Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation

O'Sullivan, Simon. Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation. New York, NY: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2006.

In his monograph on Deleuze and Guattari, O'Sullivan attends “to certain resonances between the field of philosophy (specifically Deleuzian) and the field of art and art history” (3). More precisely, the author states that his book will provide “another way of thinking art, beyond the 'horizon of the signifier,' beyond textuality, but not through a return to traditional aesthetic theory or indeed to previous artist-centered models” (4). To wit, the volume becomes neither art history nor philosophy, but “a smearing or blurring of certain conceptual resources into other specifically non-conceptual areas” (5). In other words, O'Sullivan believes his study to be “a bastard” of both discourses: of both, but not in either. Chapter one opens with “a working through of the concept of the rhizome” (6) and the manner in which the rhizome facilitates “a principle of connectivity” (17) in an effort to generate art-objects and art-encounters through the “blurring of discrete categories, producing new encounters and fostering monstrous couplings, new kinds of writing and new kinds of thought” (18). The chapter is rather expository, and most likely intended for those unfamiliar with Deleuze and Guattari, yet the author does forward several interesting claims. For starters, O'Sullivan posits art as an inherently, contextualized process: “We will call art that which produces an aesthetic effect, although this will be contingent and strategic...Art here is less a label for an object than a name for a specific kind of coupling” (23). Likewise, he understands that Deleuzian “art practice” will be “both rhizomatic and tree-like” (33), and thus demonstrates a more nuanced approach to Deleuze and Guattari than those critics, writers, etc. who champion the rhizome as the epitome of Deleuzian thought. In chapter two, O'Sullivan engages the concept of affect, or “the effect a given object or practice has on its beholder, and the beholder's 'becomings'” (39) in an asignifiying fashion, through the Deleuze-Spinoza dyad. These “rising and fallings” (41) of our bodies, especially when we encounter other bodies, entwine themselves intimately with the field of ethics, to the extent that “the organisation of one's world so as to produce joyful encounters, or affects...increase our capacity to act in the world” (41-2): an “ethics of sense,” or an “ethicoaesthetics” organizing “productive encounters 'through' art” (42). To emphasize the nature of affects, the author repeats throughout this section of the book that: “Affects then are not to do with signification or 'meaning'...they occur on a different asignifying register” (43). To O'Sullivan's mind, then, art is “a bundle of affects, or...a bloc of sensations,” and, as such, we should not so much concern ourselves with what an art-encounter means, so much as “what art does” (43). Chapter three covers Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the minor, as developed in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. The first third of this chapter merely outlines, rather extensively, what comprises a “minor” art, literature, or language. This glossing of the minor leads into the second section of chapter three, which relates the concept “to guerrilla political organisations” and “what lessons might be learnt from an artistic 'war-machine' from apparently non-artistic and politically engaged collectives” (70), focusing primarily on the Red Army Faction. The chapter closes with a discussion of the production of subjectivities as conceived (separately) by Guattari and Deleuze. Chapter four explores “other ways of thinking the ethical and 'political' effectivity of art...away from a horizon of transcendence” and toward “the plane of immanence” (98). As a case study, the author focuses on the environmental-art of Robert Smithson, specifically his Yucatan Mirror Displacements and Spiral Jetty. O'Sullivan, in the next chapter, follows a similar trajectory of thought, but, instead of immanence and Smithson, he produces “an encounter between...the monad and the fold, and...the paintings of the German contemporary artist Gerhard Richter” so as to create “a new kind of assemblage between the two” (121). The book's conclusion addresses art's capacity to show us “the contours for the future” in its attempt to “go beyond what appears to be reality” (146), to aid in “the invention of new stories for a people who do not recognise themselves in these stories” (147), and, due to the fact that “new media will necessarily involve new myths [and] new narratives” (153), charge Deleuzian art-encounters with rupturing technological practices working in “the service of the dominant myths” (153). Finally, O'Sullivan closes with a six-point “Manifesto for Future Art Practice.” While the author briefly expounds upon each point, they are titled as follows: 1) Activate immanence, 2) Harness affect, 3) Build probe-heads, 4) Actualize the virtual, 5) Always stuttering, always stammering, and 6) Always folding (155-7).

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