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The images of film and the categories of

signs: Peirce and Deleuze on media



In his two Cinema books, Gilles Deleuze updates his lifelong philosophical
inquiry using semiotic terminology, which explicitly draws on concepts of
Peirce. In a direction that is arguably of utmost signicance for contempo-
rary semiotics and media studies, Deleuze upgrades his lifelong interest in
philosophy and psychoanalysis using a pragmatic semiotics that involves
major claims for the non- linguistic status of semiotics, as suitable for his
subject matter, lm, and for a fundamental distinction between semiotic
and logical or linguistic based semiology.
Philosophy as theory, and semiotic theory at that, becomes grounded in
innumerable case studies of individual lms. In the same way, Peirce drew
on case studies in science, mathematics, and logic, synthesizing these in
proposals for existential graphs that could assist practical reasoning, so the
Cinema books are quite distinct writings by a conceptual philosopher like
Deleuze, in their sustained attention to enumerated technical subject
The Cinema books can be regarded in part and, interpretively, as a
whole, as an inspired, albeit intuitive, translation of Peirce for and as media
studies, and through extrapolation, new and televisual media. This paper
argues that the Cinema books provide a pertinent and foundational basis
for an encompassing semiotic model of contemporary media.

Keywords: Deleuze; Peirce; cinema; media; image; semiotic.

1. Introduction

Two accomplishments can be credited to the two Cinema books written

by Gilles Deleuze in the last decade of his life. Both accomplishments
relate to his reception and use of Peirce, and hence to any appraisal of a
possible relationship between these two authors.

Semiotica 1761/4 (2009), 6581 00371998/09/01760065

DOI 10.1515/semi.2009.061 6 Walter de Gruyter
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66 G. Sykes

a) First, in a prolic, neologistic process, Deleuze updates his lifelong

philosophical inquiry using semiotic terminology, which explicitly
draws on concepts of Peirce. In a direction that is arguably of utmost
signicance for contemporary semiotics and media studies, Deleuze
upgrades his lifelong interest in philosophy and psychoanalysis using
a pragmatic semiotics that involves major claims for the non-linguistic
status of semiotics, as suitable for his subject matter, lm, and for a
fundamental distinction between semiotic and logical or linguistic
based semiology:
Deleuze disputes the dominance of theories of signication in both
contemporary philosophy and lm theory, and semiology, seeking
to replace or supplement these with a semiotic-based phenomenol-
ogy, that will explain and be centered on the experience and percep-
tion of lm imagery, as well as the relationship of director, actor and
b) Second, philosophy as theory, and semiotic theory at that, becomes
grounded in innumerable case studies of individual lms. In the
same way, Peirce drew on case studies in science, mathematics, and
logic, synthesizing these in proposals for existential graphs that could
assist practical reasoning, so the Cinema books are quite distinct
writings by a conceptual philosopher like Deleuze, in their sustained
attention to enumerated technical subject matter. Stylistically, how-
ever novel in itself, theory is written in a secondary or fragmentary
way, in the manner of marginalia or occasional commentary to
major modern technological phenomenoma the images of science
and the images of cinema.
It can further be said that Deleuze, as Peirce, accomplishes these two aims
very consciously foregrounding the tools that mediate reasoning and
communicative behavior as essential and not merely convenient examples
of philosophical and in particular semiotic speculation. The Cinema
books can be regarded in part and, interpretively, as a whole, as an in-
spired, albeit intuitive translation of Peirce for and as media studies, and
through extrapolation, new and televisual media. This paper argues that
the Cinema books provide a pertinent and foundational basis for an en-
compassing semiotic model of contemporary media.
Deleuzes claims of synchrony between his multi dimensioned semiotic
and the categories of Peirce will be studied and in part questioned. The
relationship he establishes between Peirce and his own work permits eval-
uation of the latter from a Peircean perspective. The dialogic relation be-
tween two eminent twentieth century philosophers provides an essential
bridge for twenty-rst century study and application of Peirce.

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 67

2. Semiotic and semiology

Deleuzes Cinema books represent a radical departure in concepts, subject

matters, and style, from anything he wrote before. Part of their radical
content and form lies in a re-appropriation of key concepts of Peirce. I
call his use appropriation because he acknowledges it as such, and it
seems a little unfair of Jensen to criticize Deleuzes neologistic adapta-
tion, of cinema graphic concepts (1986: ix), of key terms such as
qualisign, icon, dicisign, and synsign (Jensen 1986: 35; Deleuze
1986: 59; Douglass 1998: 28). Deleuzes reading of the Collected Papers,
which he references (1986: 227, n. 33), seems limited, and he mentions
only one additional, secondary source about Peirce. This was Gerard
Deledalles commentaries (Deleuze 1986: 231, n. 14); yet it appears
even this source was used over selectively. To say this is not to point any
nger at Deleuze, but rather to point to the selective and inventive use
Deleuze made of any knowledge he had of Peirce, primary or secondary.
Nevertheless, Peirce, along with Bergson, remains a secondary source for
an explicit, intuitive, and creative semiotic transformation of Deleuzes
previous philosophical and psychoanalytic writings, and a remarkable
synthesis of traditions of European and American philosophy. The busi-
ness of philosophy, he previously said, is to examine and explain the for-
mation of concepts and make new ones, or as Peirce said it, pragmatism
does not undertake to say in what the meanings of all signs consist but
merely to lay down a method of determining the meanings of intellectual
concepts, that is, of those upon which reasons may turn(CP 5.8).
Instead of an inquiry about verbal philosophical concepts, his termi-
nology focuses on non-linguistic types and subtypes of images. The key
term image substitutes for that of sign, and the linguistic connotations
of the latter. In particular and crucially, the term image establishes the
synchrony of media and semiotic studies. The sign is a moving image.
Deleuze makes much conceptual headway on the premise, whose conse-
quences in terms of preceding schools of semiotics must be seen as contro-
versial. Deleuze makes crucial distinctions between semiology and semi-
otics (as methods for lm study), and also between signs and language
(in part as a boundary for the pure study of signs as image, and the
process of expression not represented in media).
He considers semiology, or the verbal and logical study of signs, as
having dominated lm studies for too long. The moving image has qual-
ities that cannot be reduced or translated to a verbal or printed narrative.
Deleuze is keen to recognize visceral, non-verbal qualities of bodies cap-
tured on lm, which includes all kinds of modulation features, sensory
(visual and sound), kinetic, intensive, aective, rhythmic, tonal, which

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68 G. Sykes

are often excluded from traditions of logic and linguistics, but whose
microanalysis is possible on lm (1989: 29).
One cannot overstress the signicance for any contemporary semiotic
thought, of Deleuzes substitutional terminology. By rebranding sign as
image, and the latter as a moving, cinemagraphic form, he asserts that
semiotics is not only a tool, even an essential tool, for media study, but
that semiotics itself is a form of media study. It is lmic images that
give rise to signs (1989: 29). The sign is an immediate representation or
image of its subject, made possible through the technology of lm. Under
the interpretive gaze of Deleuzes attention to twentieth century lm, pre-
sumptions about all semiotic theory need to be carefully reassessed yet
this reassessment, I would argue, can provide the grounds for a compre-
hensive and fundamentally semiotic account of modern media.
Having declared a manifesto for semiotics, as distinct from semiology,
Deleuze proceeds to elaborate a dyadic model of two semiotics the
movement and time image (Cinema books 1 and 2, respectively), each
with subtypes of images (aect, percept, dicisign, etc). We should note
parallels of his neologistic style with that of Peirce: both authors con-
sciously create a semiotic domain that appropriates and transforms exist-
ing concepts and disciplines, whether of idealist or empirical philosophy,
or lm or scientic logic. Deleuze uses various alternative terminologies,
including noosigns, image-components, signaletic material or
ideograms (1989: 29), for cinegraphic signs. Like Peirce, he adopts
pseudo scientic terms, of the machine, geometrical and geographical con-
cepts like crystalline regime, automaton, deterritorialization, and
his famous, rhizome, as well as a subjective lexia (the aect image)
to clarify and celebrate a dimension of the material semiosis and repre-
sentation, of the body, of speech act, social situation, and abstract states,
on lm, of a complex realization of semiosis as lm, and also lm as
semiosis, in an interpretive perspective often overlooked by studies of cul-
ture and signication. His premise, based on the image lexicon, is so dis-
tinct and radical, even in a crowded tradition of semiotic theories, that he
calls it the basis of a pure semiotic (1986: ix). He does not disguise his
pleasure in elaborating his schema based on his essential foundations.

3. Phenomology and theories of signication

Deleuzes approach to cinema and semiotics, reinforced or referenced in

part by Peirce (and potentially I would argue as a whole), is a two-edged
sword, cutting against phenomenology and lm theory. When Gilles
Deleuze prefaces two main type of images, and corresponding signs, his

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 69

aim is not to include or comprehend structural or code approaches to lm

studies within some wider perspective, but to supply an emphasis on
categories of movement and temporality in relation to visualization or
imaging, that is, as Rodowick expresses it, a critique of theories of sig-
nication in both contemporary philosophy and lm theory (Rodowick
1996). Deleuze saw linguistically inspired semiology (as distinct from
semiotics) as reducing the image, and indeed dispensing with the sign
altogether! Deleuze acknowledges that any phenomenological account of
media, such as that derived from Peirce, must be regarded as unusual
compared with the main hermeneutic and cultural traditions of media.
Deleuze outlines the problems that phenomenology has always had
with cinema: how infrequently Husserl, Merleau-Ponty or Sartre refer to
the graphic cinema image, which, he concludes, must have been regarded
as a secondary form of immediate experience and perception. Film seems
to set boundaries and challenges for a phenomenological or pragmatic
semiotic. It appears Deleuze seeks to challenge and invert any boundary
between phenomenology and media studies. Equally, however fulsome re-
cent evaluations of Peirces phenomenology (phanoscopy) might seem,
we can argue his semiotic schemas would remain incomplete if they had
little to contribute to analysis of burgeoning electronic media. Phenom-
enological accounts of lm have become more common in recent years
(Sobchack 1992), and it is interesting that a foremost proponent vouches
for the foundational status of Peirce in a contemporary phenomenology
(V. Rodowick, pers. comm., 2000). Yet it remained for Deleuze to make
pioneering links between lm, Peirce, pragmatism, and phenomenology.

4. Two semiotics and the revised list of categories

Deleuze goes further than adopting particular concepts of Peirce he

claims synchrony of his own semiotic models with the categories of Peirce.
He compares his classications of images and signs . . . with Peirces great
classications, and asks, rhetorically, if and why do they not coincide?
(1986: 59; Douglass 1998: 28). Presumably he sees a parallel in his own ela-
borated pure semiotics with Peirces great classications, and it seems
no accident at all that his Cinema books, although in two volumes, are
divided into three main parts, corresponding with the main types of sign
image the movement image, the time image, and the thought image. In
view of the signicant use Deleuze makes of Peirce, any lack of synchrony
in their respective three fold schemas can be used as a point of clarication
between these two prominent and similar thinkers, and can create an op-
portunity for a fuller exposition of the contemporary relevance of Peirce.

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70 G. Sykes

4.1. Movement and secondness

Deleuze commences his outline of certain cinema graphic concepts

(1986: ix) by discussing features such as immediacy, proprioception,
force, conict, determination, linearity, representation, chronology and
deictics. There are three subtypes of movement images: perception-image,
action-image, and aect-image. Deleuze further relates the movement im-
ages to Peircean seconds. To what extent is this true?
It needs to be claried that movement is not a technique or aspect of
generalized patterns of narrative or structures of meaning. Neither does
a rhetoric of proprioception and immediacy of perception represent a
wholesale return to realism; yet how is realism avoided when it is argued
that lm essentially and immediately gives us a movement-image
(1986: 2)? Surely the theories of lmic narration and signication have
arisen to correct overly realistic interpretation of the dramatic illusion of
moving images? Is Deleuze simply or naively seeking to turn back the
clock on the problematics of representation that have been responsible
for so much lm studies? In what sense does a concept of movement im-
age provide a supplement or even substitute for the analysis of cultural
codes and signication that is being sought?
Deleuze commences a classication of lm images much as Peirce does
a general theory of signs, commencing in 1867 with his New list of cate-
gories, through the study of causal and instrumental indices, and demon-
strative and sensorimotor actions, in which the index was an instrumental
gauge, trace or indicator of some absent thing or inuence. As Peirce dis-
cusses his well-known examples of a windvane or a knock on the door, so
Deleuze discusses the force, energy and action-reaction or action-reaction
schemas of actions. Just so in one dimension is the lm image: an indi-
cator or copy of its subject, responding to and tracing in the case of lm,
analogic and chemical force and energy of its physical source. Yet such
study is not, for either author (except for Peirce the physicist), one of the
naive real world of objects or bodies, or what Peirce in 1867 would call
icons. The objects of detailed empirical study are not the referents of
indicative or gestural signs, but the potential of performative sign objects
and events themselves, the gestures, kinesics, directions, verbal utterances,
and pictures that in their force and movement mediate our mental con-
cepts or symbols (as Peirce used the term in 1867) and perceptions of
the world. In this way, the images give rise to signs.
The result is empirical, yes, but in the words of Gerard Deledalle (after
Dewey), a radical empiricism, whereby the objects or movement images
of semiotic study become the material signs of communicative behavior
and phenomenological perception the altercations, oppositions, con-

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 71

icts, and resolutions (Rodowick 1996) that constitute the sequences of

action and perception in dramatic sequences. The movement, I believe,
is very much a quality of the sign itself, how the orientation of a wind-
vane or a hand gesture orientates and sets forth the possibility of meaning
in a communicative exchange. It is this vision, of phenomenological
action, of embodied, recorded and empowering acts, understood semioti-
cally as image or sign types, that Deleuze would argue has been over-
looked from accounts of lm as generalized patterns of narrative or cul-
tural signication. This vision sustains the numerous levels of analysis of
lm images, of thought, social situation, and feelings that Deleuze under-
takes in his compendious volumes.
Yet the physiological, biological, and even mechanical dimension of
lmic action is one that Deleuze is most keen to recognize and include in
any understanding of the sign image. The notion of power is crucial in the
understanding of indexes, for Peirce and Deleuze. Peirces generalized
discussion of the power of a wind in determining meaning is comparable
to human agency giving moved or directional pointers. The sign is cre-
ated and its meaning sustained through an act of force, made visible in
the way a camera focuses and empowers its user to compel and force
Analysis of movement images begins with direct, realist perception of
physical movement or force, of the body as automaton, as well as the
detailed and persuasive responses and reaction by actors and indirectly
the audience in the action and reaction, and altercation of patterns of
social discourse as actualized and constructed in a particular lmic se-
quence. Images constitute a malleable mass, a descriptive material loaded
with visual and sound features of expression, synchronized or not, zigzags
of forms, elements of action, gestures and proles, syntactic sequences.
(1989: 159). Because of its constituent moving images, moving or lmic
images generally have a sensory dimension. Thought in a lm is a form
of sensory action, intelligence is emotional as much as cognitive.
In his second volume, Deleuze continues the attention to Speech Act
theory, in the analysis of discursive and conversational events that he
commenced in A Thousand Plateaus. He demonstrates a general acquain-
tance with American pragmatist philosophy that predated his particular
reading of Peirce. Deleuze regards a lm as an assemblage of speech and
movement images that function communicatively between the director,
actors and audience. Film in a way is a demonstration of and evidence
for speech act or symbolic interaction theory. He helps complete the pic-
ture of Peirces inquiry into the precise, necessary steps of everyday be-
havior and unnoticed and hidden behavioral relations of practical rea-
soning, in terms of media representation, manifestation, and mediation.

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72 G. Sykes

Deleuze would argue that lm enables a more radical analysis of inter-

action than was ever possible in the linguistically based methods of conver-
sational studies. The relationship of his semiotic method, and traditions of
American speech act and pragmatic methods, that arguably commenced
with Peirce, can be clearly noted. Film is semiotic and pragmatic by
nature; by seeking lmic analysis of the seam between movements and
actions that comprise our everyday behavior, we are involving ourselves
in analysis that is fundamental to its production and reception, by direc-
tor, actor, and audience. Thus, Deleuze argues, somewhat enigmatically,
in lm study he is not doing a philosophy or meta-analysis of lm, or a
generalized history, but is participating in the co-creation and production
of the work and its meaning, reception of which is inherently analytic and
The theoretical correspondence of movement images and Seconds can
be taken a step further. Deleuze, in elaborating his semiotic of movement
images, seems to follow Peirces distinction, within Seconds, in his mature
schema of 1892 (The revised list of categories), when he distinguishes
between type and token or symbol and index, and in particular icon/
index/symbol. Deleuze calls the generalized patterns of action, that
Peirce would call habits, sets of possible and inferential sequences, or
the milieu or situational units of analysis (S). Elsewhere, in A Thousand
Plateaus, he used the term assemblages of indexes, and shares Fou-
caults post-structural behavioral account of the embodiment of codes or
discourse. Deleuzes interest is in an immediacy of eect or situation, cre-
ated through material, actualized images, or actions (A), but admits
what is innovative in any lm is understood in sequence and co-jointly
with what is already known, intertextually, as assemblages of S units.
Film, as Movement Image, Deleuze could say, makes the composite
of eects of intervals of exposure that underlie our everyday practical
reasoning, entirely explicit and evident; it invites, indeed demands, a level
of attention and inference from the audience that is rarely apparent to
quotidian perception; rather they are rendered as visible and legible in
the images that create (1986). That is, lm not only makes evident or
visible patterns and features of communicative events, but makes
seen the ux of possible, hypothetical and inferential movements from
which the actual patterns of behavior are selected and composed (1989:
xii). Film permits a close scrutiny not only of the meaning, or the eects,
but also of the creation of everyday experience, creation that is often un-
examined and unseen. The intervals or continuum of possible actions
(which micro kinesic gesture of which hand will occur in this conversa-
tional sequence) are bound to sequences of communicative or movement

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 73

Through use of S and A nomenclature, and sub-categories of the

Movement Image, Deleuze achieves at least two things. First, as Peirce
did before him, he comprehends notions of generalized symbolic codes
and narration within a generalized account of deictic signs. Second, the
permutation of sequences of S and A units, along with other subtypes of
movement images, provides fertile tools or grammar for the analysis of
a considerable range of works, especially before 1950, that make his rst
volume appear like a history of lm rather than a presentation of cinema
graphic concepts.
In his writings on the Thought Image, Deleuze extends the notion of
movement-image into one of free and polyphonic social discourse that
approaches Peirces mature notion of Thirdness. Without fully identifying
the layering of his own thoughts and those of Peirce about Second-into-
Thirds, Deleuze echoes delineations in Peirces The list of categories:
A second essay (CP 1.300), and in many other formulations of his
mature categories, about a serious inquiry into ethics, values and social
One problem seems to result, indirectly, from Deleuzes consummate
study of the movement image and lmic discourse. By societally or semi-
otically interpreting indexicality within an oeuvre of mainly European art
house works, Deleuze understates the potential of pragmatic images or
signs of action to interpret the reception of popular genres, action nar-
rative, panoramic docudramas, and popular documentaries. It can be
argued, somewhat controversially, that if Peirces semiotic necessarily or
distinctly involved a theory of media (it certainly involved tools of rea-
soning), if indeed the sign arises from the moving image, then its appli-
cability today is as much suited to televisual and digitally based media
as it is to the specialized focus Deleuze gives to narrative lm. Audiences
do not pay to see what they already know: the actuality and immediacy
of eects, that are often high delity, seem to invite an explicit action/
movement rhetoric or classication that is more sophisticated than pro-
motional blurbs or populist explanations of lmic experience, yet equally
retain ethnographic and commonsense delity to qualities of action and
experience. Critically, it seems a lack for the author who spoke of how
camera always works as an equivalent to other forms of physical or me-
chanical movement, whether by foot, car, bicycle, plane, etc. (Frampton
1991), that Deleuze provided no commentary on a swathe of populist
works that go under the rubric of action lms.
If, as Edward ONeill says, Deleuze doesnt have to bad-mouth any-
one; he just leaves them out (ONeill 1998), how are we to explain the
omission of so many of the directors of contemporary action works? He
maintains an interest in auteur studies in the face of their criticism by

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74 G. Sykes

cultural and structural approaches (Frampton: section XV): that retake

might explain some of the resistance Deleuzes books have met from
some lm scholars. Why cannot movement-images, of one type or other,
or the types of Peircean Seconds, be applied to forceful and causative per-
ception of natural disasters, man-machine escapades, and armed conict
and crime adventures? Why can they not be applied to the stylized yet
immediate interactions of electronic games, and interactive media (even
in the early digital versions available when Deleuze wrote)? Why not,
rhetorically, by current analysts, to the image making of high delity,
IMAX mega-screens? Surely the action tracking of action events, in
iconic landscape representations, by IMAX camera, qualies for some
comment in terms of assemblages of movement-images? However passive
the appearance of the seated audience in a darkened theatre, it is true that
such response involves micro-proprioceptic as well as interpretive move-
ments. Never unmediated, neither are these responses merely physio-
logical, but in part, surely, part of a eld of gestural and pre linguistic
Further, what more needs to be said, about understanding of the sign
image as it applies to the direct modes of exposition and direct address,
not to mention forms of spatiality and temporality, that comprise constit-
uent elements of the televisual (as opposed to the cinemagraphic) medium
(Butler 2007; Deming 2005). One can suggest that in as much as his
approach to lm is phenomenological, and also dening a general sense
of pure semiotics based on moving image, then it should be applicable
to televisual images and processes generally. A semiotic explication of
televisual medium, however, seems a quite dierent project to that un-
dertaken by Deleuze in the Cinema books ubiquitous or convergent
bracketing of media or screen forms does not seem to address the need
for amplication and qualication of Deleuzes seminal work on sign im-
ages, if they are to serve more widely as concepts for contemporary media
Deleuze can partly be forgiven for avoiding digital or televisual media
in favor of a cinemagraphic medium that he knew intimately. The short-
coming, I argue, is one of omission rather than commission, although
his focus on auteur and European lm can seem elitist, and avoids many
genres of popular lm, not to mention television. There is a theoretical,
indeed semiotic, reason for Deleuzes specialized attention to lm, and
this is the post-Kantian cognitive argument about the intellectual func-
tion of cinemagraphic medium, an argument we can soon consider. Re-
gardless of such criticism, one can anticipate that sympathetic scholars
of Deleuze will maintain further application of his semiotic and image
classication, towards television and digital genres.

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 75

4.2. Time and rstness

Deleuze complements his account of the indexical nature of lm, with an

account of reasoning and abstract thought that continues the interest in
cognition and psychoanalysis of his earlier philosophy. The second book,
Cinema II, has as much anity to Bergsons inquiry into consciousness as
Peirces into pragmatism. The Cinema II book also presents another cate-
gory of semiotic image, termed a time-image, which Deleuze names the
rst of his semiotics, thus arguing for a correspondence between his time
image and Peirces category of Firstness. In making this correspondence,
I wish to argue that Deleuze was substantially correct, that indeed there is
a remarkable similarity between time image and the mature theory of
iconicity or abstract signs that Peirce, after 1885, called Firstness.
We can briey explain what Peirce had to say about rsts or diagram-
matic signs by looking at what he had to say about photographs. Peirce
sought several dimensions, that he called indirect or degenerate fac-
tors, to explain the meaning of a photograph, that made it more than a
mere print or dicent, or section of rays projected from an object,
which does not, in itself, convey any information. I have been re-
minded that the latter phrase seems to echo something Roland Barthes
might have written about photographs. Enough to say that the echoes of
American, and especially Peircean, thought, in continental thought,
might be demonstrated while misconstrued in Deleuze, but just as equally
overlooked in other authors, such as Foucault, or even Sartre.
Peirce argues photographs involve a further determination of an al-
ready known sign of the same object (CP 2.320). He anticipates several
radical directions away from the dicent or literal empirical quality of a
particular photograph; one was toward a study of social signicance or
habits implied by a particular photograph, another was the temporally
immediate and indexical nature of its creation. A photograph indicates
or tells as much about its taker as its subject. Third, in an apparent fore-
shadowing of the cinemagraphic moving image, that disguised in the
apparent static quality of an instantaneous photograph was a micro-
continuum of conscious movements and spatial intervals, out of which
intended or conscious meaning is selected, by means of which a still photo
is also a composite of the eects of intervals of exposure more numerous
by far than the sands of the sea (CP 2.321).
Understood as a continuum, and not only a mere or literal print, the
photographic image became, for Peirce, a diagrammatic icon, a product
or function of the innite ow of spatial and perceptual possibilities that
can be elaborated from its two dimensional, mediated representation.
Such discussion is part of Peirces move beyond Kant, to an account of

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76 G. Sykes

the experienced, temporal, and spatial dimensions of conscious reasoning,

understood as semiosis.
Deleuze says much the same. He is intrigued by the relation of the still
and moving image, and the pragmatic function of both, and hence diers
from Metzs eort to argue for generic boundaries, that would dieren-
tiate lm studies from still photographics. He is also intrigued by the
sense of temporal and spatial intervals that surround the photograph,
that allow a relational and virtual structure of an actualized moving
lm to emerge. Our attention is turned from the objects of perception,
and products of knowledge, from the represented object (1989: xii)
that is the subject of description or mimetic necessity, not only towards
the symbolic or situational milieu, but to processes of subjectivity, know-
ing and reasoning, and communication.
The Time image is not really about chronological time at all, but the
liberation of time from movement, regulated according to intended, indic-
ative acts. The image is no longer motivated by action, space changes
as time is segmented (Rodowick 1996: 8). Deleuze gives innumerable and
evocative examples of how editing and montage not only reproduce
or tell narrative, nor demonstrate nor actualize narrative in particular
situations, but also manipulate a fundamental sense of chronology and
consciousness in characters, which is concatenated, elided, stretched, in
order to endlessly release and recreate possibilities of temporal action
that might be otherwise imperceptible to everyday experience, but which
express or manifest emotional, unconscious, monologic, and pathological
states of being. The contrapunctal movement of montage and chro-
nology transforms the chronological and relational image of movement.
Narrative is continually recreated from possibilities that supplement
Such a doubling or play of the signs of mimesis or indexicality is inevi-
table with the technology; the editor, especially the digital editor, presents
unlimited manipulation of source footage. The editor demonstrates the
problematic that Peirce saw at the basis of representation; that any index-
ical, singular act of naming, paradoxically involved a contrasting sense of
complexity and change. As Peirce says, there is image in the imagina-
tion, and of observing the result so as to discover unnoticed and hidden
relations among the parts (CP 3.363). The transformation of movement
images is along the line of Peirces consideration of time, mathematically,
as a continuum, not as an even or regular chronology. The modern logic-
mathematical conception is that our image of the ow of events receives,
in a strictly continuous time, strictly continual accessions on the side of
the future, while fading in a gradual manner on the side of the past . . .
(CP 8.124). Like a graph, the continuum of discourse represented by lm

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 77

can be endlessly divided and changed (the two principles, of continuity

and change, Peirce called synechism and tychism) editing divides and
disassembles, mechanically and especially electronically, along a contin-
uum of innite possibilities, which it also discovers and observes as pres-
ent in everyday life. Any sense of movements, or communicative realism,
achieved by a lm is thus a reassemblage from an innite and arbitrary
eld or ow of movement. As Peirce would say, Thus the absolutely
immediate present is gradually transformed, even slowed down, by an im-
mediately given change into a continuum of the reality of which we are
thus assured . . . The argument is that in this way, and apparently in this
way only, our having the idea of a true continuum can be accounted for
(CP 8.124).
Viewed as time images, characters are not controlled by linear move-
ment, they are not agents of narratives, and lm techniques create spatial
displacement. Deleuze talks of the pure optical image that confounds
any sense of sensori-motor movement, in fact produces a crisis (anti-
ow) in any classical sense of narrative and characterization maintained
through movement. As action is deferred, there is a gap between percept
and action, and lm enables realization of a subjective conscious and
subconscious self.
In silent lm, Deleuze sees characterization doubling its corporeal sign-
ing self and intention, stepping into and through a continuum of chronol-
ogy, to subordinate movement to a new sense of non-chronological time.
Yet the dream sequence of Keatonesque mime is not only theatrical or
aesthetic representation, but an autonomous or mentalist doubling of
image, an external narrative of mind, that turns in and muses on itself,
playfully and regressively teasing out intervals that are seemingly imper-
ceptible in the banal realism of everyday language. Semiotically, the inter-
dependence of two sign categories or image types can be argued: Peircean
Firsts and Seconds, and Deleuzian Time and Movement Images.
Whatever his familiar or expressed self, or whatever situation narrative
that introduces him, however actualized or familiar his movement rst
appears, a clown character like Buster Keaton replicates and reinvents
himself, displacing and deferring narrative in and out of space dened
chronologically. In Sherlock, Jr., Keaton, as a self-parodying young pro-
jectionist, divides his own self, using lap dissolve, and, anticipating
Woody Allen in Cairo, enters the rectangle of a screen within the screen
as if in a dream. A Brechtian alienation eect is evident, in a paradoxical
logic that would come to characterize much later lmmaking, including
recent digital image making. The possible sense of a complex innity
and divisibility of time intervals involved in everyday experience and nar-
ration is exploited in the comic milieu of an explicit lm eect, not only

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78 G. Sykes

to delay chronology but also sometimes to digress from, or suspend it

altogether. There is a realist or experiential logic to the comedy: it is
not only a fantasy escapism created by the medium. Nevertheless, lm
explores, as digital media has come to do so well, a gap in any analogic
or indexical relation of lm and life, or sign, intention and object. As one
commentator has put it, Thought becomes agitated and turbulent,
thrown ever closer to its bifurcation points as it is tossed along the in-
commensurable relations dened by the time-image (Rodowick 1996:
As Peirce says, A double sign has double intention of sign, and a
double intention that can allow consciousness. That step of thought,
which consists in interpreting an image . . . is one of which logic neither
need nor can give any account . . . (CP 7.311). This is a very important
conclusion for Peirce to make: consciousness and reasoning correspond to
paradoxical relations between sign events and processes. For Deleuze,
lm demonstrates the material conditions for human thought, features of
which so preoccupied him in his earlier philosophy. He seems to have
discovered a model case study and exemplar, by which meaning is never
a principle or origin; it is produced . . . It is to be produced by new ma-
chineries (Deleuze in Rodowick 1996: 12). Deleuze does not seek a phi-
losophy of lm, but he does conduct a philosophy of mind-as-lm, and an
explicit inquiry of articial intelligence and lm that seems to correspond
closely to Peirces inquiry about tools of reasoning and logic.
It is a theme, like most in Deleuzes writing, that begs and needs more
attention than can be given immediately both in terms of conceptual
nuance, and also in terms of numerated case instances. Micro pragmatic
analysis gazes in conscious wonder and mental speculation, and some-
times with ctive abduction, on phenomena that might otherwise be
taken for granted. For example, in his Cinema books Deleuze continues
his discourse on facial representation, or faciality, that he commenced in
A Thousand Plateaus. The main image types, of movement or power, and
time or aect images, are used incisively to interrogate close-ups of the
face. Far from being instrumental to discourse, or even expressive of
character, the apparent stillness or composure of the face paradoxically
discloses innitesimal, fast movements immobility is composed of im-
perceptible movements, that are made visible through montage of camera
work and editing. The face can be exactly conceived as a black hole or
a dierent kind of element of corporeality, of n-carrying plate planes
of nerves whose physical existence is divided and divided again in space
of innitesimal representation (1986: 14), an expressive plane that em-
bodies thought, gathers or expresses in a free way all kinds of tiny ac-
tions (Frampton 1991).

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 79

Yet even within the signicant correspondences that can be found

between Peirce and Deleuze, equally signicant gaps remain. Deleuzes
enthusiastic issue of appropriation of the concepts of Peirce, seems to pre-
sume as novel the application he is making of them in lm studies. Yet
such enthusiasm seems to overlook the nascent media project already
undertaken by Peirce. This does not only include occasional references
to photographics, but recurrent discussion of a set of tools or media of
reasoning. The explicit scientic application of tools as maps, chemical
tables, mathematical diagrams, and telescopes, were generalized as mod-
els for everyday, social reasoning. This was particularly true of the map.
Deleuze ignores the media potential of ideas like existential graphs, of
diagrammatic tools of reasoning, that could directly comprise a theory of
audio visual and digital media. Peirce generalized the notion of diagram-
matic and mediated reasoning in terms of a concept of existential

4.3. A Pascalian consciousness The thought image and thirdness

One problem I have with Deleuzes books is the apparent peripatetic

nature of their writing. It is a stylistic quality they share with Peirces
writings. While they might set out to achieve systematic goals, one is not
quite sure of the extent to which such goals are accomplished. As one
reads through the copious commentary of Deleuzes third sign type, the
Thought Image, one can wonder how clearly delineated its subject matter
is from the previous two categories, and even how unied it is within
itself. On occasions the second Cinema book can seem like a draft of
meditations, claims, commentaries, and meta-speculations only loosely
organized around its titular image classications. Deleuze seems to ex-
plore as much as systematize, to inquire as to organize, the vast body of
subject matter and possible conceptualization that he has commenced. Is
he under pressure from health or other reason to commit to writing, even
to publication, ideas in early draft?
For example, the exploration of Thought Image seems to canvas
various possibilities, not all clearly distinguished from the themes of the
Time Image that preceded it. Nevertheless, towards the books end
Deleuze returns (indirectly) to Peircean or pragmatist themes of social
epistemology (such as in the category of Thirdness), where a dynamic
dialogism or argument was seen to mediate and transform existing
knowledge and habits. The themes of community, ethics and discourse,
emphasized in the mature writing of Peirce, have been found to be
in common with dialogic studies of Bakhtin, Habermas, and Dewey

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80 G. Sykes

(Kevelson 1990: 5978; Apel 1981) and it is these themes, and in the
case of Bakhtin, authors, that Deleuze stresses in contrast to the more
subjectivist states of thought he addressed under the rubric of the Time
Deleuze regards Thirdness as an inquiry into mental or cognitive
signs, yet one that seems to diverge from Bergson and become consistent
with Peirces later, post Kantian thought (and indeed Peirces own antip-
athy to Bergson). Analysis of that process involves directors as varied and
international as Bunuel, Renoir, Wilder, Fassbinder, Visconti, Roussel,
Stroheim, Hitchcock, and Rohmer. As he says of Rohmers gentle inqui-
ries into French conversational manners, the whole story (histoire) of
modes of existence, of choices, of false choices and of the consciousness
of choice, dominates the series of Moral Tales (notably My Night at
Mauds) (1986: 116). It is the Pascalian consciousness of Rohmers
work that relates phenomenology (or philosophy) and lm.
Under the banner of the Thought Image, Deleuze begins to reapproach
Hollywood lm that he had previously dismissed as exemplifying a clas-
sical mode of movement narrative. He praises Hepburn, and other con-
versational works (1989: 232) as being free American discourses, and
oering comedy that embed the spoken speech act as a component of
the visual image and lmic image.
The unied whole of lm, indeed the future of lm to which move-
ment-images contribute, corresponds to the genuine signs of Thirdness,
in which the wholeness of Peircean sign experiences converge. Thus, al-
though there are indeed three sign or image categories in Deleuze, and
although he claims synchrony of his own semiotic types with those of
Peirce, it can be argued that all three correspond with those of Peirce.

5. Conclusion

The most famous philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

Perhaps. It is true, that there appear to be signicant parallels between
their works. Both seek a grammar or classication of sign types that is
applicable to the practical production and analysis of events and reason-
ing. Both see forms of media that will provide an opportunity, and indeed
essential subject matter, for a semiotic analysis of social discourse. Both
see a synchrony between semiotic and knowledge (of the social and natu-
ral world) mediated by tools of perception.
This paper has barely introduced the eloquent argument or detailed
case studies put forward by Deleuze, in his two Cinema books, or his
vast philosophical enterprise before that indeed, it has deliberately

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Peirce and Deleuze on media 81

chosen to highlight the latter by means of his latter day, slim two-volume
publication on lm. Yet the main directions of his thought in particu-
lar the radical conguration of sign as media image, and his cooption of
Peirce in an ongoing study of media, have been argued. The task is not to
take on or contextualize every detail of his cinematographic theory it
is possible that such phenomenological theory of lm can ultimately be
contested but to employ and be inspired by its features, as Peirce
inspired him, and to move towards an integrated, interpretive semiotic
approach to televisual images, that fully addresses digital forms of the
twenty-rst century as Deleuze addressed the lmic forms of the twentieth.


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Peirce, Charles S. 19311966. The collected papers of Charles S. Peirce, 8 vols., C. Hart-
shorne, P. Weiss, and A. W. Burks (eds.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [Refer-
ence to Peirces papers will be designated CP followed by volume and paragraph number.]
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Princeton University Press.

Georey Sykes is a lecturer at University of Wollongong His re-

search interests include media semiotics and media production. His publications include In
our bodies: Corporeal semiotics (2000); and A short history of realism (2008).

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