Patricia Pisters, The Matrix of Visual Culture

Review by Matthew A. Holtmeier

The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory by Patricia Pisters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

[1] Patricia Pisters' text, The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory, is an especially relevant work in regards to's special issue "Deleuze and Film," because it takes as its central concern what it means to talk about film in terms of Gilles Deleuze without referring simply to Deleuze's books on cinema. While Pisters certainly references Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, she argues that a complete understanding of how to work with Deleuze, or how to create a modern film theory using Deleuze, necessitates returning to the rest of his oeuvre as well. Pisters shows how working with a wider range of Deleuze's writing, especially his important works with Felix Guattari – Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus – allows one to work more closely with the "camera consciousness" Deleuze argued as constitutive of the way people approach and understand the world. Thus, while borrowing from the taxonomy of cinema Deleuze has established, Pisters shows how the terms of this taxonomy are theoretically invested in the work Deleuze has accomplished outside of film as well. By showing the rhizomatic affiliation between Deleuze's writing on film and his writing on other subjects, Pisters' effectively juxtaposes a Deleuzian model of film theory with the traditional psychoanalytic model – for anyone seriously interested in both Deleuze and film, I would argue that this juxtaposition is very valuable.

[2] Pisters opens with Deleuze's concept of the brain as a screen, using Hitchcock as an example of a director that marks the transition to "a camera-consciousness which would no longer be defined by the movements it is able to follow or make, but by the mental connections it is able to enter into" (15). This new camera-consciousness is marked by its confusion between the subjective and the objective, the virtual and the actual, and the past and the present. In this first chapter, Pisters makes a useful move by illustrating what a traditional form of film analysis might look like, as opposed to a Deleuzian analysis. Still using Hitchcock as her text, she shows the difference between the "psychoanalytic model of the eye" and "the rhizomatic model of the brain" (16). From the beginning, Pisters works with a wide range of Deleuze's writing, but what she does particularly well in the opening of this book is show the theoretical grounding of Deleuze's ideas in Bergson and Spinoza. By doing so, she clearly illustrates the difference between the traditional psychoanalytic and Deleuzian approaches to film.

[3] The following chapters build upon the distinction Pisters creates between the psychoanalytic eye model and the rhizomatic brain model by providing examples of a Deleuzian analysis of specific issues related to cinema. In each case, she enriches the connections across Deleuze's works by working more specifically with Deleuzian concepts in each case. For example, in the second chapter Pisters works with flesh and bodies in film and the assemblages they enter into. While working with Deleuze's cinema concepts, she also applies specific terms from Deleuze's other works: the 'segmental line,' the 'molecular line,' and the 'line of flight.' In a similar fashion, she deals with the politics of violence in cinema, feminism/femininity in cinema, becoming-animal and affect in cinema, and finally filmic sound and its (de)territorializations in cinema in the following chapters.

[4] Although Richard Rushton, in a review of The Matrix of Visual Culture in the summer 2005 issue of Screen, has taken issue with the way Pisters presents Deleuze's 'metacinematic' ideas, I believe there are other valuable and unique aspects of Pisters' work that should not be overlooked on account of this. Rushton argues that "For Pisters's Deleuze... metacinema is a state we have only recently entered," while "for Deleuze [himself], the metacinema is already here, and has always been here" (Screen 279). In The Matrix of Visual Culture, Pisters argues that some more recent films serve as more accurate representations of the time-image, which Deleuze would not disagree with, and that these time-images are more representative of a camera-consciousness. The particular example that Rushton cites is the distinction Pisters makes between the more recent Strange Days (1995) and the classic Peeping Tom (1959), where Pisters argues that Strange Days "tells us in what ways the brain has literally become the screen and how this necessitates an immanent conception of the image" (44). While I do not want to downplay Rushton's argument – it is very important to remember that for Deleuze a camera-consciousness was always-already present – I believe it is important to look at what Pisters' argument makes possible.

[5] A large distinction Pisters makes between Strange Days and Peeping Tom centers on the type of cinematic apparatus each film takes as its central theme. In Peeping Tom it is a standard camera apparatus, while in Strange Days it is a cinematic consciousness apparatus that wires memories directly into a participant's brain, which engages all of the participant's sensory-perceptions. Thus, by virtue of the construction of the apparatus, Peeping Tom lends itself more to the psychoanalytic model of the eye, whereas Strange Days lends itself more to the rhizomatic model of the brain. With this distinction in mind, I believe it possible to say that a camera-consciousness is present in both films, but Strange Days does indeed present a more accurate example of a Deleuzian camera-consciousness where the cinematic presentation takes place in the brain or on a plane of immanence rather than as a subject for the eye.

[6] The field of Film Studies is dominated by psychoanalytic approaches to film, even though Deleuze wrote two books proposing a new method for looking at film. Deleuze's Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 are, however, as Rushton says, "complex and somewhat confusing" (279). These two factors make The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory an especially important text. By using more recent examples and showing how a Deleuzian approach to the analysis of a film looks different from a traditional psychoanalytic analysis, Pisters validates Deleuzian approaches to Film Studies. For anyone interested in Deleuze and his work with film, or anyone who wishes to understand how cinema might be looked at differently, The Matrix of Visual Culture is a must read.

Works Cited

Pisters, Patricia. The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003.

Rushton, Richard. Screen 46 (2005): 275-279.