Quentin Tarantino: Gilles Deleuze's Cinematic "Falsifier"?

Jenny O'Connor

[1] Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus appears to be the perfect escape from the structures and strictures of structuralism and semiotics. Deterrorialising dualisms, using nomadology as a way of exploring interstices between concepts, discovering schizoanalysis as an alternative to the psychoanalysis of film: it seemed as if Deleuze moved us away from structures and towards free-flowing connections. Yet, in his Cinema books, Gilles Deleuze both denies and confirms structuralism and semiotics as valid modes of cinematic exploration. More to the point, he rails against semiology but reinforces semiotics; he refutes structures that fix meaning but creates his own signs that form a new structuralism based on the experience of the image. In addition, the terminology of his previous works with Guattari appears to vanish, and on the surface, we see little evidence of immanence, becoming or assemblages. This is replaced with a multitude of signs, a whole new language of cinematic exploration. In investigating Deleuze's paradoxical and intriguing exploration of signs, it is all too easy to fall back on the examples of the cinematic masterpieces that he discusses. Rather, we must turn to a cinema that sits uncomfortably within Deleuze's revered "martyrology" of filmmaking, and who better than a director who revels in pure surface? Enter Quentin Tarantino, a purveyor of capitalist America, a consumer and provider of mass culture. Not only does Tarantino represent the anathema to the Deleuzian directorial ideal (in his enthusiastic ingestion into capitalism and popular culture), but he also plays with time through flashbacks and flashforwards that may be regarded in Deleuzian terms as meaningless. However, rather than creating binaries of good/bad, worthy/unworthy, perhaps we should instead examine Tarantino as Deleuze's "falsifier," a term that Deleuze uses in Negotiations when describing his relationship with Félix Guattari. For Deleuze, a "falsifier" is a mediator, a second term in a series that tests the concepts of the first term. Yet Guattari does not truly occupy this role – he does not test Deleuze's concepts to their limits so much as probe them, tease them out and refine them in conjunction with his own. While Guattari may deterritorialise and reterritorialise Deleuze's theories in a highly valuable way, he does not truly falsify them; he is an interlocutor rather than a falsifier. In order to find a falsifier, we must look in an unlikely place. We must seek what appears to be antithetical to Deleuze's semiotics of cinema in order to investigate whether that semiotics is beneficial to all, and not just some, forms of filmmaking. I will aim to assess what Deleuze and Tarantino contribute to the other in a mode of becoming; for as Deleuze articulates, "[t]hese capacities of falsity to produce truth, that's what mediators are about..." (Negotiations, 126)

[2] As Ian Buchanan reminds us, Gilles Deleuze has long been accused of cultural snobbery. Tarantino's artistic output can be regarded in the same vein as the pop music which Buchanan discusses, as his films revel in the repetitious refrain of the familiar, luring the viewer into an encounter with new-as-old, a postmodern cobbling together of formal cinematic advances and staple narratives that passes as time-warping originality. Buchanan does not extrapolate from Deleuze's writings in order to come to this observation; rather, Deleuze himself unequivocally states his position in Negotiations and could easily be referring directly to Tarantino and his pop-culture style. In discussing the cerebral (not necessarily intellectual) connections that cinema creates, he tells us that "most cinematic production, with its arbitrary violence and feeble eroticism, reflects mental deficiency rather than any invention of new cerebral circuits" (60). Pop videos are the worst offenders of all, because they fail to fulfil their creative potential: "they could have become a really interesting new field of cinematic activity," he tells us, "but were immediately taken over by organized mindlessness. Aesthetics can't be divorced from these complementary questions of cretinization and cerebralization" (60). Thus Deleuze, the philosopher who does not deal in binaries, polarises high and low culture, reifying one and demonising the other. This split can be seen in terms of a modernist/ postmodernist dichotomy, wherein the modernist creation of experimental and original forms of art is contrasted with a postmodernist reliance on passive modes of consumption and the exploration of mass culture. In Deleuze's rethinking of cinema, he proceeds down a structuralist path, but it is a journey into a language at once familiar and altogether new. Deleuze attempts to think a new semiotics (that is an anti-semiotics) and introduces us to a whole new lexicon of the image, but while this at first appears to reinforce the binary between high and low art, it reintroduces immanence as an antidote to the suffocating laws of structuralism. In this case, immanence is created in the constant de- and re-territorialisation of the image through these various signs and systems that Deleuze identifies and in the corporeal and cerebral circuits that we make with the image in our viewing of it. Consequently, Deleuze aims to create two works that are not about understanding or interpreting film, but about thinking film in new ways.

[3] While Tarantino's cinema can be "interpreted" using Deleuze's Cinema books, creating an instrument of interpretation is not the objective of Deleuze's work. The Movement-Image and The Time-Image do not serve to enable the theorisation of cinema, but rather the exploration of its specifically dynamic characteristics. Nonetheless, a whole new way of thinking Tarantino's cinema is elicited from examining, for example, the recollection-images, opsigns and sonsigns that Deleuze discusses in his works on cinema. I will examine a number of examples from Tarantino's films in order to discuss the mutual becomings that result when they are brought into contact with one another, and to define the point at which Deleuze and Tarantino appear to fail each other. I will also discuss whether this means that Deleuze's theories, in their denial of the postmodern, in fact fail cinema itself. It is safe to say that Tarantino is everything Tarkovsky or Godard is not; he is a purveyor of mass culture, a director who does not appear to take cinema "seriously," a pulp fiction-maker. However, as Buchanan rightly points out, "[H]is low regard for the popular notwithstanding, Deleuze does however provide several useful critical tools for its analysis ... " (2). In Buchanan's essay, the main tool for analysis is pop music as refrain, as a way to deterritorialise capitalism from within. Buchanan goes on to discuss the possibilities invoked by the modernist crisis regarding art's lack of originality and newness. He articulates that pop music's absorption into the capitalist system can be seen as an inherent characteristic of a new form of art. This absorption signals a collective alteration in the social consciousness that is as powerful as any political or cultural line of flight. Thus, Tarantino, like pop music, tests the limits of Deleuze's work by defying the "rules" that Deleuze defines for "good" cinema. While Deleuze promotes the rhizome in A Thousand Plateaus, here he is arboreal, planting the seeds of hierarchical structuralist systems off which there must be found offshoots and lines of flight on which to experiment (if the rest of Deleuze's philosophies are to be believed). These lines of flight are as integral to cinema as they are to any other mode of expression, and while Tarantino's and Deleuze's chronosigns (or time-images) are two different entities, it is not fair to say that Tarantino does not utilise the time-image in his own way.

[4] In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino manages to achieve a "direct presentation of time" (Cinema 2, 37), a Tarantinian version of Deleuze's time-image at least. As Rodowick asserts, "[e]xamples of the direct time-image are as rare as genuine philosophical concepts" (173), yet Tarantino thinks time in a way that is extremely interesting in a Deleuzian context. This does not mean that it is necessary to take Deleuze's notion of the direct time-image and posit it on Tarantino's films to see if it "works." Rather, Tarantino's approach immediately undermines hierarchies, splits time, and plays with the actual and the virtual. It invites a Deleuzian reading, even if Deleuze himself may not have wished to engage with such cinematic practices. Deleuze tells us that direct images of time are based on aberrant movements, are divorced from space and are unhinged from our everyday world. In effect, they are both true and false. As Ronald Bogue articulates,

Deleuze distinguishes two kinds of chronosigns, those that concern the order of time and those that concern time as series, and in both kinds, the true and the false are rendered undecidable or inextricable, in the one case through a coexistence or simultaneity of different times, in the other "a becoming of potentialization, as series of powers." (135)

The direct time-image is a crystal-image, representing various states of virtual and actual temporality. Tarantino explores the direct time-image in Pulp Fiction when Butch returns to his house to pick up his father's watch (itself a literal and symbolic measure of continually passing presents.) Deleuze, in discussing the peaks of the present, articulates that in the scenario of a lost key (or in Butch's case, a lost watch) chronological time is eliminated as events that occur in continuous peaks of the present are concomitant. Instants of having the key and losing the key are not discernible; rather the events cause instants to interconnect and overlap. Deleuze tells us "[a]t the same time someone no longer has the key (that is, used to have it), still has it (had not lost it), and finds it (that is, will have it and did not have it)" (Cinema 2, 98). Tarantino makes this explicit to us not only in the simultaneity of Butch having the watch, losing the watch and finding the watch, but also in the crystal image of Vincent Vega's death. When he is shot by Butch, Vince is dead (used to be alive), alive (never dead) and both dead and alive (will be dead and was not dead). Tarantino does exactly what Deleuze describes in creating a powerful time-image here. He distributes "different presents to different characters, so that each forms a combination that is plausible and possible in itself, but where all of them together are 'incompossible' and where the inexplicable is thereby maintained and created" (98). The incompossibility exists in this event occurring in each character's world, in which the event has already and not yet taken place. It also seems incompossible for Vince to be before us, both dead and alive at the same time. When Vince emerges from the bathroom in Butch's house, he fulfils one of Deleuze's criteria for the attainment of the time-image; "he literally emerges from time rather than coming from another place" (37). The time that he emerges from is in the future and simultaneously in the past, and also, of course, in the present. The false continuity of the film allows Vincent to be resurrected and to walk out of the diner in the final scene, tucking his gun into his shorts. Thus, the aberrant movement of simultaneously stepping into and out of past, present and future eschews space in favour of time, upsetting not only our actual time but the virtual present peaks of time of the film. Vince is always-already dead and resurrected, always-already true and false in the Deleuzian sense. Thus, Vince's emergence falsifies the truisms of fixed perceptions of time and chronological expectations of narrative.

[5] In Reservoir Dogs, we are introduced to another facet of the crystal-image, which embodies this paradox of time. Mr. Orange kills Mr. Blonde in a hail of bullets and Freddy Moondike, Mr. Orange's "real" identity, is subsequently introduced to the audience. This identity however, is both true and false, both virtual and actual. The virtual in this case is "[t]he past that has never been present" (Parr, 297), that which constitutues all actualities but is distinct from them. The commode story is such a virtuality and one that Mr. Orange/Freddy Moondike uses to his advantage. It is a narrative aside that Freddy learns by rote in order to convince Joe and his gang of his credentials and it creates a time-image through its ultimate coalescence with the actual. The story involves Freddy taking a trip to the mens' toilets in the middle of a convoluted drug deal. He brings the drugs with him in a carrier bag and encounters four police officers and a German Shepherd in the restrooms. We move from movement- to time-image in this sequence and from objective to subjective perception (and back again) (Cinema 1, 74). As Freddy practices his performance in his apartment, the camera remains fixed, allowing him to walk in and out of the "obsessive framing" of the image (71). Thus, the director and the camera create a presence, a perception-image that is both objective and subjective simultaneously. Freddy goes through his lines, creating a false past for himself, a virtual recollection-image. The scene cuts to an empty urban concrete space as he continues to practice, and finally to the interior of a club, as he carries out the "real" performance of the virtual story in front of Nice Guy Eddie, Joe, and Mr. White. At this point, Freddy is no longer Freddy, but Mr. Orange, his virtual identity. During the story, which Mr. Orange is narrating to his cohorts in the club, the camera cuts to reveal its virtual location, the gents' toilets. There are subsequent cuts back and forth until actual and virtual coalesce in the image, via the sonsign.

[6] Opsigns and sonsigns force ruptures in the sensory-motor schema, [1] breaks or gaps in which access to pure sensorial events can occur. The intolerable image is derived directly from them, from an immersion into the optical and the sonic realms of the image. In this case, the sonsign is the bark of the German Shepherd, which causes the action around Mr. Orange to freeze, while he narrates his own virtual story within the story itself. The sonsign creates an intolerable image, a situation that Mr. Orange cannot physically bear. It turns Mr. Orange into an observer, or observer-narrator, while he watches and simultaneously narrates a virtual act of the past that never took place. Mr. Orange tells his audience about the intolerable physical state that is brought on by a connection between the sonsign and the virtual:

"Every nerve ending, all of my senses, the blood in my veins, everything I have is just screaming 'take off man, just bail, just get the fuck outta there.' Panic hits me like a bucket of water. First there's the shock of it – bam! – right in the face. I'm just standing there, drenched in panic, and all these sheriffs lookin' at me and they know man, they can smell it, as sure as that fuckin' dog can, they can smell it on me..."

The camera pans three hundred and sixty degrees around Mr. Orange during this virtual event, taking on a specifically filmic consciousness as it moves around a point of indiscernability between the virtual of the story and the actual sensations presented through the sonsigns of the image. The moment of crisis passes unremarkably however, forming the humour of the story so vital to its believability and the narration emanates once again from the actuality of the club. However, there is another sonsign on the horizon. Virtual Mr. Orange pushes the button on the hand dryer, and the sound of an airplane emerges. This sonsign again marks the intolerable image that paralyses all narratives. The pure sensorial experience of the out of context airplane noise ruptures the linear narrative of the story, creating a moment of observation, of watching, of observing, that is a pure time-image. Mr. Orange's wet hands are in close-up, in slow motion under the hand dryer; the police officers stop talking and stare; the dog barks noiselessly. It is not until the sonsign disappears (when the hand dryer switches itself off) that the narrative can continue in the virtual context (the police officers are mid-conversation when the sonsign is over) and in the actual context (we are back in the club with Joe telling Mr. Orange: "You knew how to handle that situation: just shit in your pants and dive in and swim"). Thus, it cannot be said that Tarantino does not experiment with the various sheets of past and the coexistence of peaks of present in his films. In this sequence, the time-image displaces certainty and fixity, splits virtual and actual and creates truisms of falsities and falsities of truisms. This film explores the layers of time that Deleuze ascribes to Resnais and to Welles, yet it reserves the right to be Oedipal in its climax (Mr. White holds Mr. Orange in a version of the Pieta, the gangster father figure that has just been "fucked" by his surrogate son, a cop), to make pop culture references, to create empty signifiers. It is this paradoxical refusal of Deleuze's work to engage with "unworthy" ideas that fascinates Slavoj Žižek in his book Organs without Bodies.

From Reservoir Dogs. Click to play.

[7] Žižek rails against Deleuze's facile classification of Lacan's reading of Oedipus and his repudiation of the structuralism to which his philosophical theories are indebted. However, Deleuze anticipates Žižek's argument almost twenty years in advance and answers these charges in Negotiations. Here he says that,

the concepts philosophy introduces to deal with cinema must be specific, must relate specifically to cinema. You can of course link framing to castration or close-ups to partial objects but I don't see what that tells us about cinema. It's questionable whether the notion of the "imaginary" even has any bearing on cinema; cinema produces reality ... It's the same with linguistics: it also provides only concepts applicable to cinema from outside ... (58-9)

Deleuze's response is logical and his sensible approach is evidenced in the creation of a new (anti-)semiotics of the cinema that is not based in psychoanalysis. Yet, Žižek in the Art section of the book, focuses on a microanalysis of Hitchcock's films rather than an exploration of Deleuze's contribution to cinema. He bounds from references to the movement- and time-images to the Lacanian "objet petit a" to Hitchcock as anti-Platonic; yet nowhere does he tackle the most obvious of paradoxes with regard to Deleuze's anti-psychoanalytic stance: the fact that Deleuze fetishises cinema itself. If Žižek really wants to take "Deleuze from behind" (Žižek, 45), perhaps the most fertile ground is not the "Hegelian buggery of Deleuze"(48) but the Deleuzian buggery of cinema. While Žižek proceeds to apply a psychoanalytic reading of Hitchcock, he appears to overlook the deliciously rich psychoanalytic reading of Deleuze's work on cinema. We must return to Laura Mulvey's familiar "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" to reveal the possibilities of such an investigation.

[8] Mulvey discusses fetishistic scopophilia, which she says, "builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself" (65). She underlines that fetishistic scophophilia "can exist outside linear time as the erotic instinct is focused on the look alone"(ibid). She proceeds with examples from Hitchcock to illustrate this point, just as Deleuze does when describing the transition from movement- to time-image and Žižek does in his exploration of psychoanalytic readings of art. Yet as Mulvey discusses the magical space of the screen, which in her view is hermetically sealed, Deleuze explores the fact that "we no longer know what is imaginary or real, physical or mental ... not because they are confused, but because we do not have to know and there is no longer even a place from which to ask" (Cinema 2, 7). Pure opsigns and sonsigns (that is, optical and sound images) replace motor actions to create a cinema of sensation, with the primary importance on seeing. In Mulvey's more recent work, Death 24x a Second, the primacy afforded to watching the cinematic image is even greater – through the digital image, and its ability to be paused, rewound and replayed, we develop a new fetishisation of the image, in which particular, "privileged" moments are given a "new visibility that renders them special, meaningful and pleasurable" (166). That Deleuze places great importance on seeing and observing in order to bring the time-image into being is evidence of his own fascination with the look. An important factor here is the intolerable image, an instant within cinema in which the character (or indeed the viewer) sees something that creates an abundance of affect, creating a pure optical situation, "a cinema of the seer and no longer of the agent" (2). However, while "the camera's look is disavowed" in Mulvey's essay (68-9), in Deleuze's Cinema books the camera develops a consciousness of its own, which is no longer "defined by the movements it is able to follow or make, but by the mental connections it is able to enter into" (Cinema 2, 22). Thus, Deleuze and Mulvey diverge, yet the resonance of scopophilic fetishisation remains. Deleuze is, as Claire Perkins describes, a "cinephile," a lover of cinema, or rather a desirer of cinema. This cinematic desire is apprehended again and again through the look, that look that defies time and creates a pure image of its own, the scopophilic-image. Even more interesting is that this is a point at which Tarantino and Deleuze really do converge.

[9] Tarantino is a fetishist of popular culture, consuming graphic art, TV programmes, and blaxploitation films, and creating a postmodern homage to them in his own films. He too is a cinephile, who is fascinated by the look, by watching and rewatching the same incident through different or disembodied view points, by allowing the camera to gain a consciousness that is never settled or fixed. Tarantino corresponds to Fredric Jameson's ideas on the visual; that it is "essentially pornographic" (1, his italics). For Jameson, "pornographic films are ... only the potentiation of films in general, which ask us to stare at the world as though it were a naked body" (1). Tarantino's world is the naked body covered in blood; it oozes entrails, snorts coke, shoots guns. It is a postmodern body that attempts to eliminate the gap between high and low art through cinematographic style. Yet while Jameson affirms that the pornographic is something all films have in common (the gaze is inherent in viewing the visual), he attempts to illustrate other ways in which the modernist and postmodernist aesthetics overlap. He in fact refers to Godard as displaying elements of the postmodern, whereas in Deleuze's taxonomy, he appears firmly as a modernist. Jameson argues that it is fruitless to attempt to evaluate authors or directors based on their ability to combine the popular with high aesthetics; rather, what is interesting is how modernism and postmodernism both repel and attract each other like magnets. Jameson states at the beginning of the book that "the only way to think the visual ... is to grasp its historical coming into being" (1). To move a step forward in this logic is to discover that through this process, history itself becomes inconsequential. Modernism and postmodernism bleed into one other inadvertently, until the historical moments of their genesis are not definable and not important. What remains is the continual becoming of both, as opposites and corollaries of the other.

[10] This convergence of interests can also be explored through Žižek's description of Deleuze as "the ideologist of late capitalism" (184), a position that Deleuze would almost certainly dispute. Žižek finds Deleuze and Guattari's approach to global capitalism to be far less revolutionary than it first appears and accuses them of "reflecting, rather than resisting, the deterritorialised flows of global capitalism" (Sinnerbrink, 63). Like pop music, Deleuze misses the potential of capitalism to create affects and becomings, to achieve what postmodernism also achieves in the combination of unlikely pairings. Žižek and Tarantino both explore the possibilities of capitalism in order to challenge Deleuze. Žižek returns to Lacan to make his point, claiming that the potential of capitalism to create new types of affect is overlooked:

what if what appears an obstacle is effectively a positive condition of possibility, the element that triggers and propels the explosion of affective productivity? What if, consequently, one should precisely, "throw out the baby with the dirty bath water" and renounce the very notion of erratic affective productivity as the libidinal support of revolutionary activity? (185)

Tarantino on the other hand, returns to the image itself. By tethering the time-image to an inherent capitalism that lives and breathes in the image itself, he creates an image that heightens our awareness of the consumerism of the present, while acknowledging our nostalgia for the movement-images of the past. The resulting postmodern image is liberating, not restrictive, exploratory and affective, not flat, full with meaning on the surface, not empty.

[11] In Pulp Fiction, the time-image and the postmodern engagement with capitalism coalesce, and nowhere more than in the "Jack Rabbit Slims" sequence. In fact, it is worth asking whether images that are created in this sequence can be seen as pure postmodern time-images. If the postmodern is an extension of the modern in some way, as Jameson says, do we need a separate time-image in order to discuss it? Are not the circumstances (social and historical) that brought the time-image into being within modernist cinema still valid and relevant? If the image has changed from one of movement to one of time due to the proliferation of empty spaces in which characters wander and observe, does the postmodern condition really offer anything that merits a new image? And after exploring movement and time in the image, is there anywhere new to go? Deleuze believes that the classical period gave birth to the movement-image and that the modernist period created the time-image. Thus, there does not appear to be room for a concept such as the postmodern time-image, which is oxymoronic and anachronistic. Nonetheless, we have seen that Tarantino makes good use of the time-images to which Deleuze refers while maintaining his position as a postmodern filmmaker. In creating his own version of chronosigns, he in fact inflects them with a postmodern aesthetic; a concern with appearance, with style, with ingestion, with capitalism, but also with a reflection of the age in which they exist. Pulling up to the Jack Rabbit Slims restaurant, Vincent and Mia Wallace begin to converse in a style that recalls 1950s movies. They call each other "Daddy-o" and "kitty cat," "cowboy" and "cowgirl." The waiter also calls Mia "Peggy Sue." Jameson discusses such shifting signifiers in relation to Lacan's concept of time and schizophrenia in his essay on postmodernism and its relationship to the commodification of society ("Postmodernism and Consumer Society," 119). The schizophrenic has no meaningful relationship to language, and cannot organise signifiers to create a chronological sentence, let alone conceive of a chronological timeline. He finds himself alone and deserted, without any frame of reference to cling to. Jameson notes that the schizophrenic absorbs and experiences events more intensely than others, creating not a chronological history, but continuous presents that are all the more "real" for their "unreality" (120). Thus, language ultimately orders time and (if the relationship of signifiers to signifieds is not understood correctly) creates schizophrenics.

[12] However, while linguistic references to referents long gone or abstract are interesting in their disruption of time, they do not create a postmodern time-image. In order for the postmodern time-image to be born, it must be created from a postmodern milieu and setting. This is found in the venue itself. Jack Rabbit Slims resembles Disneyland as Baudrillard discusses it; it is a simulacrum, a construct that draws our attention again to the relationship between actual and virtual, between original and copy. It is, as Vince tells Mia, "like a wax museum with a pulse." Tarantino makes good use of diner scenes in many of his films, utilising the specifically American space of capitalist ingestion in order to explore questions of consumerist behaviour in postmodern society Botting & Wilson, 116). However, the restaurant is not merely a location in which to re-enact a historical moment in time over and over again. Rather, the diner says something about the present, about the elimination of history, about the close relationship between time and money in a postmodern society. Tarantino himself notes that "in the past six years, 1950s diners have sprung up all over LA ... They're basically all the same. Décor out of an 'Archie' comic book, golden oldies constantly emanating from a bubbly Wurlitzer, saucy waitresses in bobby socks, menus with items like the Fats Domino Cheeseburger, or the Wolfman Jack Omelette, and over-prices that pay for all this bullshit" (Barnes & Hearn, 76). As Paul Virilio argues, the shift from the problem of distance (overcome by the transport revolution in the last century) to the problem of time (in which the subject is eliminated in favour of the "journey without a trajectory") results in a "current revolution in (interactive) transmission ... provoking a commutation in the urban environment whereby the image prevails over the thing it is an image of" (19).

From Pulp Fiction. Click to play.

[13] Virilio's chapter focuses on the urbanisation of time and of the body, with a bleak robotic outlook predicted in which our appetite for technology leads to "the growing inertia of the overequipped able-bodied person" (21). In essence, we are now, in this postmodern society, beginning to consume time, with the ultimate aim of being "here and elsewhere, at the same time" (10). It appears that Tarantino is guilty of this attempt to "buy" time. In order to create a postmodern time-image, his cinephilia is secondary only to his consumerism and time is in fact a commodity like any other. There is also an intertextuality inherent in the venue that reiterates this commodification of popular culture. Cinematic memorabilia adorns the walls and Tarantino makes reference to this virtual diner in both Reservoir Dogs and Four Rooms (Botting & Wilson, 76-7). The result is a construction of non-chronological time, a pastiche of the past in a parodied present, a breakdown of "reality, truth, knowledge, subjectivity, power and politics" (Connor, 46-7). The postmodern must be engaged with in this diner, on this set – it cannot be avoided. Deleuze's movement- and time-images do not suffice, for they do not address the death of subjectivity or this kind of elimination of time that takes place in the postmodern in any real depth. In order to attempt to think a specifically postmodern time-image in this film, we must push Deleuze's time-image to its limit.

From Pulp Fiction. Click to play.

[14] The postmodern time-image that must be particularly addressed in this sequence is that which arises when Vince and Mia sit down to eat. As the camera rests on their side profiles, a screen behind shows a 1950s movie, black and white images of cars, trams, and people travelling through another era. This is the postmodern time-image; an image that is situated in the postmodern setting yet in which is embedded the movement-image of the classical period. The restaurant embodies the overt desire to explore past sheets of time through moments in the present and it is, significantly, alive with dead celebrities. Regular waiters and waitresses in 1950s garb are not enough to entice the postmodern consumer; they expect to be served by Marilyn Monroe and Zorro. The preoccupation with exploring the intricacies of capitalist society is combined with Tarantino's own cinematic fetishism, where "real" and "virtual" characters can be told apart by someone with a "true" knowledge of popular cinematic history. [2] Yet a replica of a Hollywood star of the movement-image era comes free with every meal, enabling us to sample them, fresh from the past, yet also from the present, through consumption. If one is going to subsume oneself in the simulacrum, it has to offer more than the original. The venue is a version of a 1950s diner, but with ostentatious displays of contemporary consumerism throughout. While some people eat in booths, others dine in remodelled Cadillacs; you may order the regular milkshake, but the five-dollar version is more desirable. There is a drawing together of the modern and the postmodern until they actually overlap, until the simulacrum of the present is screened at the same time as the "real" (and "reel") of the past. Is Deleuze's time-image not precisely postmodern in its elimination of history, in which "our entire contemporary social system has little by little begun to lose its capacity to retain its own past, has begun to live in a perpetual present and in a perpetual change that obliterates traditions of the kind which all earlier social formations have had in one way or another to preserve"? (Jameson, 125). Tarantino represents a group of postmodern consumers, who like Virilio's technologically sophisticated figures of inertia, create an environment in which issues of social justice or political rebellion are replaced with a personal desire to possess the best milkshake, the loot, the father one never had. The tendency to wander and observe is replaced with a tendency to buy and to acquire. Thus, the image of the postmodern era is born: the consumption-image.

[15] The consumption-image combines elements of the classical (the image imbued with movement, cause and effect) and the modernist (the cinema of the observer, which is both passive and active). The character is ultimately bound to the sensory-motor schema in the classical, and directly to the eye and the brain in the modernist. However, the consumption-image also maintains its own characteristics that are specifically postmodern. The spaces occupied by the postmodern character are spaces of consumption: diners, cars, bedrooms, and warehouses. Such locations offer a triple function – to act (to walk in, interact, order), to observe (to watch the others in the diner, to read the newspaper, to watch TV), and to consume (to not only eat, but to ingest, to break down food, to assimilate; to incorporate messages from the TV and newspapers into the sensory-motor schema but to theorise and debate them; to engage in sexual intercourse as a way to possess, by oral or other means). Fred Botting and Scott Wilson discuss the ethics of consumption in their book on Tarantino. Consumption in Tarantino's work, they argue, is linked to excess, with the idea that "satisfaction is never satisfying enough" (134), whether this is in relation to sex, food, or violence. The sadomasochism inherent in the tipping scene at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs exemplifies this, with Mr. Pink sadistically withholding his tip until the waitress refills his cup with coffee the requisite number of times (120). However, consumption is not merely a means by which to control (or be controlled); rather in Tarantino's films, it is also a re-engagement with the sensory-motor schema, a return to the classical appreciation of movement (with the added experience of the exploration of the time-image). Thus, the consumption-image is a confident expression of a cinema that is au fait with cinematic history, yet which is reluctant to remain within the categories which have gone before it. In describing the shift from movement- to time-image, Deleuze notes that,

the character ... shifts, runs and becomes animated in vain, the situation he is in outstrips his motor capacities on all sides ... He records rather than reacts. He is prey to a vision, pursued by it or pursuing it, rather than engaged in an action. (Cinema 2, 3)

In Tarantino's cinema, this manifests itself in characters that act and observe in a mode of consumption. Every character in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction is engaged in consumption of some kind. Thus, while the sensory-motor schema might be reinstated by a re-engagement with movement, it is continually being deterritorialised by time-images that unsettle it. The movement-image is continually interrupted, with time-images occurring in the interstices (opened up by the deterritorialisation of the movement-image through the changing circumstances of modernism). What results is an image that occupies both camps and pushes forward into an expression of the postmodern era. But what does the union of movement + time give birth to? If the movement-image combines with the time-image, it creates a postmodern cinema with which we can engage in a logical narrative fashion, and in which we apprehend instances of multiple time planes. This union does not give birth directly to consumption (it gives birth to a movement/ time-image) but rather consumption is the fluid that flows around it; consumption is that which allows movement and time to work together in the postmodern-image. In order to examine the consumption-image, we must move away from Deleuze (who does not allow for it) and toward Lyotard and Jameson.

[16] Lyotard identifies various "sites of time" in the production and "being" of a painting, one of which is "the time required to look at and understand the work (time of 'consumption')" (78). This site of time is infinite in its ability to be consumed over and over again (in a painting or film) yet we cannot consume it itself, "merely its meaning" (80). In Reservoir Dogs, the warehouse is a location of the consumption-image. It is the gap between production and consumption, where the torture of not quite having the thing you wish to possess is most acute. The consumption-image occurs when Mr. Blonde prepares to slice off Marvin's ear, and corresponds to Lyotard's discussion of obligation in Barnett Newman's high modernist art: "obligation is the modality of time rather than of space and its organ is the ear rather than the eye" (81). Perhaps there is no greater obligation than to be the subject of sadist torture, with one's ear the ultimate object of a sadist consumerism. A literal splicing of this organ takes place in the postmodern image, as Mr. Blonde combines the classical action-image with a pastiche of the modernist sonsign (the intolerable sound image of Marvin screaming, without the organ that protects the inner auditory canal). The image is not only intolerable in relation to sound but also sight. The camera pans left as Mr. Blonde takes a switch blade to Marvin's ear, only returning when Mr. Blonde asks Marvin if it was "as good for you as it was for me." He also makes a grotesque visual joke, holding up the ear to his mouth, and shouting "You hear that?" Mr. Blonde then stops the torture and walks out of the warehouse. This interstice between action and the deferral of the instant of death is the void of potentiality that we are familiar with via the sublime. Referring to Burke's theory of the sublime, Lyotard discusses that "threatening void" in which something terrible will take place (and, to reiterate Deleuze's theory of the direct time-image, has not yet taken place, and has already taken place). The sublime and the direct time-image thus have a direct link in the image of consumption, in which Mr. Blonde allays his sadistic enjoyment of Marvin by consuming him a piece at a time.

[17] In Pulp Fiction, consumption-images abound: Vince and Jules discuss the differences between American and Dutch versions of McDonalds; the perils of supply and demand in relation to foot massages are debated; oral sex is performed only on the basis that it is returned. The cyclical exchange of goods, services, and body parts is integral to the narrative itself. In and before the discussion about oral sex, a number of consumption-images are realised. Fabienne describes to Butch her desire for a pot belly, a bodily manifestation of excess that is "pleasing to the touch" yet Butch tells her that if she had a pot belly, he would punch her in it. Once again, the sadomasochism inherent in desiring too much, in craving excess is revealed (as in the tipping scene), yet the threat of excess violence to counter excess consumption is revealed as a joke. Instead, Fabienne wishes to be consumed herself, asking Butch if he will give her "oral pleasure." It is significant that this oral pleasure is no longer connected to her consumption (and subsequent oral pleasure) of something but to Butch's consumption of her. Butch does not respond with a yes or no, but in turn asks Fabienne, "Will you kiss it?" Fabienne responds, "Yes, but you first." The exchange that occurs here is not merely a negotiation of supply and demand, but in addition, an exchange of desire and satisfaction in psychoanalytic terms. Yet it is also an exchange of desire in Deleuzian terms, as that which creates flows of energy, that which connects machines to one another, that which is manifested in the body without organs. The screen fades to one of rarefaction between scenes (it fades to black), to signal an ellipsis of time, and when we return to the image, Fabienne appears as though part of the television screen. This is not merely a reflection; it is as though through the act of mutual consumption, Fabienne has become inscribed in the most American of consumptive machines, the television. When Butch gets frustrated because Fabienne did not pick up his all-important watch from the apartment (which has, like the paintings mentioned above, been consumed before him by the anus of his father and Captain Coombes) breaks the television, shattering the consumption-image, and returning us to the realm of action and movement-images (as the narrative thread is picked up once again and Butch is propelled into action by the mission of retrieving his watch). In both of these films, the consumption-image emerges as the site of union and conflict between movement- and time-images. It is specifically postmodern, yet this does not signal a break with Deleuze's terms. Rather it enriches them with another aspect of time that builds further on the advances made after the movement-image. While the consumption-image literally capitalises on the movement- and time-images that have gone before it, it does not devalue them. Rather, it creates a new line of flight from a taxonomy that is structuralist but that desires to be more rhizomatic.

[18] To return to the question of a mutual becoming then, we must regard Tarantino and Deleuze as each other's mediators. The time-image cannot be stuck in the modernist era; by its very nature, it cannot be restricted to one prolonged moment in time. It must be liberated and allowed to enter into connections with other types of cinema that emanate from a postmodern age. As Jameson points out, the modernist works of Beckett or Brecht are no longer seen as part of an experimental, rebellious "other" of literature; they comprise the canon (Signatures of the Visible, 14). Similarly, Welles, Godard, and Hitchcock are no longer simply the maverick manipulators of planes of time; they are the instigators of a cinematic semiotics that is as fruitful when considered outside of its domestic milieu as within it. Tarantino joins the time-image to a specific consumerism that reaches its apogee in Jack Rabbit Slims, where his collection of memorabilia and his replication of movement-image stars is a fetishistic and ostentatious display of cinephilia. For Deleuze, this may not tell us anything about the fabric of time but it is a visual manifestation of the new postmodern time-image that incorporates consumerism into its core. Here Deleuze and Tarantino must separate, for they will never be compatible enough to live together harmoniously. Yet, the question remains: does Deleuze fail Tarantino by excluding his type of cinema from his taxonomy of images? If so, does this mean that Deleuze fails cinema itself? I do not believe so, at least not intentionally. Deleuze wrote two books on cinema that draw on previous knowledge, yet are entirely unique in their primary aspiration. They desire to reflect a "cinesexuality," what Patricia McCormack describes as the altering affect of cinema, the "unique moment of desire only available to us through that 'cinema' feeling: cinema as a lover we take, a form of sexuality that is not translatable to any other circumstance" (341-2). Thus, what is produced is not film theory, it is not semiotics, it is not a manual for the interpretation of cinema. It is designed to encourage the reader to experience cinema itself, to explore movement- and time-images rather than focus on representations and readings of the image. Yet, these works make assumptions about a reader's prior knowledge of film, about a familiarity with philosophy in general, and with Deleuze's philosophies in particular, that obscure their aspirations. However, while Deleuze may be accused of creating highly dense and complex philosophies, he cannot be charged with failing cinema. His challenge to us is to persevere and to dedicate ourselves to the task of exploring our own bodily connections to film. Whether he fails Tarantino and other expressions of postmodernist film is another matter. By excluding postmodernism entirely from his taxonomy, he disregards it, effectively throwing it on the trash heap of "bad" cinema. Thus, we must investigate the value of the postmodern text in the context of Deleuze's structuralist works on cinema, and within the wider nexus of poststructuralist thought to which Deleuze's other works arguably belong. Deleuze's and Tarantino's cinematic works enrich each other, each challenging and testing the images the other creates. Above all, Tarantino operates as Deleuze's falsifier, interrogating his concepts and creating a dialogue about what constitutes "worthy" cinema.


[1] Indeed, it can also be said that the sensory-motor schema attempts to disrupt any purely sensory immersion in the image; it can be seen as "a kind of circuit breaker for controlling image-excitations." (ibid., p.21).

[2] Vince and Mia discuss the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Mamie van Doren.

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