Cinema, Affect and Vision

Lisa Åkervall

[1] "The question is no longer what we see behind an image but rather, how we can endure what we see in it already" (Deleuze 1997a: 230) writes Deleuze, considering the passage from the cinema of the Movement-Image to the cinema of the Time-Image. [1] This passage from seeing behind to enduring what is seen already is an important move within Deleuze's cinema books. It is important firstly as it stresses the perspective of experience and thus allows for the cinema books to be read as a theory of cinematic experience. It is important secondly, as it foregrounds the notion of enduring, and thus marks cinematic experience as an experience at the limit, as an experience in of excess of itself. Here the notion of enduring is tightly bound to the cinema of the Time-Image, indicating a change in the mode of cinematic experience from the cinema of the Movement-Image to the cinema of the Time-Image. Enduring thus designates an important motif of Deleuzian film aesthetics in general and that of the Time-Image in particular: Deleuze thinks cinematic experience, and especially the cinema of the Time-Image's cinematic experience as in solidarity with a delirious dimension, with a dimension he terms "the unbearable" [2], "the outside", which exceeds any ordinary experience and through this excess of experience forces to think.


[2] For the notion of cinematic experience as an experience of the beyond, as an excess of experience as well as an experience of excess, the concept of affect is of central importance. The notion of affect, which Deleuze proposes in his cinema books, is – as I will show – that of an affect, which transcends ordinary experience and precipitates thought. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari write: "The affect transcends affection no more that the percept transcends perception" (Deleuze and Guattari 2000: 204). Whereas affections are thus to be understood as the actualized part of experience, as what we call feelings, as that which is and can be experienced in ordinary experience, affects on the other hand are the non-actualizable part in experience, the part, which transcends any actualizability and ordinary experienceability and thus always exists, or better: insists in a state of virtuality, of always unactualized potentiality. Deleuze and Guattari write in this context:

The percepts are not perceptions anymore, they are independent of the states of those, who experience them; the affects are not feelings or affections any more, they surpass the powers of those, through whom they pass. The sensations, percepts and affects, are beings, which stand for themselves and transcend all experienceability. (Deleuze and Guattari 2000: 191-192)


[3] In conceiving of affect as insistence, the virtual dimension of affect is foregrounded. This becomes most evident in the passages where Deleuze contrasts the affection-image to the action-image, thereby emphasizing the pure potentiality of the affection-image. With this distinction he maintains that potential-qualities, to the degree that they merge in actualization, lose their virtuality "insofar as they have been actualized in a given state and the corresponding real relations" (Deleuze 1998: 143-144). This form of affect and its actualization are realized in the action-image, that is the medium shot. However, the potential-qualities, which are realized in the affection-image and its paradigmatic shot the close-up, are to be understood completely different, insofar as the affect is expressed for itself "outside of place-time coordinates, as singularity in its uniqueness and in its virtual relations" (Deleuze 1998: 144). Regarding the event itself, the affective, he writes that "the effect transcends its cause and only points to other effects" (Deleuze 1998: 149). It is thus only the second set of potential-qualities – those, which always keep a certain state of pure potentiality –, which Deleuze truly attributes to the affection-image. He defines affect with Maurice Blanchot as "that part of the event which even through its incidence cannot be realized" (Deleuze 1998: 143). This once again foregrounds the potential dimension of affect, which as non-integrable and quasi-traumatic always insists rather than exists and thus attributes to affect a state of latency. This potential dimension of the affect and the affection-image is of great importance for thinking Deleuze's notion of cinematic experience. It is important firstly as it opens up a further space, so to say, a space which has been called "the unbearable." This is a space of the non-knowable, and thus always already connects us to the notion of experience as enduring. It is important secondly as it designates the affection-image's structural closeness to the functioning of the Time-Image.

From Affect to Thought

[4] Deleuze writes that the affect is that, which can rather be felt than understood and thus puts it very close to what he in Difference and Repetition has called the sentiendum, the being of the sensible. "What can only be felt (the sentiendum or the being of the sensible) makes the soul "perplex", which is to say that it forces it to pose a problem" (Deleuze 1997b: 182). The sentiendum is that which cannot be felt since it always exceeds the sensible and the experienceable. But at the same time it has to be felt and can be nothing but felt. It undergoes a transformation and becomes the cogitandum, that which exceeds the thinkable but has to be thought and can be nothing but thought. "From the sentiendum to the cogitandum the power of that which forces to think has developed" (Deleuze 1997b: 183). This passage from the sentiendum to the cogitandum, from affect to thought is a central figure within Deleuzian philosophy and can be found from Difference and Repetition onwards, as a differential theory of the faculties. In what follows the differential theory of the faculties as passage from the empirical to the transcendental use, as path to a higher use of the faculties shall be foregrounded as central concept for discussing Deleuze's cinema books. Even if links to it are found only implicitly, I here want to emphasize its latent presence throughout the cinema books. Reading the cinema books through the differential theory of the faculties is of great importance firstly for the understanding of how the Deleuzian concept of cinematic experience as enduring is always already bound to the ethical imperative of forcing to think. The potential of this model of a differential theory of the faculties is to provide a genetic model of perception and of experience, a model of becoming-other: every faculty is driven to its limit to force another faculty in its function, a passage, during which the faculties change their way, become other, take on their transcendental exercise. This way always leads, through a quasi-traumatic encounter from the sentiendum to the cogitandum, from affect to thought. The transcendental exercise of the faculties also presupposes the emergence of a new coherence among the faculties no longer defined as collaboration but rather as discordance. The concept of a differential theory of the faculties is of particular importance for the cinema books secondly, as it helps to avoid common misunderstandings of the Deleuzian concept of cinematic experience in general and his notion of affect in particular. It is very important to distinguish the notion of affect from the immediacy of a feeling. The Deleuzian concept of affect does not relate to any idea of a direct or purely corporal affection, nor is it a feeling in the usual sense. An affect is not to be understood as a starting point of a stimulus-response-chain, but rather as an encounter, which in its insistent virtuality forces to think. It thus short-circuits any idea of a physiology of sensation, of a "visceral immediacy of cinematic experience" by "raw contents of sensation" (Shaviro 2004: 36). This does of course not mean not to think the bodily aspects of cinematic experience. In avoiding any concept of visceral immediacy, the affect is rather to be understood as a mode of experience that is at once corporeal and mental. Whereas recent film theories of the "corporeal turn" have – as negative reaction to the psychoanalytically and semiotically oriented film-studies-paradigms of the 1970's and 1980's and their implicit marginalization of the spectator's body – tended to essentialize the spectator as body, and ignore questions concerning knowledge and the subject, my approach following Deleuze seeks to try to escape this dichotomy between thinking and body. The notion of cinematic experience as enduring and forcing to think short-circuits any essentializing approach, as body and thinking are structurally bound together here. However, psychoanalytic ideas should not be left aside completely. In the description of the affect as "the unbearable" a dimension emerges, which could be further explored through the Lacanian notion of "the Real", a notion, which could also link the notion of affect to the question of the subject.


[5] Deleuze describes the perception-image, the action-image and the affection-image as the three mayor types of images of the cinema of the Movement-Image, the cinema before the Second World War, which he and others label as its classical period. Those three types of images usually appear in the following order: first perception-image, then affection-image, and then action-image. The overall structure always entails the passage from the perception-image to the action-image, with the affection-image occupying the gap between the two. Deleuze thus links the affection-image initially to the cinema of the Movement-Image. In his two chapters on the affection-image Deleuze mentions two types of affection-images: the close-up as the paradigmatic shot and the face as its paradigmatic object on the one side, and the any-space-whatever with its preference of emptied spaces on the other side. In the course of the first chapter on the affection-image he makes an important move, which is of interest to clarify the special place of the affection-image within the cinema books in general, and within the structure of cinematic experience in particular. Deleuze first agrees on the deterritorializing force of the face, which Béla Balázs has pointed out in his writing on the specificity of the human face in cinema (Balázs 2001a; 2001b). Deleuze then goes one step further: Whereas Balázs insists on the possibility of reading the micropsychology within the microphysiognomy of the human face, Deleuze's aim is rather to leave this notion of interiority aside and describe the close-up, the face as essentially de-subjectivizing and de-humanizing. Whereas Balázs is still overwhelmed by a cinema, which for him is the new language of humanity, of which the close-up of the human face is the basic element, Deleuze devoids the face off all its humanity by foregrounding its haunting and uncanny character, putting it even closer to the cinema of the Time-Image. This move from Balázs to Deleuze, which is basically a move from interiority to exteriority, can also be linked to the move from the cinema of the Movement-Image to the cinema of the Time-Image. In this, it is also closely related to the passage from seeing to enduring the seen and thus to a change in cinematic experience as such.

[6] Deleuze's cinema of the Movement-Image follows an "organic regime", which is based on the schema of action and reaction. When this classical schema, the "organic regime" breaks down, a new kind of situation emerges that Deleuze calls optical and acoustical and that correspond to a "crystalline regime". This substitution of sensory-motor situations through optical and sound situations leads rational links between shots and sequences to be replaced by irrational, incommensurable connections in emptied or disconnected spaces. These changes also have an important impact on the time of the image. Whereas in the cinema of the Movement-Image time is subordinated to movement, always being movement in space, this subordination, too, is overturned. In the cinema of the Time-Image it is movement that is subordinated to time, thus making an experience of time emerge that is no longer tied to its representation as movement in space. The cinema of the Movement-Image can be said to be the cinema of the actual, and its structuring principle can also be described as actualization or even actualizability, which relates to its "organic" regime. The cinema of the Time-Image on the other hand corresponds to the notion of the virtual, its structuring principle thus being virtuality or potentiality, which relates to its "crystalline" regime. The affection-image – even if part of the cinema of the Movement-Image – always already points in the direction of the cinema of the Time-Image. In its inherent virtuality or potentiality it can but need not open up the order of the Time-Image. What is important here is the structural place of the affection-image occupies within the two orders of images. In the cinema of the Movement-Image the place Deleuze attributes to the affection-image – independently of the form, in which it occurs – is that of the interval between a perception and a reaction, a perception-image and an action-image. Its function is to occupy the interval "without filling it" (Deleuze 1998: 96). The notion of the interval can be said to be the most important concept for, on the one hand linking the cinema of the Movement-Image to that of the Time-Image and, on the other hand to opposing the two. On the one hand it is their common concept, on the other hand this common concept, the interval changes its function substantially from the cinema of the Movement-Image to the cinema of the Time-Image. In the cinema of the Movement-Image the interval is an in-between between action and reaction, a short suspension between a perception-image and an action-image, but in the cinema of the Time-Image its function changes substantially. The interval widens and claims its own right; it enchains action from reaction. The perception-image is no longer followed by an action-image. As the sensory-motor schema of action and reaction – the sensory-motor way of connection – breaks down, optical and sound situations emerge. These are situations that are no longer directly transformed into action, but rather extend the interval's state of suspension and latency and thus open up a space for thought and an experience of time no longer tied to movement. The widening of the interval is the moment, where the affection-image we encountered in the cinema of the Movement-Image is transformed and gives place to affection-images, which trigger optical and sound situations, decelerated movements and emptied places. The interval is thus the structural place, which in the interstice between the cinema of the Movement-Image and the cinema of the Time-Image, opens up the space for the notion of cinematic experience as "enduring" and its relation to thought.

If all the movement-images, perceptions, actions and affects underwent such a change, was this not first of all because a new element came onto the scene which was to prevent perception from being extended into action to put it in contact with thought? (Deleuze 1997a: 13)

Affection-images of the cinema of the Movement-Image can be said to mark a suspension, but not a break in the sensory-motor chain, thus still allowing for a reaction, even if it is a belated one. Affection-images of the cinema of the Time-Image on the other hand work differently, as they induce a complete break of the sensory-motor chain. Their corresponding optical and sound situations do not extend into action anymore, nor are they motivated by it: the suspension of the sensory-motor chain becomes a break in the connection of action and reaction and brings forth another type of connection. A new type of connection emerges, which is not sensory-motor any longer, but rather optical and acoustical, putting the senses in a direct relation to thought and time as an experience. This is exactly the point where the question, which defines the change in cinematic experience in the passage from the cinema of the Movement-Image to the cinema of the Time-Image emerges: "The question is no longer what we see behind an image but rather, how we can endure what we see in it already" (Deleuze 1997a: 230).

Thought and Vision

[7] A significant shift in the mode of cinematic experience in general and affect in particular has thus taken place from the cinema of the Movement-Image to cinema of the Time-Image: In optical and sound situations something, which is too powerful, and which exceeds any sensory-motor capacities, persists and thereby makes any reaction impossible. The notion of cinematic experience as enduring thus becomes central in the cinema of the Time-Image. Optical and sound situations make something graspable, and – as Deleuze specifies – "it is generally assumed that they make something unbearable graspable." (Deleuze 1997a: 32) Characters become passive, and in lacking the possibility for reaction, they become spectators of their own quasi-action. This process of becoming-spectator is always linked to a new way of seeing. "The purely optical and sound situation" writes Deleuze "evokes a function of clairvoyance, which is at the same time critique and sympathy, fantasy and observation." (Deleuze 1997a: 33) This clairvoyant way of seeing makes a new kind of cinema, a visionary cinema emerge. "We are dealing with a cinema of vision [cinéma de voyant] and no longer with a cinema of action," (Deleuze 1997a: 13) writes Deleuze. It is this cinema of vision, which returns us to the question of we "how we can endure what we see in an image already." The Time-Image's notion of cinematic experience as enduring is thus bound to a new way of seeing, that goes beyond ordinary vision. This new way of seeing is tightly bound to a new constellation of the faculties. In this changed constellation of the faculties in the cinema of the Time-Image it is central that a special importance is given to the faculty of vision. In the cinema of the Time-Image a new kind of use is attributed to vision, a transcendental use: in going through "the unbearable" and enduring the seen vision becomes visionary. The term vision is of central importance in this context and means more than mere seeing. Visionary vision differs from ordinary vision insofar as it means seeing more than in ordinary vision, including hallucinatory perception, and is thus to be understood as an excess of perception, and of experience. In this, visionary vision is also always already linked to the ghostly dimension of the notion of enduring. The way from affect to vision, from "the unbearable" to visionary vision, which constitutes this transformation, always leads – through a differential transformation of the faculties – from the affect as a quasi-traumatic encounter to a visionary way of seeing. To drive ordinary vision to the function of the visionary, means to raise the faculty of vision to a higher exercise, which no longer corresponds to the model of recognition – as the model of ordinary vision – but rather to "cognition" as visionary vision, where vision itself becomes other, where vision becomes visionary. The aim is not to react to the encounter, but rather to see in the encounter. Seeing in the encounter is always linked to the ethical imperative of making a new connection between humans and world emerge.


[8] Deleuze develops this concept of a visionary cinema mainly in relation to the films of Italian Neorealism. This is opposed to more classical accounts of Italian Neorealism, such as that of André Bazin (Bazin 2004: 295-326). Whereas Bazin focuses on a realist aesthetic, Deleuze transposes the focus from the real to the mental. What mainly fascinates Deleuze in Italian Neorealism is not a more realist way of filmmaking, but – as I would say – a more visionary one. This difference between the real and the mental is of special importance, as it allows for the shift from an ordinary use of the faculties to a transcendental one, thus introducing the passage from enduring to a visionary vision. In the films Deleuze writes about the protagonists are confronted with unbearable optical and sound situations, onto which no reaction seems adequate anymore and which thus lead them to their visionary vision. These characters – I will in the following call them the visionaries – are capable of inducing the passage from an ordinary way of seeing to a transcendental one. At the same time they announce and perform a change in the modes of experience and perception. In this, they are closely related to the Time-Image's notion of cinematic experience as "enduring". The way the passage from affect to vision occurs in the films as Deleuze describes it can more or less be summed up by the following schema: the protagonists of the films have seen or been confronted to something unbearable, which on the one hand keeps them from acting in the sense of reacting, and on the other hand makes them acquire their visionary vision. The cinema of the Time-Image – as discussed before – makes any reaction in a sensory-motor sense impossible, and thus confronts its characters with their incapacity to react. On the other hand, this very incapacity to react brings forth another type of image, the optical or sound image. The confrontation with the incapacity to react is thus not only to be understood as the protagonists' privation of their capacity to (re-)act, but also as the enabling cause for a new way of seeing, which consequently leads the films protagonists to their visionary visions. The interesting point seems to be, that the incapacity is here always already inherently linked to another capacity, to see. The notion of enduring the seen is thus tightly bound to the notion of precipitating thought and thus a visionary vision. "The unbearable" writes Deleuze, "is inseparable from a revelation or an illumination, which we can only see through a third eye" (Deleuze 1997a: 33). Deleuze's insistent recurrence to figures of incapacity, such as children, mad people or ghostly characters is especially striking in this context. Irene, the heroine of EUROPE '51, passes through all states of an inner vision, until her committal to a psychiatric clinic. The whole film EUROPE '51 can be placed under the sign of the unbearable, an unbearable, which cannot be sufficiently explained through the suicide of her son Michael at the beginning of the film. Something unknown seems to haunt the film, leads Irene to loose her way and become mad, and, lets her at the same time acquire her visionary powers. "I thought I was seeing convicts," says Irene in EUROPE '51, as she describes seeing the factory workers. Deleuze writes about her: "She is seeing, she has learned to see" (Deleuze 1997a: 13).

Ethics of a Visionary Aesthetics

[9] Becoming-visionary is tightly bound to the changes taking place from the cinema of the Movement-Image to the cinema of the Time-Image. These relate to broader historical circumstances as well as to inter-image-reasons. One of these changes has to do with the altered relationship between human beings and world and as such it also affects the possibility of believing in the world. In the cinema of the Movement-Image the relation between humans and world is largely intact, and there exists a bond between humans and world. In the cinema of the Time-Image the situation changes significantly: The bond between humans and world breaks, making belief a more complicated enterprise. The notion of becoming-visionary is tightly bound to an ethics, which in Deleuze is significant for the changed situation. Since the bond is broken, another connection has to be made. Deleuze writes:

We do no longer ask, whether or not cinema is able to give us the illusion of the world, but rather how cinema is able to restore our belief in the world. [...] It is necessary for cinema to film not the world, as it is, but the belief in the world, our only bond. To restore our faith in the world, this is the power of modern cinema. (Deleuze 1997a: 224)

To film "not the world, as it is, but the belief in the world" corresponds to Deleuze's cinematic ethics and relates to his view on Italian Neorealism. This is not foregrounding the notion of the real but rather that of the mental. The important thing here is that belief is not linked to the photographic, that is the photochemical affirmation of what is seen, as for example in Siegfried Kracauer's Theory of Film. For Deleuze, the task of cinema is not the redemption of physical reality. The function of cinema is not to reflect reality, but rather to bring forth a vision of it. Deleuze thus terms the power and challenge of modern cinema to restore our belief in the world by filming it – "as the impossible, which can only return as belief."

Not believing in another world, but in the bond between human beings and world, in love or life, and this in the sense of an impossible, an unthinkable, which nevertheless can be nothing but thought: 'something possible, or I suffocate.' (Deleuze 1997a: 222)

Deleuze's aim is to formulate an ethics, which is grounded in a positive and productive critique of the current situation. Believing in the bond between humans and world in this means believing in the possibility of transformation. The Deleuzian enterprise is neither to write the story of success of the cinema of the Time-Image as coming to itself from the Movement- Image to the Time-Image in a teleological manner, nor a melancholic attestation of an irretrievable loss, the mourning of the broken bond between human beings and world, as Jacques Rancière has read it. [3] Deleuze does not write the history of cinema's redemption as a modernistic narrative of coming to itself. For Deleuze the break in the bond between human and world is not the cause for any kind of melancholy. The Deleuzian approach is a very different one in this respect. The Deleuzian task is to restore belief in this world is to be understood as an active kind of ethics, which does not fall back in melancholia, but rather tries to affirm that something else is still possible. Thus to restore belief is this world does not refer to any idea of recovering any lost object, but should rather be understood as imperative to face a situation and ask, what has to be done next. In this way the ethical imperative related to the notion of "enduring" in the cinema of the Time-Image always already implies the imperative to trace lines of flight from the current situation. "To film the belief in the world," always already means to convey a new way of seeing, a visionary seeing. A central criterion for this new way of seeing, this visionary aesthetics, this new cinema is the way identification itself is turned around: The protagonist him- or herself becomes a spectator. This turning-around as a parallelization of protagonist and spectator is of special significance insofar, as it allows for the shift between an image-aesthetics to an experience-aesthetics. What is important here is the parallelization of spectator and protagonist. Deleuze writes: "The important thing is, that the protagonist or the spectator, or both together become visionary." The Deleuzian conception of cinematic experience and affect can thus be thought of as the starting point of an ethics of cinema, to make us believe in this world, a way, which leads from the affect to visionary vision. In the visionary vision the possibility of another relation to the world appears. The Deleuzian cinema books are in this sense to be understood as pedagogy of vision. Cinema is for Deleuze a school of perception, of learning to see, of becoming visionary. The Deleuzian cinema is a visionary cinema.

Acknowledgement: Many special thanks to David Rodowick for his careful reading and helpful comments upon an earlier draft of this paper.


[1] All translations are my own and are based upon the German language editions.

[2] It is important to note here that "the unbearable" appears outside of the opposition of ordinary and extraordinary, and that it can be both.

[3] See Rancière, Jacques. "From one Image to Another? Deleuze and the Ages of Cinema", in Rancière, Film Fables, and: Rancière, Jacques. "Existe-t-il une esthétique deleuzienne?", in: Alliez, Eric (Ed.), Gilles Deleuze. Une vie philosophique, Paris, 1998.


André Bazin. Was ist Film? especially Chapter XX. "Der filmische Realismus und die italienische Schule nach der Befreiung", Alexander Verlag Berlin, 2004 [1975].

Balázs, Béla. Der Geist des Films, Frankfurt a. Main. Suhrkamp, 2001 [1930].

Balázs, Béla. Der sichtbare Mensch oder die Kultur des Films, Frankfurt a. Main, Suhrkamp, 2001 [1924].

Deleuze, Gilles. Das Bewegungs-Bild. Kino 1, especially Chapter Six "Das Affektbild: Gesicht und Großaufnahme" and Chapter Seven "Das Affektbild: Qualitäten, Potentiale, beliebige Räume", Frankfurt a. Main, Suhrkamp, 1998 [1983].

Deleuze, Gilles. Das Zeit-Bild. Kino 2, especially Chapter One "Jenseits des Bewegungs-Bildes" and Chapter Seven "Das Denken und das Kino" Frankfurt a. Main, Suhrkamp, 1997a [1985].

Deleuze, Gilles. Differenz und Wiederholung, especially Chapter Three: "Das Bild des Denkens", Fink Verlag, 1997b [1968].

Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix. Was ist Philosophie?, especially Chapter Seven: "Perzept, Affekt und Begriff", Frankfurt a. Main, Suhrkamp, 2000 [1991].

Kracauer, Siegfried. Theorie des Films. Zur Errettung der äußeren Wirklichkeit, especially Chaper 16 "Epilog. Film in unserer Zeit", Frankfurt a. Main, Suhrkamp, 1993 [1960].

Rancière, Jacques. "Existe-t-il une esthétique deleuzienne?", in: Alliez, Eric (Ed.), Gilles Deleuze. Une vie philosophique, Paris, 1998.

Rancière, Jacques. "From one Image to Another? Deleuze and the Ages of Cinema", in: Rancière, Film Fables, Berg Publishers, 2006.

Rossellini, Roberto, dir. EUROPE '51. Perfs. Ingrid Bergman, Alexander Knox, Ettore Giannini, Ponti-De Laurentiis Cinematografica, 1952.

Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body, University of Minnesota Press, 2004.