Deleuze and Beckett Towards Becoming-Imperceptible

In my paper I will explore Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of becoming-imperceptible and demonstrate how this notion works in Beckett’s texts. Deleuze often refers to Beckett’s characters, rethinking them in terms of desiring-production, schizophrenia, the body without organs, becoming, and becoming-imperceptible. The Beckettian characters, wandering in the schizophrenic promenades and obsessed with the combinatorial exercises of exhaustion, function not as a simple example but as an argument strengthening the contours of a new immanent ontology. This new immanent ontology raises the question of life in terms of non-personal and even non-organic power, which, by passing through different intensities and becomings, moves towards becoming-imperceptible. But what is becoming-imperceptible? How can we rid ourselves of ourselves and how can we evade perception and self-perception? To answer these questions we have to define the new immanent ontology and to discuss, in Rosi Braidotti’s terms, “the ethics of becoming-imperceptible” (Braidotti 2006). The new understanding of life as a non-personal and non-organic power requires the theory of immanent ethics that could redirect our thinking from the question of the individual or person toward the philosophy of the impersonal.

References

Braidotti, Rosi. 2006. “The Ethics of Becoming-Imperceptible.” In Deleuze and Philosophy, edited by Constantin V. Boundas, 133–59. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.

Hans Bellmer and the Body without Organs

Gilles Deleuze defines the “Body without Organs” (BwO) as a de-organised body, in opposition with an organism, governed by thresholds of levels, by a rhythm that “plunges into chaos,” substituting temporality and diegesis. The BwO is an unformed matter, occupied and populated by intensities that circulate through it; the organs aren’t necessarily absent from the body, but they lose their predetermined functions, they become unstable, changing their position, their functions, and they “sprout everywhere.” I shall decline the Deleuzian concept of the BwO in order to apply it to the artistic works of the German artist Hans Bellmer. His surrealist hyper-sexualised dolls seem to proliferate organically as their body parts—such as legs, breasts, and joints—multiply frantically. For instance in Bellmer’s “Doll” (1934) one can observe that the ball-joints that hold the doll together are defunctionalised as the limbs that should be attached to the joints are absent. Yet, through those absent limbs the body reaches its end, while the roundness, fullness, and prominence transforms the joints into sexualised body parts. In other works, such as the  “Doll” (1935), the ball-joints form a conglomerate that engulfs the body and “sprouts” beyond its limits. Their defunctionalisation goes even further, as some of the smaller ball-joints are no longer attached to the doll, thus suggesting a continuous process of germination and re-organisation.

The substitution of organs and bodily functions can also be observed in the graphic sketches that Bellmer created to illustrate his small book Petite anatomie de l’image. The sex organ re-territorialises different parts of the body; it becomes a line of flight, a smooth space along which it can extend in any direction. In one of the sketches, one can distinguish that the trunk of a woman’s body becomes a phallic shape that protrudes from it and at the same time behaves as a part of it. In another, one can see the legs in the place of the arms, the space between them functioning both as an armpit and as the intimate area of the sex. These sketches account for the contamination of tissues, while Bellmer’s accompanying writing describes the migration of the bodily functions—the sense of smell relocates in the heel; sight is lost only to be exerted by the tip of the nose and through the left lobe of the ear.

Sue Taylor, in her book, Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety (2000), interprets his works from a psychoanalytical perspective, considering them as a manifestation of rebellion toward the father figure, consistent with the Oedipus complex. Taylor also details Bellmer’s occasional cross-dressing and identification with female sexuality in his writings as signs of castration anxiety and a homoerotic attachment to his father.

By addressing the problem of the BwO in Bellmer’s work, I shall attempt to deconstruct this psychoanalytical interpretation through schizoanalysis (a method Deleuze introduces in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia), in order to restore the artist’s heterogeneity rather than reduce it to the conflict with his father or the political regime that classified his works as decadent.

References

Taylor, Sue. 2000. Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Blindness

In his lecture-performance titled “Blindness” Bill Balaskas will reflect on the ideological state of post-crisis Europe and the role of contemporary art as a communicator of the antagonisms and anxieties that still linger. Connecting Deleuze and Guattari’s aesthetic and political preoccupations, Balaskas will adopt (and adapt) the two thinkers’ “Body without Organs” (BwO), in dialogue with the model of the rhizome, in order to highlight the deep contradictions inherent in the domination of neo-liberal capital. On a formal level, the artist will employ the fluidity that characterises the BwO as the fabric of his lecture, thus producing a rhizomatic, non-hierarchical, and non-linear narrative reminiscent of the structure followed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. Blurring the boundaries between personal narration, scientific documentation, and poetic allegory, Balaskas will bring together a wide variety of seemingly unrelated sources and media, including re-edited extracts from his video works, graphs exemplifying economic theories, a literary analysis of José Saramago’s novel Blindness, a cover version of the song “Blindness” by U2, personal exhibition anecdotes, and extracts of works by Deleuze and Guattari. Through the amalgamation of these elements, Balaskas will aim further to explore one of the most prominent preoccupations in his artistic practice: “the fluid and petrified substance of money” that functions as the BwO of any capitalist being (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 11). For Deleuze and Guattari, capital’s distinctly schizophrenic character epitomises the nature of the BwO as “a body without an image” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 9). In a perverted and bewitched capitalist world, “capital increasingly plays the role of a recording surface that falls back on all of production” (Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 11). Through his lecture-performance, the artist will suggest that this “non-image”-surface is, in fact, produced through an unprecedented elevation of spectacle within the public sphere. For Balaskas, the totalitarian enactment of the image that we experience today should be understood as the last, “blinding” refuge of a socioeconomic model that is struggling to survive. In this context, “blindness” is not only a condition that emanates from a particular economic system (capitalism) but also a profound cultural choice that aims to deliver us from the need to face a new reality. This voluntary lack of vision affects not only the way we evaluate culture and aesthetics but also our very understanding of the societies within which art is called to perform its role.

References

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 2004. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. London: Continuum.

Matter-Flow: Studies of Minor Composition

Among Deleuze’s encounters with art, jewellery has certainly never had any particular relevance, if compared with literature, painting, cinema, or music. And yet, jewellery making and metal arts (metallurgy, smithery, metalworking) more widely, appear at a crucial juncture of A Thousand Plateaus. Not only because of their relation to “nomadism”—“something lights up in our mind,” Deleuze writes, “when we are told that metalworking was the ‘barbarian’ or nomad art par excellence, and when we see these masterpieces of minor art” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 401)—but above all because metal is the pure matter-movement, or “matter-flow.” Metal, Deleuze says, is “neither a thing nor an organism, but a body without organs,” the “conductor of all matter” (ibid., 411). The “first and primary itinerant,” then, is the artisan-metallurgist, who follows the flow of matter. Metal arts let emerge “a vital state of matter as such, a material vitalism”: a “nonorganic life” (ibid.). For Deleuze, “Metal is what forces us to think matter, and it is what forces us to think matter as continuous variation” (Deleuze 1979)—that is, as pure “modulation” (in Simondon’s sense). Metal and metal arts, then, allow us to break with the form-matter dualism of the hylomorphic model, typically exemplified by moulding techniques. Instead of a succession of forms and variability of matters, metal arts indeed operate a capture of nonorganic forces through a “continuous development of form” and a “continuous variation of matter” (from which also follows, according to Deleuze, the essential relationship between metallurgy and music). In short, the artisan-metallurgist replaces the static relation, form-matter, with the dynamic relation, “material-forces,” creating properly metallic “affects.”

This conception opens the possibility of a decisive displacement with respect to contemporary jewellery, which remains mostly tied to figuration (or organic representation) and the hylomorphic model by merely reproducing forms and looking for a diversity of materials. The pursuit of this possibility is the attempt of the works I present. The aim is to experiment with a non-hylomorphic approach to matter-flow and the genesis of forms. To this end, I tried to construct an assemblage between two heterogeneous material elements (metal and glass formed by lightning-induced melting of sand) upon which I performed different processes of deformation. The result is a series of “consolidated aggregates,” of “coupled figures,” where the metallic form is not obtained by any casting or moulding operation (such as lost wax casting or electroforming), but primarily by means of one of the most ancient goldsmith’s techniques (though completely liberated from any decorative, figurative, or narrative function), called repoussé, which consists of a continuously variable modulation or folding of thin metal leaves. The genesis of form is thus immanent and topological (instead of transcendent and geometrical), inseparable from forces exerted upon the material. This reveals a “vague” materiality in which forms are not imposed to matter but emerge as intensive affects of the material itself. These works of minor art thus attempt to contribute to the questioning of what Deleuze calls a “phenomenology of matter.”

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 1979. “Metal, metallurgie, musique, Husserl, Simondon. Cours Vincennes 27/02/1979.” Available at: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=185&groupe=Anti%20Oedipe%20et%20Mille%20Plateaux&langue=1 [accessed 1 October 2015]

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.