‘David Deamer: The Moment We Understand a Revolution – An interview with Michael Ely’

This interview was originally published in the shortlived online journal kdebate (http://www.kdebate.com). The original publication is no longer live on the web (although it can be found in the Wayback Machine internet archive).

The Moment We Understand a Revolution

Dr. David Deamer is associate lecturer on cinema at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has recently published in Bell and Colebrook’s Deleuze and History (Edinburgh, 2009), Deleuze Studies and A/V, the online Deleuze journal. At present he is preparing a book on Deleuze, Japanese cinema and the atom bomb for Continuum. He also regularly blogs on Deleuze and new film releases as part of his cineosis project.

Michael Ely is an aspiring Deleuzian, undergraduate student, and debater at the University of Texas at San Antonio


ME: In Deleuze and History, you describe Deleuze’s distinction between the movement-image as that which presents the world and the characters in it as recognizable and understandable, whereas the time-image is one that would “defamiliarise the world and resist the formation of the subject”. I was first wondering, given that Deleuze was writing about the cinema, are these applicable also to the media and the way we represent certain characters in the world as either recognizable or unfamiliar? If so, I was hoping you could talk about the ways in which the media (particularly that of the West) represents the revolutions in North Africa and the Near East as either recognizable or unfamiliar and how we as scholars might respond rather than react to those representations.

DD: In my essay ‘Cinema, chronos / cronos: becoming an accomplice to the impasse of history’ in Deleuze and History I was concerned with the way in which cinema and history, after Deleuze, interact. Broadly speaking, as you paraphrase above, the movement-image attempts to present the world and its characters as being images of recognition, while the time-image attempts to defamilisarise such recognition. This is so, again broadly speaking, the spectator can think with the film in the movement-image, or, in the time-image, think because of the film. In the latter case, in other words, thinking without an image. Of course, the question is, is there any such thing as a purely movement-image film or purely time-image film… and this is even before we encounter the 33 signs of the movement-image and its eleven images, and the nine signs of the time-image, and its five images – a film is a composition of all these signs and images, of which it can be said one sign dominates…
Cinema is audio-visual, both movement-images and time-images construct narrative and history. Thus it is conceivable, after Deleuze, that any audio-visual medium is a cineosis in this sense. The media, which – nowadays – is primarily audio-visual (be it delivered by TV or the internet, which, after all, is under an arc of convergence, no doubt could be approach through Deleuze in just such a fashion. It would be interesting to think how newspapers (print, online, etc) which present text and static images dovetail with this. However, we need to be careful. Deleuze’s interventions tend to be strategic. His intervention in cinema is very different from his intervention in painting, and his (and with Guattari) his interventions in literature, etc…
But, the cinema books don’t appear in a vacuum, they describe through the concepts of the movement-image and the time-image the same kind of interactions that Deleuze described through conceptual tools such as the rhizome, the radicle and arborescence; territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation; etc. I touch on this, in both ‘Cinema, chronos / cronos: becoming an accomplice to the impasse of history’ and ‘After the flood: Deleuze, rhizomatics / arborescence and the Arab Spring (2011)’.
In short, yes, I think the movement-image and time-image can be used to explore the media.
Where I am cautious, however, indeed, very cautious, is to say that the media of the West somehow would either – en masse – render the events that we are calling the Arab Spring recognisable or unrecognizable. First, I find no evidence to suggest there is any such thing as the West and the East, or whatever way we want to divide the world up. A crofter in Orkney islands may have far more in common with a Bangladeshi farmer than a financial advisor in London, and that financial advisor more in common with someone doing the same job in Tokyo than with the crofter in their own country. If we look at the way the media portrays events, we will find interesting differences and similarities between the BBC, CNN and Al Jezeera. In other words, across the West/East divide. All tend, because they are media, to want to render things recognizable. Indeed, it is the want of the mainstream media to render things recognizable, as movement-images (what kind of movement-images? Action-images?). Perhaps it is only outside of the mainstream media – be that East, West, North, South etc etc – we will find time-images… the ‘underground’ media?
Additionally, as I point out in ‘Cinema, chronos / cronos: becoming an accomplice to the impasse of history’, the movement-image isn’t bad and the time-image good. Each form (composed of many forms) is as it is. Sometimes, as D&G; say in the opening of 1000 Plateaus, it is nice to speak like everyone else…
How should we scholars respond? A big influence on my essay ‘After the flood: Deleuze, rhizomatics / arborescence and the Arab Spring (2011)’ was Deleuze and Foucault’s ‘Intellectuals and Power,’ in Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953-1974:

Foucault: Intellectuals realize that the masses can do without them and still be knowledgeable: the masses know perfectly well what is going on, it is perfectly clear to them, they even know better than intellectuals do… but a system of power exists to bar, prohibit, invalidate their discourse… intellectuals themselves are part of this system of power, as is the idea that intellectuals are the agents of ‘consciousness’

p207 Desert Islands

You ask EXACTLY the right question. What is the role of the intellectual, the scholar?

Deleuze: In my opinion you [Foucault] were the first to teach us a fundamental lesson… the indignity of speaking for others.

p207 Desert Islands

Perhaps all intellectuals and scholars can do, in such situations, is intervene against recognition, what is represented and attempt to clear a path for people, us all, to speak for them, ourselves. And this is both unsatisfactory and dangerous. It is unsatisfactory because it isn’t a solution, and it is dangerous because we cannot control what will emerge… maybe terrible local fascisms…

ME: When we last spoke, you said that you had analyzed the current revolutions in North Africa and the Near East and were interested in their use of networks. It is often said that these networks, particularly things like the internet, social media and (obviously for Guattari) the radio can be used to produce rhizomatic lines of flight. To what extent do you think these different networks can be utilized to connect different groups and what effectiveness can they have?

DD: Is the internet rhizomatic?
In the UK the internet is supplied through underground channels and over telegraph poles and wi-fi. Several massive companies receive government funding to beef up the network and provide faster speeds. Copper is being replaced by fibre. Armies of people are highly skilled and trained in organisations with managers and senior managers to climb poles, and go underground. In short, the internet is arborescent. Yet the internet is also rhizomatic. As we know, groups form, come together and depart. This is what we saw during the Arab Spring.
These things interweave…
Yet, we must again be cautious. Is not the online example par excellence of a rhizome the paedophile networks? Is not the internet a new form of control. Google – do no evil? But profile you, and remember you and monitor you and give you what you want?
Is not the street as rhizomatic as the internet? Didn’t we see this too on Tahrir Square?

ME: On that same note, what might we as academics do to support or, at least, affirm these methods of rhizomatic networks?

DD: It might be we need to fight some of them, and some of them we fight may be rhizomatic. But there will be other we need to support. We must get involved. In our own way. In whatever we can do. And it may well be indirectly.
One cannot make the slightest demand on any point of application without being confronted by the diffuse whole, such that as soon as you do, you are necessarily led to a desire to explode it. Every partial revolutionary attack or defence in this way connects up with the struggle of the working class (p 213 Desert Islands)

ME: I was also hoping to talk to you about the methods by which we can employ these different strategies in real life. In “A Thousand Plateaus” section “1227: Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine” (pg. 389) Deleuze and Guattari speak of the way that we should abandon certain notions of strategy for more tactical approaches (go instead of chess). How might we use these tactical approaches to subvert totalitarian regimes that exist and are being challenged now and how effective can they be against those forces? Along that same line, is there a way that we as scholars can utilize that strategy in the academic arena when analyzing these various revolutions.

DD: What is a strategy? It is a codified way of dealing with a situation. With every situation. Rather, every situation is different, and demands not a strategy, but tactics. And as the situation changes, those tactics can and must change.
You are right to say ‘subvert’ rather than replace totalitarian regimes. Every regime is totalitarian in a sense. The absolute crucial aspect, for me, of Deleuzian politics is that it is just this, a subversion. Replacing a totalitarian regime with a Deleuzian regime is nonsense… it would just become a new totalitarianism. The question is difficult, because it goes without saying that that a political level some regimes seem worse than others. Yet is this the case? Look at what the documents found in Libya have shown us about the way in which the US, UK and Libya were involved in rendition and torture. In this way, aren’t these totalitarian governments also rhizomatic? Look at the connections they made! Look at these lines of flight. Look at their deterritorialisations!
How can we challenge, how effective? Again, we cannot say. No tactic is for all time. No tactic is guaranteed to work.
And you performed a wee slip in your question (no doubt you will find slips in my responses), you ask ‘is there a way that we as scholars can utilize that strategy in the academic arena’… a strategy? Of tactics?
However, it is crucial to realise that we as scholars and academics as part of the university system are part of the totalitarian system. We operate through power networks of marking and peer reviews, etc. What can we do? We must all find a way to subvert our own involvement, I guess. I have my ‘strategic tactics’… how effective are they? Sometimes very. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes they backfire…

ME: In Deleuze and History, Craig Lundy suggests that Deleuze, following Nietzsche, would have us think history as an oracle, as someone who lacks a history but has “the innocent-ignorant and arrogant-impudent abilities to create new experiences ” (193). What does it mean to think history as oracle within the modern world and how might we use this method of history to understand revolutions taking place today in relation to those of the past?

DD: Craig and I shared the panel at Copenhagen when I presented my paper ‘After the flood: Deleuze, rhizomatics/arborescence and the Arab Spring (2011)’ … indeed, the third speaker did not turn up, so we were the only speakers, our papers dovetailed and the audience was keen to discuss the issues we had put into play. We found our views on Deleuze and revolution had points of correspondence, most particularly around the ideas of tactics and that the rhizome is not good or bad and that intellectual scholars should not speak for others… or at least try not too! To answer the question above, I would ask you to speak to Craig. He’s cool…
However, for my own part, I have touched upon Deleuze and History after Nietzsche in ‘Cinema, chronos / cronos: becoming an accomplice to the impasse of history’. The crucial aspect to me, in Nietzsche’s analysis of universal history is the discussion of monumental history. We look for similarities and annul differences in order to show what happened once can happen again. We need only look at what is happening across the Arab world to see each situation in each of the countries is different, and also that it is unpredictable.
The moment we understand a revolution, that is the moment we have killed it. It is dead.
But, we can’t help but want to understand it. To make it recognisable, to look for the causes and effects, to create those causes and effects.
This is the impasse of history.

ME: Finally, on a personal note, I came to read the works of Deleuze and Guattari in the collegiate debate atmosphere. The last time we spoke, you told me that you didn’t know a great deal about the activity as you don’t have it in the U.K. Collegiate debate is an activity where students gather to debate the policy and philosophical merits of one topic every year. It has become a competitive activity in which students switch sides between affirmative and negative on a given topic, often encouraged to advocate different positions on either side and to test different advocacies even if they may not fall in line with their individual beliefs. In this world of college debate there is an argument typically run known as framework. As the name suggests it provides a framing for the round, generally based off of a preconceived idea of what debate and academic research ought to be and subsequently ought to yield. Guattari, in “The Anti-Oedipus Papers” stated that the schizoanalytic line of thought would be “to go see for yourself”. How would this line of thinking operate within academia and how can students utilize it to increase their education about a given topic without abiding by the preconceived notions of the world that Deleuze and Guattari’s work indicts?

DD: Thanks for the overview of what you are involved in. It looks like a lot of fun and very exciting. It also looks very difficult.
All I can suggest, when you ask what you can do, is to break as many rules as possible without getting booted out of academia.
Find new ways to think.
Be rigorous. Invite someone involved in the Arab Spring and let them speak, be they government or rebel. The US was involved in Libya. You’ll have asylum seekers over there too.
Above all – don’t fall into the trap of binary opposites… and that will be the most difficult thing with regards to the situation you describe above. How to subvert the structure you are in, in the full knowledge you cannot replace it? Walking away from it is one response, kow-towing another. The Deleuzian and Guattarian response, I believe, is something entirely different…