Deleuze, Time and Archives

mickyatesArchives, Change, ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Ethics, FinalMajorProject, FMPWeek5, Ideas, Philosophy, Photography, Time 2 Comments

Gilles Deleuze is both an influential, original philosopher – and a hard one to totally ‘get’. Frankly, before the MA I had paid only passing attention to his work. However, increasingly his views on time and repetition have value in thinking through both photographic archives – their construction, value and meaning – and rephotography. Gary is working on these issues, and our subsequent conversations have been both challenging and valuable.

I cannot claim to be able to give more than a very limited view on Deleuze’s work. I should also note that the work of James Williams is invaluable in exploring the nuances. I will however attempt to cover a few points, which are helpful easy to think about my use of archival materials in the FMP.

Deleuze’ work is about principles, not about laws, deduced or natural. His first principle is that of connectivity of all things.

It is best for our actions to connect with all the things that have brought them about and that they can bring about‘. (Deleuze, 2013: 167).

His second principle, however, is somewhat in contradiction with this.

‘It is best to select our thoughts so that everything is left behind’.

In a way, he is expressing Beginner’s Mind – a zen concept which seeks to balance our useful knowledge, by definition from the past, whilst still finding space to create new knowledge.

Deleuze sees past, present and future as folding together, and he uses an n-dimensional concept of time analogous to Riemann’s n-dimensional mathematical space. Deleuze starts with the idea that the past really ‘is’. It is fixed, a permanent memory. Present is, in phenomenological terms, a habit, a synthesis of past actions and current context – environmental, social, historical etc. Future is change, new, yet it builds on present and past.

Williams notes that, for Deleuze:

Destiny is the coherence of the pure past through different presents – she has been … she is a daughter, boss, mother, poor, rich, revolutionary, conservative …’ (Williams, 2003: 104)

He goes on to examine Deleuze’s three syntheses which describe temporal relationships. Brief notes:

First Synthesis of Time: Habit

‘Deleuze took expectancy – the projection from past to future via the present – as given’. (Williams, 2003: 100)

Second Synthesis of Time: Memory

Deleuze .. claims that there is a pure past, where all events, including those that have sunk without trace, are stored and remembered as their passing away, independent of human activity and the limitations of physical records:

‘It is with respect to the pure element of the past, understood as the past in general, as an a priori past, that a given former present is reproducible and the present present is able to reflect itself‘ (Deleuze, 1968: 81, as noted in Williams, 2003: pg 101)

  • First, if a present can pass away, it is because, in some sense, it is already past it has some past element to it.
  • Second, when a present, accompanied by a past, has passed away, it becomes a past event for any future present.
  • Third, the passive synthesis of all the past, as past elements of all presents, is an a priori condition for the present passing away. (102)

Third Synthesis of Time: The New

This is the condition for actions that drive towards the new. It has to be presupposed since it’s absence would reduce the drive to the new to a repetition of the past.
‘The synthesis has three characteristics … First, a cut in time that orders it in a non circular way … Second, this cut in time also assembles it since all events of the pure past are cut off from all events of the future … Third, time is put into two series with respect to this cut – there are forms that cannot return and that are consigned to remain past for ever, and there are forms that return with the cut that are relived with it’. (Williams, 2003: 110)

The action that performs this cut in time, therefore, becomes a symbol for time as a whole (all of America’s past and future is in that declaration)’. (110)

‘The synthesis cuts, assembles and orders. This three-fold structure appears to be paradoxical since the cut is contradicted by the assembly and the ordering and vice versa’. (110)

‘This deduction of the pure form of the third synthesis of time as order, whole and series takes a few pages but it is a crucial step in the deduction of eternal return in a properly Deleuzian manner, rather than as a Nietzschean provocation or doctrine. The third synthesis of time must be understood as the eternal return of difference. Identities, or the same, from the past and the present, pass away forever, transformed by the return of that which makes them differ – Deleuze’s pure difference or difference in itself. As condition for the sensation of a drive into the new, eternal return cuts the past off from the future (gives time an order). It bangs all of time into play because it consigns all identified events to the past and makes all of the future different from all of the past (it conjures up the whole of time)’. (111)

Applying this too my FMP project, the facts of the Genocide are the pure past, pure memories.

But we/I see them today through my lens of being a photographer, a friend, a student, an activist, an educator, British ….

For further study.


Header: Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos. 1987. Gilles Deleuze.


DELEUZE, Gilles. 1953. Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. 1991 Edition. New York: Columbia University Press.

DELEUZE, Gilles. 1968. Difference and Repetition. 1994 translation, Paul Patton. New York: Colombia University Press.

WILLIAMS, James. 2003. Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. 2013 Edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

WILLIAMS, James. 2011, Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophy of Time; A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

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