Deleuze and Painting: Music and the Figure

Much of Gilles Deleuze’s work reflects his interest in pure semiology and power structures. However, particular examples in his sole-authored work explore the abstractions of his theoretical oeuvre through close and vivid analysis of artworks themselves, most notably in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Deleuze’s reading of the paintings draws in part on the painter’s interviews with David Sylvester, a perspective expressed in language that could not be less un-Deleuzian, and yet captures some of the essential motifs that go to the core of Deleuze/ Guattari’s characterization of ‘Schizophrenia’: the ‘body without organs’, sensation as an alternative to representation, and conformity to prevailing hierarchies such as those manifest in capitalist systems. Deleuze develops numerous concepts through his reading of Bacon’s figurative paintings, especially that of the ‘figure’, an entity distinct from the figurative, or that which represents. The concept of ‘figure’ is a complex one, but relates only in part to the fact that Bacon mainly painted (human) figures. Deleuze himself suggests that those few paintings that do not depict a human or animal figure — such as the series of paintings from the mid/late 1980s that includes the two versions of Jet of Water (1988), or Blood on the Floor (1986)— are nonetheless figural in the sense he intends. This opens up the possibility that other art forms, such as music, can also incorporate the figural according to Deleuze and Bacon’s particular understanding of sensation. Moreover, Deleuze’s writings on music (and in particular his concept of the refrain) are arguably less persuasive, and certainly less focused on actual artefacts (as opposed to abstract theory) than his discourse on Bacon. This paper explores how Deleuze’s critique of Bacon’s works can usefully enable discussion of the related concepts of figure, sensation, and force in music, with reference to the music of Brian Ferneyhough (b. 1943) and other contemporary composers who have either expressed specific interest in Bacon or Deleuze’s work or whose artistic outputs suggest that this conceptual framework might offer useful interpretative insights.

Bacon and the Cartoonist: The Emergence of the Figure Through Two Opposing Diagrams

In The Logic of Sensation, Deleuze describes Francis Bacon’s practice as a constant struggle to avoid or surpass figuration, illustration, and narrative, all of which are central elements of the art practice most commonly known as “cartooning”—the drawing of comic strips, books, and graphic novels. This paper will focus on Deleuze’s use of the concept of the “diagram” and the “figural” in The Logic of Sensation to argue that comics create sensual experience through discursively articulated depictions.

Deleuze opens the chapter on the diagram by saying “We do not listen closely enough to what painters have to say. They say that the painter is already in the canvas, where he or she encounters all the figurative and probabilistic givens that occupy and preoccupy the canvas.” The probabilistic givens are the established figurative practices that surround the painter, a bombardment of imagery and methods of representation that threaten to pull the painter into illustrative cliché. So how can they be avoided? Bacon says, “make random marks (lines-traits); scrub, sweep, or wipe the canvas in order to clear out locales or zones (color-patches); throw the paint, from various angles and at various speeds.” Through this act of exorcism, the figurative givens, the clichés, are removed, expelled from the canvas. This process creates the diagram, which is not a painting, or an image, but a set of possibilities.

For comics scholar Thierry Groensteen, the cartoonist’s diagram is created through a process of “gridding.” Like Bacon’s givens, this process can pre-exist the making of any marks on the drawing surface. It is “a stage of reflection that is not always incarnated,” and operates as “a primary repartition of the narrative material.” Rather than avoid figuration, cliché, cartoonists must create their own set of clichés—a set of marks that allow serial recognition, potentialities that allow them to give form to the narrative material: this is the diagram of a cartoonist. And it is through this seriality, this repetition, that the figural—in the sense described earlier of a presence that is dependent on depiction but not contained within it—is created in comics. It is also through seriality that the figural, which Deleuze describes as a sense of presence and awareness of identity created by a work that, while dependent on depiction, cannot be located solely in that depiction.

If you take individual depictions of a character in a comic to be serial appearances of the same character pulling different expressions, then you have in mind a figure that is not contained within any of these individual figurations; this, I want to suggest, is comics’ equivalent to Deleuze-Bacon’s figural. Deleuze characterises Bacon’s creation of “the improbable visual figure” as a constant negotiation between free manual actions and the presence of a pre-existing visual whole. My comic Starts Out Vague magnifies the opposition of these pictorial and prepictorial acts in attempting to analyse the figurative regime operative in the act of drawing known as cartooning. It is built from sequences of figurative images produced using the following process: perform movements, copy these movements by manipulating a digital three-dimensional model. This process begins with movements that are transcribed in a medium that has no edges or surface, and ends with reinjection into the overdetermined surface of the comic’s page, where not only specific places but also a specific order of movement through those places are privileged by the constraints of gridding. Finally, the reading protocols that guide the navigation of a comic are fundamentally discursive: in comics, the figurative is placed into discourse, and through this interaction emerges the figural.

Capture de forces et logique de la sensation dans Géométries de l’abîme (LeBlanc, 2014), in vivo (Cendo, 2007-2010), et The Restoration Of Objects (McCormack, 2008)

La sémiotique des arts non-discursifs telle que développée par Deleuze, notamment autour de la peinture de Francis Bacon, repose sur des concepts qui semblent tout désignés pour aborder le fait éminemment non-linguistique et sensible de la musique, et ce, tant du point de vue de la composition que de l’analyse. Ainsi, de même que la peinture sait se faire figurative, abstraite ou matérielle, la musique sait s’organiser de manière plus ou moins discursive (« optique ») ou expérientielle (« haptique »). Par exemple, une sonate classique repose sur une structure formelle fortement narrative (cf., Byron Almén). À l’inverse, les trames microtonales d’un Giacinto Scelsi s’offrent davantage sur le mode expérientiel. Entre optique et haptique, en passant par l’abstraction, la sémiotique du philosophe français rejoint en plusieurs points l’idée d’art comme expérience (cf., Dewey, Shusterman), et nous permet une meilleure compréhension des esthétiques qui se tiennent à distance du discursif pour attirer notre attention sur ce qui fait heccéité dans l’œuvre musicale. Au milieu d’une tradition reposant largement sur l’art de la rhétorique (formes baroques et classiques), sur l’emprunt de métaphores extra-musicales (peinture du mot à la Renaissance, poème symphonique), de modèles empruntés à la science (Iannis Xenakis, musique spectrale), la possibilité d’une musique non-discursive requiert la création de cadres théoriques et conceptuels qui permettent d’en approcher le matériau sans l’assimiler indûment aux formes et modèles du discours fonctionnant sur le mode de la représentation.

En tant que compositeur, cette réflexion nous a amené à développer un paradigme compositionnel où la musique peut être pensée selon les termes d’une sémiotique des arts non-discursifs, notamment à travers les concepts originaux de figures et de textures performatives (au sens d’événements sonores qui « performent » plutôt qu’ils ne « racontent »). Empruntant ouvertement à la figuralité deleuzienne, ces concepts, accompagnés d’un certain nombre de stratégies compositionnelles, nous permettent de concevoir le matériau musical comme « capture de forces » et de l’organiser selon une « logique de la sensation », et ce, en dehors de tout projet de nature discursive ou narrative. Suivant la dynamique du précurseur sombre, c’est entre les pôles de l’intuition et de la pensée organisatrice qu’il y a fulgurance de la figure sonore ; dès lors, il s’agit de créer un espace conceptuel où l’heccéité musicale peut surgir des profondeurs de la sensibilité et être organisée selon des critères qui en préservent la nature immédiate, sensible et non-discursive, c’est-à-dire non-prédéterminée par la pensée.

Lors de cette présentation, nous illustrerons cette sémiotique musico-figurale à l’aide de notre quatuor à cordes Géométries de l’abîme (2014), et nous élargirons la portée de notre cadre théorique en abordant deux autres œuvres pour la même formation : In Vivo (2007–2010) de Raphaël Cendo (France), et The Restoration of Objects (2008) de Timothy McCormack (USA), deux compositeurs dont le travail, s’il ne se réclame pas ouvertement de la philosophie deleuzienne (McCormack), s’y inscrit en fort rapport de résonance (Cendo).

Web: www.jimmieleblanc.net/dare2015/references.html

References

Almén, Byron. 2008. A Theory of Musical Narrative. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. (1981) 2002. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Dewey, John. 1934. Art as Experience. New York: Minton, Balch and Company.

Sauvagnargues, Anne. (2005) 2006. Deleuze et l’art. Paris: Prsses Universitaires de France.

Shusterman, Richard. (1992) 2000. Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

From Painting to Sound: Musical Reflections on Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation

In Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Deleuze becomes the philosophical voice of Bacon’s paintings. The book’s main arguments are developed in relation to Bacon’s thoughts and from Deleuze’s sensations and visual reflections on the paintings. Bacon resonates through Deleuze’s words; both the painter and the philosopher intermingle in the perception of the paintings and on the meanings of the philosophical arguments. Thoughts become images and images become thoughts. Does sensation have a logic? Or is logic merely the philosophical language derived from sensation?

The written expression of Deleuze’s sensations and my sensation of his words made me perceive and relate visual philosophical notions within the context of musical experience and thinking. My musical thoughts and sensations (or sonic imaginations) herein described arose from the experience of reading Deleuze’s book on Francis Bacon before establishing any connection with his writings on music. I relocated Deleuze’s visual notions to describe, in a particular way, musical layers and events spread through a musical piece. I will explain how my musical arguments relate and are similar to some of Deleuze’s thoughts on music, whilst emphasising the reason why some of his ideas on painting serve to describe and think musical problems with a different language and specificity.

In this presentation, I will introduce the three main pictorial elements that Deleuze describes in Bacon’s works: (1) spatialising fields, (2) the figure, and (3) the place. I will explain how I relate these pictorial elements to musical phenomena in my work and to the phenomenon of deterritorialisation through music as thought by Deleuze. In particular, I will delve into the idea of the “isolation of the figure” in Bacon’s paintings and explain how I relate “isolation” to a musical phenomenology. I will also describe how the mutual exchange and coexistence of the pictorial elements can be related to the interaction and resonance between multiple sonic layers and/or multiple realities, which consequently establishes a link between Deleuze’s visual thoughts on Bacon’s work and Jean-Luc Nancy’s ideas on resonance through listening.

To illustrate the relation of the pictorial elements to musical ones I will present a musicalised animation of Bacon’s painting Head VI (1949). The music will be created with processed material from the recording of my composition A Bao A Qu (2012) for nine musicians, a piece that I used in my doctoral dissertation to describe the relation between Deleuze’s notions on Bacon’s paintings and my music. The animated painting will transform in synchrony with the music, revealing and explaining through an audiovisual experience how visual elements can be associated with the musical ones.