This presentation seeks to problematise a certain appropriation of Deleuzian devices within the rhetorical field of artistic research, with particular reference to the reinstatement of “Art” the renewed attention to the specificity of the aesthetic, and an associated metaphorics of exceptionalism, revolt, resistance, refusal, and flight. This problematisation is not proposed as an act of delegitimation with respect to a given “reading” of Deleuze, but rather as an intervention into the field of operations across art-philosophy. In the wake of the perceived failure of institutional critique and the politics of representation in artistic research programmes, the paper asks, What are the critical alternatives to bourgeois revolt and aesthetic exceptionalism for artistic research conducted within the precincts of the contemporary university? What might the turn to Deleuze offer in this regard?
In his book The Age of Extremes, Eric Hobsbawm notices the curious way the arts and aesthetics demonstrate an uncanny aptitude for prophetic foresight. For Hobsbawm, the avant-garde revolution in the 1910s, for example, took place long before the world whose collapse it expressed actually fell apart. It is for this reason that the cultural historian should pay close attention to the evolving aesthetic modalities of art in the context of particular political conjunctures. What are we to make of Gilles Deleuze’s use of the music and writing of Pierre Boulez in service of a philosophy that reads like an oracle? Against his own philosophy of discipline and punishment, Michel Foucault prophetically suggested that the century to come would be known as Deleuzian. When it comes to the critical reception of Boulez’s compositional aesthetics, the fairly predictable association of serialism (via Webern) with a kind of hermetic totalitarianism (the music’s mathematics as antisocial hyperintegration, etc.) has given way in more recent times to a more empirically grounded critical association of serialism and dodecaphony with the cultural politics of the Cold War. What the latter critique misses (modernism as the false mask of capitalism) is the truly uncanny prophetic resonance (in Hobsbawm’s sense) of post-war radicality with the new modalities of social life produced by the neo-liberal digital information network that emerged at the end of the twentieth century.
The paper demonstrates the prophetic dimensions of Boulez’s oeuvre by way of the politico-musical philosophy of Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Boulez’s music and music theory claims residency in and serves as an important conduit for the writings of Deleuze and Guattari in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the philosophers creatively adopt serial musical structure as a philosophical trope for thinking identity across strata. The terms they employ are largely borrowed from Boulez’s technical writings on music written nearly twenty years earlier. By situating the philosophers’ engagement with music in the historical context of a romantic-modern tradition (which, broadly, emphasises the critical aspirations of music), the paper assesses the political valences of their central arguments in the current context of postmodern capitalism, to which their work is addressed. The paper demonstrates how the philosophers’ use of Boulezian aesthetics is ultimately prophetic of dominant modalities of techno-political praxis today.