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March 06, 2006

Research Notes: The aim of art according to Deleuze and Guattari

Writing about The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist from Art

Why artistic creativity? A new perspective on the world? A recording of events. Or a new world? The creation of events.

Painters and sculptors go to extraordinary lengths in order to create the "monuments" to their struggles, their works. In creating, capturing and preserving the "time of the artist" they carve out a slice of their chaosmos, cut from their plane of immanance, relative to a virtuality. This may all cease to exist at any time, and may even be destroyed by the artistic act itself – a painful surgery or self-mutilation (Van Gogh). The surgical method is this: reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re-circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.

Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram. It is a high risk operation. With so much vested in a small and critical set of functions, catastrophe is always near at hand. In his treatment of Francis Bacon, Deleuze quite rightly argues that painting is the artform that takes this risk to its most extreme. This is true. The consequences of architecture, for example, are too great. Few architects are prepared to go there (Libeskind?). Perhaps only in improvisational jazz does music reduce everything to catastrophe or the sublime. Otherwise there are too many chances of a second take. Bacon happily destroyed botched canvases, but it was almost too much for him both artistically and financially.

What then drives artists to the edge of disaster or beyond?

1) There is the attraction of the unknown and unknowable, the promise of a critical passage across some absolute threshold. Beyond this pure event, the world would be transformed. Something impossible would come to pass (surrealism). Behind this drive is the knowledge that this passage must have already happened at least once: the artist and the world as it is having come alive. But also the belief that it can happen again. The creation of substance, the irreducibly different, sharing no attributes. The impossible as possible. The artist thus seeks to create something new and substantial for themselves and the world. Joan Miro, for example, explored a rarifying seriality in order to create art as new substance: As Andre Breton commented on Miro's Constellations:

"They belong together and differ from one another like the aromatic or cyclic series of elements in chemistry. If one considers them both in their development and as a whole, each of them assumes necessity and value like a constituent in a mathematical series. And finally, they give the word 'series' that special meaning by their uninterupted and exemplary sequence." Miro by Janis Mink, Taschen 2000.

Felix Guattari described this creation of artistic discovery, and the mutant subjectivities that it makes possible, as akin to the rarifying seriality of chemistry, creating something substantial and necessary:

"In this conception of analysis, time is not something to be endured; it is activated, oriented, the object of qualitative change… A singualrity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content – in a dadaist or surrealist manner – can originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation. Just as chemistry has to purify complex mixtures to extract atomic and homogeneous molecular matter, thus creating an infinite scale of chemical entities that have no prior existence, the same is true in the 'extraction' and 'seperation' of aesthetic subjectivities or partial objects…that make an immense complexification of subjectivity possibile – harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations, until know unheard and unknown." Chaosmosis (page 19)

Seriality and rarefaction is similarly employed by other painters, inlcuding Cezanne and Bacon. Also common to these artists is the prevailing terror of plunging into one of these cycles only to find no way out, that the filter or diagram no longer applies to the product of the cycle: the catastrophe.

2) And more commonly, there is an incremental investigation of objects partially apprehended at the limit. An often shy and nervous peering into things. But sometimes a full-on and clinical dissection of orders and lineages (abstraction). This investigation is often undertaken with a degree of altruism. Whether the aim is to reveal more clearly some necessary aspect of Being, or simply to help us to see objects with greater clarity, the artist may act in the interests of our perceptual powers and faculty of judgement.

Kant gives us these two modes of art in the Critique of Judgement. The artistic event as trans-liminal, as a virtuality (the sublime) eventualizing actuality (the time of the transcendental subject or artist). And the event as a series of dispatches, taken from a view of the edge, passing freely over infinite modulations of intensity, but always staying firmly this side of reason – communication, a sense in comunis, a beautiful passage.

Questions for Deleuze and Guattari's aesthetics:

  • is it underpinned by this distinction?
  • do they consider the creation of new substance to be the role of art? – if so, what does this mean, is it feasible, how does it work?

Also, see the essay by Isobelle Stengers for Deleuze's discussion of the difference between the limit and the threshold.


This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.

March 01, 2006

Research Notes: The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist

In their What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the artwork is a "monument". What does this mean? What is "monumental"? Why do all artworks have to be monumental? How can a painting be a monument? For this aesthetic theory to be meaningful, these questions must be addressed. But as will be demonstrated, an effective answer requires that we reconsider the relationship between artist, artwork and "viewer", adopting a position that sees them as much more intimately connected across space and time. This result in an approach to aesthetics that, unlike many, is concerned with the process of creation rather than consumption. The "viewer" is not excluded, but rather enters into that ongoing process which itself exists permanently in the artwork.

Firstly, put aside preconceptions about the nature of monumental art and monuments. We are not saying that the artwork has to be a massive stone edifice. It can be small or large, occupying any form shaped from any substance. Or more precisely, the monument is insubstantial in that its monumentalism acts as an open deterritorializing force, capable of forming a plane of consistency with all-comers. This is what Francis Bacon called the "matter of factness" of the painting, its materiality. Substances are materials locked into a determination that rejects connections and deterritorializations. The monument overflows substance in a hyper-connectivity with matter. The distinction is made more clearly in A Thousand Plateaus. I suggest that we read "abstract machine" as synonymous with "monument" (or perhaps the monument is a genus of abstract machine):

An abstract machine in itself is not physical or corporeal ( Guattari - it is an incorporeal complexity enabling possibility or freedom of movement ), any more than it is semiotic; it is diagramatic (it knows nothing of the distinction between the artificial and natural either). It operates by matter, not by substance; by function, not by form. The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function – a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute. A Thousand Plateaus, On Several Regimes of Signs p.141

What does it mean for the abstract machine or monument to "function"? A function is an operation of conversion or transformation. As they say in the opening of Anti-Oedipus: "the machine only functions when it breaks down" – that is, the machine functions by breaking down matter locked into substances, de-substantializing, deterritorializing. The monument or abstract machine is therefore a deterritorializing agent.

Returning to the common understanding of "what is a monument?" – it's not size or form that matters, but rather it is the active memory contained in the monument. Monuments are intended to remind, to recall an event, or more usually a life. Monument-momento. An effective monument goes further, re-awakening some distant aspect of that which is remembered. It may well be some actual detail of the commemorated life that the monument is intended to stir, but in order for that actuality to have sense, we must accept and share in the virtuality (the real but inactual extension to potential infinity of the plane of immanence, "a slice of chaos that acts like a sieve") of the commemorated life that is a condition for the possibility of that life.

The monument is threfore a portal, allowing us to move into a different world, and for that world to move into ours. To view an artwork then is an active process of being deterritorialized. Deleuze (in Logic of Sense, and with Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus) seeks to show how the abstract machine may be inscribed with a diagram illustrating or coding the route through the portal, the lines of deterritorialization, of matter cossing transversally out of substance. They say that the diagram makes a suggestion pulling us out of a determination towards something otherwise impossible. So it is more than just a edifice, a block of percepts and affects. It is crafted so as to deterritorialize, to attract matter into it and carry it away to another plane. One enters an artwork through the path suggested by the diagram. The monument calls upon us to add to the active memory present in the artwork, we step into the artwork, rather than percieving it analytically from afar.

Could the momument then be some kind of time machine? This is a serious claim, or at least a claim made by serious philosophers. Perhaps its re-presentation of the past offers a logic of resolution to make sense of the present? Recall Hegel's monument, which forms the centrepoint to his Aesthetics – the Tower of Babel, universal translator of forms. The architect Daniel Libeskind is familiar with the consequences of this monumentalism. In his Chamberworks, Architectural Meditations on the Themes from Heraclitus, he talks of his work to overcome this error:

When time itself is rendered meaningless by reversing its irreversible presence, then the practice of architecture becomes the case of the false pleading the cause of reconcilliation. The Space of Encounter, p.49

This leads to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is certainly not a false reconcilliation. It is deliberately not a monument in which a single sense is made of a re-presented history. Rather, it draws in and abstracts further a vast collection of histories (matters of facts, names etc), it acts as a convertor between the planes, and becomes immanent to them, that is to say, is of the same material plane, adding further to the complexity of those virtualities. It remains a monument in the sense described above, a portal between disconnected planes.

What emerges in differentiated experience is architecture as an index of the relationship between what was and what will be. p50

…index :- diagram, graph, portal?

The Museum is a success in that it reaches out beyond its site, connecting two vast virtualities (Jewish Berlin, modern Germany and Europe).

Architecture as a practice of control has projected over itself an immanent frame sufficient to reveal something without. p.49

We have then discounted the notion of the monument as some kind of dialectical tardis. Lets not be sentimental about it. But we still need to understand its diagram, how it works to deterritorialize and connect differentiated substances, pulling us out of one virtuality and into another. Again Libeskind has a suggestion drawn from his practice:

If one thinks of music, what could be more immaterial, what could leave less of a trace in actual experience than music? On the other hand, of course, architecture has always been associated with weight, with matter, with public activity. p.51

The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter. Libeskind seeks the musical within architecture, within his monuments. This seems to be a paradox, but is merely the task of a great artist.

(Note, a building is an abstract machine for living – a monument rich with music and incorporeal complexity.)

Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument ( more on Cezanne ):

This is what one must achieve. If I reach too high or too low, everything is a mess. There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape. I have all the parts of my canvas under control simultaneously. If things are tending to diverge, I use my instincts and beliefs to bring them back together again. Everything that we see disperses, fades away. Nature is always the same, even though its visible manifestations eventually cease to exist. Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination. What lies behind nature? Nothing perhaps. Perhaps everything. Everything, you understand. So I close the errant hand. I take the tones of colour I see to my right and my left, here, there, everywhere, and I fix these gradations, I bring them together. They form lines, and become objects, rocks, trees, without my thinking about it. They acquire volume, they have an effect. When these masses and weights on my canvas correspond to the planes and spots which I see in my mind and which we see with our eyes, then my canvas closes its fingers. It does not waver. It does not reach too high or too low. It is true, it is full. cited in Cezanne by Ulrike Becks-Malorny, Taschen 2001

The painting captures what the artist David Burrows has called "the time of the artist". It is a monument to that time. It draws us into that time and the rhythms and tones that constitute it's plane.


This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.

June 23, 2005

Deleuze, active memory, living germinally

Follow-up to Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I'm now into the second chapter of Germinal Life, which turns its attention to Gilles Deleuze's early work Difference and Repetition. After a few difficult pages in which it is placed in relation to the a broad range of other thinkers (including interestingly Merleau-Ponty and Satre), this superb passage...

The aim of this new art of living is not to identify with the line, though madness and suicide always exist as a risk, since this would destroy all thinking and life. Rather, the task is to both 'cross the line' and make it endurable and workable; in short, this is the line of life cracked by death and concieved as germinal. The 'outside' is the line of life that links up random and arbitrary events in a creative mixture of chance and necessity. Ansell Pearson, 1999, p.85

…note the allusion to Jacques Monod's book…

A new thought of the outside, and a new way of living on the outside, involves drawing new figures of thought and mapping new diagrams, in short, an intensive and vital topology that folds the outside into the inside. The passion of the outside is the passion of germinal life, releasing the forces of life from entropic containment and opening them up for a time to come. ibid p.85

Or as I previously wrote, the virtual of active memory works on the singularity so that a "trait can be extracted, picked up and carried onwards….traits that give a sense of the possible, a future, a continuity, a return".

If you have something interesting to contribute to this, please contact me

October 01, 2004

The chaos in Van Gogh

Follow-up to Klee and the separation of painting and music from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Notice how the painterly diagram, the method of brush-strokes, applied by Van Gogh is applied in the same way to both the figure and the background. The figure emerges from the materiality of the background, and threatens to dissolve back into it. Accentuating the matter of the painting is a deliberate attempt to make this more obvious.

Klee and the separation of painting and music

Follow-up to Van Gogh and painterly diagrams from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Note – this is academic work. If you know about Deleuze's aesthetics, Klee, Bacon etc, you are very welcome to comment.

Painting, as with Van Gogh, establishes a rhythmic pattern. Through an additive synthesis, painting intensifies the body, leads it into chaotic relations with the rest of the material world, provides it with a depth of simultaneous connections, nearing chaos.

For some time painters have been concerned with the relationship between the rhythmic essence of painting and that of music. Deleuze, in a consideration of Cezanne and Bacon, attempts to clarify this relation:

Rhythm appears as music when it invests the auditory level, and as painting when it invests the visual level. Francis Bacon:Logic of Sensation, Continuum, 2004, p.44
Certainly music traverses our bodies in profound ways, putting an ear in the stomach, in the lungs, and so on. It knows all about waves and nervousness. But it involves our body, and bodies in general, in another element. It strips bodies of their inertia, of the materiality of their presence: it disembodies bodies. In a sense, music begins where painting ends, and this is what is meant by the superiority of music. It is lodged in lines of flight that pass through bodies, but which find their consistency elsewhere, whereas painting is lodged farther up, where the body escapes from itself. ibid p.54

Music then acts to disembody, make abstract, deterritorialize onto a distinct plane. As if pulling the spirit out of the body . The incessant seriality of music acts to concentrate and overwhelm the body in anticipation of perception.1

Paul Klee was concerned with this distinction. As both an accomplished violinist and a painter it would necessarily be an issue. Duchling seems to claim some connection between Klee and the ideas of Nietzsche and Bergson on rhythm in fine arts. Did Klee read Bergson? Anyhow, in the face of attempts by critics to say that Klee's painting was musical, used the same structure as music, Klee responded strongly by emphasising that both arts are rhythmic, but in entirely different ways. Deleuze also had an interest in Klee (will look into that more).

This is the starting point for Duchling's book on Paul Klee, Painting Music. I've just discovered this, and it seems to be fascinating.

In comparison to the Romantics, Klee sought the actual basis for the analogy in the most inner being of music – rhythm – which in his opinion not only marks the movement of time in music, but also in art. Paul Klee: Painting Music, Hajo Duchting, Pegasus, p.14


1Consider here Klee's rejection of Hausenstein's Kantian analysis of finality and purposiveness in Klee - Paul Klee: Painting Music, Hajo Duchting, Pegasus, p.12.

September 07, 2004

Capitalism, schizophrenia, the artist

Anti-Oedipus Page 245–255 Capitalism as the relative limit of society, schizophrenia as the absolute limit. The artist stands between them, scrambling the codes.

The 'diagram' introduced by Van Gogh is deliberately a return to the body, rediverts representation through the body, to slow and deflect it away from the blinding imediacy of the camera. Decelerated representation.

August 29, 2004

Bacon's malerisch, Van Gogh's diagram, and the baroque fold

Follow-up to The artistic diagram and its relation to the statistical diagram from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Preventing the artistic object from becoming a symbol by expressing its emergence from a common materiality. Van Gogh's swirls and hatchings. Bacon's curtain. Bacons turn against the figural is a turn against the figure becoming symbolic, against the nonsense of a logic of sensation that is seperate from its emergence from materiality.

The baroque material, Deleuze, The Fold. The monad. Composibility.

The artistic diagram and its relation to the statistical diagram

Follow-up to Van Gogh and painterly diagrams from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Bar chart is an analogy of the world, a projection of relations of force onto another material. Photography is a chemical projection. The artisitic diagram is a projection through the lense of the artists hands into the material of canvas and paint.

Diagrams can sometimes mimic the world (photography), or seek to control it (mathematics). They can also have critical result (painting).

August 18, 2004

Van Gogh and painterly diagrams

Van Gogh's technique was also to apply a diagram to the figure in order to divert it from purposiveness into an unlocking of sensation. You can see in this work just how, as Deleuze says, for the painter the hand becomes a second eye and the canvas becomes a second mind.

The painter sees the figure. Seeing in this case is just the repetition of singular affects on the complex assemblage of planes of the mind. The eyes and their movement overlay a rhythmic action on this repetition of affects. Secondarily, the painter diverts this rhythm (of movement and light) to the hands, which have corresponding ways of moving, characteristic means of applying paint (and other painterly movements). This is what Deleuze calls the diagram. Van Gogh developed new diagrams of his own, of his own hands, which you can see clearly in this painting. With the application of sensation through the diagram and through the material of the painting, the canvas is built up into zones, lines, contours, planes, thicknesses, colours etc. At this point the painting faces a great danger, as described by Cezanne, the danger of becoming chaotic, of the sensations on the canvas failing to form a balanced and self-sustaining resonance: chaos. Adding new sensations to the canvas inevitably pushes it towards chaos. The greatness of the painter, as you can see in Van Gogh, is the ability to push the canvas towards this catastrophe, only to rescue it and restore the balance and resonances.

In this way, as Kant would have agreed, the adventure of painting is an adventure of the kind experienced in thought itself, an engagement with catastrophe and a subsequent return.

Kant, painting unlocking sensation in senus communis

Follow-up to Cezanne unlocking sensation, painting nature from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

To reiterate Kant, sensation is thought without purposiveness. It is thought that is not taken up by a concept into some telos, some definite finality beyond itself. Just a present, not a future or a plan. It is an impression, but not that of the Impressionists. An impression expressed, but not that of Expressionism. Always outwards facing to the world, but with an entirely internal character of its own. Already a complex assemblage of interactions across the many planes of the mind, planes that anticipate perception, but singular as these complex registers resonate at the sime time. This singularity frames the sensation, but not in any discursive context, only as a repetition of affects.

In his rejection of narrative in favour of the triptych, the attendant figure and repetition, Bacon is the most Kantian of painters yet. His approach is always to address the sensation with a diagram (as Deleuze calls a painterly technique applied to thought). The diagram imediately diverts the path of the sensation onto the canvas and back out into sensation. Diverts it away from assimilation to concepts and narrative. It establishes, frames, a second register like that of the anticipations of perception, this time on the canvas. The painting becomes a focus for the repetition of the sensation, to the painter and others. It is as Kant says, a sensus communis.

On art and the art of war – Bacon and Cezanne

Some principles of successful military command:

  • Recruit and train forces, divide them up, and arrange them according to the terrain in which they will operate and the opposing arrangements of enemy forces. This requires intelligence, strategy, and imagination.
  • Identify a sufficiently distant goal so as to allow for a wide range of local conditions to emerge on the path to that goal.
  • Provide the forces with time and space in which to operate with relative autonomy in order to explore and adapt to local conditions so as to move towards the objective. This requires diplomacy, political guile, and a certain charm in dealing with those who demand results.
  • Encourage the different individual divisions of the forces to advance with speed or caution as required so as to co-ordinate with each other.
  • Maintain the necessary lines of supply and communication to and between the divisions (resource going to the front).
  • Maintain the necessary lines of supply and communication from the divisions (resource returning to the command).

On art and the battle ground of the canvas:

As i think Deleuze indicates in his book on Bacon, these artists had a deeply strategic understanding of how to enable, command even, their artistic powers. Each of these principles of good command can be seen in their practices. For example, Deleuze describes how for these artists the terrain is sensation, the enemy is figuration (the figural locked to representation), and the relatively autonomous forces are the artistic diagram (a difficult term, capturing a technique in its relation to the figural but not at the mercy of representation). The diagram is unleashed into unanticipated and dangerous territories of sensation:

The diagram is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order or rhythm. It is 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. As Bacon says, it "unlocks areas of sensation." Deleuze, Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation, p.102

Deleuze describes in great detail Francis Bacon's strategy for painting, for creativity, for achieving all of the above for the cause of the campaign, creating paintings that each unlock sensation in a new way. He sees this in all great painters, citing Van Gogh and Klee as well, and of course Cezanne, who was prior to Bacon the most effective documentor of the battle ground of the canvas.