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.

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).

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.

A Cartographic Creativity: Deleuze, Guattari and Deligny Towards New Means of Philosophical Expression

Mapping has become a popular and much commented on practice in social sciences, humanities, and art history. Although mapping is often used to furnish a global view of an idea or to clarify a situation, I would like to argue that it can be a much more complex activity—a “dark precursor” —which escapes usual representation and touches the core of creative processes whether they are of artistic or conceptual orders. In A Thousand Plateaus, maps play a discreet though important part as rhizomatic ways of escaping representation: maps are oriented toward experimentation; they do not reproduce but construct the unconscious; they have multiple entryways; they are open and connectable, detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 12). In Schizoanalytic Cartographies, Félix Guattari (1989, 18, 32) goes further by defining maps as “existential circumscriptions” and by suggesting that mapping calls for an aesthetic account of our experiences. Maps in the frame of this paper thus perform as a means of experimentation toward an encounter between art and philosophy.

To understand how mapping can give us such an access to an impersonal plane of creativity, this paper will focus on one of the most important influences on Deleuze and Guattari on this topic: Fernand Deligny’s work with autistic children. Deligny (1913–96) was a French educator who promoted an approach to autistic children through the wander lines they trace in space. Deligny’s mapping of the children’s journeys didn’t aim to carry any therapeutic, “normalising” purpose; in fact, it was not aimed at all. Through the maps, Deligny wanted to escape our linguistically- and symbolically-shaped reality in order to bring to light the pre-personal “common” (le commun) we share with autistic people (see Álvarez de Toledo, 2013; Deligny 2007).

The main questions structuring this paper will thus concern the “aimless” and the “common” characteristics of those maps and what they can teach us of creative processes. In the preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze (1994, xxi) writes on the search for new means of philosophical expression. Could Deligny’s maps be one of those means? How would that affect our views on the formation of subjectivity? What would it tell us about the political production of a common space? How do the maps relate to what Deleuze calls “the virtual”? Would the performativity of those maps affect the very way we tell stories about the creation of art and the creation of concepts?

References

Álvarez de Toledo, Sandra, ed. 2013. Cartes et lignes d’erre/Maps and Wander Lines: Traces du réseau de Fernand Deligny, 1969–1979. Paris: L’Arachnéen.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

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

Deligny, Fernand. 2007. Œuvres. Edited by Sandra Álvarez de Toledo. Paris: L’Arachnéen.

Guattari, Félix. 2012. Schizoanalytic Cartographies. Translated by Andrew Goffey. New York: Bloomsbury.