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The Image in French Philosophy

by Temenuga Trifonova
Amsterdam/New York, NY, Rodopi 2007
Consciousness, Literature & The Arts Series, vol. 5
316 pp. Paper, € 64 / US$ 90
ISBN: 978-90-420-2159-4.

Reviewed by Jan Baetens
University of Leuven


A book on the critique of vision and space in 20th Century French philosophy with no references to Martin Jay’s Downcast Eyes (1993), the modern classic in the field? Yes, this can only be the proof of the nerve of a young author, who is not afraid of thinking for herself, although not without a profound knowledge of the authors and theories that she studies in this well structured and challenging book.

Temenuga Trifonova, who teaches film studies but has a background in philosophy, is a fearless and intrepid thinker indeed. The originality of her approach, which will be welcomed by both philosophers and film scholars, is threefold.

First, she reopens the debate on the role of the image and visuality in a very innovative way. Although the philosophers she analyzes are among the usual suspects in this type of reading (Bergson, Sartre, Lyotard, Baudrillard, and Deleuze do not come here as a surprise), the global methodology on which the Trifonova’s study relies is very innovative. Instead of gathering five essays on these authors, she focuses on a gradually complexified dialogue between all of them. After the reading of Bergson, we have the reading of Sartre completed with the reading of Bergson by Sartre, and so on, so that at the end of the argumentation the reader can dispose of a mapping of the conceptual relationships between the most prominent thinkers of the image in 20th Century French philosophy (this is not to say to Trifonova reduces her scope to these five thinkers only, for there is for instance room for a discussion of Bachelard and Merleau-Ponty, but in general her book is extremely well focused, which may be considered a great achievement).

Second, Trifonova is not afraid of reading her authors critically. In our times in which Bergson and Deleuze have been hyped to the extent that it is as difficult to question them as it was to criticize Lacan several decades ago, her scrupulous but discerning readings do not only want to get a better grip on the key concepts of each of the authors she is examining, they attempt even more at disclosing the hesitations, the internal contradictions, the confusions within texts that have all obtained an absolutely canonical status. In this regard, Trifonova’s book should be an encouragement to all young scholars doing interdisciplinary work and confronted with the rigidity of many notions and reputations. Moreover, The Image in French Philosophy demonstrates also that it is possible to discover new topics even within areas that may seem overexploited (Sartre’s discussion of Bergson’s image and imagination theory is a good example of such a rediscovery).

Third and finally, the perfect focus of the book helps also to build a very strong thesis, which can be summarized in the following way. The thinkers gathered in this book share a specific critique of the role and status of the image, for each of them has attempted to turn his critique of the image (as a spatialized and, therefore, rigid and derealizing concept) into a more general critique of metaphysics (which Trifonova redefines in this context as the domination of space and the spatialization of time and reality). Yet The Image in French Philosophy argues that this critique of metaphysics is only superficial and that Bergson’s pure memory, Sartre’s image-consciousness, Lyotard’ sublime, Baudrillard’s fatal object, and Deleuze’s time-image are all forms of a new kind of metaphysics, which she spells out as a metaphysics of immanence. By turning away from the image and the imagination, i.e. by turning away from the gaze and subjectivity, these French authors introduced a philosophy of the impersonal which failed to grasp what they thought was missing in the classic views of image and imagination: subjectivity, the body, temporal continuity, etc. Instead, they fostered a kind of philosophy that reinforced in its own way a new metaphysical discourse of dis-embodiment, virtualization of time and the world, and (inter)personal subjectivity.

A final chapter proposes close readings of some well-known self-reflexive or metafictional movies such as Memento, The Matrix, Twelve Monkeys, Mulholland Drive, The Fight Club, Run Lola Run and, more surprisingly, David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner (even more surprisingly, French movies are missing, although Chris Marker’s seminal 1962 film The Jetty, so badly remade by Twelve Monkeys, could have provided the perfect example).



Updated 1st September 2007

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