Deleuze’s Philosophy of Cinema: Reflections on Subjectivity, Images, and Visual Artworks

In “Die Zeit des Weltbildes” Heidegger (1938) describes the modern age as the time when the world first became a “world-image.” At the origin of this shift lies a complex relation between the self, reality, and its representation. By ascribing to subjectivity a foundational role, philosophers such as Descartes and Kant transformed reality into a representation, thus turning the world into a world-image. Hence they gave philosophical grounding to what can be called a representational conception of the image. The outcomes of this conception are still visible today, as questions concerning the nature of images and their relation to representation are gaining an increased attention, in both philosophy and art history (Strehle 2011, 507; Bottici 2014, 2). In the present paper, the conception of the image is investigated at the threshold between philosophy and art. Focusing on Deleuze’s analysis of the role of time in cinema, this paper argues that Deleuze develops a conception of the image beyond the representational framework. The argument of the paper should be articulated in two steps. First, I outline what exactly I mean by the representational concept of the image. Rather than analysing the works of any particular philosopher, I focus on a celebrated painting of the Italian Renaissance entirelly based on central perspective: the mysterious Cittá ideale, which portrays a utopian vision of the city of Urbino. Following the recent work of art historian Hans Belting, I suggest that particular features of the central perspective anticipated the modern concepts of subjectivity and representation. Then I move to consider Deleuze’s reflections on cinema. Here I shall focus on Deleuze’s analysis of “opsigns” and “sonsigns” in Italian neo-realism and the related concept of the crystal image. By presenting purely optical and sound situations in which no action is involved, opsigns and sonsigns place time at the centre of the cinematic image (Deleuze 1989, 2). Following Deleuze, I suggest that time here is to be understood as being both pre-subjective and pre-objective. It is the time of pure memory, constantly split within a virtual and an actual side, pre-existing the conscious life of any particular subject (Deleuze 1989, 53). Such time finds expression in the crystal image, in which actual and virtual sides of the image are merged (Deleuze 1989, 69). Through an analysis of the crystal, I show how Deleuze presents a concept of the image beyond the categories of subjectivity and representation. I conclude by drawing some consequences of this concept for both philosophy and visual arts.

Beside the painting Cittá ideale, I will make reference to the following visual works to illustrate some points: De Sica’s Ladri di Biciclette (1948), Pasolini’s Accattone (1961), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), and Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002).



Bottici, Chiara. 2014. Imaginal Politics: Images Beyond Imagination and the Imaginary. New York: Columbia University Press

Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Heidegger, Martin. 1938. “Die Zeit des Weltbildes.” In Gesamtausgabe I. Band 5 Holzwege. Frankfurt am Main: Viktorio Klostermann.

Strehle, Samuel. 2011. “Hans Belting: ‘Bild-Antropologie’ als Kulturtheorie der Bilder.” In Kultur: Theorien der Gegenwart, edited by Stephan Moebius and Dirk Quadflieg, 507–18. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.