Deleuze, Altered States and Film

Deleuze, Altered States and Film

Deleuze, Altered States and Film

Deleuze, Altered States and Film


Deleuze, Altered States and Film offers a typology of altered states, defining dream, hallucination, memory, trance and ecstasy in their cinematic expression. The book presents altered states films as significant neurological, psychological and philosophical experiences. Chapters engage with films that simultaneously present and induce altered consciousness. They consider dream states and the popularisation of alterity in drugs films. The altered bodies of erotic arousal and trance states are explored, using haptics and synaesthesia. Cinematic distortions of space and time as well as new digital and fractal directions are opened up. Anna Powell's distinctive re-mapping of the film experience as altered state uses a Deleuzian approach to explore how cinema alters us by 'affective contamination'. Arguing that specific cinematic techniques derange the senses and the mind, she makes an assemblage of philosophy and art, counter-cultural writers and filmmakers to provide insights into the cinematic event as intoxication. The book applies Deleuze, alone and with Guattari, to mainstream films like Donnie Darko as well as arthouse and experimental cinema. Offering innovative readings of 'classic' altered states movies such as 2001, Performance and Easy Rider, it includes 'avant-garde' and 'underground' work. Powell asserts the Deleuzian approach as itself a kind of altered state that explodes habitual ways of thinking and feeling.


A man hangs suspended in the blue-lit water of a flotation tank. a fish-eye lens and pale, grainy images compress his naked body and enlarge his head, a human foetus close to birth in the womb of a machine. a slow tracking  shot glides the camera back from peering through the riveted metal port  hole of a flotation tank. the long shot reveals neurologist Edward Jessup (William Hurt) in deep trance. He is the subject of a laboratory experiment under observation by fellow scientists. the extensive paraphernalia of experiment: computers, monitors and alpha-rhythm flow charts, form a sharp visual contrast to Jessup's intensive visions, yet both are researching altered states of consciousness.

I want to take this pre-title sequence from the movie Altered States (Ken Russell, 1981) as a figure to launch my own exploration of cinematic altered states. My project sets out to accomplish a distinctive remapping of the film experience as altered state, using both the film-philosophical insights of Gilles Deleuze and his broader investigations with Félix Guattari as inspir  ation. So how might this image of Jessup in his tank work as an opener for the book's agenda? in order to clarify what my approach actually does, I will play devil's advocate with it first, to anticipate some possible objections.

Read as a metaphor, the sequence could be used to parody the film  theoretical project itself. the scientists in the lab do not share Jessup's intensive experiences directly, but merely watch body parts projected on a screen and log eeg rhythms. Thus, Jessup might be the film director in the ineffable throes of creation, running the film in his/her head. Developing this parody further, film theorists, as clinically detached intel  lectuals like Russell's stereotypical scientists, are not 'normal' viewers enjoying a movie. They interface the auditorium with theoretical abstrac  tion, making it into their own kind of lab. Here, they tabulate data and mentally write a report with conclusions pre-formed by hypothesis. From this viewpoint, film theory appears as a mere jargon-ridden dilution of the cinematic experience.

If we shift from the limited focal length of such metaphors to open up the wide-angle possibilities of Deleuzian film-philosophy, the impact of . . .

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