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

Catarina Pombo Nabais

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 22, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Auditorium
format: in words
practice: philosophy
keywords: aesthetics, de/re-territorialisation, rhythm, stratum, transcendental empiricism

abstract about the author(s)


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.

about the author(s)

Catarina Pombo Nabais

Catarina Pombo Nabais received a PhD in philosophy from Université Paris VIII, Vincennes—Saint-Dennis, with the thesis “L’Esthétique en tant que Philosophie de la Nature: le Concept de Vie chez Gilles Deleuze. Pour une Théorie Naturelle de l’Expréssivité. Regards sur la Littérature” (2007), under the supervision of Jacques Rancière. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre of Philosophy of Science of University of Lisbon (CFCUL), was Head of the CFCUL Science and Art FCT Research Group from 2008 to 2014, and since 2014 is Head of the CFCUL Science-Art-Philosophy LAB. She is the author of Deleuze: Philosophie et littérature (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013).

info & contact


University of Lisbon, PT


catarinapombonabais [AT]