Visions of the Intolerable: Deleuze on Ethical Images


  • Joseph Barker Barker Pennsylvania State University, US


ethics, images, thought, Deleuze, Plato


This paper calls into question the privilege granted to creativity by most commentators on Deleuze by demonstrating the priority of ethics over creation in relation to the concept of the image. It takes up Jacque Derrida’s “grumble” about the central place of creativity in Deleuze, showing how this grumble is applicable to influential readers of Deleuze including Anne Sauvagnargues, Ronald Bogue and John Protevi. Another reading of Deleuze will be given which calls the priority of creation into question, rescuing Deleuze from Derrida’s grumble. Deleuze’s notion of the image will be put into a tradition of thinking the relationship between light and appearance which runs from Plato through Bergson, Heidegger and Derrida. The notion of the image as the basic material of existence is then explained to be a passive fusion of external elements and shown to be made more consistent from Difference and Repetition to Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. The paper will then show how the “good” image in Plato is fundamentally constructed based on a moral motivation, on Deleuze’s reading in Difference and Repetition. The “good” image is one which resembles the Idea which remains identical to itself over time. A Thousand Plateaus will then be called upon to demonstrate how this self-same Idea is in fact the universalization of that which remains the identical to itself in the world, that is, the Idea universalizes a purely conservative social organization which eliminates all that differs from itself. In this way, Plato institutes the moral interpretation of the world which forms a moral image of thought. Deleuze’s ethical images will be precisely those which force thought to see the intolerability of the exclusionary social organizations it universalizes. After outlining Deleuze’s notion of the splitting of time in Cinema 2: The Time-Image, we will show how the body links humanity to this splitting of time because it causes the present to collapse when it is exhausted. The bodies which are fatigued and wiped out in the present organization of social space must be given voice in a speech-act which forces thought to see the impossibility of living in the present for certain bodies. Ultimately, thought must be made to see its own embodiment, in the brain, and thus see how the boundaries it imposes upon bodies prevent its own operation outside of the strict boundaries of the dominant reality. However, it will be shown that the vision thought has of its own impossibility is constantly being buried in the past, whilst new intolerable worlds are continually arising anew. In this light, we will end with Derrida’s sensitive insight that, for Deleuze, the best thought, the best philosophy, the best writing is not concerned with the crea- tion of the new in itself, but rather is continually haunted by the impossibility of thought and the ethical horrors of stupidity.




How to Cite

Barker, J. B. (2014). Visions of the Intolerable: Deleuze on Ethical Images. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (6), 122–136. Retrieved from