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Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Deleuze and the Movement Image

In Deleuze’s Bergsonian conceptual universe the world is constituted by images where “everything reacts on everything else”. In this world there is no centre, no particular image that grounds all others. This is a Heraclitean vision of a world defined by the movement of action and reaction, where the stuff of the world always consists of multiple facets of action and reaction. For example, consider water and rock. The water erodes the rock while the rock interrupts the course and flow of the water. The compounds of the rock and their action and reaction with water become (the water and the rock) sediment, erosion, an alluvial plain, a stone to be skipped by a child over the surface of the river. These actions and reactions happen automatically. The rock doesn’t think its reaction with water, and in the language of Cinema One, these are ‘determined’ in the sense that they are subject to the laws of nature.

Within this medley of action and reaction a particular sort of image can arise, one where an interval or gap is introduced between action and reaction, where the relation between certain actions and reactions is no longer automatic or determined. These are what Bergson describes as “living images”. A living image offers an orientation towards particular actions on the basis of perception, where of all the facets and images present only some are noticed, and so perception filters and pays attention to these things rather than others. Perception is then a reduction, not an addition of our relations to the world as all the facets of action and reaction happening become framed by the self interest of the perceiving body. For instance, a sunflower ‘notices’ sunlight and bows towards it during the day, I notice the itch on my elbow and scratch it. The sunflower does not notice the wind, and I don’t notice my other elbow. Perception as a ‘taking away’ or a ‘reducing’ of all the actions and reactions that are occurring is then an enframing of the world from the point of view of this living image which becomes a centre that orientates what becomes noticed and acted upon. This centre is constituted by a gap that is introduced between action and reaction as there is no longer an automatic relation between each. This gap makes the relation of action to reaction indeterminate, subject to decision, or as Deleuze rather delightfully argues indecision. Hence, Bergson’s living image becomes a centre of indetermination because the determined relation of action to reaction is now subject to a variety of possible reactions in relation to what has been perceived, and consequently introduces decision, indecision, change, and variability.

This system of perception and action is known as the ‘sensory motor schema’ and Deleuze applies it to the cinema to develop the three large forms of the movement image. These he labels as the perception, action, and affect images. In classical cinema this is most simply realised as the canonical sequence of seeing something (for instance a gun), deciding what to do (trying to grab it) and witnessing the consequences (failing and finding it now pointed at me). Perception, decision, action. More significantly, while all films contain a mix of these three large forms Deleuze argues that:
a film, at least in its most simple characteristics, always has one type of image which is dominant: one can speak of an active, perceptive or affective montage, depending on the predominant type.
Deleuze’s use of the sensory motor schema and its devolution into the three varieties of the movement image provides an impressive heuristic for reconceiving Korsakow films and database cinema as this theoretical passage from Bergson’s sensory motor schema into the movement image offers a framework for interactive media that avoids framing its problem as one of narrative, audience or user.
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