The Imperceptible and Anti-Aesthetics: Deleuze’s Response to Phenomenology

Benoît Dillet

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 21, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Concert Hall
format: in absence
keywords: aesthetics, becoming-imperceptible

abstract about the author(s)


The character has become a kind of viewer. He shifts, runs and becomes animated in vain, the situation he is in outstrips his motor capacities on all sides, and makes him see and hear what is no longer subject to the rules of a response or an action. He records rather than reacts.
— Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image

In Deleuze’s Logic of  Sensation (2005) the stakes are high: providing a philosophy of  art that builds itself from, but ultimately overcomes, French phenomenologists Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Henri Maldiney. In electing Francis Bacon as the painter of perversion and the imperceptible,  Deleuze  attempted  to  produce  “mobile  relations”  between his philosophical thought and Bacon’s paintings in the same way that Henri Bergson’s philosophy and Claude Monet’s paintings resonated, or Merleau-Ponty’s and Paul Cézanne’s.

In this presentation I will start by briefly summing up the pioneering work of Jean- Christophe Goddard on the relationship between Deleuze and Maldiney to question the reasons Deleuze thought it necessary to explicitly distance his philosophy of art from a phenomenology of art (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation). I argue that Deleuze tried to establish a new philosophy of art against aesthetics and towards a poetics of art, or even a “techno-aesthetics” (invented in a burgeoning state by Gilbert Simondon). Part of the answer is to be found in the role catastrophes have for art as well as the emphasis of the agency of the artwork and its material circuitry. Deleuze characterised Bacon’s painting in 1981 as modulation rather than moulding, a Simondonian distinction that would later be central to the famous “Postscript on Control Societies.” Deleuze’s reflections on art theory from the 1980s onwards are therefore a way to resist capital’s subsumption of aesthetics in the modes of production. In his “Letter to Serge Daney” (1986), Deleuze continues this reflection and imagines an “art of control” that could resist the tentacular and chameleon- like powers of capital in the age of control societies. By re-interpreting Daney, Deleuze writes that all art is supplementary, it is its material function that gives it its necessity and noetic function. While he questions the situation when certain media (and particularly TV) fail to have an aesthetic function by joining the “world of controllers and controlled,” I will explain why this opposition should be reformulated not in terms of aesthetics against control but as poetics/techno-aesthetics against aesthetics. It is no longer a matter of training the eye or educating the senses, but of  experimenting and finding new ways   of combining the equipment of sensation: “The encyclopedia of the world and the pedagogy of perception collapse to make way for a professional training of the eye, a world of controllers and controlled communing in their admiration for technology, mere technology’ (Deleuze, Negotiations).

Aesthetics has dethroned ethics as the first philosophy in the age of control societies, and perceptions are no longer progressive but are constantly captured by the deterritorialising forces of capital: the art of control would be an art of the imperceptible (noo-signs). This also meant defining a new ecology (beyond the nature/culture divide) as well as a new organology (no longer centred on the flesh but on the brain). In Deleuze’s anti-aesthetic theory, organs are not the receivers of images but they are produced by the images. We witness an aberrant post-phenomenological taxonomy where, due to exhaustion and zombie-like states, people are replaced by the ambulant agency of floating images.

about the author(s)

Benoît Dillet

Benoît Dillet is a Teaching Fellow in French politics at the University of Bath (UK). He is the coauthor of The Political Space of Art (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), the co-editor of The Edinburgh Companion to Poststructuralism (Edinburgh University Press, 2013) and Technologiques: La Pharmacie de Bernard Stiegler (Cécile Default, 2013), and the translator of Bernard Stiegler’s Philosophising by Accident: Interviews with Élie During (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming 2017). He is also one of the editors of the online journal La Deleuziana.

info & contact


University of Bath, UK


benoit [AT]