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    Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon the Logic of Sensation (pt 4)
    Project: The Total Library
    Sensation and Forces

    "Not to reproduce what we can already see, but to make visible what we cannot" (Paul Klee)

    The task of art, in all its forms, is to capture forces. Deleuze and Guattari say that this, ultimately, is what makes art abstract - the "summoning" and making visible of otherwise imperceptible forces (Deleuze and Guattari, "What is Philosophy?", 181–2, in O'Sullivan, 50). In this sense art might be said to produce or suggest worlds hitherto unseen but always produced from within the seen (O'Sullivan, 63). This resonates with the query by which philosophy is motivated “How can we see what we did not see before?” (May, 22). In painting this means "rendering visible forces that are not themselves visible" (40). As said above force is the condition of sensation, and sensation captures this force to "give" it to us, to make us sense it (though what it "gives" us is completely different from the forces that condition it). How can these invisible forces be rendered? Deleuze answers this question through the investigation of the deformations in Bacon's paintings, which are the result of the forces exerted on the immobile Figure, creating a zone of indiscernibility, while the structure/the field stirs and moves. This force lends itself neither to a transformation of form, nor to a decomposition of elements, it reorganizes the body's posture. Deformation is always bodily, static, subordinating movement to forces which give another meaning/understanding to the structure of Bacon's paintings. As an example - as the scream in Bacon's paintings is produced by an invisible (and insensible) force that lies even beyond pain or feeling (and not by an external spectacle/horror), a force which the scream captures/detects, a relation is established between the visibility of the scream and the invisible force; the scream thus potentially containing the forces of the future. Bacon also renders visibility to forces through his usage of color - each color (whether pure or broken) indicates a force exercised on the corresponding zone of body, thus immediately making it visible.
    Sensation gives the invisible forces visibility. The invisible force is detected, flushed out and thus made visible. This visibility is that of the body. This, maybe, could be related to what Deleuze says in his book about Spinoza, that a knowledge of the powers of the body enables us to discover the powers of the mind that elude consciousness (Deleuze, "Spinoza: Practical Philosophy", 18; in Buchanan, 76). Within this confrontation of sensation with the invisible force - a force is released, a force that is capable of vanquishing the invisible force. By rendering them visible, combating these forces becomes possible (as while the forces are invisible they are beyond our reach), and thus, as well, the possibility of triumphing is affirmed. This is why choosing the violence of sensation over the violence of the spectacle, as Bacon does (choosing the scream over the horror), is an act of vital faith. Deleuze exemplifies this process through Bacon's paintings - the invisible force of isolation is made visible in the wrapping of the field around the Figure, the invisible force of deformation - through shaking off the Figure's face and the body's organism, and the force of dissipation is made visible in the Figure's return to the field.
    The body of the Figure passes through 3 levels of force -
    There is the "fact" of the Figure when it is submitted to forces of isolation, deformation and dissipation. Then there is the "matter of fact", when 2 Figures are included in a single fact, and are submitted to the force of coupling. And there is the "common fact", in the triptychs, where the unity of color and light separate the Figures, becoming their rhythmic being. "An immense space-time unites all things, but only by introducing between them the distances of the Sahara, the centuries of an aeon" (60, italics in text). It is no longer the force of isolation, but a distributive unity.
    And then there is the rendering of the force that is time which Bacon does through the variation of bodies, which involves deformation, and through the uniting-separating of the triptychs.

    The Diagram

    "What Deleuze calls the 'logic of sensation' [...] works with uncoded 'diagramatic traits', which serve to create pictorial space in bodily terms that depart from the classical conception of painting as a framed window" (Rajchman, 123).

    As already briefly mentioned the painter's canvas is not empty. On the contrary, it is full with "everything he has in his head or around him" (61). Deleuze declares in "What is Philosophy" that "the painter does not paint on a virgin canvas [...] the canvas [] already covered over with preexisting, pre-established cliches" (Rajchman, 126). Clichés, Deleuze writes elsewhere, are anonymous and floating images “which circulate in the external world, but which also penetrate each of us and constitute our internal world, so that everyone possesses only psychic clichés by which we think and feel, are thought and felt, being ourselves one cliché among others in the world that surrounds us” (Smith). Another way of understanding these clichés is as habits, habits of sight and habits of thought (O'Sullivan, 63). The painter needs to empty the canvas of all these "givens" that are present in it, these cliches and ready made perceptions, actual or virtual, for "one can really think only where what is to be thought is not already given" (Rajchman, 115). The cliches must be scraped away to find a singular vital space of possibility for the cliché is precisely what prevents the genesis of an image, just as opinion and convention prevent the genesis of thought (Smith). And, after all, philosophy itself is an art of plunging into this peculiar zone of "the unthought", that destabilizes cliches and ready made ideas" (Rajchman, 115). It is not enough to transform the cliches, as even transformed they remain within the milieu of the cliche, "even the reactions against cliches are creating cliches" (63). There are the figurative "givens" (such as photographs for example) which are illustrative and narrative representations that "create a truth" and force it upon us, impose themselves upon our sight. They reduce sensation to a single level (not allowing for the difference between levels). Or there are the "givens" which are the unequal probabilities on the canvas, created by the painter's prepictorial/preconceived idea of what he intends to do.
    In order to escape these (escape creating yet another cliche) the painter must create "free marks" (to destroy the nascent figuration) by a chance choice/action without probability that will wrench the visual image away from the cliche, the illustration/narration. This action is a "manipulated chance" - a chance that must be utilized and manipulated and thus be integrated into the act of painting. This action "extracts the improbable Figure from the set of figurative probabilities" (67).
    Thus the painter must "get out of the canvas" (and so out of the cliche), where he is already "in"; he must encounter all the figurative and probabilistic "givens" the canvas is full of, and battle against them. This is the silent and invisible, yet most intense, preparatory work to which the act of painting itself is an afterwards. In it there is a violence of what comes before the formation of codes and subjects, which is a condition of saying and seeing things in new ways (Rajchman, 124).
    This is a phase of the manual, the hand being independent of will and sight, removed from the optical organization. The painter must disorganize and deform (through scrubbing, wiping, brushing and so on) the figurative that is the cliche/probability, creating, by these marks (lines-traits), which are irrational, involuntary,accidental, free and random, a sort of catastrophe/chaos of which the Figure will emerge. This is "Spinozistic" plan that comes before the specification of forms (Rajchman, 125) and its essential role as "the catastrophe" is to be the condition for the genesis of the image (or the sensation) and at one and the same time the condition for the destruction of the cliché. This is the "diagram",What Cezanne called "the motif" which is to be "suggestive", to introduce "possibilities of facts", unlock areas of sensation. This, we could see as echoing with Deleuze’s insistence that understanding and thinking demand that we go beyond the seeming order and sameness of things to the chaotic and active becoming which is the very pulse of life (Colebrook, XXXIV). The diagram could be seen as a way of articulating the hidden virtual reality out of which the actually experienced reality emerges (May, 19). But also it is that which unsettles reality rather than studying and reflecting what is (as figuration/representation does) (May, 56).
    The diagram is an absolute zone of indiscernibility, indetermination. it makes possible the haptic sense of color.

    The first figuration cannot be completely eliminated, the Figure is a reconstitution of a figuration, but different in nature, and between the two is the pictorial act. So it is that the act of painting is always a shifting/oscillating between the before and the after of the full-emptied canvas. The figural is a deterritorialisation of the figure, but, as such, needs the figure as its point of departure (O'Sullivan, 59). In his book "Nietzsche and Philosophy" Deleuze introduces the the metaphor of dice-throwing. Bad players deny chance - there is an identity, a particular identity or identities, they are awaiting (as in figuration/representation); they are working within the realm of possibility, not virtuality. Good players affirm both chance and necessity - they give themselves over to the game, in each throw, they throw and play to their limit (May, 64-5).
    And so emerges another world - non-representative, non-illustrative, non-narrative, with only the asignifying traits of sensation. The visual whole ceases to be an optical organization. Within its chaos it carries the seed of the rhythm, the new order of the painting. How a painter embraces this chaos and how he emerges from it defines the path he takes, his tendency and its realization.
    We can see the different "paths" mentioned earlier in their relation to the diagram - the abstract painting replaced the diagram with a code (a code being "digital" expression of the analogical). With the abstract expressionism the diagram expresses the entire painting at once, it is directed towards itself, taking the diagram for the analogical flux itself. Bacon walks a middle way, a tempered use of the diagram, avoiding both the code and its scrambling, not allowing the catastrophe to take over and thus making the Figure emerge from it. Bacon's middle way uses the diagram to constitute an analogical language. It is an analogy (resemblance) that is produced by non resembling means, through sensation, thus being neither figurative nor codified. To my understanding Bacon uses the diagram as a virtual realm of pure difference, a problematic field in which solutions do not overcome problems but simply actualize them under specific conditions (May, 95). He offers an open system, but does not advocate an intellectual anarchism in which the only rule would be the avoidance of any rule (Patton, 2).
    The diagram, through its chaotic catastrophe, liberates the 3 dimensions of painting (plane, color, body). And then, avoiding the perpetuation of the catastrophe, intertwining a sensation and a frame, relating geometry (the frame) to the sensible, and sensation (through color) to duration and clarity, something else can emerge. The possibility of fact becomes the Fact, the diagram becomes the painting.
    The diagram, if so, acts as a modulator. It is used to break all the figurative coordinates, defining possibilities of fact. The geometry and colors, having been liberated, can then constitute the Figure/Fact, the new resemblance. Thus is the diagram realized within a visual whole.

    A Sort of Summary - Bacon as a Process (and an echo of the history of painting)

    Deleuze relates Bacon back to the Egyptians. The single plane of a close, haptic vision, the contour connecting the form and the ground. But it moves on from there, introducing a catastrophe into this Egyptian image. The form is no longer essence but an accident, maybe as a metaphor to humankind. The haptic unity is broken. A tactile-optical world is born in the ground curling around the form (the first movement). Figuration is born from the tangibility of the form. And simultaneously, as the form is drawn toward the ground (the second movement), dissolving, it loses its tactile character in favor of an optical world. And then the manual diagram overturns both the optical and the tactile connections, wipes them away. But, as mentioned, with Bacon it remains localized, it is reinjected into the visual whole and re-creates the haptic world.
    "One might say that a new Egypt rises up, composed uniquely of color and by color, an Egypt of the accident, the accident which has itself become durable" (93).

    And maybe Bacon's work and method can be best summed by this extract from A Thousand Plateaus: "This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times [...] Connect, conjugate, continue: a whole “diagram,” as opposed to still signifying and subjective programs" (Deleuze and Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus", 161; in May, 151).

    Appendix - On a Personal Note

    Encountering the Deleuzian universe, so to say, though, ofcourse, it is yet but a touch of the tip of the iceberg, was/is an elevating experience, or maybe I should say - experimentation.
    Reading "The Logic of Sensation" and getting a preliminary acquaintance with Deleuze's unique perspective on philosophy, art and life, through the lectures in class and the variety of commentaries read for the writing of this paper, has opened intriguing windows and vistas. For that I am thankful and excited. The work and writing of this paper were indeed a challenge and a great pleasure.

    Obviously the book has opened a whole new perspective on art at large, how to extract from it more than what is conventionally referred to as "aesthetic" experience. How to use it, how to play with it in ways that allow for many simultaneous viewings and parallel dimensions/layers to open.

    But more widely it has sharpened and focused the understanding of multiplicity in the unity that is our life, our mind, our existence. The many foldings that are co-existent in every actualized/manifested moment and breath.
    Everything that we see, sense, feel, or even understand, is a transitory, fleeting, possible viewing, to be undone in order to allow for a new moment to come forth, to allow another "possible" to live. Within each such actualization the full range of the virtual is there and accessible at every turn if one allows for the perception of difference, if the search for a constant, recognizable identity is forsaken for the option of constant change.

    The concept of different orders/levels of the same sensation - each sensation being itself a multiplicity within a unity, the concept of dismantling the organization, as to allow a flexible and transitory assembling of the parts, allows for a self-description (and description of all else) that is kaleidoscopic in nature, and a life that is a walk in Borges' garden of forking paths, so to say. Thus all is suffused with possibilities, forever coagulating and dissipating. Concepts are created, then allowed to melt away, identities experimented with, then allowed to dissipate into imperceptibility. Nothing is as it seems, all is more than it seems. It is always a life at the edge of chaos, at the edge of the unknown. Within each familiar hides the possible new and unfamiliar, to be uncovered and be let go again.

    It is my humble understanding that Deleuze's aesthetics is an aesthetics of the art of life and living, of which art, in the sense of works of art, is but an aspect, one possible manifestation. It is the aesthetics of the Sahara, the space of possibilities; the aesthetics of the one that is many and the many that is one. The aesthetics of eternal becoming through the abandoning of being as a constant, of "who we are", time and time again.

    thank you


    Deleuze Gilles, "Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation", (trans. Daniel W. Smith), Continuum, London, 2003.

    Rajchman John, "The Deleuze Connections", MIT press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000.

    May Todd, "Gille Deleuze, An Introduction", Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    O'Sullivan Simon, "Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation", Palgrave Macmillan, NY, 2006.

    Patton Paul, the Introduction in Patton Paul (ed), "Deleuze: A Critical Reader", Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, UK, 1996.

    Smith Daniel W., "Deleuze's Theory of Sensation: Overcoming the Kantian Duality", in Patton Paul (ed), "Deleuze: A Critical Reader", Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, UK, 1996.

    Smith Daniel W., "Deleuze on Bacon: Three Conceptual Trajectories in The Logic of Sensation", Translator's Preface in Gilles Deleuze, "Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation", University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Published on net at

    Buchanan Ian, "The Problem of the Body in Deleuze and Guattari, Or, What Can a Body Do?", Body Society 1997; 3; 73, Sage Publication, on behalf of The TCS Centre, Nottingham Trent University. Published as PDF on net at:

    Colebrook Claire, "Understanding Deleuze", Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, Australia, 2002.

    Rebelo Pedro, "Haptic Sensation and Instrumental Transgression", Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 25, No. 1/2, February/April 2006, pp. 27 – 35.
    Published as PDF on net at:

    Quoted in Buchanan:
    Deleuze Gilles, "Spinoza: Practical Philosophy", trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1988.
    Deleuze Gilles and Felix Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus", trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

    Quoted in Patton:
    Deleuze Gilles, "What is Philosophy?", trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994,

    Quoted in Smith (in Patton):
    Deleuze Gilles and Guattari Felix, "Anti-Oedipus", trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, New York: Viking, 1977.
    Deleuze Gilles, "Difference and Repetition", trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.
    Sylvester David, "Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of Fact", Thames and Hudson, New York, 1988.

    Quoted in O'Sullivan:
    Deleuze Gilles and Parnet C., "Dialogues", trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, Athlone Press, London, 1987.
    Deleuze Gilles, "What is Philosophy?", trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, Verso, London, 1994.

    Quoted in Colebrook:
    Deleuze Gilles, "Difference and Repetition", trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.

    Quoted in May:
    Deleuze Gilles, "Difference and Repetition", trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994.
    Deleuze Gilles, "Bergsonism", trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Zone Books, 1988

    Note: This extensive paper was written as a dissertation for a masters degree in philosophy by a very important friend of mine, Shea, a remarkable being, I thank her for allowing me to reprint her work here

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