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.