Deleuze’s Aesthetics: Transcendental Empiricism, Philosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Spirit

My paper focus on what I consider to be the great paradox of  Deleuze’s thinking on art: the project of  thinking art while refusing both an ontology of  the work of  art and a phenomenology of its reception. Deleuze believes that with the recomposition of the canonical fields of aesthetics on a new plan and on a new picture of thought, he can join both senses of aesthetics that, since Kant, have been radically separated: the theory of the sensible and the theory of the beautiful. Deleuze’s aesthetics seeks to draw the plan that could capture, within each artwork, the transversal cut of sensation and judgement. However, this transcendental empiricism led Deleuze, from the 1970s on, to a theory of the self-expressive movements of the sensible, to a description of the mode of existence of artworks as epiphanies of forms of life. According to A Thousand Plateaus, art begins with territorial marks. They do not refer back neither to a sensation that captures them up and establishes them as impressions, nor to an object whose nature is to exhaust itself into its expression of marks. Deleuzian thinking of art does not imply therefore any empiricism, any theory of pure aesthesis. What exists for Deleuze is a self-movement of expressive qualities.

Besides the programme of a transcendental empiricism, Deleuze’s vitalism has also disrupted the centre of gravity of almost all questions that draw our system of thinking on art. Fiction, myth, expression—everything in the work of art is displaced towards the domain of  a pre-individual life, towards the domain of  a pragmatics of  assemblages    of enunciation as mechanical and collective forms of life. Deleuze’s pragmatics refers back to a theory of strata and stratification of the world where the assemblage emerges from codes, environments, rhythms. Concepts belonging to geology, biology, physical chemistry—such as coagulation, sedimentation, or molecular assemblies—fuse with semiotic categories to describe phenomena like the stratification of a statement or the deterritorialisation of a narrative or a character. Similarly, figures of life as bodies without organs, abstract machines, or lines of flight, are never biological metaphors transposed to the domain of the aesthesis or to the ontology of the artefact. On the contrary, they are strategies of intelligibility of the plurality of forms of inorganic life inside art.

As an architectural system to approach Deleuze’s thought, I adopt the discovery of a permanent displacement of Deleuze’s view on art. I will try to show that to read Deleuze’s thinking on art is to understand his programme of a transcendental empiricism and its transformation into a vitalism of the inorganic.

Chaos Sive Natura. Electric Tree and Electronic Rhizome

The experiment Chaos Sive Natura is an interval, an in-between, an “&,” a critical space between Schönberg’s “to make music with ideas” (Schönberg and Kandinsky, Musica e pittura: Lettere testi documenti), the impartial acknowledgment that sound is the physical effect of vibrations travelling through air, the effect of these vibrations on the human cognitive function, its displacement in a “chaotic” spatial dimension, the Electric Tree (2016) of Franco D’Andrea’s electronic jazz, and the “molecularisation of sound” that puts to the test Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of rhythm in A Thousand Plateaus. Chaos Sive Natura attempts to trace a new path among the many that are possible towards new forms and contents, offering a reading of the Refrain plateau from the perspective of the new musical and philosophical culture theorised by Kodwo Eshun (More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, 1998), Erik Davis (“Roots and Wires,” 2008), Louis Chude-Sokai (The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, 2016), Achim Szepanski (“Technodeleuze and Mille Plateaux: Achim Szepanski’s Interview (1994-1996),” 2017), Edmund Berger (“Killing Art,” 2017), among others. Departing from Nietzsche and Spinoza, and arriving at Deleuze and Guattari, OCSS claims that even a small difference in the milieu can cause a radical change from the initial sonic material. At the horizon of Nature as rhythm, OCSS catches sight of how a “non-orientable accelerationism” may look like.


Chaos Sive Natura

Syncopated Rhythms in the Work of Burrows and Fargion

In 2002 choreographer/dancer Jonathan Burrows and composer/musician Matteo Fargion decided to create Both Sitting Duet, a choreography where they are both equally involved. The piece marked the start of a long- lasting  collaboration  that has, until  now,  resulted  in  the  creation  of eight  short  duets that all “straddle the line between dance, music, performance art and comedy” (Burrows). What characterises all these pieces is that the different elements that are brought together (music, movements, scores . . .) never add up. Rather, they run parallel and keep their own heterogeneous operational logic and quality. In the pieces of Fargion and Burrows, the music and the score, the movement and the sound, the two performers and so on never really come together. As such, the performances of Burrows and Fargion don’t create a harmony—as in a Gesamtkunstwerk. Rather, both performers always search for “impossible moments to meet in the middle” (Burrows and Fargion). Here the middle should not be understood as a middle ground, but as a no man’s land or a space of difference, a meantime (entre-temps) that makes the components “communicate through zones of indiscernibility, or undecidability” (Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?).

By looking at the notion of rhythm this presentation sets out to explore how Fargion and Burrows create these specific “meetings in the middle.” More specifically, it aims to connect the concept of rhythm that is operational in the practice of Burrows and Fargion with the notion of rhythm that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari develop in AThousand Plateaus. In this book, Deleuze and Guattari define rhythm as that which unfolds “in-between” heterogeneous milieus and ties them together. Burrows and Fargion seem  to  bring  this  conceptualisation  into  practice. To  do  this  they  trade a traditional “divisive” approach to composition, in which the whole is divided into standard units of measurement, for an “additive” approach, in which heterogeneous patterns are played out simultaneously to (per)form a polymetric dialogue (Davis, “‘Roots and Wires’: Polyrhythm Cyberspace and the Black Electronic”). Rather than fusing  the  different  patterns  into  a  unified  structure, Burrows  and  Fargion adopt a strategy of “apart-playing,” which has already been developed  in  African  and Black Atlantian musical theory (Chernoff, African Rhythm  and African  Sensibility). The rhythm that emerges through this separated playing diverts from its traditional definition. Rather than referring to a primal or natural means of communication—a “medium of communal participation” (Cowan, Technology’s Pulse: Essays on Rhythm in German Modernism)—rhythm introduces a dimension of difference. It  takes  on the form of syncopation: a “violent off-beat” (Davis, “‘Roots and Wires’: Polyrhythm Cyberspace and the Black Electronic”), a “moment when time falters” (Clément, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture), a “difference between anybody and everybody” that “makes one endlessly troubled” (Stein,Lectures in America).

By connecting rhythm to syncopation, this presentation aims not only to use Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptualisation of rhythms, but also to rearticulate it. As Steve Goodman states, Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of rhythm is compromised because it draws on Western musical sources (Messiaen, Berg). Shifting the focus from these traditional Western musical references to Black Atlantian currents of polyrhythmic music allows us to bring the concept further.

L’art au-delà de l’homme: Antonioni et Vertov par Deleuze, entre création et découverte

Le cœur du cinéma, selon Gilles Deleuze, c’est la capacité de restaurer des vastes zones acentrées et décadrées (Deleuze 1983, 94), bien au-delà du tournant humain de l’expérience. En autres termes, le cinéma n’est rien d’autre que le soi-même de l’image, théorisé pour la première fois par Bergson dans le premier chapitre de Matière et mémoire. Il n’y a plus ni distance ni mimesis : le cinéma ne représente pas le réel à travers la fiction, mais coïncide avec la réalité, conçue comme un champ transcendantal et impersonnel d’images-mouvements. Cinéma et réalité ne diffèrent pas : l’univers devient, mieux, un metacinéma en soi (ibid., 88).

Dans ma présentation je propose de vérifier cette idée deleuzienne à travers la discussion de l’œuvre de deux réalisateurs : Dziga Vertov et Michelangelo Antonioni. Vertov réalise le programme matérialiste du bergsonisme, à travers une poétique caractérisée par un ciné-œil super-humain et un montage constructiviste axé sur le rythme et l’entre-deux : films comme La sixième partie du monde, L’homme à la caméra ou Le ciné-œil rejoignent effectivement un monde qui précède l’homme, c’est-à-dire le lieu des relations, des variations universelles qui se déroulent invisibles au-dessous des yeux humains (Vertov 1975, 139). Antonioni se concentre sur les champs vides, où l’homme est désormais disparu : dans ses films, comme par exemple L’eclisse, Il deserto rosso ou La notte, les paysages vides et abstraits semblent dominer les personnages, désorientés et silencieux. Les champs vides se constituent comme une réflexion sur le néant et l’abstrait, conditions de possibilité génétiques de la réalité : Antonioni recherche « l’image absolue » (Antonioni 2009, 61–62) de la réalité, qui coïncide avec un « blanc sur blanc » impossible à filmer, univers virtuel qui est en train de s’actualiser dans la réalité concrète.

Ce qui est intéressant, soi dans la poétique Antonioni que dans celle de Vertov, c’est, en général, le statut de l’art, c’est à dire la présence, dans l’acte artistique d’un élément créatif—la création du nouveau, l’actualisation d’un virtuel pré-individuel—et d’un élément ontologique—la découverte d’un univers caché, qui était déjà là, imperceptible. La stricte relation entre création et découverte, dans Vertov et Antonioni, devient fondamentale chez Deleuze pour la réflexion philosophique. Réaliser un film, inventer un concept ou découvrir une fonction, c’est créer le nouveau, mais aussi rejoindre et rendre visible un virtuel qui, existant, n’était pas (encore) perceptible : au bout de cette ambiguïté on trouve le cœur secret de la réflexion deleuzienne, axée autour de l’événement comme devenir imperceptible et de la question du monisme-pluralisme, où les différents plans avec leurs spécificités—concepts, affects/percepts et fonctifs—rejoignent l’indécidabilité (Deleuze et Guattari 1991, 206), en faisant résonner la voix de l’être, son univocité aussi bien que sa richesse. Ici faire de l’art ce n’est plus raconter soi-même, mais arracher la perception aux objets, en créant des affects et des percepts non humains, impersonnels, capables de transformer l’imperceptible en percipiendum (Deleuze et Guattari 1980, 345).


Antonioni, Michelangelo. 2009. Fare un film è per me vivere: Scritti sul cinema. Venice: Marsilio editori.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1983. Cinéma 1: L’image-mouvement. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Deleuze, Gilles, et Félix Guattari. Mille Plateaux. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—. 1991. Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Vertov, Dziga. 1975. L’occhio della rivoluzione: Scritti dal 1922 al 1942. Milan: Mazzotta editore.