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Trifonova, The Image inFrench Philosophy

ID II.1.r1


Temenuga Trifonova, The Image in French Philosophy, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi Press, 2007, 316 pp., $83

The Image in French Philosophy is the recent book by Temenuga Trifonova, a Bulgarian who lives and works in Canada where she is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the University of New Brunswick. She works in film and philosophy, film theory, European and American cinema, film adaptation and remakes, science fiction cinema and aesthetics. Probably due to her rich background, she offers a new perspective in thinking about metaphysics in twentieth-century French Philosophy. She suggests this is a period of revival—in opposition to all the proclamations by Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, etc., that metaphysics, in the twentieth century, “is dead.” She builds her principal assertions on an interpretation of Bergson, Sartre, Lyotard, Baudrillard and Deleuze, viewing their philosophy not as a critique but as a revival of metaphysics, a thinking about impersonal forces distinguished by an aversion of the philosophical gaze from the discourse of vision, and thus away from the image.
Metaphysics in general is a philosophical study whose object is to determine the real nature of things—to determine the meaning, structure, and principles of whatever is insofar as it is. Among the general topics of metaphysics are those about mind and matter, the Universe, identity and change, space and time, necessity and possibility, religion and spirituality, abstract objects and mathematics, determinism and free will, cosmology and cosmogony, and so on. Metaphysics has been attacked at different times in history for being futile and too vague. The main critique of metaphysics has to do with reality in the metaphysical context. By the metaphysician's own admission, reality is inaccessible to the senses; as Plato explained, it can be discovered only by pure intelligence, and only if the latter can shake itself free of bodily encumbrances. Some of the most prominent philosophers to have criticized metaphysics are David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Karl Popper and Friedrich Nietzsche. In the paradigm of twentieth-century French philosophy, it is Jacques Derrida who, in Of Grammatology, finds that metaphysics, to put it briefly, is founded on oppositions seeking to establish a stability of meaning through conceptual absolutes wherein one term—for example, "good"—is elevated to a status that designates its opposite—in this case, "evil"—as its perversion, lack, or inferior. These "violent hierarchies," as Derrida terms them, are structurally unstable in the very texts where the meaning strictly depends on this contradiction or antinomy. Derrida insists that deconstruction is never performed or executed but "takes place" through "memory work." Therefore, the task of the "deconstructionist" is to show where this oppositional or dialectical stability was ultimately subverted by the internal logic of a text. Meticulous readings discover philosophy anew. Often, the result of this renewal is to provide striking interpretations of texts. No "meaning" is stable. Derrida calls "metaphysics of presence" the agency that maintains the sense of unity within a text where presence is accorded the privilege of truth. Unlike these statements, Trifonova's work is very innovative and interesting because she concentrates on the image becoming a part of the discourse of subjective representation. This image separates from the subject and creates its own discourse of subjective representation, as well as a new, vivid and ethically better justified metaphysical discourse. This is a metaphysics of immanence, more interested in consciousness than in subjectivity, in the inhuman than in the human, in the virtual than in the real, in time than in temporalization, in memory than in memory-images, in the imagination than in images; in sum, in impersonal forces, de-personalizing experience, states of disembodiment characterized by the breaking down of the sensory–motor schema (Bergson’s pure memory, Sartre’s image consciousness, Deleuze’s time image) or, more generally, in that which lies beyond representation, i.e., beyond subjectivity (Lyotard’s sublime, Baudrillard’s fatal objects).
Temenuga Trifonova’s book is unique because it draws connections between five philosophers who have been usually seen as being too different in their subject matter. She brings together what on the surface appears to be unrelated topics: ontology (Bergson), the phenomenology of the image (Sartre), the Kantian and the postmodern sublime (Lyotard), the simulacrum (Baurdrillard), philosophy of film (Deleuze)—with a view to teasing out their shared disgust with, or ontological embarrassment by, subjectivity.
The Image in French Philosophy is divided into six chapters. Chapter one, “Bergson’s Matter-Image: The Degradation of the Impersonal,” examines Bergson’s image ontology as articulated in Matter and Memory and focuses on the “the impersonal.” Image ontology occupies a central place in the metaphysics of immanence. The author chooses Bergson because of his point of view on isolated what is seen—déjà̀ vu, which is a particular form of recollection that taps into an ontologically anterior impersonal memory—as a privileged experience revealing the mind’s essential difference from matter, namely its capacity for memory.
Chapter two, “Sartre’s Image-Consciousness: The Allergic Reaction to Matter,” follows Sartre’s critique of Bergson in Imagination and The Psychology of Imagination with the intention of foregrounding Sartre’s “disgust” at subjectivity and his (indirect) complicity with the revival of metaphysics as the study of impersonal forces such as “image-consciousness.” Sartre credits image-consciousness, which lacks an object other than itself, with the power of disclosing the basic structure of consciousness as an annihilation of reality.
Chapter three, “Lyotard’s Sublime: The Ontologization of the Image,” examines the postmodern idea of the sublime in order to show how the image has been stripped of its aesthetic attributes and endowed with philosophical responsibility and significance. Trifonova emphasizes the ontologization of the image, that is, the re-conceptualization of the image as an event-through. She also analyzes Lyotards’s critique of Kant in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Here, what is important is Lyotard’s identification of the postmodern sublime—the experience of consciousness as “event” or “origin”: for instance, a privileged type of experience on account of its reduction of subjectivity to the mode of existence of a bare material point and its total interruption of any form of inspiration (memory, thought, reason, history). He describes the “sensation of being” provoked by the sublime as an absolute loss of self, a certain self-forgetfulness or lack of self-consciousness more common to an automaton or a puppet than to a subject.
Chapter four, “Baudrillard’s Simulacrum: The End of Visibility,” explores the postmodern transformation of the Bergsonian concepts of the virtual and the impersonal, especially with reference to and from the point of view of Baudrillard’s ideas of the fatal and the hyperreal. Baudrillard, according to Trifonova, suggests that our last chance for transcendence in a saturated over-signified world is the Pure (Fatal) Object, which seduces by virtue of its “fatal” unintelligibility or meaninglessness, by its total resistance to interpretation and representation.
Chapter five, “Deleuze’s Time-Image: Getting Rid of Ourselves,” draws attention to Deleuze’s contribution to aesthetics through ontology in his two books on cinema, both of which, Trifonova argues, are mostly concerned with what the film image can do for thinking rather than with specifically filmic (aesthetic) qualities of the image.
Our author draws attention to Deleuze because of his theory of the “time-image” and because Deleuze’s direct image of time as a quasi-Nietzschean impersonal force of “falsification” is the last in this series of concepts whose main function (and effect) is to revive metaphysics as thinking pertaining to impersonal forces rather than to the subject (according to Lyotard); a thinking concerned with pure memory, imagination, event, origin, time, destiny/fatality, with the conditions of possibility for selectivity (pre-reflective, the pure, the impersonal, the inhuman) rather than with subjectivity itself.
Trifonova chooses to consider exactly these philosophers because of their aversion to subjectivity. However, the aversion of the philosophical gaze away from the image, and the projection of invisible impersonal forces or a realm “behind” the image, is by no means limited to their works.
In Chapter six, “Imaginary Time in Contemporary Cinema,” Trifonova relates the notion of the impersonal to the phenomenon of imaginary time in contemporary cinema. The chapter is a good case study of contemporary film productions that focus the viewer’s attention on the prolegomena to a “metaphysical” cinema, on the impersonal in cinema, on the infinite and the virtual.
The Image in French Philosophy is an extremely rich and innovative work and provides many new perspectives for thinking about the image and metaphysics in the present, in the times in which we live, in a new Information Age that places people in an extremely new condition of living and perceiving. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of philosophy, aesthetics, and film theory, bringing them to think about contemporary philosophy in a new way.