The Powers of the False

Beshty - sign of the times

PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.

The powers of the false are what cause the science of governmentality and the philosophy of abstraction to part ways. Deleuze, following Nietzsche, argues that “the ‘true world’ does not exist, and even if it did, it would be inaccessible, impossible to describe, and, if it could be described, would be useless, superfluous.”[1] This critique is in part historical, much like Hardt and Negri’s depiction of colonial dialectics, as time “puts truth in crisis.”[2] Derrida explicates how time can subvert truth, whereby the legal order is founded through a violence that is illegitimate under the law.[3] Denouncing states, nations, or races as fictions does little to dislodge their power, however untrue the historical or scientific justifications for them might be.[4] Deleuze is intrigued by these “not-necessarily true pasts,” and in particular, the founding mythologies that fictionalize the origin of states and nations of people.[5] Recognizing power in the indistinguishability between the true and false does not mean the loss of value or that the world is a sham – in place of the model of truth, Deleuze poses the real. Put in these terms: disputing the truthfulness of an abstraction does not limit its power but in fact reiterates the real capacities of even false abstractions (to name two: that illegal violence can and has been used to found new legal orders, and that now-debunked science once justified eugenics and that new scientific paradigms will necessarily invalidate those currently used in social policy). To draw a sharp boundary between the state as a historical set of practices and “a mythicized abstraction,” as Governmentality Studies does, then turns a blind eye to the reality of the state.[6]

Deleuze turns to cinema to capture the power of the false. The capacity of cinema to produce new political realities is a topic that has already been broached by theorists who balance the authority of scientists with the energetic philosophy of cinema.[7] What interests Deleuze about cinema is that it “takes up the problem of truth and attempts to resolve it through purely cinematic means,” and not because film simply represents the concept of truth through metaphor or analogy.[8] In the history of cinema, he finds a shift after World War II whereby films break from clichéd calls to action characteristic of classic cinema and increasingly produce new realities; some retain a reference to the true, such as the ‘clairvoyant eye’ of Italian neo-realism era films, while the films of 1960’s new waves and other new waves escape the usual function of the senses.[9] This cinema’s realism is not a simple mimesis, though, but a presentation of what is not directly perceivable – not different world but realities that exist in the present, though not currently lived, which confirms but also weakens reality.[10] The elusiveness of truth in post-war cinema does not prevent the existence of a “truthful man,” however, and Deleuze maintains that behind their motivations are the moral origins of truth and desires nothing less than the return of judgment.[11]  Brecht and Lang are his two foils; both he charges with returning morality through the judgment of the viewer, and against whom he poses Welles, whose films make judgment impossible.[12]


[1] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 137.

[2] Ibid, 130. He poses it in the modified terms of the classic philosophy problem of future contingents that considers the truth of the statement “there will be a sea-battle tomorrow.” Deleuze has particular ire for philosophy founded on such propositional logic.

[3] Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law: The Mystical Foundation of Authority,” Deconstruction & the Possibility of Justice, ed. Drucilla Cornell et al. (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3-66.

[4] Kalpana Rahita Seshadri demonstrates the non-effectiveness of historical and scientific critiques of racism in Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Analysis of Race (London: Routledge, 2000).

[5] Ibid, 131. The ‘miraculating power’ of the state is dealt with extensively in Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, and Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.

[6] Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 109.

[7] Here I am thinking of the book-length works of Michael J. Shapiro, Iain MacKenzie, and Robert Porter, namely Michael J. Shapiro, Cinematic Political Thought: Narrative Race, Nation, and Gender (New York: NYU Press, 1999), Michael J. Shapiro, Cinematic Geopolitics (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), and Ian MacKenzie and Robert Porter, Dramatizing the Political: Deleuze and Guattari (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2001), but also related articles, such as Julian Reid, “What did Cinema do in ‘the War,’ Deleuze?,” Theory & Event 13, no. 3 (2010), Debbie Lisle and Andrew Pepper, “The New Face of Global Hollywood: Black Hawk Down and The Politics of Meta-Sovereignty,” Cultural Politics 1, no. 2 (2005): 165-192, and Jamie Lorimer, “Moving Image Methodologies for More-than-Human Geographies,” Cultural Geographies 17, no. 2 (April 2010): 237-258.

[8] Gregg Lambert, The Non-Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (London and New York: Continuum, 2002), 93.

[9] Ibid, 22.

[10] To clarify this understanding of the real, Gregory Flaxman uses Cameron’s Avatar and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to contrast recent appeals to cinema’s real, such as Bazin scholar Dudley Andrew’s work, with “the collective information operations of the real,” which are analogous to Deleuze’s transcendental field, in “Out of the Field: The Future of Cinema Studies,” Angelaki 17, no. 4 (December 2012): 119-137 (forthcoming).

[11] Ibid, 137.

[12] Ibid, 138-139.

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