The Affection-Image: Face and close-up. (presentation notes)

Here are my notes from presenting chapter 6, The Affection-Image: Face and close-up, from Deleuze's Cinema 1. This is part of Jon Lindblom's 'Deleuze Cinema 1' Reading Group.

Deleuze outlines, in chapter 6, the affection-image, how a close-up of the face is constituted as affect, power and potentiality.

“The affection image is the close-up, and the close-up is the face.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 89)

But it is important to note what constitutes face. Deleuze identifies the face as something that has sacrificed movement (to some degree) in order - or sensory apparatus. With typically Deleuzian sensitivities towards biology the face is opened out as a film between movement and sensation, stasis and micro-movements. The simultaneity of both of these things creates the affect of face. In many ways I feel there is an etymological question here, oftentimes we think of face as a façade, a surface, a flat wall. But if we re-think face as portal we approach the conception of face that I feel Deleuze is exploring. Portal derives from porch and steps at the front of a building, as much as façade relates to the front of a building. So, for face we must contemplate the worlds in front and behind the face: we are looking in as much as being looked at. It is this coding that goes some way to the process that creates the affection-image.

“When a part of the body has had to sacrifice most of its mototricity in order to become the support for organs of reception, the principal feature of these will now only be tendencies to movement or micromovements which are capable of entering into intensive series, for a single organ or from one organ to the other. The moving body has lost its movement of extension, and movement has become movement of expression. It is this combination of reflecting, immobile unity and of intensive expressive movements which constitutes the affect.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 90)

“The face is this organ carrying plate of nerves which has sacrificed most of it’s global mobility and which gatherer or expresses in a free way all kids of tiny local movement which the rest of the body usually keeps hidden. Each time we discover these two poles in something - reflecting surface an intensive micro-movements we can say that this thing has been treated as a face – its has been facified, and in turn it stares at us and looks at us (…) … there is no close-up of the face, the face is in itself close-up, the close-up is by itself face and both are affect, affection-image.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 90)

Sticking with the ‘facified’ portal analogy we can think about the two types of close up that Deleuze mentions; in short he distinguishes between an intensive face and an extensive face:

“There are two sorts of questions which we can put to the face, depending on the circumstances: what are you thinking about? Or, what is bothering you, what is the matter, what do you sense or feel? Sometimes the face thinks about something, is fixed onto an object” (Deleuze, 2005, pp.91)

At this point Deleuze recalls the English word ‘wonder’

“Sometimes the face thinks about something, is fixed to an object and this is the sense of admiration or astonishment that the English word wonder has preserved. In so far as it thinks about something, the face has value above all the parts to itself. Sometimes on the contrary, it experiences or feels something, and has value above all through its surrounding outline, its reflecting unity which raise all the parts to itself. Sometimes, on the contrary, it experiences or feels something and has value through the intensive series that its parts successively traverse as far as paroxysm, each part taking on a kind of momentary independence.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp.91)

Deleuze goes on to distinguish these two types of close up in Griffith and Eisenstein. I will not discuss these, but relate the two types of close up to the examples we are familiar with from the film lists, in particular that of Bergman’s Persona and Aronofsky’s use of the snorricam in Pi and Requiem for a Dream. To reiterate the two types, albeit in a very simplistic fashion, I feel they can be thought of as cold and hot, or poker face and paroxysm. There is a sublime, impenetrable coolness to the close ups at the beginning of Persona, a visage, a face. At the same time we see this, or I feel we can see this in Aronofsky’s use of the snorricam. When watching the mathematician (Max) wander through the streets his character is given a stoic isolation, he is statuesqued, concretized. Yet oddly, this same concept operates, to harrowing effect in Requiem for a Dream. As Marion, flees from her lecherous shrink we can feel the tension of having to bottle up such emotion (we may presume the emotion that is not in affect). This lack of affect adds to the intensity, witnessing a struggle against emotive affect magnifies the films power, because we must view this scene in relation to the previous struggles of the character, and so understanding that emotion is behind the façade is paradoxically as affecting as a literally affective close up whereby the emotion pours forth through the face on screen. I feel this difference, although difficult to define strictly (for emotion can be affected it seems through each) leads to the two poles of the affect.

“We have seen the two poles of the affect – power and quality – and how the face necessarily passes from one to the other depending on the particular case. What compromises the integrity of the close up in this respect is the idea that it presents a partial object, detached from a set or torn away from a set of which it would form part.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp.97-98)

So to re-consider the snorricam, it doesn’t take the face away from the greater network of sets…. “the close up doesn’t tear away its object from a set of which it would form part, of which it would be a part, but on the contrary, it abstracts it from all spatio-temporal co-ordinates” (Deleuze, 2005, pp.98)

I want to ask the question, a somewhat loaded question, of the very close close up (e.g. Bergman) and the snorricam footage. Which method abstracts the face from all spacio-temporal co-ordinates? I feel it is the former method of close up more so, but I cannot ignore that abstraction through lack of movement that the snorricam affords. The isolation of the face, through sheer background movement, is a result of the snorricam technique. It feels like the rest of the world/film set/environment is retracted to such a degree that the face in itself is an abstraction of the existing sets. The face is isolated whilst the detached world spins independently behind the character.

“But, in all these cases, the close up retains the same power to tear the image away from the spatio-temporal co-ordinates in order to call forth the pure affect as the expressed” (Deleuze, 2005, pp.99)

However, I cannot help but feel conceptually troubled by a small but significant detail in the Requiem for a Dream corridor scene. As Marion walks down the corridor we see the shrinks apartment door close behind her. I question if this is in fact the chink in the snorricams capacity to fully abstract a face to the same sublime degrees as that of the super close up we see in Persona. The world gets in, the director has the opportunity to let the world in – an opportunity that is not possible in Bergman’s very close close-up.

A quote from Deleuze does not resolve this question but opens up further possibilities:

“The affect is the entity, that is Power or Quality. It is something expressed: the affect does not exist independently of something which expresses it, although it is completely distinct from it. What expresses it is a face, or a facial equivalent (a faceified object) or, as we will see later, even a proposition. We call the set of the expressed and its expression, of the affect and the face, ‘icon’. There are therefore icons of feature and icons of outline, or rather every icon has these two poles: it is the sign of the bipolar composition of the affection image. The affection image is power or quality considered for themselves, as expressed.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp.99)

To understand the affect-image, and to understand how a close-up (regardless of particular cinematic techniques) can be considered an affect image we may look briefly at Deleuze’s deployment of Pierce’s notion of Firstness:

“Pierce does not conceal the fact that firstness is difficult to define, because it is felt rather than conceived (…) it concerns what is new in experience, what is fresh, fleeting and nethertheless eternal. (…) these are qualities or powers considered for themselves, without reference to anything else, independently of any question of actualization.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 100)

“Firstness is thus the category of the possible: it gives a proper consistency to the possible, it expresses the possible without actualizing it, whilst making it a complete mode. Now, this is exactly what the affection image is: it is quality or power, it is potentiality considered for itself as expressed.”

Indeed, I am tempted to suggest that the affection-image is not an image at all, not a face, body or shot – but rather a moment of profound sympathy – something that occurred the first time I watched Requiem for a Dream- but not during the research phase of this presentation. I can think of the affection image as pure, potential, powerful affect alone regardless of cinematic composition:

“The affect is independent of all determinate space-time; but it is nonetheless created in a history which produces it as expressed and the expression of a space or a time.”

Is the affection-image to be located in the moment of sympathy, in the realization of trauma in the Requiem for a Dream corridor scene and not in any specific facial or even visual material?

“In short, affects, quality powers, can be grasped in two ways: either as actualisaed in a state of things or as expressed by a face, a face-equivalent or a proposition. (…) Every set of images is made up of firstness, secondness and many other things. But affection-images, in the strict sense, only refer to firstness.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 101)

On page 101 Deleuze outlines the three roles of the face, individual, socializing and relational. He then proposes that the face loses all three of these in the close-up before citing Bergman as an example of this. I feel that the snorricam technique almost loses all three of these. There is a certain level of abstraction, but as mentioned in regard to the Requiem for a Dream corridor scene, this abstraction is not quite complete (in the same sense as Bergman’s). When we see Max walking through the crowd we know he is isolated, purely because we see the others he is isolated from. The snorricam does confront the pure-nudity of the face – but it does not do so whilst excluding the individual, socializing and relational facets of the close-up.

“There is no close-up of the face. The close up is the face, but the faceprecisely in so far as it has destroyed its triple function – a nudity of the face is much greater than that of the body, an inhumanity much greater than that of animals.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 102)

There is beautiful passage on Bergman’s nihilism of the face.

“the single and ravaged face unites a part of one to a part of the other. At this point it no longer reflects no feels anything, but merely experiences a mute fear. It absorbs two beings, and absorbs them into the void. And in the void it is itself the photogramme which burns, with Fear as its only affect. The facial close-up is both theface and its effacement. Bergman has pushed the nihilism of the face the furthest, that is its relationship in fear to the void or the absence, the fear of the face confronted with its nothingness.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 102)

The face confronting it’s effacement. Again, I feel we can see how the snorricam shares similarities with Berman’s close-ups but at the same time does not break from the three qualities of the individual, socializing and relational. If Bergman pushes the affection-image to it’s limit past its self, on to its nihilistic limit, then the answer is (the resolution to prevent mute fear, and effacement of the face to this is movement) action and distance:

“The affection-image and the action-image will be saved somehow or other, the one by the other.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 103)

I cannot help but feel that movement, energy and a fixed distance from the closeup affords the snorricam with an essence of affect whilst suspending the ultimate Bergmanian outcome of nihilistic effacement. By seeing a face and a body moving constantly, through an environment, a set, a stage etc -the viewer is receiving a giddying cocktail of movement-image and affection-image.

Deleuze’s summary of these two images working together feels ambiguous, but if we think of faces as shots of the face (rather than different peoples faces) my argument, that the snorricam gives the close-up movement and life and suspends it from cold nihilism (at least more-so than a typical close close-up) feels a touch more aligned with the text:

“The affects would need to form singular, ambiguous combinations which were always recreated, in such a way that the related faces are turned away from each other just enough not to be dissolved and effaced. And movement in it’s turn would need to go beyond the state of things, to trace lines of flight, just enough to open up in space a dimension of another order favourable to these compositions of affects. This is the affection-image: it has as its limit the simple affect of fear and the effacement of faces in nothingness. But as it’s substance it has the compound affect of desire and astonishment – which gives it life – and the turning aside of faces in the open, in the flesh.” (Deleuze, 2005, pp. 104)