Three questions to keep in mind

According to Deleuze
  • What is philosophy, or rather, what is the work of philosophy?
  • What is an Image?
  • What is the relation between the creation of images and the practice of philosophy?


For Deleuze, Figures capable of conveying the sensational (the sensation itself, sensation minus the object or representation assumed to induce it) tarry in the curious no-man’s land between figurative representation and formal abstraction. While both the figurative and abstract ultimately stage an alienation from (some might say sublimation from?) the body, Bacon’s Figures do not circumvent the body, but render it sensible.

The experience of feeling oneself feel invokes, perhaps, the second of Bergson’s two regimes of images: the “living image,” apprehended by itself as an irruption or curvature in the fabric of universal variation. If I wrote in a previous entry that the move into the time image (breakdown of sensory-motor schema and thus the decoupling of perception from action) changes the relation between Bergson’s two systems of images, such that the sensing subjectivity is “no longer capable of distending the fabric of universal variation or leaving its previous material mark,” I think now that this sensing subjectivity does continue leave its own “mark”: a temporal rather than spatial disturbance. To the extent that the body becomes a site of inertia and lag, a site of resistance to pliability that renders forces sensible, the living image is made to feel, to bear out the process of becoming one image among others.

This sense that the body in this iteration, as living image rather than one image among others, might not be able to keep up with the vicissitudes of universal variation (and thus cannot be entirely absorbed into its fabric), stems in part from the recurrence of the word “hysteresis” in Logic of Sense. Here, I found Deleuze’s notion of the body without organs most helpful in signaling transformation that does not take for granted seamless transition, even in the ongoingness of becoming. Though the BwO always hovers on the verge of its own supersession, finding new actualizations of the virtual to overtake the current instantiation, Deleuze does not take for granted the body’s general indeterminacy (or endless availability to reconfiguration). Rather, the body without organs, defined neither by the absence of organs nor the “existence of an indeterminate organ,” emerges in the “temporary and provisional presence of determinate organs.” That a composite of determinancies, the plurality transient determinacy gives rise to, marks BwO’s potentiality, points to a distended time of becoming: time refers not merely to the reach, but the minute transition between moments associated with each determinacy. This “temporary and provisional presence,” the force of the body in its endless reconfigurations, thus injects time into the Figure, a formulation that resurfaces later, perhaps, in Deleuze’s description of the body as “revelateur” of time in the introduction of Cinema 2. It is not just that body reveals time by bearing it, through exhaustion and waiting, but that it is never a single (the same) body that waits.

Another way of saying this might be that for Deleuze, deformation rather than transformation becomes the operative term for change, for the collision of time and body. If transformation could align itself with the “abstract or dynamic,” deformation is always corporeal and static—obtained in the “form at rest.” (59) Insofar as “what fascinates Bacon is not movement, but its effect on an immobile body,” movement here might be juxtaposed with the movement of action in the sensory-motor schema from Cinema 1: the uncooperative body here falls out of sync with the kinetics of the situation—force comes to be exerted on, rather than by, it.

“Becoming” as the endless cycle of erasure and emergence, the transition between states that is part and parcel of reconfiguration, is thus felt in Bacon. Even the disappearance of body—its apparent dematerialization, absorption into field of color—is rendered visceral, such that the body’s erasure is not an instance of disembodiment, but a resurgence of uncomfortable, even painful, materiality— vanishing rendered durational. “The face is dismantled in favor of this smile, as if there were an acid eating away at the body.” (28) Even the hysterical smile that remains, however, captures the “abjection of a smile” (28) Such insistence of the smile seems to leave an afterimage of the disintegrating head, encompasses abjection’s central and animating contradiction: both that which is cast off from the body (shit, fingernails) as other to, exterior to oneself and the autonomy that seems to come with one’s (ostensible) bodily coherence, and that which remains inalienable from oneself, the abject frustrates notions of fluid/seamless transition by naming the insistence of the body, its tendency to accrete former states and unwanted residues.

Whereas Deleuze uses “hysteresis” to refer specifically to act of painting, “an apres coup” that continues to reverberate as the “afterwards” of the painting, I wonder if the term might be extended to the body’s encounter with sensation, and the transmission of force that occurs there. As a description of the lag in a system’s output after input has already changed—the inability of the system to keep up with modulations that will, nonetheless, eventually pass through it—hysteresis in this bodily sense might name the way in which transformation incited by force is not so much delayed as protracted, and thus rendered sensible. Sensibility presupposes an uncooperative body: for all this talk of sensation as vibration that extends into self-propagating rhythm, the body continues to resurface as “inert matter.” This is the intensive fact of the body (45): a resistance that cannot be separated from susceptibility to change, the inertia that interrupts when one configuration of organs gives way to another. Insofar as the body without organs invokes the nonorganic, the body without organts (without, that is to say, a single configuration of organs and the relation between them) is really, as Deleuze notes, a body minus the notion of an organism. (Assemblage without blueprint.) But I wonder if the organismal doesn’t resurface, if only as the infinitesimal hesitation between configurations that renders metamorphosis apprehensible as such, brief hiccups in a series of self-differentiation. That parts of the organism must be “neutralized” (46), “restored to their state of zones or levels” (46), testifies to the organism’s survival as artifact, as lagging and slightly uncooperative kernel that remains.

A reverse sense of lag can also be true: not body lagging after sensation, but sensation outlasting the particular body that gave rise to it. “The insistence of a scream that survives the mouth.” This, of course, is painting’s preserve—the possibility of preserving and thus transmitting sensation (“parcels of affect”), so that the violence is not just transmissible in an individual encounter, from the sensorial to the imagination to the understanding, but between bodies and across encounters—from the painter’s hand to, perhaps, the viewer’s nonorganic eyes. (The painter’s possible hysteria, as Deleuze describes it, becomes possibly another interesting departure from the sensory-motor schema—interesting because it intensifies rather than arrests the schema, becoming on some level a hyperbolic version of the circuit. No longer confronted with arrested movement or action, the body suddenly becomes a channel for energy, but not necessarily of one’s own volition or consideration—there is a sense in which many of the painter’s gestures in the course of painting seem unmotivated or nonsensical, unnarrativizable in the usual ways.

The incommensurability between Bergson’s two regimes of images, whose incompatibility he returns to again and again in Matter and Memory, places the body in a curious position: it becomes simultaneously the image that does not change, the sensorial “constant” through which all other sensorial data is received (this is, Bergson writes, how we come to infer the body in the first place) and the image that registers merely as one image among others. Deleuze’s account of sensation makes it important to keep both in play: each becomes a way to get to the other—the body’s inertia that makes encounter with force sensible, the system of universal variation that keep the body without organs in its perpetual state of transformation (or deformation, as Deleuze might prefer).

To use Taylor’s language in his last discussion post, I wonder if the body isn’t a particular “frame” that cannot be as easily discarded or exchanged for another. That the body serves as an interface means that it can never entirely dissolve into the fabric of universal variation—but its capacity for sensation is always already subtended by rhythm, through which “sensation of a particular domain (here, the visual sensation) remains in direct contact with a vital power that exceeds every domain and traverses them all.” Rhythm as resonance, the “confronting and uniting of diverse levels of different sensations” keeps sensation as registered on a particular body tethered to the luminous regime of universal variation, the “nonhuman world where movement equals matter.” The “diastole-systole” rhythm of painting, which Deleuze describes as the simultaneity of “the world that seizes me by closing in around me” and “the self that opens to the world and opens the world itself,” might point, for a diehard Bergsonian, to the convergence of these two image systems, even as each is described from the perspective of the other.

The Force of Small Gestures

When visible sensation confronts the invisible force that conditions it, sensation releases force as something that might destroy it, or become its ally or friend.

—Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sensation

With the cinema, it is the world which becomes its own image, and not an image which becomes world.

—Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: the Movement-Image


I begin with two quotes from Gilles Deleuze, including one from his book on Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation. Nothing is further from painting than camera-works. Yet one way of justifying images as painterly is to understand the spectrum of possibilities for altering space with the hand, especially if the results are textural and haptic. Call this turning figures into figuration, where producing effects of blotching, blurring, smearing, smudging, and torqueing make zones of indiscernibility emerge through and across lines, movements, volumes, and colors, which gain therein new intensive variations.

My main inspiration here is that there is a powerful link between certain strategies of non-figurative painting and related processes in experimental film and video. In neither case am I referring to pure abstraction. Rather, I am interested in the spectrum of questions and problems raised by Deleuze’s account of sensation. Speaking from a personal perspective, the logic of sensation defines the singular point where my philosophical commitments to a vitalist materialism influenced by Bergson and Deleuze intersect most intimately with my own creative moving image practice, and with the work of contemporary artists to whom I feel most closely allied.

Many years of acculturation have led us to believe that the Ideal image in film or video is meant to be in clear focus from foreground to background, that the frame line is fixed along a stable horizontal line and at the average height of the human eye, that sound is inseparable from image, and that recorded motion and sound are continuous as if corresponding to an equally idealized arrow of homogenous and linear time. The aim of these conventions is not to reproduce the world as humanly seen but rather as we believe it to be experienced. In other words, the lure of the Ideal image is to convince us that through the image we see the world as it is in itself. For Kant, this attitude, whatever its origins, expresses one of the greatest illusions that limit or cloud human reason. Thus the aim of the first Critique is to show how our inner faculties shape human perception and experience. As knowledge of the thing-in-itself is foreclosed to us as finite creatures, philosophy can only perfect human knowledge of the world by fully accounting for the powers and limits of our inner mechanisms for constructing experience.

I believe another view is possible and desirable. From Hugo Münsterberg to Dziga Vertov and Jean Mitry, the history of film theory is strongly influenced by, a modified Kantianism, which assumes that our machines for reproducing and interpreting the world, and which thereby shape our perceptual experience, are themselves simulacra of our inner powers and our limits. Like Kant, these thinkers are testing the limits of human sensory experience in hope of progressively improving our capacities for knowing the world. However, whether conceived as a projection of inner capacities or as a more perfect extension of our perceptual and interpretive powers, once invented the camera seems to become a static object, fixed in its basic aims and elements. Media archaeology has shown convincingly that this is not so. Whatever elements, technological or not, that make up moving image media at any given time are highly dynamic, both adding and subtracting resources of technique and form in novel and unpredictable ways. Considering the apparatus of camera and projection as dynamic and malleable makes of it less a simulacrum of our brains than a machinic virus or bacterium evolving in a symbiotic relationship with human desire and imagination. Nevertheless, as has often been noted, the historical norms governing the evolution of cameras and their uses have been constrained by a regulative idea of the standard image as limited by the horizon of ordinary human perceptual experience.

My point here is that dominant cultural contexts for imagining what cameras are limit our sense of what cameras do. (And one might say the same for the compositional traditions and automatisms of any art.) Moreover, if one wants to take the chance of thinking of cameras as something like philosophy machines, what other domains of perceptual experience remain to be uncovered or discovered?

“Amateur” or small format cameras exemplify the hold of the Ideal image in developed societies. I am thinking in particular of a possible genealogy that passes into and through super-8 and Polaroid cameras, to HandyCams and other forms of consumer video, Flip cameras and GoPro cameras, and finally to smart phones and tablets. In spite of the intense technological inventiveness that goes into manufacturing these devices, and all of the innovations arising from new processes of digital capture, the fundamental automatisms underlying the structure of the Ideal image have remained remarkably stable: fixed focal length and effective shutter speeds set for maximum clarity, depth of field, and image stability; naturalistic color rendering and normative white balance, continuity of movements in a single duration; synchronization of sound to image.

Understood in this way, the camera is a device constrained by a limited number of automatisms, which in turn shape the image in terms of baseline ideals of clarity, stability, and continuity, indeed as an image of perceptual experience as continuous and anchored in the human body. An idealized version of the human eye is the measure of all things.  The baked-in automatisms of amateur formats are meant to make of the world an image. But this is a standard image, a limitation of perception that is illustrative and narrative. Or, as Deleuze might say, this is a figurative image from which one must release a Figure, that is, a perceptual image from which one must release sensation.

This has been one of the principle aims of my own creative practice. Take for example a short work from my “walking series,” Waterloo, shot in London in 2012.[1] Just under four minutes long, the work captures in “real-time” a thoroughly mundane location and situation—two circular trajectories through an underground passageway connecting the London IMAX Theater to Waterloo station. The time of the work is the time of the walk. Using an iPhone on a hand-manipulated monopod, I follow a figurative line drawn by the electrical conduit running along the top of the tunnel walls. Of course, this is not what one sees in the image. Waterloo is recorded in a single take though using a capture rate of one frame per second. As I move through the space, focus, exposure, and effective shutter speed are allowed to float. The initial images begin as almost abstract color fields that are blurred, textured, and fluid, passing in pastels of yellow-green, watery lime, light and dark blue, and fuchsia with blue blotches, before resolving into a new series of volumes that emerge as if extracted roughly from the electrical conduit: jagged tubular shapes expand and contract while dissolving and reshaping themselves unpredictably against the varying and textured color fields. These tonalities emerge in response to the shifts in color temperature and luminance produced by the tunnel’s sources of artificial illumination. The sound is captured in real-time along with these images—distant traffic, rumblings, footsteps, drunken laughter, and snippets of animated conversation. The off-screen presence of real-time synchronized audio is an important temporal marker, for the staccato succession of apparently still images are shaped by a duration every bit as real as the sound.

No device is more familiar than smart phones, which capture daily millions of normatively documentary images, both still and in movement, whether intimate or catastrophic, through the physical and computational automatisms of natural perception baked into the designs of lenses and recording programs. But what I seek experimentally is to push these automatisms past their limits, though not with the goal of achieving abstraction. Rather, despite the painterly, and conceptual character of my process, these works are meant to be understood as documents responding to specific environments, actions, situations, movements, trajectories, and durations. In fact, I believe there is no power or interest in abstraction in film and video that is not based on their capacity as recording—or if you will, documentary—media. Everything presented in Waterloo is data drawn from the actual environment—volumes, movements, surfaces, light intensities, color temperatures. This is the prosaic world in which we situate ourselves, but it is not the world of so-called natural perception. Rather, it is the domain of sensation that lies beneath, over, or inside quotidian vision as if in another dimension of intensive qualitative experience masked by habitual perception.

Even if all of these normative automatisms have evolved technologically to produce a particular kind of image and world belief, and even if these mechanisms shape the a priori limits of the perceptual phenomena recorded and projected by cinematographic means, many different varieties of sensory experience might still be imagined. Consider situations, then, where no shutter and claw control the passage of the film strip through a camera, or that images are recorded at intermittent intervals, that no lens is used or that space is rendered through anamorphic effects rather than linear perspective, or that the frame line is released by random movements of hand or body. Experimental filmmakers have spoken of these strategies for many decades, and in this respect, texts like Stan Brakhage’s Metaphors on Vision and Hollis Frampton’s Circles of Confusion remain powerful manifestos.

Moreover, even Brakhage was keenly aware that these devices are aimed less at abstraction than in shifting our terms of belief for how the world is experienced. Perhaps all experimental films are documentaries in this sense. Works like Michael Snow’s La région centrale (1971) or Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s Leviathan (2012), Ernie Gehr’s Glider (2001), and even the Prelude to Brakhage’s Dog Start Man (1961) ask that we readjust our terms for engaging with the world as visual experience. However, they are no less for that engagements with the world. When did we come to believe that phenomenologies of the blotch, the blur, the smear, and of wild rotations of space or disjoined intervals of time and stuttering lines of sound, were less valid than those of clarity, stability, and continuity? Or why do we not value instead what I would like to call a-subjective or even inhuman perception? What kinds of worlds and experiences are these?

The time has come to speak more fully of the matter of sensation. The universe, in fact, is full of inhuman images. This is the great lesson of Henri Bergson’s Matter and Memory. Bergson’s philosophy is meant to be a reversal of Kantianism. Kant’s position aims at drawing the perimeters of our interiority in terms of how it frames and filters the outer world. In mapping a path alternative to both realism and idealism, Bergson’s picture of vitalist intuition and la durée depicts a world where relations between exteriority and interiority are fluid and part of a single material continuum, though an endlessly varying one. Human perception, however, is only one very small segment of this continuum—a point within a regime of universal variation of constant self-differing movement without centers or horizons, or a small window onto a cosmos of fluid matter and radiating energy mutually interacting at all scales and on all points of contact in a creatively evolving open Whole. Bergson calls this the “present Image,” or a cosmos of universal variation where matter is the whole aggregate of images. Deleuze calls this the plane of immanence and describes it as the “exposition of a world where IMAGE = MOVEMENT.”[2]

In Bergson (and Deleuze’s) view, matter is luminous in the sense that it is a fundamental appearing. All that can be perceived or described in it is always there. This is no simple empiricism, however. From the point of view of human consciousness, this replete state of the Image is virtual to the extent that the body and its needs place limits on what actually can be apprehended in matter. As I already explained in Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine, Bergson begins with the idea that matter and image are continuous with, yet distinct from, human perception. While Bergson accepts that perception is subjective—a human picturing of matter, movement, and time—this distinction is one of degree, not kind. Human sight is materially restricted to radiation propagated at wavelengths from 390 to 700 nm; hearing is limited to frequencies of 16 to 20,000 Hz. In both cases the body is only an information exchange acting and reacting to the propagation of energy, matter, and movement. An image is nothing more than this propagation where the body serves equally as screen, filter, and relay. One may speak as if there were two “systems” of images: one that is bodily and filtered by physiological limits and human needs, and one that is universal and immanent in matter (the Image as plane of immanence). Here there is neither transcendence nor externality, and no substantial division between mind and body, but only a qualitative and self-organizing process of self-differentiation in a ceaseless state of becoming. The plane of immanence is thus the expression of a radical empiricism. And here one might give a first definition of sensation as the apprehension of forces acting on and through the body and nervous system. Coextensive with the domain of perception that organizes the perceptible world into a geometry of rational forms is the pre-rational domain of sensation—of felt intensities, energies, movements, forces, and becomings.

What would it mean to speak of an art of sensation as distinct from one of perception or reflexive perceptual experience? The human body, eye, and nervous system would need to adapt themselves to new procedures of relay, transformation, translation, and retransmission that respond to the intuition that all matter is fluid and luminous, and that the human body is only another set of systems multiply connected, internally and externally, to this field of forces. An art of sensation also embraces contingency and becoming in a process that makes of the hand and body of the artist, and the techne of brush or camera, an energetic relay that translates matter and light into an Image or Figure, rather than duplicating natural perception or projecting interior experience.

Among many possible examples, I am thinking here of Ernie Gehr’s formidable Glider (2001, DV, 37m). Without detracting from the formal beauty and inventiveness of this work, in my view one of its many powerful consequences is to open us to the universe of experience depicted by Bergson’s Matter and Memory. In documentation for the New York Film Festival in 2001, Gehr described his work as “a voyage into [a] pictorial space-world that seems to be governed by extra-terrestrial optical and gravitational laws.”[3] Glider is organized into approximately eleven segments of roughly equal length; each segment is continuous and forms a unique duration without cuts. The work begins with a movement that resembles a camera trajectory above flowing waves, but already there are cues that these images depart from our standard perceptual experience. The apparent camera movement is uncannily smooth and steady as if unhindered by human motor imperfections. Moreover, as further segments appear, one feels less that the apparatus is moving than the captured images are themselves revolving or rotating under it. And in fact, this uncanny smoothness and regularity of motion is in constant tension with the twisting, torqueing, and fluidity of matter. Depth relations are uncommonly flat, and the initial images of water appear as if projected onto the inner surface of a torus. The fluidity of waves is textured in a way that makes them seem more like liquefied matter.

While this is an uncommonly strange world, it is not an unfamiliar one. One recognizes sea, land, and sky, then buildings, and people or vehicles in movement, birds in flight. However, all of these elements are flattened onto a single plane, which appears to be neither precisely one-dimensional nor two-dimensional, but rather fluctuates between these dimensions, not unlike the moving images transmitted by the lenses of camera obscuras. Neither abstraction nor figuration dominate; rather, it is as if our perceptual experience has been opened onto an inhuman dimension where force, matter, energy, and light interact dynamically and with perfect indifference to human needs and interests.

As one segment replaces another, variations in direction of rotation are introduced. And as I have already suggested, this rotation of surfaces takes place as if within the inner or outer surface of a tube or torus, rather than on a globe or a ground. Sometimes, one can only ascertain with difficulty whether these rotations are on a horizontal or vertical axis; indeed they seem to occur as if from any direction imagined from within the interior of a sphere. Surfaces twist, blur, and spiral, and matter flows down, up, and across the frame, or collapses toward a center—gravity and horizon cannot hold or direct the flow of matter and light. In this situation, Glider’s lateral, spiraling, and rotational movements present space as if being continually bent or folded by the direction of otherwise unseen forces. The flow of matter is translated into light, and vice versa, in a perceptual space without stable horizons; or rather, the horizon continually turns on an axis which itself rotates independently of a ground. One profound effect of these dynamic forms is to present water, land, and air as flowing indiscernibly one into the other, or as being leveled onto a single plane or dimension wherein each express variable intensities of matter, energy, light, tonality, and force.

It is less important to speak of the technical mechanisms that achieve these effects than to account for their sensory impact. Gehr accomplishes in Glider, I believe, something analogous to what Deleuze describes as the achievements of Cézanne or Bacon in The Logic of Sensation. The logic of sensation is not a replacement for natural perception—one is not separable from the other in human terms. The pre-rational sensory experience of intensive forms, movements, and colors is neither better nor more “real” than perceptual experience; rather, it is only the expressive acknowledgment of a domain otherwise obscured by habit, doxa, and cliché, where one might achieve the intuition of a more intensive world of becoming and ceaseless self-differentiation.

The logic of sensation is part and parcel of our world as lived. One might say that sensation is immanent to our perceptual experience as force is immanent to matter.

Through sensation, a world is created and I encounter another world as if another dimension hovering beneath ordinary perceptual experience. Sensation might seem to emerge from chaotic or obscured images, whorls of colors and flowing forms as in Glider and La region centrale, or in paintings like Bacon’s Jet of Water (1988). Indeed this is often the case, but such images are not purely formal and abstract. In Deleuze’s view, all the plastic arts, no matter how abstract, must deal with the figurative world, and all are anchored in the world as lived. For example, in an argument that reappears in the cinema books, Deleuze asserts that there is no such thing as a blank canvas waiting to receive creative marks. Modern painting is already populated with clichés that proliferate across the virgin surface even before the painter begins to work. The painter must find her way into and through a canvas already infested virtually with clichés—standard, normative, and banal images and modes of seeing where the world has come to look like “bad cinema,” and to be experienced as such.

Bacon’s own attraction to photography and cinema acknowledges that this image-world is our world as lived, both within and without. Whatever figures are produced on the canvas must not recoil from or ignore this world but pass directly through it. In addition, Bacon relates that photography is not simply a figuration of what one sees, it is what and how modern man sees—only photographs, that is, clichés or snapshots produced under the ideal of “natural perception.” Modern vision has become photographic vision, and our modalities of seeing must be transformed no less than the image itself. In this respect, the moving image faces the same problem as painting: how to extract a figural Image by moving beyond illustration and narration, and how to produce resemblance through non-imitative or reproductive means. In Deleuze’s account, resemblance in the Figure appears analogically through the action of force in and on the Image, and in their temporal becoming these actions are guided by a “diagram.” (I will return to this later.) Perhaps the problem for both painting and cinema is how to see time and force differently, and to release the figural force of sensation in the image.

I have said that sensation is immanent to our perceptual experience as force is immanent to matter. In passing from the figurative to the Figure, what one “sees” in the image is not form but force; or better, what one sees is the moving action of forces that make form yield to a Figure. Force is not perceptible in itself but movements are, and movement relates to force as those dimensions and effects of force that are capable of being captured by and rendered as and in images. Movement is immanent to the image both as a unique force that encompasses the duration of the whole, and as the multiplicity of compositional elements that are decomposable and re-composable as formed series within the image under action of this force. In other words, there is both a duration of the image imagined as an open whole, and series of time rendered through the heterogeneous and uneven intensive rhythms of the picture’s constitutive marks, intervals, and colors. There is a time of the Figure, and time of the intensive series that flow through it.

What Deleuze calls the Figure in Bacon’s paintings might be thought of as the dominant central image—the torqued or twisted body on a chair or at a wash basin; a jet of water spurting from right to left in the frame; the blurred, spiraled, and spiky mass of Landscape (1978)—but this would be inexact. The Figure must not be separated from other dimensions and aspects of the image, though it might be thought of as the focal point where form yields to force and conveys the intensity of force to the body and nervous system. Deleuze writes of three fundamental elements in Bacon’s paintings as domains or orders of sensation: the material structure, the Figure, and the contour. I do not want to strike equivalencies between Bacon and Gehr here, but interesting analogies are possible. The material structure is the supporting armature of an expressive image. Deleuze suggests that the structure serves as a virtual mirror to the extent that instrumental deformations find themselves immediately transferred into the Figure. In Glider the projection of forms onto the rotational torus serves in this way as the underlying dynamic architecture of the work. The contour is comprised of curving lines and marks that frame the Figure and/or flow around it and connect it to other pictorial elements as a kind of permeable outline or border. Again, in Glider, the contours are shaped by the underlying structure as water, sky, and land are bent, curved, and made to flow in the image as if projected from varying directions onto the interior of a virtual sphere. And here the Figure of Glider is perhaps more complex and more intense than what might usually be achieved in painting. The Figure here is the accumulated series of forms—people, cars, buildings, beach, sky, ocean—that are being continually deformed, twisted, blurred, and shaped by the dynamic action of the underlying structure of movement and transformation. There are series of time expressed by the individuated intensive transformations taking place within each of the separate segments along the lines of the contour, and there is the time of the whole of the work whose accumulated duration coalesces moment by moment into the Figure called Glider.

In one of its dimensions, sensation appears as effects of decomposition and re-composition in forms, objects, and bodies—an often unpredictable action on the surface of things. In Deleuze’s account, this translation of force into movement through or in an image takes place through actions of deformation on a body where deformation subordinates movement to force and abstraction to the Figure. Deformation requires a discernible “figure” as the target or background of figural action. Here again, Deleuze is insisting on something like a non-reproductive mimesis. The blurring, smudging, twisting, and partial erasure of a figure, then, “does not give birth to an abstract form, nor does it combine sensible forms dynamically; on the contrary, it turns this zone [the Figure] into a zone of indiscernibility that is common to several forms, irreducible to any of them; and the lines of force it creates escape every form through their very clarity, through their deforming precision” (Logic of Sensation 50). In a similar way, Deleuze says of Bacon that the blur is not a mark of indistinctness but of an operation that “consists in destroying clarity by clarity” (9). What Deleuze calls the Figure, or what I refer to as an Image, emerges in these zones of indiscernibility that relate differentiated series of compositional elements without making of any one of them its tangible sign. Here sensation flows not from a unique form or figure, but rather from the multiplicity of compositional elements and traces of actions—lines, curves, colors, random or accidental marks, blurs and erasures—that populate the picture plane as lines of becoming. There is nothing to be seen in the Image but differentiation and relationality expressed through deformed and deforming movements.

It is curious that Deleuze writes of deformed and deforming movements on the one hand, and resemblance or analogy on the other. The logic of sensation makes the world of force appear in the varied movements of matter, and no matter how distorted, the Figure that appears is neither abstract beyond recognition nor so recognizable that is serves as a token or a copy of some external referent. The Figure hovers between abstraction and cliché—neither absolute difference nor degraded repetition. Deleuze’s characterization of non-imitative mimesis as a new kind of semblance seems counter-intuitive on the face of it; in actuality, it is a novel theory of representation. Resemblance in Deleuze’s view is produced by creation through analogy—the translation of one world of sensory experience by and into another aesthetic world. Whether we are considering painting or cinema, the technical process or apparatus of creation no longer functions as a subtractive filter reproducing or replicating semblances through formal procedures of composition; in other words, the image is not produced by sets of coded transformations. Rather, creation through analogy aims to produce an open and variable modulation of sensory elements. Modulation must act as a continuously variable mold whose operations are guided neither by the norms of realism nor by the conceptual or spiritual aims of pure abstraction. What is required here is a new model of mimetic actions.

What Deleuze calls aesthetic analogy is at once non-figurative and non-codified—there is neither primary resemblance nor pre-given code. Or as Deleuze might put it, the logic of sensation is not that of the code, but rather, the sense of a diagram. A Figure or Image so produced is open and variable, but it is not chaotic and disorganized. Rather, one might say that it has sense and consistency, or perhaps, that it is in-formed by an Idea. The shape of this Idea is given in the diagram. The diagram is virtual and ideational. Think of it as a kind of conceptual modulator—the unseen but ever present Idea informing the compositional process as a kind of open architecture. Unlike a code it cannot be given in advance (although it might be understood retroactively); rather, it arises in and shapes a singular and immanent process of becoming. And if aesthetic analogy is capable of producing Figures that are at once non-figurative and non-codified, this is because the direction and contours of the diagram are shaped moment to moment by reactions to chance operations.

Throughout Logic of Sensation, Deleuze suggests that the formative powers of the diagram are less a matter of the head than the hand (less optic than haptic), and less a matter of enacting intention than improvising with contingency. In Bacon’s process this often means disordering forms by quickly wiping or partially effacing them, splattering paint on the canvas, or reacting to and building new lines and forms from random traces and marks. (In my own work with handheld devices in Waterloo and other works, contingency relates to improvisational reactions to randomly discovered environments, and performative movements of the hand guided by a dual vision—of the unaided eye responding light environments, on one hand, and to the screen of the device used as a digital palette on the other.) These are often involuntary but always improvisational manual operations using chance procedures to break open the geometry and tonality of figures, thus freeing lines and colors for modulation in previously unforeseen ways. As Deleuze describes the process, one has to start rapidly making free marks in the interior of the image in order to destroy a nascent figuration and to give a chance to the Figure, which Deleuze calls “the improbable itself” (Logic of Sensation 76). In experimental film and video, free marks relate to random movements of hand and body, and to sometimes recording without active and attentive framing. These chance marks designate a type of choice of action without probability. The marks are non-representational because they depend on contingent actions and add nothing to the figure—they concern the hand, not the eye. Their only value is having been used and reused by the hand, which begins to extract an Image from the nascent cliché with its illustrative and narrational qualities.

To organize in series is to pass from one domain, set, or distinct element to another. Within the frame and duration of an image, one easily imagines these elements and relations as formal: from one color value to another, from flat to deep space, from distinct line to rough blur, from legible to deformed forms, from rest and continuity to complex rhythm, and so on. But these “horizontal” relations are dynamically related to “volumetric” transformations where the eye and hand of the maker serve as relays passing sensation into the image and making of it a Figure, and in turn, producing and conveying sensation in the experience of looking. From world, to Image, to receptive looking are transmitted a discontinuous and complex play of forces that create a new sensorium in which the separation of object and subject (whether conceived in relation to the artist or in relation to the viewer) becomes meaningless. Sensation is two indivisible things as an immanent being-in-the-world: at one and the same time, I become in the sensation, and something happens through sensation. Whether artist or beholder, the same body gives and receives, and is object and subject.

There is more to be said about sensation. But here I will conclude by returning to Bergson in asking: What does philosophy want from the Image? In his deeply provocative lecture on “Philosophical Intuition,” Bergson rebukes Kant in writing of a particular paradox of normative perception: it cannot release itself from time nor grasp anything else than change and becoming. Yet we have developed habits of seeing, and vision machines to reinforce those habits, which dilute or camouflage this experience. At the end of his lecture, Bergson doubts that art will ever give us the satisfaction of a philosophical intuition that apprehends all things sub specie durationis. At the same time, the point of Bergson’s lecture is to depict fully the closeness of Image to an intuition of the vital and deep time of duration. However, we only have two means for capturing this intuition and making it real for us. We can express it in concepts, but the more artificial and doctrinal the concepts, the more we reify and spatialize time, forcing it into artificial geometries and causalities. Alternatively, the Image that arises in philosophical intuition flows out of and back into la durée in singular and non-generalizable instances. It is neither wholly physical nor wholly mental. Rather, Bergson characterizes it as an image moyenne, “an image that is almost matter in that it still allows itself to be seen, and almost mind in that it no longer allows itself to be touched—a phantom which haunts us while we turn about the doctrine and to which we must go in order to obtain the decisive signal, the indication of the attitude to take and of the point from which to look.”[4]

In these paragraphs, Bergson challenges us to comprehend the continuous and dynamic line that runs between intuition and philosophy, Image and Concept. If we can find a medium in which to hold on to these two dimensions of experience, not to reconcile them but to let them flow one into the other, our acts of perception, intuition, and thinking may be brought back to a real duration whose vital life and knowledge of things is already philosophy.

[1] Waterloo may be viewed online at

[2] Cinema 1: the Movement-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 58.

[3] New York Film Festival, Views from the Avant-Garde 2002: I would like to thank Ernie Gehr for his generosity in loaning me this work and answering my questions about it. I first saw Glider at the Harvard Film Archive in 2012, and it work was one of my principal inspirations for returning to creative work.

[4] “Philosophical Intuition” in The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Mabelle L. Andison (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1992) 118.

Sean Batton: Subjectivity, Thought, and the Outside

The path I have cut through Deleuze’s texts has been determined like a Markov chain: in each work I find myself attached to some concepts more than others, and these determine what will command my interest as I read the next one. Individually, these links are determined, but as a whole the sequence is aleatory. If I were to read them again in, say, a few years, when their memories are longer so fresh and my marginalia seem the baffling scrawls of a stranger, then the chain will likely come out looking different. Through Deleuze’s thought I’ll assemble a new links, and likely discover to my astonishment monumental concepts to which I must have previously been blind or indifferent. Subjectivity, one could say, is a throw of the dice. In this last journal, I want to take the opportunity to meditate further on some of the passages that have come to preoccupy me, particularly those relating to subjectivity, thought, and the Outside. 

Deleuze’s remarks on sensation and spectatorship in The Logic of Sensation are clarifying after the questions we’ve had about subjectivity and the cinema viewer. He gives equal significance to the experience of viewing Bacon’s paintings and the work that created them (and goes on continuing to work though them): “Sensation has one face turned toward the Subject (the nervous system, vital movement, ‘instinct,’ ‘temperament’…), and one face turned toward the object (the ‘fact,’ the place, the event).” The two are not so easily distinguished as, say, an effect from its cause. They are in fact two participants of a single encounter, the coordinates which describe a form: “Or rather, it has no faces at all, it is both things indissolubly, it is Being-in-the-World, as phenomenologists say: at one and the same time I become in the sensation and something happens through the sensation, one through the other, one in the other.” (LS, 31)

As we’ve repeatedly encountered since Bergson’s Matter and Memory, the product of sensation meeting a sensing being is thought. As Deleuze puts it in Difference and Repetition, “There is only involuntary thought, aroused but constrained within thought, and all the more absolutely necessary for being born, illegitimately, of fortuitousness in the world…Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter.” (DR, 139)   However, product as I have used it is misleading, as it suggests that thought comes at the end of a causal sequence. What I am beginning to understand now is the fundamental importance of immanence to this concept of thought: that we are not beings reflecting on our experience but indissolubly part of a larger circuit of which our subjectivity and that which is exterior to it are a single system. To think is not, then, is not to contemplate or reflect on something, not to ‘watch oneself watching,’ but to attend. Deleuze develops this in The Logic of Sensation: 

Within the round area, the Figure is sitting on the chair, lying on the bed, and sometimes it even seems to be waiting for what is about to happen. But what is happening, or is about to happen, or has already happened, is not a spectacle or a representation. In Bacon, these waiting Figures or ‘attendants’ are not spectators. One discovers in Bacon’s paintings an attempt to eliminate every spectator, and consequently every spectacle…In many cases there seems to subsist, distinct from the Figure, a kind of spectator, a voyeur, a photograph, a passerby, an ‘attendant’…However, we will see that, in his paintings as well as his triptychs, Bacon needs the function of an attendant, which is not a spectator but part of the Figure.” (LS, 13-14)

The attendant and Figure are thus caught up in the same Becoming. It is this circuit that attracts Deleuze to Bacon’s paintings. The various attentions within the Figure, or in Bacon’s process, or the viewer’s sensations are variations of the same encounter; they preserve the relation of a subject to the Outside. 

Deleuze’s descriptions of Bacon’s process are illustrative:

It is like the emergence of another world. For these free marks, these traits, are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random” paint strokes, splatters, and wipes. They are traits of sensations, but of confused sensations (the confused sensations, as Cézanne said, that we bring with us at birth). Above all, they are manual traits…It is as if the hand assumed an independence, and began to be guided by other forces, making marks that no longer depend on will or sight. (LS, 82) 

This account of painting as not the expression of a singular subjectivity but the a process by which one loses subjectivity is helpful for grasping the “profound and almost unlivable Power” which necessitates the concept of a “body-without-organs”: “It is an intense and intensive body. It is traversed by a wave that traces levels or thresholds in the body according to the variations in amplitude. Thus the body does not have organs, but thresholds and levels. Sensation is not qualitative and qualified, but has only an intensive reality which no longer determines within itself representative elements, but allotropic variations. Sensation is vibration.” (LS, 39) The “body” is then conceived like a diagram, that is, as a site that mediates the forces that act upon it and give them new forms, new directions. It is a threshold through which that which passes, changes. As Bergson puts it, it gives back to matter movements stamped with its will. A body without organs, you could say, is a body which is capable of thinking. 

I think it is worth asking, and perhaps it is best to never stop asking, How, again, does thought happen? In The Time-Image, Deleuze paraphrases Artaud: “Thought has no other reason to function than its own birth, always the repetition of its own birth, secret and profound. He says that the image thus has as object the functioning of thought, and that the functioning of thought is also the real subject that brings us back to the images.” (TI, 165) Thought is not so much an activity that requires an intention to get it going, but something that exists for itself, indifferent to mind that bears it. Artaud’s attitude towards writing and cinema could just as well apply to Bacon’s painting: “Artaud believes more in an appropriateness between cinema and automatic writing, as long as we understand automatic writing is not at all an absence of composition, but a higher control which brings together a critical and conscious thought and the unconscious in thought: the spiritual automaton…” (ibid.)

This chapter from The Time-Image, “Thought and Cinema”, may contain some of Deleuze’s bleakest passages, but this is also where he comes closest to articulating what is most valuable in his approach to thinking, whether in philosophy or in painting or cinema. Continuing to discuss Artaud: “what cinema advances is not the power of thought but its impower, and thought has never had any other problem. It is precisely this which is so much more important than the dream: this difficulty of being, the powerlessness that lies at the heart of thought.” (166) This loss of power is from the perspective of a defined subject, from a body that insists on its organs. There is, yet, the higher power, in which the subject is integrated into and permeated by the circuit with the Outside. “What forces us to think is the inpower of thought, the figure of nothingness, the inexistence of a whole which could be thought. What Blanchot diagnoses everywhere in literature is particularly clear in cinema: on the one hand the presence of an unthinkable in thought, which would be both is source and its barrier; on the other hand the presence to infinity of another thinker in the thinker, who shatters every monologue of a thinking self.” (168)

This thinker inside the thinker is nothing other than the Outside.

Frame of Mind

It is exceedingly rare to find any firsts in Deleuze. Or seconds, or thirds for that matter. Some concepts have ‘priority’ in thought, such as the articulable before the visible, but the relationship is otherwise dialectical. Deleuze cites Peirce’s theory of firstness, secondness and thirdness, but even Peirce admits that each folds into the other levels. It came as a surprise, then, to read Deleuze’s categorical assertion, “Art begins not with flesh but with the house. That is why architecture is the first of the arts” (WIP 186). Architecture is both a beginning and a first–that’s a first. Deleuze’s concepts typically evade any teleological or causal capture: concepts, images, affects and percepts are diffusely distributed along undulating and laminated planes of immanence, composition and reference; sections cut across these planes, revealing bursts or snap-shots of momentary interpenetration amongst images/concepts/affects traversing space-time. Such a dynamic cosmos is paradigmatically a-centric. The rhizome has no beginning nor end, just perpetual middleness. The closest Deleuze otherwise comes to an origin is in chaos, the outside, which always intrudes not in the beginning of something, but in the interstice outside and between frames. Deleuze would not agree, “in the beginning there was only chaos,” he would contend that “in the middle there is only chaos,” and it is the spirit of Art to ‘take a bit’ of that chaos and inscribe it, freeze it, into a “frame of order to form a composed chaos that becomes sensory” (WIP 206). Philosophy and Science also biopsy chaos, capture it in their own epistemological glass slide and, through the frames of their respective planes of thought, conjecture a chaosmos out of ordering concepts, affects and functions.

Why does architecture enjoy such primacy in Art for Deleuze? Deleuze explains that because “it endlessly produces and joins up planes and sections” (186) architecture is defined by ‘frames’: windows, doors, ground, roof, and walls, all of which have provided frames for the installation, application or hanging of art. Frames within frames. Yet, Deleuze also values cinema for its frames, its movement of frames and the relations it catalyzes amongst its many rapidly sequenced frames. Architecture frames inside the frames of the cinematic image too, as in the films of Ozu or Wong Kar Wai. For that matter, however, as mentioned in a preceding quote, all art frames samplings of chaos, as does Philosophy and Science. Perceptions, affections and sensations are themselves, frames, too. What explains Deleuze’s frame of mind? How can architecture assume primacy in this art of framing? And, if it indeed does, why is it that Deleuze seldom considers the “out-of-frame” of the picture frame, the movie frame, or the window frame that is always constituted by larger volumes of architectural framing and the relationships this fosters between the art-frame and the cosmos beyond and between?  Architecture provides nested and laminated framings: not like the proximate borders of a triptych, but the choir, cathedral, gallery or showroom delineating a diagram with it and all the other human and nonhuman actors its contours enframe. I argue Deleuze’s frame of mindset fixates on the relational, and that, for Deleuze, what is important is less that frames circumscribe paintings, surfaces, video projections, perceptions and desktops, than that such misleading discreteness negatively frames a universal space of betweenness and interstice, opening up figures and contents to the admission of immanent relationality, and thus the changing of the whole.

Deleuze’s analysis of the out-of-field provides an indirect analytical framework for contemplating the work of frames in architecture. Deleuze argues that cinema proves that “the frame ensures a deterritorialisation of the image” (MI 15). Any phenomenon that can be captured within a cinematic frame, be it a cascading tear-drop rippling across gigantically magnified pores or the largest entity on earth, the pacific ocean, as seen through a lens on an Apollo spacecraft, will share a common datum of measurement that will invite relations that otherwise do not share a “denominator of distance, relief or light” (MI 15): the screen. Such images are deterritorialized from their original contexts and scale, and reterritorialized into the framing of the screen and the montaged sequence of shots. Just as Deleuze and Guattari, in A Thousand Plateuas, explain how a wasp and an orchid deterritorialize and reterritorialize each other as the wasp extracts sustenance from the orchid and the orchid replicates through the wasp’s deposits, forming a rhizome or a body without organs, so do the cinematic images and the montaged film deterritorialize in the frame of the screen and then reterritorialiaze in the screen-frame that pollinates the movie palace and its spectators. Deleuze tells us “doors, windows, box office windows, skylights, car windows, mirrors, are all frames in frames” (MI 14) and it is by “this dovetailing of frames that the parts of the set…are separated, but also converge and are reunited.” Framing determines an out-of-field, and this out-of-field determines yet a larger frame, or a larger set. And thus, Deleuze identifies two types of the out-of-field: one is that which exists outside the frame between proximal or emanating frames, and the other is the virtual relation to a whole that is always open.

Returning to the possible architecture that exists before and around the screen, let us consider the first out-of-field scenario. How does the out-of-field of the screen deteritorrialize the film in the frame and visa versa? Consider the same film in two architectural frames: the 2006 film Snakes on a Plane projected in the Pantages Movie Palace in Hollywood and the same film projected in-flight on a plane. Both Snakes-on-a-Plane hybrid space would become differently: the first would likely add legitimacy to an otherwise inscrutably awful film, provoking an affective flow across the human observers and the rococo-revival, gilt ornamental proscenium framing the screen, while no airline would agree to show the film in transit. When Fight Club was aired on Virgin Atlantic, the airline included a separate inset disclaimer at every seat warning passengers that the film contained “a brief but graphic plane crash.” Just as a sugar cube dissolving into a glass of ice tea illustrates, for Deleuze, the nature of a whole, that is constantly changing throughout the relational dynamics of its constituent parts, we can imagine two very different bodies-without-organs emerging from the flow of affects across frames within a screen and the screen within the framing architecture and constituent human and nonhuman agents in this example. The rhizome of these two architectural framings of the frames-within-frames would flow through the imaginary of an entire Snakes-on-a-Plane public, immanently contingent upon the other framing architectures and constituents agents (themselves frames) that comprise the Snakes-on-a-Plane-Plane. As Paul Klee observed, in Art “the people are always missing” because they will always emerge out-of-field, outside the art-frame and immanently depend upon the context of the architecture and other bodies that will deteritorrialize and reterritorialize the art figures.  

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze describes flesh, the house and the cosmos  as frames within frames, passing from the finite to the infinite. Flesh is a framing organ through which sensation passes and becomes. Sensation is the process of becoming of a plant or animal as it becomes-other, as a force or movement passes across bodies, transferring a rhythm through the ‘vibration’ of sensation. Flesh only reads this becoming, or acts as its “thermometer” (179), but never actually constitutes sensation, which is always a flowing bloc of affects and percepts made ‘visible’ through the flesh. The forces of sensation moving across bodies, making a human-nonhuman becoming of the subject in an environment, and visa versa, is captured in Bacon’s blurred and spasmodic figures. In these distorted swirls or ‘fused’ and “broken tones” (179), the pigments of the depicted figure flow and blend into those of the contour, the house and the field. Herein lies painting’s “eternal object” (180), the rendering visible of invisible forces, like sensation. But, as Deleuze sees in Bacon’s paintings, these sensational forces are expressed in the smeared streaks of flesh as becomings of figure, field and contour, or in other words, flesh, house and cosmos in a “zone of indiscernibility, that is common to several forms, irreducible to any of them” (LOS 50). The figure and the contour are not transforming into each other but deforming into each other as they become by ‘escaping’ their respective forms, just as the image of a wasp-territory is deterritorialized into the wasp-orchid rhizome, or how the cinematic image is deterritorialiazed in the screen-frame. In short, the architecture of the frame — as contour, as house, as screen, as picture frame — mediates between the figure, flesh or image within it and the cosmos, or chaosmos, beyond it but, despite its appearance, does not delineate an intransigent boundary. Sensation — blocs of affects and percepts — act as forces that flow among cosmos, house and flesh as man’s ‘nonhuman becomings,’ where the “ambiguous house” architecture “exchanges and adjusts them, makes them whirl around like winds” ( WIP 183). To return to a previous example by way of illustration, the framing of Snakes-on-a-Plane on-a-plane, both deforms the images within it to the framing headrest before you, which as they pass beyond to the subsequent frame of the plane’s interior, the clouds streaking through yet other framing windows at 700mph, begins to deform all the bodies together into a body without organs whose anatomy consists of cinematic plane images, and plane images, cinematic images of snakes in overhead compartments, and overhead compartments with virtual contents, the screaming face of Samuel L Jackson and the raised pores and flushed pigments of the passenger gripping an armrest as the force of sensation courses through the rhizome.

bacon 50


To conclude with a final illustration of architecture as the frame around dovetailing frames, let’s briefly consider the curation of Bacon’s Figure with Meat in gallery 389. Following Deleuze’s analysis, we can see how the seated figure and the flanking flanks of beef that are its attendants have a triptych-like relation of form, hue and geometry together. The figure is seated between the attendant meat and is framed by the white outline of a room’s edges, whose surfaces disappear into a field of black. The hues of the flesh and fat in the attending meat, the hues of the black field, the white of the architecture’s outline all converge, fuse and confuse into a zone of indeterminacy at the exact center of the painting, where the figures head dissolves into the meat and the shadowy field between the two slabs. If we zoom out of the painting, we find ourselves in gallery 389, a third floor corridor at the modern wing of the Art Institute. There are no shadows here. Renzo Piano’s “cloud,” the large brise soleil filtering northern light into the gallery from above neutralizes all shadow. But the whites of the rooms contours, of the meat’s ribs, of the figure’s dissolving, screaming face transmit a rhythm beyond the picture-frame. Further down the hallway, immediately to the left of the painting, a wall of glazing frames another figure: Frank Gehry’s Pritzker


Pavilion. Seen at night, the bending, layered, fragmented petals of stainless steel comprising the bandshell are illuminated with reds and purples. The stage walls within the frame of the bandshell are wood, however, and illuminated with an intense magenta, which make the entire composition appear like a giant screaming mouth, the red tongue belting the evening’s music as the face explodes into the bandshell’s confetti-like form. The resemblance could be called uncanny, but Deleuze does not dally in the uncanny. This is a body without organs, where each component is a framed organ and yet not “organised” into discrete entities because the frames fold into each other and harmonize with figure and flesh, color and cosmos. In this “haptic vision,” seen through the framing spectacles of architecture, the “armature, Figure, and contour” of the Bacon painting as well as of the AIC and Pritzker Pavilion “communicate and converge in color” (LOS 122).

 gehry 1 p3

Diagrams with Friends

For this final entry, I want to say a bit more on the important role re/linkage plays in Deleuze’s work. It’s a fascinating process, and, like the wave that passes through the body without organs, it manifests throughout the whole range of texts that we have encountered in this course. It is as though, for Deleuze, the force of thought is precisely the capacity to link, and to chart these links is the matter of philosophy. It is important to keep in mind, however, that to link is never to merely indicate a pre-existing connection between forms or functions; rather, the process of linking produces a transformation on both ends, a reciprocal difference not only between each node in their spatial relations (were we to visualize it), but between each node and itself in time, before and after being linked. This is why, for instance, diagrammatic relations are relations of force, where force is not merely the exertion of influence from one body on another, but a radically polyvectorial dispersal of influence across both bodies (and others besides them). This is what Deleuze means when he writes that the diagram “makes history by unmaking preceding realities and significations, constituting hundreds of points of emergence or creativity, unexpected conjunctions or improbable continuums” (F 35). To understand force in this way provokes a powerful challenge to ideas of hierarchy and causality; making becomes inseparable from unmaking. Why, then, do we continue to pursue these explanations as sufficient, and how can this knowledge transform the way we live?

Following the historical diagram of Foucault, we might say that hierarchy and causality assert conceptual dominance at the stratigraphic level, the level of “bands of visibility and fields of readability.” As the abstract machine that is the diagram passes through each stratum, its polyvectorial force is distributed in different ways according to the available forms, just as the uniform light of the sun enables different shadows to be produced based on the structures it encounters. At the same time, it’s only through light’s encounter with an object that we recognize it as such (even if that object is only our eyes). In these particular distributions of force, certain organizations are produced while others are unrealized—certain vectors of force are ‘caught’ while others, no less active, remain informal.

As I write this, I’m aware of the risk that we discussed in Monday’s session, of drawing a too-simple parallel between the macro-level diagrams of Foucault and the micro-diagrams Deleuze writes of in the Logic of Sensation. Chalk it up, I suppose, to the desire to map and link that Deleuze catalyzes in his readers. Looking over what I’ve written above, it’s clear that I’ve unintentionally echoed a series of metaphors that Deleuze himself invokes in his writings on Bacon: light, waves, the eye, and so on. I want, perhaps mistakenly, to see a correspondence between the work of painting and Foucault’s archeology; after all, both are concerned, in Deleuze’s reading, with the effect of forces upon the body. Indeed, Deleuze represents the diagram of painting as a tremendous scaling-down from the macro to the micro: “it is as if a Sahara,” he writes, “were suddenly inserted into the head,” as if “the unit of measure were changed, and micrometric, or even cosmic, units were substituted for the figurative unit” (LS 100). Like the abstract machine, the diagram of the painting operates as “asignifying and nonrepresentative” “possibilities of fact” (ibid.). The diagram as pure informal relations of force or as latent possibility of fact; in both cases, they exist in a virtual state, unrepresentable until they collide with bodies and matter. Even then, they seem to be unknowable as themselves, as discrete units of force, and it is only through a nonpersonal relinkage on the order of the percept, affect, and concept that their relations can be rendered legible.

Affects and percepts are the names given to virtual linkages, patterns of relationality in time that can be grasped only in the way they organize the material world. These organizations of landscapes and bodies are what Deleuze calls sensation. “Force is closely related to sensation,” Deleuze writes. “For a sensation to exist, a force must be exerted on a body, on a point of the wave. But if force is a condition of sensation, it is nonetheless not the force that is sensed, since the sensation ‘gives’ something completely different from the forces that condition it” (LS 56). This difference, of course, is a difference in time, a change—as I’ve said—of both the composing figure and the Figure composed. This is what Deleuze means, I believe, by “becoming other” (WiP 177).  Further, this is what makes painting (and, in different ways, literature and cinema), so significant to Deleuze: it is a monument to becoming-other. It is the only way that a relinkage can be rendered visible, “time itself being painted” (LS 48). Significantly, this is not done through representation, but rather by mobilizing an array of irreducible codes that each react differently to force, like “the faces of a dice of sensation” (WiP 187). To sense the forces that act upon the body, and to recognize these actions in time, seems to offer the capacity to act, and to perhaps be otherwise. “It is within visibility that the body actively struggles, affirming the possibility of triumphing, which was beyond its reach as long as these powers remained invisible,” Deleuze writes (LS 62). The forces themselves, the links, are invisible, but in the act of relinkage through art, we draw new vectors of force, new ways to move and be within the world.

To end on a somewhat cheesy note, I’d like to return to one of our first readings, where Deleuze asks a series of questions that have stayed with me throughout the course:

“However one sees it, we’re on the plane of immanence; but should we go around erecting vertical axes and trying to stand up straight or, rather, stretch out, run out along the horizon, keep pushing the plane further out? And what sort of verticality do we want, one that gives us something to contemplate or one that makes us reflect or communicate? Or should we just get rid of all verticality as transcendent and lie down hugging the earth, without looking, without reflecting, cut off from communication? And then, have we got a friend with us, or are we all alone, Me = Me, or are we lovers, or something else again, and what are the risks of betraying oneself, being betrayed, or betraying someone else? Doesn’t there come a time to distrust even one’s friend? How should we understand the philos in philosophy?”

When I first read this passage, I found it, frankly, disturbing and unanswerable. It reaches something like the uncomfortable core of post-structural anti-humanism: in the absence of the monadic individual, what are we, what are we to one another, and what ought we to do about it? As I wrote in my first journal entry:

“Deleuze says, ‘it’s multiplicities that fill the field of immanence, rather as tribes fill the desert without it ceasing to be a desert’ (Negotiations 146), but are these to be nomadic tribes, constantly scrounging for a meager subsistence, always on the move and without any permanent shelter, any way to organize their own existence? If so, it’s a bleak proposition, though perhaps this fear and disorientation I feel at such an idea says more about my own image of thought than it does about Deleuze’s.”

Change is constant, but consistency allows for deep communal attachments, and offers the hope of protection from the eternal throw of the dice. The image of a person stretched out against a desert landscape, all concept of the self forgotten, is still a frightening thought. Now, however, I think it’s possible to see the work of philosophy not as the dissolution of bonds, but as a steadfast dedication to them. Friendship, after all, is a bond—a link—and Deleuze’s work is profoundly concerned with building links over and across even ‘irrational cuts.’ It is important to keep in mind however, that such links are never simply progressive or sequential, but always transformative. To identify as a friend is to always stand in a differential relation to the self: n-1 instead of Me=Me. Accordingly, the relation itself changes, a kind of productive feedback loop of mutation. With each mutation, however, the friend reaches out again, though the one I reach out to will not be the same, and the pathways travelled will be radically different—new risks, new loves, new betrayals. This is, I think, the philos of philosophy.

On the Importance of Sensation and Rhythm – Between Chaos and Cliché

Art has a special role for Deleuze and Guatarri: “Art preserves, and it is the only thing in the world that is preserved. It preserves and is preserved in itself, although actually it lasts no longer than its support and materials—stone, canvas, chemical color, and so on.” WIP, 163. By preservation, Deleuze and Guatarri does not mean that art renders things and affects static. Instead, art preserves a bloc of sensations, or a compound of percepts and affects. WIP, 164. The artist creates and uses sensations to create artwork. WIP, 166. The very aim of art “is to wrest the precept from perceptions of objects and the states of a perceiving subject, to wrest the affect from affections as the transition from one state to another: to extract a block of sensations, a pure being of sensations.” WIP, 167. But not all art is able to extract and express the pure being of sensation.

In Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Deleuze distinguishes figurative from figural paintings. Figurative paintings are unable to show the violence of sensation, or the act of painting. LS, xiv. The figurative, or the illustrative or narrative types of painting, present narratives and models, rather than sensations. LS, 2. Interestingly, Deleuze argues that “Painting has to extract the Figure from the figurative” since photography has taken over painting’s former illustrative role. LS, 8 (emphasis added). The Figure, for Deleuze, “is the sensible form related to a sensation; it acts immediately upon the nervous system, which is of the flesh, whereas abstract form is addressed to the head, and acts through the intermediary of the brain, which is closer to the bone.” LS, 34. Deleuze also opposes sensation to the superficial, cliché, and the spontaneous. Id. When we encounter sensations, “[we] become in the sensation and something happens through the sensation . . . .” LS, 35. From Deleuze’s writings, we can extract a few key ideas concerning sensation.

Since sensation is something that is in the body, sensation is not merely mental impressions we experience in our brains. Deleuze defines the body as being “both subject and object” or that which “gives and receives the sensation.” LS, 35. Quoting Cézeanne, Deleuze describes sensation as “the appleyness of the apple.” Id. Deleuze cautions us not to think of sensation as something that represents and is separate from an object. LS, 39. Deleuze proposes instead that sensations are inseparable from its direct actions on the nervous system. LS, 39. Because of this inseparability between the action and the nervous system, sensation seems to require both the ‘subject,’ to sense and the ‘object,’ to be sensed. But because Deleuze opposes a strictly representational model of sensation, sensation seems to describe something that passes through and exists only by a confluence of, in representational terms, the subject and object.

But what is the importance of sensation? Why should we, as budding philosophers, care about sensation? Bacon, as described by Deleuze, “has always tried to eliminate the ‘sensational’, that is, the primary figuration of that which provokes a violent sensation.” LS, 38. Deleuze also observes that Bacon must sometimes “turn against his own instincts, renounce his own experience. [He] harbors within himself all the violence of Ireland, and the violence of Nazism, the violence of war.” Id.   Deleuze seems to suggest that Bacon’s process of painting, which uses and creates sensations that act upon instincts, requires Bacon to be self-reflexive. Bacon, in order to renounce figuration, must combat cliché and his own preconceived notions in order to develop the Figure that is freed from narrative and representational content. The act of creating sensation requires some sort of mimesis, or a process of negotiating and reflecting which avoids the violence of the represented and is able to channel the violence of sensation. Yet the creation of sensation has other important features as well.

In his interview with Sylvester, Bacon clarifies that sensation, which passes and traverses through levels of senses, should not be thought of as an ambivalence of senses or feelings. LS, 39. Bacon does not try to express “at one and at the same time a love of the person and a hostility towards them”, but is trying to make the image more immediately real to himself. Id. Deleuze’s interest in this part of Bacon’s interview could be motivated by his own philosophical concerns with the diagram. Bacon’s paintings could operate as a diagram of sensation. Bacon’s use of couples and triptychs are diagrams, which unite the diverse levels of different sensations. LS, 73. According to Deleuze, Bacon reveals the “action of invisible forces on the body” in his painting. LS, 41. These forced movement both produces in us an impression of time and is able to break past the limits of sensation. LS, 73. Bacon employs the use of Figures, which are not subject to torture or brutality or any other visible horrors, to manifest the power of the paint and to make visible some sort of multi-sensible Figure. LS, 42. Deleuze argues that this operation is only possible if “it is direct contact with vital power that exceeds every domain and traverses them all. This power is rhythm, which is more profound than vision, hearing, etc.” Id.

For Deleuze, sensation and rhythm are deeply interrelated. Deleuze notes that to paint the sensation is essentially painting rhythm, “[b]ut in the simple sensation, rhythm is still dependent on the Figure; it appears as the vibration that flows through the body without organs, it is a vector of the sensation, it is what makes the sensation pass from one level to another. LS, 72. Rhythm confronts and unites different levels of sensations by coupling sensations under melodic lines. LS, 73. Painting allows us to encounter “a violent chaos in relation to the figurative givens, but it is a germ of rhythm in relation to the new order of the painting.” LS, 102. In my understanding, Deleuze’s conception of rhythm (and its relationship to sensation) seems to allow us to perceive some sort of ‘order’ within the chaos of sensations, by creating some unity amongst our senses. Deleuze believes that we “seek the unity of rhythm only at the point where rhythm itself plunges into chaos . . . at the point where the differences of level are violently mixed.” LS, 44 (emphasis added). To explain this dynamic in phenomenological terms, when we sense rhythm, we are able to locate a pattern amongst the myriad of sensations, which allows the Figure to appear. LS, 42. But at the same time, Deleuze seems to be describing an ebb and flow between rhythm and chaos, since there is a germ of order or rhythm in the diagram. LS, 102. We cannot isolate the two, rhythm and chaos, since chaos unlocks new areas of sensation, while rhythm allows us to ascertain and unify sensations. Id. Both are contaminated with the germ of the other. Id.

In sum, painting seems to be mired in this dynamic: paintings are sensations that avoid the cliché and the sensational, while also avoid being completely overwhelmed by chaos because of rhythm.




Throughout my encounters with Deleuze, even prior to this class, I’ve frequently run up against the idea that the ideas that he produces, the concepts that he elevates into plateaus, are themselves less important that the method that he uses to do so, or the significance of his having created them at all. As Sean B. put it in his discussion post for our last week of class, “his specific concepts are meant less as propositions to be accepted or rejected than as examples of how such creation is done.” Another friend, and reader of Deleuze, wrote to me in response to an email I sent him about having epiphanies while reading our texts for this class: “I think what is often misunderstood is that it’s usually not about the point Deleuze makes as much as it is about the process that he employs to get to that point. So we are always doing an injustice by saying ‘here is what Deleuze says, look how it applies to this problem,’ instead of actually engaging the methodology more fully.”

I have some complicated thoughts on this, which I’ve been mulling over during the course of our seminar, so it seemed fruitful to try and suss some of it out for our final journal entry. This mostly takes the form of several different ways of understanding the architecture of this particular approach to Deleuze, and what I see as the particular advantages and disadvantages of this line of thinking. All of these theses are fairly tentative, but perhaps some solidity will emerge through the process of thinking through them.

The first line here is a very practical one. I think part of the problem that my friend was articulating, and that David has referenced in class, is that a lot of scholarship on Deleuze is pretty bad. Even worse, at least in a lot of my reading experience, is scholarship that draws a concept out of Deleuze and lazily tacks it on to a related concept, often mistaking similarity for relation. At its worst, this might look something taking one paragraph out of the Foucault book about the diagram and applying it to a history of literal diagrams. This procedure does violence to Deleuze’s thought. As we’ve discussed throughout class, every definition that Deleuze comes up with is a response to a particular problem—very rarely is he posing a definition that is intended to be stable beyond its immediate use. This make using Deleuze in our own work a difficult proposition. Unless what we make use of is not (only) his concepts but his methodology.

But where do we draw the line between the two? The part of me that is invested in this question is identical with the part that shudders when I read that email from my friend. The reason being—Deleuze offers us some really important concepts! I love his concepts! I can’t just reject them on the basis that they’re unstable, contingent, relational, especially when they’re so appealing, so seemingly important, potentially revolutionary.

There is, of course, a danger in wholesale adoption of any concepts. I’ve been reading a lot of Derrida over the past year, and there’s a lament amongst people who read a lot of deconstruction that there’s very little “Derridada” that’s of any value—beyond Derrida himself. Which is to say, people who are influenced by Derrida’s concepts, scholarship that identifies (or identified, at this point in time) as dogmatic deconstructionism or following Derrida pales in comparison to the original works. The further away you get from the original material in terms of structure, the more likely you are to find something that is of genuine interest, aside from a simple explication or elaboration of Derrida’s work itself. What’s particularly interesting to me about this comparison is that in Derrida, concept and method are even more indistinguishable than in Deleuze! The adoption of either is tricky, and often seems to lead down a fruitless path without some distance, or without paying close attention to the problematic that I’m trying to lay out here.

However, even if we adopt Deleuze’s concepts provisionally, with attention to their original problematic, their relational structure, it seems to me that there is still a danger of misunderstanding the importance of his work. The attraction of Deleuze’s concepts here would function as something like missing the forest for the trees. One of the things that I appreciate most about reading Deleuze, and about our class discussions, is that we are constantly discovering new approaches to the same points. Throughout his work, Deleuze constantly evolves in relation to the way he uses certain words, certain concepts, certain argumentative structures, but we’re often able to draw connections between those different approaches to the same word, and between entirely different approaches to problems in completely different domains. Over the course of his career, Deleuze seems to drift towards particular landmarks that we’ve been able to trace.

However, it seems that these landmarks are not necessarily concepts. Deleuze’s concepts lack the necessarily stability to exist transhistorically, a-situationally. I think Derrida is a useful comparison here again. For Derrida, presence is a concept whose essence does not substantially change over the course of his career. It is elaborated in innumerable different ways, and becomes incredibly complex in its iterations, but when Derrida uses the word presence, he always means more or less the same thing. It seems to me that the same cannot be said of Deleuze. His landmarks are too differentiated, too slippery to have this kind of stability. Or, perhaps, we can think of this as conceptual instability as a landmark in itself—for Deleuze the principle that concepts cannot be fixed in time is a kind of concept itself. The only constant is change. The only repetition is difference.

Furthermore, this difference, this change, has an interesting relationship with thought, writing, style, and philosophy. I went back to the smaller pieces we’ve read to see if I could find a concise articulation of precisely this problem. It will probably be of no surprise that the Image of Thought chapter from Proust and Signs delivered—brilliantly. I want to pull out the entire second paragraph of the chapter, because it seems astonishingly clear in regards to this problem.


“In the ‘philosopher’ there is the ‘friend.’ It is important that Proust offers the same critique of philosophy as of friendship. Friends are, in relation to one another, like minds of goodwill who are in agreement as to the signification of things and words; they communicate under the effect of a mutual goodwill. Philosophy is like the expression of a Universal Mind that is in agreement with itself in order to determine explicit and communicable significations. Proust’s critique touches the essential point: truths remain arbitrary and abstract so long as they are based on the goodwill of thinking. Only the conventional is explicit. This is because philosophy, like friendship, is ignorant of the dark regions in which are elaborated the effective forces that act on thought, the determinations that force us to think; a friend is not enough for us to approach the truth. Minds communicate to each other only the conventional; the mind engenders only the possible. The truths of philosophy are lacking in necessity and the mark of necessity. As a matter of fact, the truth is not revealed, it is betrayed; it is not communicated, it is interpreted; it is not willed, it is involuntary.”


Wow! Fully explicating this would be a feat beyond my ability, but would go a great deal of the way towards understanding the significance of Deleuze’s work. However, I’ll take a crack at drawing out some of the relevant thematics at play here. First and foremost I want to point to both Deleuze’s problematizing of “explicit and communicable significations,” and his suspicion of the “agreement as to the signification of things and words.” This is, in far clearer prose, what I have been trying to indicate in my entry thus far as to the instability of Deleuze’s own concepts, or the words tied to them. It’s also worth noting how important it is that Deleuze is invoking Proust’s critique of philosophy, and later in the next paragraph claims “more important than the philosopher is the poet.” This is significant, I think, because Deleuze is intentionally avoiding an act of criticism from which he would be exempt, but rather emphasizing his own complicity (however simultaneously self-critical) in the problematic of philosophical work.

However, Deleuze’s act of undermining the permanence of his own concepts is only the first step of the critical act at play here. The next step is where I think he really takes off, and I believe it can be almost entirely summed up in the idea that “Only the conventional is explicit,” and its corollary “Minds communicate to each other only the conventional.” The gesture Deleuze is making seems to indict the history of philosophy as a process of making explicit that conventionalizes thought, ideas, and concepts into stable forms. These stable forms are not the products or failures of bad philosophers. Rather they are endemic to the philosophic act as a process of writing, of actualization, of stabilizing the vicissitudes of thought that can be made communicable. The truths of philosophy are the truths of the conventional, the explicit, which as they are shaped into transmittable form lose their connection with the “dark regions of thought” from which they emerge.

These dark regions of thought are nothing less than the hope we have as Deleuzians. To be a follower of Deleuze, to bring Deleuze into our lives as thinkers in any capacity, is to swear fealty to the dark regions of the Outside, the Virtual. Deleuze’s method and concepts therefore remain entwined around this connection to the new that emerges from “the effective forces that act on thought,” a connection that must continually be renewed and rebuilt in the work of thought whose stabilization transforms the new into the conventional. The truly great concepts, like the truly great philosophers, never finish this process into conventionality and stability, but rather maintain their connection to the realms of difference that battle the forces of identity, representation, and unity. Deleuze’s strategy emerges more clearly in this light. Continually changing his definitions, strategically and provisionally deploying words and concepts, Deleuze fights against a process that would sever his work’s connection to the Virtual. He can point to the landmarks, but cannot adopt a process of signification that would rob his readers of their contact with that realm of differentiation. The further away his landmarks exist from definition, signification, or explicitness, the wider the crack to the Outside is opened.

Reading Difference and Repetition for class a few weeks ago reminded me of what this feels like, physiologically. The process of getting caught up in the flow of ideas, surfing on the surface of text without the sensation of “grokking” the material, I encountered not concepts, but a processual relation to difference and the new that exceeds any concept and all signification. If we are to take anything with us out of our reading of Deleuze, this would be my candidate. The concepts themselves are only tools, and in following Deleuze we should use them as such. In doing so we would also fashion our own tools and our own methods, proliferating as they are introduced to new situations and new problematics. New structures of thought are needed; new concepts must be equipped and new problems created. To what end? Towards the only true goal of any creation—opening the interstice to the realm of universal variation.

Of Hooks and Unhookings

Throughout much of the time we have spent reading about the time image, its workings have appeared as a particular kind of break—to the sensory-motor schema, to the relation between the image and the Whole, and to the re/presentation of time, to name a few of the points of impact. What has been difficult, at times, to imagine, is what may come of such a break. There have been moments when it seems that, were it not for Deleuze’s assertion of the presence of pure time, there would be nothing at all in the fold of the time image, that it would be pure absence or aporia. Of course, one bears in mind the constant unthought of the virtual, the unceasing multiplication of becomings and mutations, but to phrase it rather pedantically: so what? What impact does this have on the way we, Deleuze’s readers, move through the world? If I’ve asked a non-philosophical question here, it’s only because I was emboldened by the fact that Deleuze, in the later chapters of Cinema 2, in Foucault, and in A Thousand Plateaus, gives his readers something of an answer as to what the ethical stakes of such a shift are. Of the many political and ethical implications Deleuze lays out, it is worth mentioning at least a few: the speech act that refuses a distinction between public and private, addressing a people who are missing and are thus yet to come; the interstice as the site of radical potential for thought in excess of a particular diagram of power; and the rhizome as the shape and action of such thought, as an act of cartography. In this blog, I hope to address as many of these as possible.

Each of the above elements of Deleuze’s thought depends particularly on the operation of relinkage, the perilous passage between incommensurable, irrational cuts or interstices. This is true of the cinematic time image most explicitly: there is, Deleuze writes, “no longer association through metaphor or metonymy, but relinkage on the literal image; there is no longer linkage of associated images, but only relinkages of independent images” (C2 214). It is also true of the relation between forms and forces, the visible and the articulable: “the problem is that of the coadaptation of the two forms or two sorts of conditions, which differ in nature […] determinable visibilities and determining statements” that are, in the end, irreducible to one another, and thus disjunctive (F 52). Finally, it is true of the rhizome in the oscillation between territorialization and deterritorialization: “there is neither imitation nor resemblance, only an exploding of two heterogeneous series on the line of flight composed by a common rhizome that can no longer be attributed to or subjugated by anything signifying” (ATP 10). Indeed, we can see echoes of this concern throughout Deleuze’s work, back to “Proust and Signs” and Difference and Repetition, where the act of relinking reveals the terminal point of each faculty, the farthest extension of its ability and the domain that is unique to it: “between sensibility and imagination, between imagination and memory, between memory and thought – when each disjointed faculty communicates to another the violence which carries it to its own limit, every time it is a free form of difference which awakens the faculty, and awakens it as the different within that difference” (D&R 145). To summarize, it is the mode of connection between irreducible, heterogeneous forms/forces/images/faculties that is of the utmost importance to Deleuze. It is here that power, as the relations between forces, exerts its pull, but also here that the potential for new, radical connections exists. This process of linking occurs all the time, it is continuous; but, it seems, it is rare that thought participates in this process. Instead it is habit, repetition, resemblance, representation, and all those tools we use to mitigate the risks we face as we leap across the interstice. “A concept’s power,” says Deleuze, “comes from the way it’s repeated, as one area links up with another. And this linkage is an essential, ceaseless activity: the world as a patch­ work” (Negotiations 147). The task is to not shut ourselves off from mutation, change, and difference during this leap, but to hold fast to them, and see where they may lead.

One of the most fascinating threads that can be followed in this leap is Deleuze’s assertion that, in the case of modern political cinema, “the people no longer exist, or not yet… the people are missing” (C2 216). Deleuze claims that this knowledge is borne of third world cinema, where colonization both imposes the myths of the colonizer and abstracts and repurposes the myths of the colonized. The result is that such cinema cannot ‘return to the well’ of a private, mythic past that might point toward a revolutionary future, because the sense of continuity and unity that might enable such a gesture is always already unavailable: “the death-knell for becoming conscious was precisely the consciousness that there were no people, but always several peoples, an infinity of peoples, who remained to be united, or should not be united, in order for the problem to change” (C2 220). In black American cinema, Deleuze writes, this results in “shattered states of emotions or drives, expressible in pure images and sounds…” (C2 220). It is this state, however, that enables a confrontation with the fractured I that Deleuze writes of in Difference and Repetition, and the now-shattered ground of a pure or immemorial past. Thrown up into this space of indeterminacy, it is only the utterance that relinks the shattered states, a pre-personal utterance (because I-less and groundless), “which are already collective, which are like the seeds of the people to come, and whose political impact is immediate and inescapable” (C2 221).

To explore this a bit, I want to return to the Kanye West song I referenced in class, “Blood on the Leaves,” from the 2013 album Yeezus. Of course, here we’re talking about a song instead of cinema, but the incommensurable relation between sonsigns, as opposed to sonsigns and opsigns, still performs the same function, and just as effectively. There is a tripartite layering of sounds in West’s song wherein the mode of relinkage is as problematic, and as evocative of the virtual, as the pure optical and sound image in cinema. In class, I mentioned that “Blood on the Leaves” contains a sample of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” recorded in 1965. The song, most famously sung by Billie Holiday in 1939, was written as a response to a 1930 lynching in Indiana. Its use in a 2013 hip-hop track, then, might be seen as drawing parallels between the Black American experience in the late 30s, mid 60s, and 21st century. And typically, when rap songs contain traces of work by politically motivated singers of the civil rights era, it’s done with a reverence and sense of continuity with the past, as a lament that so much of the same work seems left to be performed, or as a contrite analysis of violence in the black community. West, however, offers none of these, but rather a song/rap that is almost horrifying in its disjunction from Simone’s lyrics: a story of a failed, unfaithful relationship, and unwanted pregnancy, and the high cost of alimony and child support. The song is iconoclastic in the literal sense, smashing the icons of civil rights-era culture and the history of black America without even an acknowledgment of its impropriety. The listener hears Simone sing, “black bodies, swinging in the summer breeze,” as West raps about the social and emotional fallout of a break up, saying, “Now you sittin’ courtside, wifey on the other side/Gotta keep ‘em separated, I call that apartheid.” At the same time, West layers in a blasting horn section lifted from the 1999 C-Murder and Snoop Dogg song “Down 4 my N****,” an uninspired track celebrating male loyalty and violence from the very tail end of the gangsta rap decade. While the horn layer works with the overall production of the song, the subject matter it alludes to is as alien to the circumstances West describes as that of “Strange Fruit.” The horror of “Blood on the Leaves” is not the heretical misappropriation of “Strange Fruit,” but the fragmentation of ‘sheets of the past’—60s civil rights song, 90s gangsta rap song, 2010s lost love pop song—that are coexistent yet incommensurable parts of (for West) the black American cultural experience. Each of these three sheets—sound images, I would call them—attempts to speak for and of a people, but there is an irrational cut between them. The irony, given West’s reputation in the press as an egomaniac, is that there is no I in the song, no “beautiful interiority” that unites these sheets, but instead a non-personal relinkage on the order of the sound itself.

“Blood on the Leaves,” I would argue, is more effectively imagined as a map that points to the disconnect between certain stratigraphic layers, certain sheets of the past. If the diagram is composed of “the superimposing of coexistent sheets” (C2 121), a particular organization of space-time (F 34), West’s disturbing song is disturbing precisely because of the violent lines it draws through these strata. But a question remains: is there anything rhizomatic in West’s song, any sign of becoming, of territorialization and deterritorialization? Yes, I will (briefly) argue, and strangely enough it takes the form of a tree—the magnolia. The magnolia tree is an almost entirely invisible element of all three sheets in “Blood on the Leaves,” and it is rhizomatic precisely in its radical reach across each sheet. The magnolia tree sends off lines in all directions in the three songs that compose West’s track, but not as any kind of central figure, more as a mobile, a-centered element that reaches out toward the unspoken. At the end of the third verse, West sings “How you gon’ lie to the lawyer?/ It’s like I don’t even know ya/ I gotta bring it back to the ‘Nolia…” To what magnolia is West referring? He does not mention it again in the song, yet it links in certain ways to both “Strange Fruit” and “Down 4 my N*****.” Simone’s song contains the lyric “scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh/ then the sudden smell of burning flesh,” but West’s reference wouldn’t make sense given the context. More likely he is referring to the Magnolia projects in New Orleans, where No Limit Records (Snoop and C-Murder’s record label) was based, and the center of the 90s/00s New Orleans rap boom. But here, another problem emerges: the Magnolia projects were severely flooded during Hurricane Katrina, and were shuttered and razed by the time West’s song was released. As such, the magnolia forms a rhizomatic territory with each sheet of “Blood on the Leaves,” as a sweet smell that disappears amidst the horror of lynched bodies, as a neighborhood and cultural center, and as a depopulated and destroyed part of black history, a place to which West can never really “bring it back.” Why? Because the people are missing.

Images of Thought Without Image

The Kantian and Bergsonian concepts we have been tracking in relation to Deleuze’s Image of Thought make their expected returns in Foucault and in the chapter on the rhizome. Especially important are the various incarnations of the interstice, whose guises involve the outside and forgetting. Despite Foucault’s reputation as one of Deleuze’s most accessible books, I found it at times very abstract, and so I would like to take this space to map out its concepts to get a sense of their lines and points of assembly, to better to account for the relation between these two exciting but rather abstruse texts.

Deleuze emphasizes Foucault’s cartographic presentation of power, in which he maps its forces into “spacio-temporal multiplicities” he calls diagrams (Foucault, 42 in the Minuit edition). Power is constituted by relations between forces and, like in his earlier description of problems and their solutions in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze insists that the powers to affect and to be affected are simultaneously originary and derivative. In contrast to Idealist or, say, Marxist theories, which would credit a transcendental Idea or economic base as the ultimate cause for every effect, power is instead a reciprocal function of its relations, an “abstract machine” which acts as a “non-unifying immanent cause, coextensive with the entire social field…it is the cause of concrete social arrangements which carries out their relations; and these relations of forces happen ‘not above’ but in the very tissue of the arrangements they produce.” (F, 44)

The diagram in a way marks the frontiers of thought: knowledge is circumscribed within. “There is no model of truth which does not refer to a type of power, no knowledge or even science which does not express or imply an act of power being exercised” (F, 46). However, such a closing off in turn refers to an outside. Deleuze cites Blanchot on Foucault: “The closing refers to the outside, and that which is closed is the outside” (F, 50). Blanchot’s thought leads the way to Deleuze’s preferred interpretation of Foucault. His reading of Madness and Civilization emphasizes the circular relationship of l’enfermement with banishment to the outside: “The demand to shut up the outside, that is, to constitute it as an interiority of anticipation or exception, is the exigency that leads society—or momentary reason—to make madness exist, that is, to make it possible” (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 196). This vicious circle provides, as it were, the possibility of meeting the outside. “…we have to ask ourselves if it is true that literature and art might be able to entertain these limit-experiences and thus, beyond culture, pave the way for a relation with what culture rejects: a speech of borders, the outside of writing” (ibid.). These “limit-experiences” are the crises which force a society to change its diagrams, its relations of forces. Deleuze insists that “it is from the “struggles” of each epoch, the style of struggles, that one can understand the succession of diagrams, or their re-linkage above their discontinuities” (F, 51).

There is an imperative, then, to face these discontinuities without subsuming them into ever-reacting diagrams. The culmination of Deleuze’s chapter “Strategies or the Non-Stratified” is the concern for how thought can resist power by its relation to the outside, that is, by a fracturing or discontinuity that cannot add up or be incorporated into a unifying whole.

“This is Foucault’s second point of contact with Blanchot: thinking belongs to the outside insofar as the latter, an “abstract storm”, is swallowed up by the interstice between seeing and thinking. The appeal to the outside is a constant theme in Foucault and signifies that thinking is not the innate exercise of a faculty but must become thought. Thinking does not depend on a beautiful interiority that reunites the visible and enunciable, but is made under the intrusion of an outside which hollows out the interval, and forces or dismembers the interior” (F, 93).

Blanchot’s writings on Foucault are especially interesting as a link between Deleuze’s monograph and his and Guattari’s earlier chapter on the rhizome. Blanchot locates thought’s relation to the outside in the act of forgetting:

“When we perceive that we speak because we are able to forget, we perceive that this ability-to-forget does not belong solely to the realm of possibility. On the one hand, forgetting is a capacity: we are able to forget and, thanks to this, able to live, to act, to work, and to remember—to be present: we are thus able to speak usefully. On the other hand, forgetting gets away. It escapes. This does not simply mean that through forgetting a possibility is taken from us and a certain impotency revealed, but rather that the possibility that is forgetting is a slipping outside of possibility.” (Blanchot, IC, 195)

By slipping outside of possibility, I take him to mean outside the possibilities circumscribed by the relations of forces that make up the diagram. Forgetting introduces to thought an interstice, a relation to the outside. It introduces an aleatory non-relation between contiguous images; it is “a spacing which means that each image is plucked from the void and falls back into it,” as Deleuze puts it in Cinema 2. The outside of thought is thus approached by these irrational cuts: “…when there are only milieux and in-betweens, when words and things are opened up by the milieu without ever coinciding, it is in order to liberate the forces that come from the outside, and which only exist in a state of agitation, of mixing and restructuring, of mutation. In truth, a throw of the dice, because to think is to cast the dice.” (F, 93)

All of these images of a thought without image are condensed into Deleuze and Guattari’s essay on the rhizome. They echo Blanchot in a passage distinguishing short-term from long-term memory. “Short-term memory is in no way subject to a law of contiguity or immediacy to its object; it can act at a distance, come or return a long time after, but always under conditions of discontinuity, rupture, and multiplicity” (A Thousand Plateaus, 16). Short-term memory is thus the embrace of forgetting; it “includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome” (ibid.). They are careful not to confuse this concept with the metaphysical principle of the fractured I: “the difference between two kinds of memory is not that of two temporal modes of apprehending the same things; they do not grasp the same thing, memory, idea.” It is instead a category of practice, under which falls the creative endeavors of art and philosophy. “The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts” (ibid.).

The chapter on the rhizome feels like the conclusion toward which Deleuze’s other texts reach, regardless of whether this is forward or backwards in time. The concept is itself an assemblage of the various lines that run through his work: it is an image of a thought without image. They propose a book of plateaus, a book only of middles without beginnings or ends, in other words, frontiers. A book that is thus without an interior, that is permeated by the outside. “We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge. A book exists only through the outside and on the outside” (TP, 4).  The imperative I spoke of earlier was implicit in Foucault; it comes to the surface with the rhizome. “In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside,” D&G conclude. “The outside has no image, no signification, no subjectivity. The book as assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world. A rhizomebook, not a dichotomous, pivotal, or fascicular book” (TP, 23). To open the rhizomebook, the book as assemblage with the outside, is to peer into the interstice. It is the non-representation of the non-representable.