‘Time travel and temporal paradox: Deleuze, the time-image and Russian Ark’

Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games
Eds. Matthew Jones and Joan Ormrod
McFarland, 2015

Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark / Russkiy kovcheg (Russia / Germany, 2002) is far from being a traditional time-travel film. Tellingly, few critical engagements have yet to discuss it in such a context, preferring instead to explore its technical virtuosity (famously, one long take) as capturing a present haunted by various pasts.

Yet it seems to me that considering Russian Ark through the time-travel genre allows a productive reading where we can reflect upon a fundamental aspect of the conventions of such narrations. ‘Time is out of joint’ not due to the intervention in time of the travellers, an intervention that will need to be set right by further intercession, but due to the very nature of time itself.

Time is already riven with paradoxes, disjunctions and problems – and such problems, disjunctions and paradoxes can only be propagated and never returned to an illusory ‘as-it-is.’

Such questions will be discussed through Gilles Deleuze’s cineotic (cinematic semiotic) of the time-image, specifically the organisations of narration articulated through the concepts of ‘sheets of the past,’ ‘peaks of the present’ and ‘powers of the false.’ Sheets of the past refer to a decoupling of before and after; whereas peaks of the present describe how incompatible presents subsist within any moment. In this way, sheets and peaks pronounce an undoing of linear temporality. Finally, powers of the false are the creation of the past in the present for a future, thus problematising historical truth.

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Also available at McFarland