A Double Capture of Body and Life: Deleuze, Bacon, Sauka

This paper draws a comparison between the experiments with a double capture of body and life made by Francis Bacon (1909–92) and contemporary Lithuanian surrealist Šarūnas Sauka (b.1958) in their pictures. This comparison starts from the Deleuzian perspective. Deleuze was influenced by Antonin Artaud’s reflections on the body. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze referred to Artaud’s text on the body without organs. Chapter 8 of Cinema 2: The Time-Image, “Cinema, Body and Brain,” starts with the following reflection: “Give me a body then: this is the formula of philosophical reversal. The body is no longer the obstacle that separates thought from itself, that which it has to overcome to reach thinking. It is on the contrary that which it plunges into or must plunge into, in order to reach the unthought, that is life.”

Describing Francis Bacon’s paintings, Deleuze writes about the meeting between Bacon and Artaud on the surface of the body without organs. Deleuze concludes that Bacon dismantles the organism in favour of the body, creating an “affective athleticism,” a scream-breath (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation). His experiments with intersections between life and the body are also one of the main themes of Lithuanian surrealist painter Šarūnas Sauka. Sauka also paints the intensive fact of the body, experimenting with the body in various lines of flight. It is possible to encrust the jewel into different kinds of non-organic things, even in tissue, but what would it take to encrust the jewel into the organic body? The organic body encrusted with non-organic jewels on its surface becomes an animal without the distinctive features of a human face, but with animal limbs painted into the moment of copulation in the series of paintings.

Deleuze quotes Cézanne’s insight as an important point for connecting life to the arts. “Life provides many ambiguous approaches to the body without organs.” And the conclusion: “Life is frightening.” As one response to the frightening life in the arts, Deleuze describing Bacon’s pictures diagnoses hysteria as the symptomatic clinical essence of painting as art, because it is based on pure presence. Music does not have hysteria as its clinical essence, but it is confronted with galloping schizophrenia: it strips bodies of their inertia, of the materiality of  the presence; it disembodies bodies. In Sauka’s paintings one can  discern the same inspiration as Cezanne noticed: “Life is frightening.” But the painter overcomes the possible hysteria with the forces of irony and, most importantly, self-irony. It also escapes from itself, transforming itself into an animal’s body.

As Deleuze notices, following Beckett’s Characters and Bacon’s Figures escaping from the organism, the body escapes from itself. “It escapes from itself through the open mouth, through the anus or the stomach, or through the throat, or through the circle of the washbasin, or through the point of the umbrella.”

The head separated from the body is one of the main topics in Sauka’s experimentation with a body. In his early picture Self-Portrait No. 4 (1985), the decapitated head of the artist with one eye gazes into the spectators’ eyes. Deleuze reflected upon this phenomena of split body and, following Bacon’s reflections, described it as internal and external “autoscopia,” meaning the feeling that “it is no longer my head, but I feel myself inside a head, I see and I see myself inside a head; or else I do not see myself in the mirror, but I feel myself in the body that I see, and I see myself in this naked body when I am dressed … and so forth” (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation).