrestrained bomb based on destructive size, the bomb ensures its non-use, but the effectiveness of its non-use. The symbiotic reinforcement of an American-Soviet Mutually Assured Destruction leads us to a diversion of capital, of technology, beyond any meaningful end. The threat then is both non-present and omnipresent.

If MAD provides the globalised specter of a non-present presence: that of the bomb. Then the art strike provides the non-present presence of the emancipatory potentials of Adorno’s artwork. In construing the non-work, the non-production of artworks as an artwork, we can read both the absurdity of a society mired in a sclerotic response to a non-present presence, and extrapolate beyond it to a wider sense of social structures that facilitated the absurd relation. It is then, a legitimate artistic response – in a society in which Adorno questions arts ability to even exist anymore – to the omnipresence of the image: the, in Debord’s terms, spectacular society. To construct art as the image of the non-image, is to provide the same explosive logic of the threat of MAD.

That then is the first thread of Metzger’s work. The artstrike, or non-production of artworks, proferred, in itself, as an artwork.

In terms of specific artworks we can read Metzger’s acid paintings, created at the South Bank demonstration, [image] as what a typically Adornoite artwork may look like. Given that the artwork itself was ephemeral and that document now exists as record of the act, one may question the relevancy, but perhaps not its truth content. The acid paintings consisted of chloroform sprayed onto sheets of hanging nylon which corrode at the point of contact within 15 seconds. What we see here is an embargo on images, non-representative artwork, and the creation of the radically heterogenous, in spite of its inherently fleeting nature. It is then, a work that points to the freeing of the particular from the general, an appreciation of the location of its moments in relation to its form, as Adorno attributes to the twelve tone structure of Schoenberg’s compositions. In allowing the mechanico-technical potentials of readymade materials to realise themselves auto-destructively, Metzger points to the conception of the artwork that Adorno praises. Here we see the space of liberation, freedom from modes of domination, and a political response to an aesthetic content that does not explicitly situate itself as political. What remains of the artwork is nothing, the nylon is dissolved, but it situates itself as non-present presence.

Aesthetics of time travel

January 6, 2010

After a long time doing nothing but writing essays I celebrated – in the most minor way – by watching the first Terminator movie last night. I hadn’t seen it for years and a couple of things struck me about it. Firstly, you can see Schwarzenegger’s penis when he initially appears from the future. Secondly, that the film is loving immersed in 80s music culture until Sarah Connor disappears off to Mexico at the end, at which point the perm goes and the bandanna / jeep / aviator combo of the future revolutionary leader appears. And, thirdly, it borrows a huge amount from La Jetée.

Following La Jetée’s aesthetic of a time travelling minimalism in which the apparatus needed to hurl someone through time looks like the following picture, Terminator’s resolution of the end point of time travel – the arrival – consists in some lightning and lack of clothing. It’s easy to imagine that the time travelling apparatus in Terminator shares an aesthetic similarity with La Jetee because they’re both created out of necessity. In that the conditions of the emergence of time travelling technology is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the end goal is not so much the changing of history to change the future-present, but a preservation of it on its own terms.

If this minimal aesthetic is derived of necessity – of the sparse conditions of emergence – it evolves because of the eventual primacy of a military-industrial complex that induces catastrophe. Compare this to the representation of time travel as developed, not out of necessity, but curiosity, and the opposite aesthetic emerges. Not a stripped back minimalism of a lone time travelling man. But one of cluttered, accidental emergence, where pieces of trash, clapped out bits of machinery and odd cogs and gizmos are stuck on to a basic container for transportation. See the DeLorean of Back to the Future and H G Wells’ time machine.

There’s surely more instances of representation but I can’t currently think of any that sit between these two poles. This leaves us between the forced minimalism of aesthetic representation beyond the catastrophic triumph of the military-industrial complex, and the cluttered junk-machines of the accidental inventor. The wider implications of this I’m not so sure about. But the lack of space between the two poles, of a time machine available in the supermarket that looks something like a dirt devil, seems like a missed narrative opportunity.

Deleuze and the crystal-image

October 30, 2009

Just found this in my Google documents. Written about 3 years ago. But, it means I can put some more pictures here.

vertigo poster

Deleuze’s crystal-image purports to offer us an insight into the operation of time. In order to explore this claim I will provide a synopsis of Bergson’s though on time and memory, which informs Deleuze’s work concerning the crystal-image. The crystal-image is a logical culmination of a trajectory that Deleuze sees in cinema. This essay will deal with this trajectory that operates through the movement-image, time-image and into the crystal-image: the Second World War providing the paradigm shift in underlying cinematic style. Finally, and in order to determine how the crystal-image is delineated visually I will look at its portrayal in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

In each moment that we inhabit in the present there exists, for Bergson, a split between a present that passes, and a past which is preserved. Bergson’s description of time is derived from Xeno’s paradoxes of movement, and seeks to explain how we move through time. In order to make sense of this, Bergson ascribes to our subjectivities ‘duration’. “Pure duration is the form taken by the succession of our inner states of consciousness when our self lets itself live, when it abstains from establishing a separation between the present state and anterior states.”1 This notion of duration provides the basis of Bergson’s work on memory and features in Deleuze’s analysis of the crystal-image; itself a portrait of duration, a depiction of “the foundation of time, non-chronological time”.2 It is only through looking at Bergson’s work on memory that we can fully make sense of duration (and thus the crystal-image); though it is itself, a concept that superintends the memory schema.

In order to explain how the past survives in the present, and how the splitting of time is facilitated, Bergson divides the operation of memory into two distinct aspects. The two forms that memory takes are of spontaneous memory and habitual or automatic memory. Spontaneous memory deals with the past in images and representations; it is entirely virtual.3 Habitual memory, unlike spontaneous memory, engages with the present. In elaborating on Bergson’s work, Guerlac uses the example of driving a car and then failing to acutely remember the journey afterwards.4 The mechanism of habitual memory, through the learned skill of driving, engages with the present. The practical collaboration of the two types of memory can be referred to as actual memory and is necessarily expedient in dealing with the world.

Bergson illustrated this interaction between spontaneous and habitual memory, and perception through his inverted cone. What we see is a distinction between the virtual – that which is pure memory, and the actual – pure perception, involved with the present. This gap is bridged through the use of memory. The ellipse AB at the base of the cone is totality of memory. Point S is the body, the self, in contact with the present (shown as the plane P). What needs to be considered is that the diagram is not meant to convey stasis; point S is in constant motion, engaged in a perpetual surge towards an immediate future and linked with an immediate past. This is how time is experienced, through the mechanism of memory Bergson describes. Time is not linear, but amorphous and in flux. The past exists concurrently with the present and each point in the future splits into a present that passes and a past that is preserved, without this there could be no motion through time: time would not move if the present could not pass.

Memory cone

Deleuze suggests that Bergson’s philosophy has often, pejoratively, been reduced to the maxim that “duration is subjective and constitutes our internal life.”5 While there is no denying the truth of the statement it can only be made sense of in the wider context of Bergson’s philosophy. Through the schema of time and memory that Bergson outlines it is the constant production of ‘internal circuits’, the linking of present and past, which contribute to the subjectivity of duration. It is these internal circuits that Deleuze finds exemplified visually through the medium of cinema.

Deleuze argues that these internal circuits when delineated in cinema give us a picture of how we inhabit and move in time. 6 It is this that he terms the ‘crystal-image’ – a representation of the splitting of time, the movement of past and present reflected through these images. Deleuze states that “cinema does not just present images, it surrounds them with a world.”7 He goes on to elaborate that cinema seeks to provide bigger circuits in order to link actual images with those of the past. This is the basis for what Deleuze sees as the cinema’s exposition of time. However, the purest form of the crystal-image, the manner in which we exist in time, constitutes the smallest possible internal circuit.8 What Deleuze seeks to provide is a taxonomy of the crystal-image. To look at the crystal-image in film we require its context in Deleuze’s cinematic trajectory.

For Deleuze the state of pre-war cinema is characterised by a portrayal of the movement-image. The movement-image arises from Bergson’s critique of cinema. Cinema “misconceives movement” in the same manner as natural perception. What it does is break down movement into a series of successive images, a misgiving that natural perception and cinema share.9 For Bergson a model in which things “constantly change, a flowing-matter in which no point of anchorage nor centre of reference would be assignable” would be preferable.10 It is this that leads to a plane of immanence, a universe, which is comprised in a set of movement images; everything reacts with everything.11 It is this that Deleuze adopts as the basis of the movement-image.

The movement-image is fundamentally reactionary. Its archetype is in Hollywood genre cinema, built upon placing characters into situations in which they can immediately act and react.12 Deleuze also states that the narrative of pre-war film, steeped in movement-image, carries little central to the main tenets of the plot. The construction of films is done with ease of accessibility firmly in mind. Cuts are made in order to advance in time towards the next stage of the story, which inevitably unfolds in a linear fashion, often signposted by elucidating flashbacks. It carries a sensory-motor schema through which action unfolds.13 The link between sense and motor, between perception and action, is unassailable. This is the basis of the movement image, the emphasis being firmly on spatial rather than temporal action.

The break with movement-image cinema originates in post-war cinema. The time-image is introduced. A method in which film-makers no longer sought to portray only the movement-image, a format that Deleuze asserts, exhausted itself of original content. It must be noted that the validity of Deleuze’s assertion – that the Second World War signalled a break in the ethos of filmmakers – is questionable. It is difficult to see just how a historical event (regardless of its size) could produce identical outcomes in a diffuse set of filmmakers spread globally. We are inclined to think of the time-image as born fully developed. This, perhaps, is a misconception. The Second World War can be said to have provided the catalyst for the development of the time-image, but this itself was a process that developed gradually: through the French new-wave, and the importation of an aesthetic from Japanese cinema. Post-war cinema did not suddenly lose its emphasis that had traditionally been placed on the movement-image, but embraced a blossoming new direction concerned with time over movement.

What the developed time-image does it to place characters in situations to which they are unable to react. The sensory-motor schema is dissolved, and prompt action and reaction consequently rendered unfeasible. Deleuze terms this type of image the opsign, and through it we gain cinematic glimpses of time in its pure state. Deleuze credits Ozu’s languorous style with the first major depictions of time in its purest essence. He notes that places devoid of people, lingering camera shots (prominently for Deleuze, of a vase in Late Spring) convey pure time.14 With time cinematically delineated, it is the work of the crystal-image to show us how we inhabit and operate within time.

Crystal-images, formed by the collision of the actual and virtual, allow us to see time. The limpid, actual image and the opaque, virtual, become accessible in the crystalline form.15 What constitutes the purest crystal image is when the “actual optical image crystallizes with its own virtual image”.16 This image that consists of the smallest internal circuit, where the actual image finds its own ‘genetic’ element, forms a pure crystal. The image becomes irreducible to the actual and virtual, the present and contemporaneous past. The image cannot be broken down into its constituent parts because they become indiscernible from each other. Deleuze even suggests that in the light of the actual, the virtual becomes the actual and the actual, virtual, in the crystal.17 There is fluidity in the crystal that means its parts cannot be demarcated.

The crystal-image is the present and past, co-existing. Bergson holds that this is evinced in the form of déjà-vu.18 The phenomena of finding a place familiar, of feeling as if we have been somewhere or done something before, is the simultaneous existence of the past and present: where the pure-virtual image interacts fleetingly with present. This virtual image, in its pure form, exists outside of the consciousness in time. In the crystal-image, in déjà-vu, we glimpse this vision of an anterior state in collaboration with the present. This, is for Deleuze, how we operate in time, time holds us in its interior and we move through it as such.19

There are only three films that Deleuze attributes with showing us how we move in time; of forming crystal-images composed of the smallest interior circuits: Dovzhenko’s Zvenigora, Resnais’s Je t’aime je t’aime and Hitchcock’s Vertigo.20 It is telling that there are only three examples of the crystal-image for Deleuze. It is an image of unrivalled specificity whose potential we can see in many films, but whose existence is only available to us in few. The theory of the crystal-image and the intricacy of its composition, often lead to situations where a lacuna is required to complete the crystal. This means that although the theoretical apparatus of the crystal-image can be applied to many films, we can rarely use it as an explanatory tool. Indeed, for Deleuze, it is not the crystal-image that can be used to further our understanding of specific films, but that these films further our understanding of the fundamental metaphysics of time and memory.

In Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour, in the Casablanca bar, the memories of Elle are projected onto Lui, so that in conversation he becomes her German lover. The crystal though is not quite completed, as it lacks the synchronous unity of a moment shared through past and present. Similarly, Lynch often offers us images of a virtual past imposed upon the present (think of line “Dick Laurent is dead” in Lost Highway) that leads to an exploration of a fugue state with continual references to events both present and past. What Deleuze does not allow for in the crystal-image is the construction of an implicit state of reference that has the same temporal significance. What the crystal-image requires is an explicit exposition; a full visual representation of the workings of memory in time. It is for this reason that I shall focus exclusively on the portrayal of Deleuze’s crystal-image in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Chris Marker puts forward the idea that Scottie’s acrophobia in Vertigo is a “clear, understandable and spectacular” metaphor for the vertigo of time.21 What Scottie tries to overcome through his makeover of Judy into Madeleine is time itself. His obsession, born from his love for Madeleine realises itself in his project to makeover a small town Kansas girl into the lady he covets. It is this fight against time that Vertigo portrays. It shows how Scottie inhabits time, and the function of his memory in his interaction with the present.

Vertigo is constructed in a manner that betrays its ostensible fascination with spatial vertigo. Vertigo contains multiple instances of repetition, semiotics, mirror images and duplicitous appearances. Dialogue is repeated, most notably the line about ‘power and freedom’, first uttered by Elster as a lament for a San Francisco past. These are the concepts that underline Elster’s machinations. What we are witness to is an elaborate plot to rid himself of his wife, thus gaining freedom, retaining her money as a key to power. In the Argosy bookstore the line is repeated alongside the rather portentous statement from Pop Leibel (‘he threw her away’) about Carlotta Valdes. Something that Elster manages to do literally, discarding his wife from the bell tower while Judy stands complicit.

The spiral of the opening credits, Madeleine’s hair and the stairs of the bell tower symbolise the circular nature of time in Vertigo. Things are brought back to approach their origins but the circuits can never quite be completed: the death of Madeleine prevents the logical culmination of the love she shares with Scottie, a situation that repeats itself with Judy’s death in the finale of the film. All symbols for Deleuze, of the operation of time. Indeed the prevalence of ‘mirror’ shots and the duplicitous nature of Madeleine further blur the distinction between the actual and the virtual. A technique used in the construction of the film as a whole. The ending mirrors the start, Scottie hanging once literally and then metaphorically in grave danger, the first physical and the second psychological. The pattern of following Madeleine and her death mirrors that which occurs, in the second half of the film, with Judy.

As Bergson saw, time is often viewed as secondary in function to space: in noting that we count in space, not time; that each object requires juxtaposition with another to make sense of them numerically.22 It is this reversal that constitutes metaphor of acrophobia that Marker uncovers in Vertigo. Indeed Deleuze states that the crystal-image “does not abstract time; it does better: it reverses its subordination in relation to movement”.23 This is what Scottie is seeking in making over Judy, to reverse this spatiotemporal hierarchy in order to recover what has been lost; Madeleine, but survives outside of his consciousness in time, in the realm of the virtual. The pure crystal-image – where the actual: the reshaping of Judy into Madeleine, meets the virtual: Scottie’s memory of Madeleine – is the zenith of time’s representation in Vertigo.

The pure crystal-image, where the actual meets its virtual image occurs in Vertigo, after Scottie has successfully remade Judy into Madeleine. In Judy’s room at the Empire Hotel, as her hair is twisted into Madeleine’s spiral, the transformation is completed. What follows is a kiss between Judy and Scottie. As they embrace in the room the camera begins to rotate around them, Scottie opens his eyes and the scenery changes. He is no longer in the Empire Hotel, but in the livery stables at the mission, with the memory of the kiss he shared with Madeleine before her perceived death. As the camera completes its circuit Scottie is returned to the hotel room.

It is this image, this pure crystal, which portrays time so effectively for Deleuze. What we are presented with is an irreducible image. The actual (the room in the Empire Hotel) and the virtual (the kiss in the livery stable) cannot be separated; there is no longer a distinction between the present and the past for Scottie at that moment. The virtual image becomes actual and limpid, while the actual becomes opaque.24 This is evinced in Vertigo. As the camera rotates, the virtual is shown to us; Scottie’s memory becomes actual, while the present, the actuality of the hotel room, disappears into the realm of the virtual. What we see in the crystal-image is the “gushing forth of time”. 25

It is through Scottie’s obsession and “thanks to the most magical camera movement in the history of cinema” that Vertigo portrays the crystal-image.26 This image is a product of Deleuze’s wider philosophy and a belief that through art we are able to reconcile ourselves with an alienated world: to come to terms with our position within it, and attempt to understand it more fully. In film – through the crystal-image – we are able to see the “most fundamental operation of time”.27 In Vertigo, we are shown time’s operation, how Scottie is positioned in time, and thus, how we inhabit time.


Barr, Charles, 2002, Vertigo, British Film Institute.

Bergson, Henri, 2001. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Data of Immediate Consciousness. (Pogson Translation) Dover Publications.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1986 (first published 1983), Cinema One: The Movement-Image, Continuum Books.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books.

Guerlac, Suzanne, 2006. Thinking In Time – An Introduction To Henri Bergson. Cornell University Press.

Marker, Chris, 1995 ‘A free replay (notes on Vertigo)’in John Boorman and Walter Donohoe (ed) Projections 4 ½, Faber and Faber Ltd.

Pearson, Keith Ansell, 2002. Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual. Routledge.


Hiroshima Mon Amour. Resnais, Alain. 1959 Argos Films.

Lost Highway. Lynch, David. 1996. Asymmetrical Productions.

Sans Soleil. Marker, Chris. 1983. Argos Films.

Tokyo Story. Ozu, Yasujiro. 1953. Artificial Eye Film Company Ltd.

Vertigo. Hitchcock, Alfred. 1958. Universal.

1 Bergson, Henri, 2001. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Data of Immediate Consciousness. (Pogson Translation) Dover Publications. P. 100.

2 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 79.

3 Guerlac, Suzanne, 2006. Thinking In Time – An Introduction To Henri Bergson. Cornell University Press. P. 125.

4 Guerlac, Suzanne, 2006. Thinking In Time – An Introduction To Henri Bergson. Cornell University Press. P. 126.

5 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 80.

6 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 80.

7 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 66.

8 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 68.

9 Deleuze, Gilles. 1986 (first published 1983), Cinema One: The Movement-Image, Continuum Books. P. 59.

10 Deleuze, Gilles. 1986 (first published 1983), Cinema One: The Movement-Image, Continuum Books. P. 60.

11 Deleuze, Gilles. 1986 (first published 1983), Cinema One: The Movement-Image, Continuum Books. Pp. 61-63.

12 Deleuze, Gilles. 1986 (first published 1983), Cinema One: The Movement-Image, Continuum Books. Pp. 145-154.

13 Deleuze, Gilles. 1986 (first published 1983), Cinema One: The Movement-Image, Continuum Books. Pp. 159-163.

14 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. Pp. 13-16.

15 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 69.

16 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 67.

17 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 68.

18 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 77.

19 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 80.

20 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 80.

21 Marker, Chris, 1995 ‘A free replay (notes on Vertigo)’in John Boorman and Walter Donohoe (ed) Projections 4 ½, Faber and Faber Ltd. P123.

22 Guerlac, Suzanne, 2006. Thinking In Time – An Introduction To Henri Bergson. Cornell University Press. Pp. 61-63.

23 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 95.

24 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 68.

25 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. P. 80.

26 Marker, Chris, 1995 ‘A free replay (notes on Vertigo)’in John Boorman and Walter Donohoe (ed) Projections 4 ½, Faber and Faber Ltd. P. 124.

27 Deleuze, Gilles. 1989 (first published 1985), Cinema Two: The Time-Image, Continuum Books. Pp. 78-79.

Spiral hair

It’s all in the spiral.