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.



Vitalism and Affection in Foucault’s Method and Power


For Foucault, power does not simply emerge from the top-down, commonly attributed to a sovereign wielding authority over its subjects. Instead, as Deleuze writes in Foucault, power is “less a property than a strategy, and its effects cannot be attributed to an appropriation ‘but to dispositions, manoeuvres, tactics, techniques, and functionings’; ‘it is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the ‘privilege’, acquired or preserved . . . but the overall effect of its strategic positions.” F, 25. Because power is the result of strategic positions and relations, Deleuze and Foucault uses a functional microanalysis to analyze the “possible relations between forces” that constitute power. F, 27. This analysis reveals two key ideas, amongst many. First, power cannot be ‘known,’ it can only be exercised and practiced. Second, because resistance is essential to power, it is possible to develop strategies to resist force. Interestingly, both Foucault’s method and conception of power contain a certain vitalism.

1.  Foucault’s Diagrammic Method

Deleuze identifies two characteristics of Foucault’s thinking and writing. First, Foucault imbues his writing with a unique sense of “gaiety in horror” or a “great joy which is not the ambivalent joy of hatred, but the joy of wanting to destroy whatever mutilates life.” F, 23. Deleuze notes that “Foucault’s book [Disicpline and Punish] is full of a joy and jubilation that blends in with the splendor of its style and the politics of its content.” F, 23 (emphasis added). Here Deleuze implies that the political aim of Foucault is filled with joy and affirmation, a theme reiterated in Deleuze’s other works on Spinoza and Nietzsche. This sheds some light on Foucault’s goals in writing. Second, Foucault “is not content to say that we must rethink certain notions; he does not even say it; he just does it, and in this way proposes new co-ordinates for praxis.” F, 30. Foucault is not just concerned with what or how we think, but how we act or practice. Foucault’s functional microanalysis could be understood within these two aims, a joyous attitude and an emphasis on practice.

Deleuze’s description of Foucault’s methodology is far from formal and rote. Deleuze characterizes Foucault’s methodology as theatrical: “Analysis and illustration go hand in hand, offering us a microphysics of power and a political investment of the body. These illustrations are coloured in on a minutely drawn map.” F, 24. Usually, people understand illustrations and analysis as serving two different goals. Illustrations are creative or interpretive, while analysis is rigorous and objective. Illustrations serve analysis by analogizing or illustrating a principle. For Foucault, illustrations express the effects of analysis. Id. Foucault understands each historical strata as being composed of “visible and articulable features unique to each age which goes beyond any behavior, mentality or set of ideas, since it makes these things possible.” F, 48-49. Foucault’s analysis is meant to show the very functions of power. F, 25 (“Foucault shows that . . . the State itself appears as the overall effect or result of a series of interacting wheels or structures which are located at a completely different level, and which constitute a ‘microphysics of power’”). But how precisely does Foucault show or illustrate power-relations?

Foucault gives us a “new topology [that] no longer locates the origin of power in a privileged place.” F, 26. Foucault describes particular social phenomena in terms of a diagram or a “display of the relations between forces which constitute power . . . .” F, 36. Diagrams also show the distribution of the power to affect and the power to be affected and are the combination of the non-formalized pure functions and unformed pure matter. F, 72-73. The diagram is a map of the various relationships between forces or intensities, which plot out specific points where power circulates and moves through. Id. Both Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality discuss two different functions of force. In Discipline and Punish, the Panopticon is a diagram which shows power operating as a function of force aimed at “imposing a particular taste or conduct on a multiplicity of particular individuals” located in a discrete space (like in schools or prison). F, 72. The History of Sexuality discusses the function of administering and controlling life across broader populations. Id. In both diagrams, Foucault illustrates a general form of power or an abstract machine, a machine that is “blind and mute, even though it makes others see and speak.” F, 34.

2.  Power, Knowledge, and Resistance

Foucault defines power as “a relation between forces.” F, 70. Forces are never singular and exist in relation with other forces. Id. (“[F]orce has no other object or subject than force”). Forces imply power relations, insofar that each force has the power to affect others and the capacity to be affected by others. F, 71. Foucault contrasts power with knowledge, which primarily deals with forms. F, 72. Power, on the other hand, passes only through forces. F, 73. But here Foucault is not attempting to argue that there is no relationship between power and knowledge. Instead, Foucault is attempting to show that both power and knowledge are irreducible to the other. Power and knowledge are never free in relation to the other and are linked on “the basis of their difference.” F, 75. The difference between the two depend on their specific roles. Id.   The fundamental difference between knowledge and power constitutes a type of mutual immanence: “[K]nowledge never refers to a subject who is free in relation to a diagram of power, but neither is the latter ever free in relation to the forces of knowledge which actualize it.” F, 74.

Power determines particular features and affects. F, 75. Power is able to both integrate and stabilize relations or particular points, as well as separating or dividing these relationships. Knowledge, on the other hand, creates forms and practices that emerge from the difference between the articulable and the visible. F, 51. Knowledge deals with “formed substances and formalized functions by using the receptive kind of visible element, or the spontaneous kind of articulable element.” F, 77. Power establishes contact “between unformed matter (receptivity) and unformalized functions (spontaneity).” Id. Deleuze terms this space between matter and unformalized functions the outside, or the unformed element of forces, which “stirs up their relations and draws out their diagrams.” F, 43. In contrast to knowledge, the Deleuzian-Foucauldian conception of power seems to be generative, since power seems to be the source of affection as the contact between receptivity and spontaneity.

Power’s emphasis on the affective or embodied is what, in part, allows for resistance. The paradox of power is that “resistance comes first , to the extent that power relations operate completely within the diagram, while resistances necessarily operate in a direct relation with the outside from which the diagrams emerge.” F, 89. The social field, the domain where power relations emerge, creates more resistances than strategies of power. F, 90. This occurs because the diagram of power abandons the “model of sovereignty in favour of a disciplinary model, when it becomes the ‘bio-power’ or ‘bio-politics’ of populations, controlling and administering life. . . .” F, 92. Here life is the new object of power; the sovereign privilege of force is administered in the name of race, space, and population.

But contrary to the Marxian models of power, there is no need to “uphold man in order to resist.” F, 92. Both Foucault and Deleuze do not understand resistance as something men and women wield to overthrow a sovereign power. Resistance means something both deeper and broader: “When power becomes bio-power resistance becomes the power of life, a vital power that cannot be confined within species, environment or the paths of a particular diagram.” Id. Resistance, as a force from outside power, emerges from a certain vitalism that is present in both Foucault’s style of writing and politics. F, 93. Power is necessarily incomplete, according to Foucault, since it depends on the dominated. According to Foucault, power invests in the dominated, “passes through them and with the help of them, relying on them just as they, in their struggle against power, rely on the hold it exerts on them.” F, 28. This is why Foucault believes that every diagram also contains the relatively free and unbounded points of creativity, along with its points of power relationships. F, 44. Similarly, because now power has invested itself into life, life can in turn produce resisting forces to power.

Deleuze and Guatarri’s History of Philosophy

In What is Philosophy?, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri find that “every creation is singular and the concept as a specifically philosophical creation is always a singularity.” WIP, 7. While concepts are, for Deleuze and Guatarri, singular, this singularity by no means implies conceptual simplicity. WIP, 15 (“There are no simple concepts. Every concept has components and is defined by them. . . It is a multiplicity, although not every multiplicity is conceptual.”). Despite this complexity and multiplicity, philosophical concepts, as opposed to artistic of scientific concepts, “must combine it with a point of view or a ground.” Id. This point of view or a ground is not a priori, but historical or temporal. WIP, 79 (“A concept lacks meaning to the extent that it is not connected to other concepts and is not linked to a problem that it resolves or helps to resolve them.”). Thus, for Deleuze and Guatarri’s philosophical concept, one must ‘know’ a concept’s genesis or context in order to give the concept meaning. But Deleuze and Guattari also suggest that this history “zigzags, though it passes, if need be, through other problems or onto different planes. In any concept there are usually bits or components that come from other concepts, which corresponded to other problems and presupposed other planes. This is . . . because each concepts . . . takes on new contours, and must be reactivated or recut.” WIP, 18.

But if Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical concept requires a contextualization (or consideration) of its multiplicities, what should we make of the history of philosophy? What is the role of the philosopher with regards to the history of philosophy? Similarly, what should we make of Deleuze’s dogmatic image of thought in Difference and Repetition?

To grapple with the question of the nature and role of philosophy, we must first understand how concepts are created and relate to the plane of immanence since “[p]hilosophy is a constructivism, and constructivism has two qualitatively different complementary aspects: the creation of concepts and the laying out of a plane.” WIP, 36-37. The plane of immanence is an image of thought that “gives itself what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought.” WIP, 37. A plane of immanence also us help us understand or “think” thought in general. Deleuze and Guattari describe various philosophers as occupying distinct images of thought. WIP, 54. For Deleuze and Guattari, concepts need conceptual personae. WIP, 2. The philosopher, as a friend of wisdom “invents and thinks the Concept.” WIP, 3. But this relationship of creation, for Deleuze and Guattari is complex. The philosopher is not the merely the inventor of the concept, she is the “potentiality of the concept.” WIP, 5.

While philosophical concepts are historical, “they have their own way of not dying while remaining subject to constraints of renewal, replacement, and mutation that give philosophy a history as well as a turbulent geography . . . .” WIP, 8. Philosophical concepts are historical, but not reified in history. This idea of the philosophy allows it to remained rooted and informed in history, while not being wholly determined by it. In comparing the Greek image of thought with the modern image of thought, Deleuze and Guatarri cautions that their description is not rooted in normative judgment. WIP, 54 (“If we attempt to set out the features of a modern image of thought in such a summary fashion, this is not in a triumphalist way, or even in horror.”). Instead, they posit that no image of thought can be limited to a “selection of calm determinations,” by being wholly categorized as error or illusion. Id. Deleuze and Guatarri liken the history of philosophy to the art of portrait painting. The philosopher is not, like the work of an amateur portrait painter, making matter “lifelike.” WIP, 55. On the contrary, the philosopher “produc[es] resemblance by separating out both the plane of immanence he instituted and the new concepts he created.” Id. Deleuze and Guatarri locate the ‘progression’ of the history of philosophy within this production of resemblances.

Deleuze and Guatarri, in describing a machinic portrait of Kant, find that “[s]ometimes the layers of the plane of immanence separate to the point of being opposed to one another, each one suiting this or that philosopher. Sometimes, on the contrary, they join together at least to cover fairly long periods.” WIP, 57. Overtime, philosophers can create new concepts within the same plane that invokes the same image that earlier philosophers have referenced. Id. When this occurs, the philosopher adds new curves to the original plane of immanence. Id. Whether a philosopher is critiquing or re-reading another philosopher, she is using complex and relative assessments of the concepts within a plane of immanence. WIP, 57-58. Interestingly, this suggests that the act of critique has a productive dimension, since it is adding new form to the plane of immanence. These complex assessments are possible because concepts can belong to similar “groups,” despite existing at different times on the same plane of immanence. WIP, 58. But concepts that do not refer to the same plane cannot belong to the same group. Id. While Deleuze and Guatarri find that there is a strict correspondence between the “created concept and the instituted plane,” the creation of concepts themselves comes about through indirect relationships between the concept and plane that are still to be determined. Id.

This suggests that when Deleuze and Guatarri is critiquing and writing on Kant or Heidegger, they are adding new dimension to their thought. Critique, however, does not have the common or colloquial definition for Deleuze and Guatarri. Deleuze and Guatarri does not believe that we are able to definitively say that one plane of immanence is better than another. WIP, 58. The goal of philosopher is not to think of the ultimate, universal plane of immanence. WIP, 59. Instead, the goal of the philosopher is to show that there is “unthought in every plane, and to think it in this way as the outside and inside of thought, as the not-external outside and the not-internal inside—that which cannot be thought and yet must be thought . . . to show . . . the possibility of the impossible.” WIP, 59-60. Deleuze and Guatarri cite favorably to Spinoza as the ‘best’ philosopher since he created the plane of immanence that did not hand itself over to the transcendent and inspired the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions. WIP, 60.

But why does a philosopher write? Similarly, does a philosopher create concepts with any particular end in sight? Deleuze and Guatarri, in favoring Spinoza over other philosophers, seems to suggest that philosophers take on a normative dimension in their writing. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze explored this concept further in his critique of the dogmatic image of thought. The philosopher is meant to engender thinking in thought. DR, 147. Thus, perhaps the greatest sin that the dogmatic image of thought has committed is not descriptive, but preventing people from thinking thought and creating new images of thought. This is explicitly normative because Deleuze doesn’t seem as concerned with the dogmatic image of thought being ‘wrong’ as much as he is concerned with its limitation on thinking. As a result, Deleuze is not, as a philosophical project, attempting to assert a more descriptively accurate account of thinking, but an image of thought that aids in the creation of concepts and ideas. Additionally, Deleuze and Guatarri seem to be open to the possibility that an older ‘discredited’ plane of immanence or image of thought can take on new life. Deleuze and Guatarri describe the history of philosophy in terms of a turbulent geography, in which each of its moments is preserved in time and passes outside of time. WIP, 8. This “[m]ental landscape do[es] not change haphazardly through the ages: a mountain had to rise here or a river to flow by there again recently for the ground, now dry and flat, to have a particular appearance and texture. It is true that very old strata can rise to the surface again, can cut a path through the formations that covered them and surface directly on the current stratum to which they impart a new curvature.” WIP, 58. Here Deleuze and Guatarri, through their understanding of philosophy’s stratigraphic time, suggest that older images of thought can suddenly stir new concepts and alter other planes, including ones contemporaneous to our current milieu. This comports with the normative dimension of Deleuze and Guatarri’s conception of the practice of philosophers. If philosophers are to engender new thought and concepts, then it must be the case that philosophers’ creative insights can stem from older philosophical works.