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.