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