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Twentieth Century French Philosophy


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, Cultuurfilosofie, Continentale filosofie, Philosophy of Mind.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Philosophy of Culture, Concepts of Selfhood, and at least one of the courses World Philosophies: China, World Philosophies: India, World Philosophies: Africa, World Philosophies: Middle East.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package A.


In this course we will focus on two elusive problems that have been at the forefront of 20th Century French philosophy: (a) the problem of the image; (b) the problem of time. To articulate and analyze these problems, French philosophers like Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Rancière have turned to the ‘moving pictures’ or the cinema. The example of the cinema allows these philosophers to position themselves vis-à-vis the Kantian critique on the traditional conception of time. As is well-known, Immanuel Kant was one of the first to fundamentally challenge the traditional tendency to subordinate time to movement. In his view, time should be understood as a pure and empty form in which all changes and all movements take place. In the wake of Kant’s revolution, it became harder and harder to hold on to the existence of an eternal, atemporal realm that provides a fixed and external measure of truth; announcing a crisis of truth, the effects of which are still underway. In this course we will analyze how Bergson, Deleuze, and Rancière take up the Kantian challenge and relate it to one of the ultimate 20th century innovations, the cinema. We will develop four lines on f inquiry, some of which will be given more prominence than others.

As a first line of inquiry, which can be understood as a kind of prelude, we will analyze the fourth book of Aristotle’s Physics in which he defines time as arithmos kineseos (the number of movement). We will take Aristotle’s position as exemplary for the tendency of classic philosophy to subordinate time to movement. The reason that we take Aristotle’s position rather than that of Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, etc., is that, of all the pre-Kantian definitions of time, Aristotle’s comes closest to a pre-cinematic description of the technique underlying the cinema. This short detour via Aristotle, will prepare the ground for a much more extensive engagement with Henri Bergson’s conception of time.

The second line of inquiry starts with Bergson sceptical response to cinema in 1907, when it was still in a very early and preliminary phase. In his view, the “mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is of a cinematographical kind.” This means that for him the then still emerging phenomenon of the cinema artificially reproduces the illusions inherent in natural perception, while pushing them to the extreme. Since Bergson sees it as the task of the philosopher to overcome the illusions of our ordinary mechanism of knowledge, he can only see the cinema as an extra obstacle to this task. We will see that the theory of pure perception, articulated in Bergson’s earlier book Matter and Memory (1896), allows a different reading of the cinema that is in line with the central conception of duration.

This different reading will be the subject of our third and most extensive line of inquiry: Gilles Deleuze’s conception of time, which comes to the fore in the multiple interpretations of Bergson offered in his oeuvre. Deleuze argues that Bergson’s assumption that cinema imitates natural perception needs to be questioned, showing that the cinema in fact creates the possibility of a pure perception in the sense of Bergson’s Matter and Memory. In our approach to Deleuze’s philosophy of time we will adopt a similar strategy as he used in his reading of Bergson. We will start with Deleuze’s conception of time in his two Cinema books (The movement-image: Cinema 1, 1983; The Time Image: Cinema 2, 1985). Starting with this later, narrower conception of time, understood in terms of cinema, will give us an accessible entry point into this complicated subject; building on this perspective we will enrich the cinematic approach to time with the more extensive and more nuanced conception of time that Deleuze developed in his earlier interpretations of Bergson in Bergsonism (1966) and Difference and Repetition (1968). This will allow us to unpack the full meaning of ‘the three passive syntheses of time’, which are asymmetrical and cannot be reduced to each other, continuously generating new multiplicities.

This brings us to the fourth line of inquiry, which acts as a kind of critical afterthought, giving us the opportunity to assess the implications of the conception of time that emerges from the Deleuze-Bergson encounter. Here we will focus on the critical remarks of Jacques Rancière, who challenges Deleuze’s view that there is a difference in kind between the ‘movement-image’ and the ‘time-image’ and argues instead that the relationship between them should instead be understood in dialectical terms. We will take Rancière’s challenge seriously while resisting his conclusions. If time permits, we might take up some other issues as well (e.g., the role of the mathematical and the analytic sublime in Deleuze’s understanding of the cinematic notion of time; the crisis of truth that is already announced by the post-Kantian conception of time).

Course objectives

This course aim to provide the students with a clear view of:

  • the different ways in which creative re-interpretations of predecessors and contemporaries can generate new philosophical ideas;

  • the new conception of time that is engendered through this practice in a specific trajectory in 20th century French philosophy;

  • the rationale behind this conception of time.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the way in which Deleuze derives his own philosophy of time from the earlier insights of Bergson and illustrates it with the help of the cinema;

  • the twists and turns in this reshaping of Bergson’s conception of time;

  • the different ways in which these insights can be assessed depending on their historical and intellectual context.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Midterm essay (2,000 words)

  • Final essay (2,500 words)

Non-graded practical exercises:

  • Each student has to prepare a set of comments/questions for at least one of the seminars.

  • Each student has to hand in a proposal for the final essay and discuss it in smaller groups.

These two exercises will not be graded, but are required for getting admission to the exam (final paper).


  • Midterm essay (30%)

  • Final essay (70%)

The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the two subtests.


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once (100%), consisting of an essay of 5,000 words. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for subtest. Class participation is required for taking the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Selections from Deleuze’s Le Bergsonisme (Bergsonism).

  • Selections from Deleuze’s Différence et répétition (Difference and Repetition).

  • Selections from Deleuze’s Cinéma I: L’image-mouvement (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image).

  • Selections from Deleuze’s Cinéma II: L’image-temps (Cinema 2: The Time-Image).

  • Selections form Bergson’s Matière et mémoire (Matter and Memory).

  • Selections form Bergson’s L’Évolution créatrice (Creative Evolution).

  • Selections from Rancière’s La fable cinématographique (Film Fables).

  • Selected secondary material.

In the seminars we will use the English translations of these sources, which can easily be purchased. Students are allowed to use the French original or any other translation they prefer, but during the discussion, we will refer to the English edition (apart from certain obscure passages that require the original French). Selections of these texts will be distributed or can be found online through the library.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.