Sunday, August 15, 2010

Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

In the author's introduction to his study on the paintings of Francis Bacon, Gilles Deleuze claims that what interests the Irish painter “is a violence that is involved only with color and line: violence of sensation (and not of representation)”; moreover, the “violence of sensation” entwines itself, rather intimately, with “materials and forces,” so as to “make these forces visible through their effects on the flesh” (xxix). To do so, then, Deleuze recognizes that Bacon must abjure the figurative in favor of the Figure (via the figural), to the extent that the latter, as opposed to the former, is “neither a model to represent nor a story to narrate” (6). While much of the first third of the study involves close, formal analysis of Bacon's paintings, Deleuze begins to more explicitly develop new concepts in the second third. For example, the author defines “sensation” as “the opposite of the facile and the ready-made, the cliché” (31). Additionally, sensation “has one face turned toward the subject...and one face turned toward the object...Or rather, it has no face at all, it is both things indissolubly” (31). In this sense, sensation passes through both subject and object: it is a transformative and transitive force, such that “I become in the sensation and something happens through the sensation, one through the other, one in the other” (31). In this respect, the subject of Bacon's paintings are not the Figures, contorted and screaming, but, instead, “Sensation is what is painted” (32). Furthermore, sensation “exists at diverse levels, in different orders, or in different domains. This means that there are not sensations of different orders, but different orders of one and the same sensation” (33). Of course, it is important to note that sensation is not “sensational,” or that which “reconstitutes a scene of horror” because, “as soon as there is horror, a story is reintroduced” (34); likewise, sensation and “feeling” should not be conflated: “there are no feelings in Bacon: there are nothing but affects, that is 'sensations' and 'instincts,' according to the formula of Naturalism”; and, finally, neither should sensation and movement be, necessarily, associated with one another: “Movement does not explain sensation; on the contrary, it is explained by the elasticity of the sensation” (36). Or, stating the final point differently, “it is not movement that explains the levels of sensation, it is the levels of sensation that explain what remains of movement” (36). According to Deleuze, then, the most appropriate manner in which to conceptualize the levels of sensation is to examine “the relation between sensation and rhythm, which places in each sensation the levels and domains through which it passes. This rhythm runs through a painting...the self that opens to the world and opens the world itself” (37). Toward the end of Deleuze's study, the philosopher states this concept alternately as “modulation,” which consists “of internal variations of intensity or saturation,” wherein “variations themselves change depending on relations of proximity to this or that zone of the field” (118). Conceiving of sensation's “rhythm” or “modulation,” as such, produces a concept that “is infinitely richer” because it affords a “passing through dynamic tensions, logical reversals, and organic exchanges and substitutions” (124). By situating sensation within a dynamic field of rhythm and modulation, Deleuze seeks to avoid binary and/or dialectical structures that result in a synthesis, or “middle way” (91); he is no more explicit about this when he states: “It would be wrong, however, to oppose...two tendencies” (105). Rather, sensation is a “specific way” (91) that “can enter into new and complex combinations and correlations” (106). Operating outside binary structures and their resultant synthetic couplings becomes of utmost importance during the philosopher's discussion of the diagram. The diagram “is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe” (83). On the one hand, the diagram allows for the “irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, [and] random” to enter a work in an effort to foster “a-signifying traits” (82) that function outside of representation; on the other hand, “one can also spoil the diagram, botch it, so overload it that it is rendered inoperative” (82). Without the concepts of “rhythm” and “modulation” passing through dynamic relations, the concept of the diagram itself, like all other concepts, would easily fall into a reductive binary. Moreover, Bacon's trajectory, which is that of the figural/the Figure, could be falsely conceived of as the synthesis of these two opposing perspectives. Instead, he creates a “specific way,” not a “middle way,” wherein he prevents the diagram “from proliferating” by “confining it to certain areas of the painting and certain moments of the act of painting” (89). Of course, this all begs the question: if the diagram is chaos, why incorporate it at all into the canvas? To answer, both Bacon and Deleuze champion a certain operative use of the diagram so as to combat cliché. To wit, clichés “are always-already on the canvas, and if the painter is content to transform the cliché...this reaction is still too intellectual [and] allows the cliché to rise again from its ashes” (72). Deleuze believes that Bacon escapes cliché through the operative use of the diagram in the form of “free marks” (76); these free, “nonrepresentative” marks “destroy nascent figuration” through “manipulated chance,” wherein they “express nothing” because Bacon randomly brushes, scrubs, or splatters them on the canvas before he begins painting, yet utilizes them within the Figure he creates (77): not a synthesis of two oppositional elements, but specific modulation of intensity flows within a complex field.

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