Deleuze and World Cinemas by David Martin-Jones (review)


One has the distinct feeling that Deleuze and World Cinemas was already in the works when David Martin-Jones published Deleuze: Cinema and National Identity in 2006. In that earlier study, he married Deleuze with Homi K. Bhabha to produce constructive readings of both canonical and popular films. He considers these texts to be hybrid films that display qualities of both the movement-image and time-image, two Deleuzian concepts he deploys in showing how narrative time fashions national identity in distinctive ways. The final chapter of this earlier work departed abruptly from discussion of Hollywood and Western European cinema to engage with films from East Asia, a move that charted a specific future course. In introducing Deleuze and World Cinemas, Martin-Jones indeed apprises us of his intellectual journey following the publication of his previous book, revealing how writing an essay for the journal Deleuze Studies had prompted him to rethink some of what he wrote in Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity (13). That openness to self-reflection, as well as his deliberate refusal to genuflect before a master thinker, provides perhaps one of the most vital takeaways from Deleuze and World Cinemas.

The growing corpus of secondary literature about the French philosopher, especially concerning his influence on film studies, has become a cottage industry. Among the works that comprise this body of writing, the offerings from Martin-Jones have been reliably lucid and instructive. His readership likely extends beyond committed scholars who are looking to both deepen understanding and expand the limits of Deleuzean thought; “Deleuze and ……” titles are no doubt also a draw for newbies. They are indispensible references for those not attuned to the philosopher’s rhythms or who are less acclimated to his conceptual ecosystem. For the uninitiated reader looking for entryways into Deleuze’s prose, Martin-Jones is a thorough and insightful sherpa, even if explication of Deleuze’s thought is not his primary objective. In Deleuze and World Cinemas, for instance, the author’s summaries of Deleuze’s concept of “any-space-whatever” are comprehensive, considered from various angles, and keenly aware of major strains of thought in Deleuze studies. Furthermore, his adroit application of Deleuze’s ideas and a knack for conducting close textual analyses encourages appreciation for the richness and usefulness of both theory and film.

Martin-Jones’s method of argumentation requires something of a leap of faith. While he certainly softens the branches of Deleuze’s taxonomy of conceptual images, he does so by using a finite set of exemplary films – texts that demand new and modified categories of analysis and understanding. The films he studies are essentially rhetorical wedges that are presumably representative of other similar films. Yet, in crafting a study of “films Deleuze did not examine” (1), one begins to wonder about the films the author himself chooses not to examine and to wish for fuller justification for those he does. The close readings nonetheless support a set of forceful arguments that left me wanting more; rarely have I wished, as I did here, that I were reading a longer book.

Martin-Jones’s engaging prose does not, though, compensate for the fact that his analyses of particular films would have been more inviting if the book were not devoid of illustrations (the same can be said of his previous work Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity). There is a genuine need for supporting images because of the amount of discussion he devotes to visual spectacles and spaces. Just because “any-spaces-whatever” are anonymous non-places does not mean that readers do not need to see them. Quite the contrary, the fact that these places of transition are normally unseen and unnoticed is all the more reason to show readers how filmmakers present them. This absence of visual referent is limiting: I, for one, found that the discussions pertaining to films I had already seen and could easily visualize to be decidedly more compelling than those I had not.

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