What is it about?

In his groundbreaking book of philosophy titled Difference and Repetition, Deleuze investigates how everyday identity arises from the differences and relations between the temporalities of the present, past, and future – what he calls the three syntheses of time. Furthermore, these three syntheses repeat in the spatial dimension and in consciousness. All these syntheses bind us: a coherent consciousness in comprehensive space and chronological time. However, such cohesion arises from a flux of disjunctions: temporal, spatial, mental. And here is Deleuze’s radical proposal – these myriad disjunctions are not to be feared, but embraced. Freeing such flux can release us from stasis and produce new images of thought, of life, of the world. The Hollywood film cycles of Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, and The Terminator each play out Deleuze’s differences and repetitions through time travel, many worlds, and altered states in their own way. Each film cycle is a complex knot of atemporal, aspatial, and ahuman problematizations. And encountering a problem, for Deleuze, frees us from fixed images of thought, allowing us to think anew, time after time. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition is often seen as a notoriously impenetrable book. But it turns out the Hollywood cinema of time travel, many worlds, and altered states offers a way in.

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Why is it important?

What is called “time travel” cinema is but one aspect in a tripartite series of interweaving modes of disjunctive narration which is also – simultaneously – a cinema of “many worlds” and “altered states”. Exploiting Gilles Deleuze's three syntheses of time, space, and consciousness from Difference and Repetition (1968) allows a conceptual development of these cinematic series through three popular Hollywood film cycles beginning with Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968), The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984), and Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985). In so doing, film and philosophy are deployed as two series which together create inexhaustible atemporal, aspatial, and ahuman disjunctions, ungrounding everyday spatio-temporal identities, and affirming productive images of cinematic thought.


Trips into history. Journeys to the future. Encounters in the present with visitors from the future or past. There are no limits with time travel stories. Some of the first telly I fell in love with as a kid was Doctor Who – way back when the Fourth Doctor was loping around with a daffy scarf, battered brown fedora, and a pocketful of jelly-babies. And I love it still, now with the Thirteenth Doctor’s jaunts through time. Mind-warping tales of paradox and complexity, history and counter-histories, utopian and dystopian futures. Given my love for the genre, tackling the subject was only a matter of time! Saying that, this exploration arose from previous work I had done on time travel in Deleuze’s Cinema Books (Edinburgh University Press, 2016). There I touched upon Doctor Who (of course), and Alexander Sukurov’s film Russian Ark, the latter expanded a year earlier in the edited collection Time Travel in Popular Media (McFarland, 2015). I began to see how I could think about time travel through the differences and relations between presentness, pastness, and futureness. But this proved to be only the beginning - what about space? And what about alien consciousnesses?

David Deamer
Manchester Metropolitan University

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This page is a summary of: Deleuze's Three Syntheses Go to Hollywood: The Tripartite Cinema of Time Travel, Many Worlds and Altered States, Film-Philosophy, October 2019, Edinburgh University Press,
DOI: 10.3366/film.2019.0119.
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