Monday, February 13, 2006


There is much overlap between Deleuze's Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation and de Bolla's Art Matters. What unites them is their interest in the affective. Deleuze argues that "there are no feelings in Bacon: there are nothing but affects: that is, 'sensations' and 'instincts'" (39). And so "sensation" is an entry into the material, the immediately corporeal, against narrative: "sensation is that which is transmitted directly, and avoids the detour and boredom of conveying a story" (36).

Thus Deleuze, like de Bolla, stresses the physicality not only of the painting itself, which still retains the traces of the hand, but also in our viewing of paintings. Compare de Bolla's observation "that closing one's eyes the better to see is no bad thing" with Deleuze's statement that "painting gives us eyes all over: in the ear, in the stomach, in the lungs" (52).

No wonder the LRB asked de Bolla to review Deleuze's book [subscription required]. Here, de Bolla picks up particularly on Deleuze's chapter "Body, Meat and Spirit" and his suggestion that the painter "goes to the butcher's shop as if it were a church, with the meat as the crucified victim [. . .] Bacon is a religious painter only in butchers' shops" (qtd. 20).

In some ways, this is only obvious. See the third of Bacon's Three Studies for a Crucifixion...

The theme is also discussed by Wieland Schmeid, quoted here. (And Schmeid notes this a crucifixion without transcendence: "there are no redeemers or saviours to be found.")

But where de Bolla takes this expanded affectivity as also an expanded terrain of representation ("now I think I can see how Bacon's paintings also smell of different things [. . .]. Perhaps this is on account of a deeply rooted mimetic affect" [20]), Deleuze insists on contrasting mimesis and affect. In his painting of sensation Bacon is waging a near-heroic war against the representational. The point is always to ensure that the Figure does not become mere figuration, and so inevitably cliché; that sensation does not become the sensational; that the visual field is not reduced to spectacle.

Resemblance is painting's great temptation. Indeed, the clichéd image is in a sense originary. At least, we find ourselves now more than ever among such images. Clichés are already there, "on the canvas, they fill it, they must fill it, before the painter's work begins" (96). Painting is not a question of application, of adding an image to a blank canvas. The canvas is teeming from the start; the painter is part of it, immanent with it. The problem is "how to get out of it, thereby getting out of cliché" (96). And yet without reconstructing a new transcendence, a new distanciation between masterful gaze and inert object.

This is a matter of establishing rhythms and resonances rather than likenesses. Relations of affect rather than identity. It's a question of drawing a diagram, which is "the operative set of traits and color patches, of lines and zones" (102). For it's only through the diagram that a "haptic" space, of contact rather than contract, convivial rapport, can be affirmed.

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