Notes from ‘Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation’ by Gilles Deleuze

DavisDeleuzebook500These are my reading notes from this excellent book. I would recommend reading the book while looking at each picture he expands upon   HERE This book works not only as a piece of art commentary but as a practical and highly readable introduction to Deleuze’s anti-representational philosophy.

To paint the violence of sensation, not representation, “to paint the scream more than the horror…”. People in postures of ordinary discomfort and constraint. It is not a taste for horror, but pity that captivates Bacon. The confrontation between Figure and field, wrestling in a shallow depth, that rips the painting away from all narrative and symbolization. When a painting is narrative or symbolic, it doesn’t not express the violence of sensation of the act of painting. Between the figures of each triptych (series of figures in a run of separate frames), they are each morphed and different, but this is not monstrosity: they are rhythms.

2) “painting has neither a model to represent nor story to narrate”. To escape representation, a painter can choose to the pure form, through abstraction; or the figural, through extraction and isolation.

3) “… but the story that is already being told between one figure and another begins to cancel out the possibilities of what can be done with the paint on its own”.

4) The relationship between coupled or distinct Figures he calls matters of fact. They are not intelligible relations (of objects or ideas).

6) 3 distinct features of Bacon’s art: the material structure, the round contour, the raised image. The blurriness of Bacon is not due to indistinctness, but by “destroying clarity with clarity”.

8) Photography has taken over the documentary and illustrative role. This must have been a burden for past painters. There were also “’religious possibilities’ that gave a pictorial meaning to figuration, whereas modern painting is an atheistic game”. This is not so, the figures have sensuous freedom and intensity as well as the more figurative, narrativizations of Biblical scenes.

11) “…, it would be a mistake to think that the painter works on a white and virgin surface. The entire surface is already invested virtually with all kinds of clichés, which the painter will have to break with.” The photograph is not a figuration of what one sees, it is what modern man sees. Abstract art was necessary to tear modern man away from figuration.

12) It is not I who attempts to escape from my body, it is the body that attempts to escape from itself by means of…. in short, a spasm: the body as plexus, and its effort or waiting for a spasm.”

The entire series of spasms in Bacon is of this type: scenes of love, of vomiting and excreting, in which the body attempts to escape from itself through one of its organs in order to rejoin the field or material structure”.

16) “..,Bacon’s scream, is the operation through which the entire body escapes through the mouth. All the pressures of the body…”.

18) “Bacon’s mirrors can be anything you like – except a reflecting surface”. “What makes deformation a destiny is that the body has a necessary relationship with the material structure: not only does the material structure curl around it, but the body must return to the material structure and dissipate into it, thereby passing through or into these prostheses-instruments, which constitute passages and states that are real, physical, and effective, and which are sensations and not imaginings”.

19) In Bacon’s deformations, “intense movement flows through the whole body, a deformed and deforming movement that at every movement transfers the real image onto the body in order to constitute the Figure”.

20) “Bacon is a painter of heads, not faces.. for the face is a structured, spatial organization that conceals the head, whereas the head is dependent upon the body, even if it is the point of the body, its culmination”. “It is not that the head lacks spirit; but it is a spirit in bodily form, a corporeal and vital breath, an animal spirit. It is a the animal spirit of man: a pig-spirit, a buffalo-spirit, a dog-spirit, a bat-spirit… Bacon thus pursues a very peculiar project as a portrait painter: to dismantle the face, to rediscover the head or make it emerge from beneath the face.”

21) Bacon’s technique of scrubbing and signifying traits take on a particular meaning here. Sometimes the human head is replaced by an animal; but it is not the animal as a form, but rather the animal as a trait”. “In the place of formal correspondence, what Bacon’s paintings constitutes is a zone of indiscernability or undecidability between man and animal. Man becomes animal, but not without the animal becoming spirit at the same time, the spirit of man, the physical spirit of man presented in the mirror as Eumenides or Fate”.

22) “And what achieves this tension in the painting is, precisely, meat, through the splendour of its colours. Meat is the state of the body in which flesh and bone confront each other locally rather than being composed structurally.”For both Bacon and Kafka, the spinal column is nothing but a sword beneath the skin, slipped into the body of an innocent sleeper by an executioner.”

Bacon does not say “pity the beasts”, but rather that every man who suffers is a piece of meat. Meat is the common zone of man and beast, their zone of indiscernability; it is a ‘fact’, a state where the painter identifies with the objects of his horror and compassion.”

The painter is certainly a butcher, but he 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 butcher’s shops.”

The man that suffers is a beast, the beast that suffers is a man”.

The mouth then acquires this power of non-localization that turns all meat into a head without a face. It is no longer a particular organ, but the hole through which the entire body escapes, and from which the flesh descends… This is what Bacon calls the Scream, in the immense pity that the meat invokes”.

…whatever its importance, becoming-animal is only one stage in a more profound becoming-imperceptible in which the Figure disappears.”

Bacon suggests that beyond the scream there is the smile, to which, he says, he has not yet been able to gain access. Bacon is certainly being modest; in fact, he has painted smiles that are among the most beautiful in painting, and which fulfil the strangest function, namely, that of securing the disappearance of the body.” (The Cheshire cat’s smile)

One senses that the smile will survive the effacement of the body”.

Sylvester divides Bacon’s work into three periods: The first is where the precise Figure confronts the hard and bright field of colour; the second, in which the “malerisch” (the blurry pulling on the form, thickness of shadow, dark nuanced textures, effects of compression and elongation) drawn against a tonal background; and thirdly, those that bring these two opposite conventions together. It could be said that there is a fourth period, where the figure is lost completely, where there is only jets of water and dunes of sand. These are ‘abstractions’ which no longer need the figure: “the figure is dissipated by realizing the prophecy: you will no longer be anything but sand, grass, dust, or a drop of water…”.

Three basic elements of painting: structure, figure, contour. The coexistence of these forces is brought together by rhythm.

Systole, diastole

34) The Figure 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”. Cezanne gave paining by sensation greater status. “Sensation is the opposite of the facile and the ready-made, the cliché, but also of the ‘sensational’, the spontaneous, etc”. Sensation has one face turned toward the subject and the object, or no faces at all “it is both things indissolubly, it is Being-in-the-world, as the phenomenologists say: at one and the same time I become in the sensation and something happens through the sensation, one through the other, one in the other.” “Sensation is in the body… sensation is what is painted”. “What is painted on the canvas is the body, not insofar as it is represented as an object, but insofar as it is experienced as sustaining this sensation (what Lawrence, speaking of Cezanne, called “the appleyness of the apple”.

35) “paint the sensation” = “record the fact”

36) “sensation is that which is transmitted directly, and avoids the detour and boredom of conveying a story”. Abstract paintings can not deform the body like sensations: they stay in the same area and level

37) “… there are not sensations of different orders, but different orders of one and the same sensation”. Each material sensation has several levels, several orders and domains.

38) Bacon tries to eliminate the ‘sensational’, the primary figuration of that which provokes a violent sensation: “I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror”. “As soon as there is horror, a story is reintroduced, and the scream is botched”.

39) “But there are no feelings in Bacon: there are nothing but affects; that is “sensations” and “instincts” according to the formula of naturalism.”

40) The best sensation is not the most agreeable, but the one that fills the flesh at a particular moment of its descent, contraction, or dilation).

It is not necessary movement that interests Bacon, but movement ‘in-place’, a spasm: although his paintings make movement very intense and violent. It is the action of invisible forces on the body which are the profound cause of bodily deformations.

Between a colour, taste, a touch, a smell, a noise, a weight, there would be an existential communication that would constitute the ‘pathic’ (nonrepresentative) moment of the sensation”.

The painter would thus make visible a kind of original unity of the senses, and would make a multisensible Figure appear visually”.

A vital power exceeds all other domains (visual, audio, etc): the power of rhythm (as music at auditory level, as painting at visual level). This is the “logic of the senses” which is neither rational or cerebral. “Figuratively pessimistic, but figurally optimistic.”

Unlivable power [Puissance].Rhythm goes beyond the organic, beyond the lived body, which is why phenomenology is insufficient here. “Beyond the organism, but also at the limit of the lived body, there lies what Artaud discovered and named: the body without organs. “The body is never an organism / organisms are the enemies of bodies” (Artaud). The body does not have organs but thresholds and levels.

Sensation is not qualitative and qualified, but has only an intensive reality, which no longer determines with itself representative elements, but allotropic variations. Sensation is vibration.”

Sensation, in Bacon’s work takes on an excessive and spasmodic, living yet non organic, exceeding organic activity.”

Dismantle the organism in favour of the body, the face in favour of the head”. Bacon links sensation to the body, it is not a representation but becomes real: and “cruelty will be linked less and less to the representation of something horrible, and will become nothing other than the action of forces upon the body, or sensation (the opposite of the sensational).

Figures become animals not due to their forms, but due to a clarity and non organic precision: forms become indiscernible. “It also attests to a high spirituality, since what leads it to seek the elementary forces beyond the organic is a spiritual will.” “Spirituality is a spirituality of the body”.

BwO is defined by an indeterminate organ (an organism is defined by determinate organs).

BwO is finally defined by the temporary and provisional presence of determinate organs.”

This BwO and these transitory organs are themselves seen, in phenomena known as internal and external “autoscopia” [involuntary movements]: it is no longer my head, but I feel myself inside a head, I see myself inside a head; or else I do not see myself in the mirror, but I feel myself in the body that I see, and I see myself in this naked body when I am dressed… and so forth.”

There is therefore little difference between the hysteric, the hystericized and the hystericizor. The hysteric is too present, and imposes their presence.

It is the body that survives the organism, the transitory organs over the qualified organs, the scream that survives the mouth: this is the excessive presence, the already there and always delayed, presence acting direct on the nervous system which makes representation impossible: this is what Sartre meant when he calls himself a hysteric. With painting hysteria becomes art. Painting transmits cerebral pessimism into nervous optimism. “Painting gives us eyes all over: in the ear, the stomach, in the lungs (the painting breathes…)”.

In a sense, music begins where painting ends, and this is what is meant when one speaks of the superiority of music. It is lodge in the line of flight that pass through bodies, but which find their consistency elsewhere, whereas painting is lodged farther up, where the body escapes from itself.”

There is a common problem among the arts, it is not a matter of reproducing or inventing forms, but of capturing forces. For this reason, no art is figurative.”

Not to render the visible, but to render visible” Paul Klee

To paint the invisible force, the weight of a thing, is more profound than the figurative object.

The transformation of form can be abstract or dynamic. But deformation is always bodily, and it is static, it happens at one place; it subordinates movement to force, but it also subordinates the abstract to the Figure.” “Everything is now related to force, everything is force.” Bacon’s Figures are not it torturous positions, but on the contrary, “they are the most natural postures of a body that has reorganized by the simple force being exerted upon it: the desire to sleep, to vomit, to turn over, to remain seated as long as possible…”.

Bacon establishes a “relationship between the visibility of the scream (the open mouth as a shadowy abyss) and invisible forces, which are nothing other than the forces of the future.”

There are two violences: that of spectacle and that of sensation. The first has to be renounced to reach the second, “it is a kind of declaration of faith in life.”

Bacon says that he himself is cerebrally pessimistic; that is, he can scarcely see anything but horrors to paint, the horrors of the world. But he is nervously optimistic, because visible figuration is secondary in painting, and will have less and less importance.

Life screams at death, but death is no longer this all-too-visible thing that makes us faint; it is this invisible force that life detects, flushes out, and makes visible through the scream.”

Bacon utilizes the invisible forces: isolation (contours and fields around a Figure), deformation (when the head shakes off its face, or body its organism).

Figures that are non illustrative and non narrative (and not even logical), and which could be called, precisely, ‘matters of fact’.” There is a temptation, when painting multiple Figures to narrativize, yet Bacon resists this: coupled figures can play exclusive of narrative.

Bacon does not like to have his subjects before, his eyes, but he must know the subjects well, have memories (impressions) of them and a photograph (or the sensation of a current photograph): he makes of painting a kind of ‘recall’. But this is not an act of memory, but of sensation and resonance.

Bacon’s paintings sometimes have ‘attendants’ (such as the girl in, Man and Child, 1963). ‘Attendant’ is that which maintains a variation, a constant or a measure of the allotropic variations of their bodies, that look inside their heads (can anyone see me? Can anyone hear me? Does anyone care at all?).

There are three rhythms in Bacon’s paintings: active passive and attendant: they do not refer to characters that have rhythm, but themselves are characters. This is felt in the triptych paintings, but it is circular and not linear. Therefore, the triptych’s have a privileged place, as they show sensation as rhythm dependent upon the Figure: vibration flows through the body without organs, to pass from one level to the next. It is the forced movement and rhythm of Bacon’s paintings which give us time, and makes this invisible force visible.

Bacon’s paintings have a diastolic-systolic opposition (the filling and emptying of blood from the heart).

In some paintings, “Bacon uses mutilations and prosthesis in a game of added and subtracted values.”

The decent, is the action of the fall: not necessarily a decent in space, in extension, but a decent in sensation, as the differences in level contained in the sensation. “All tension is experienced in a fall. Kant laid down the principle of intensity when he defined it as an instantaneously apprehended magnitude: he concluded that the plurality apprehended in this magnitude could only be represented by its approximation to negation = 0. A sensations intensity in reality is a decent in depth that has greater or lesser magnitude and not a rise. “Sensation is inseparable from the fall that constitutes its most inward movement or ‘clinamen’.”

Logic of sensation is an irrational logic, that constitutes painting.

Time is no longer the chromatism of bodies; it has become a monochromatic eternity. An immense space-time unites all things, but only by introducing between them the distance of a Sahara, the centuries of an aeon: the triptych and its separated panels… There are nothing but triptychs in bacon: even the isolated paintings are, more or less visibly, composed like triptychs.”

He does not paint in order to reproduce on the canvas an object functioning as a mode; he paints on images that are already there, in order to produce a canvas whose functioning will reverse the relations between model and copy.”

Figuration is a prerequisite of painting, there are ‘figurative givens’. Clichés already fill the canvas before the artist begins. Even reacting against clichés creates clichés They work through photographs via the narration of magazines an newspapers. But Bacon doesn’t like aesthetic photographs, photos for beauty: he wants photos of function, ‘warts and all’, like x-rays or pictures from photo-booths. He does not think photographs are figurative, they are something, and in this way they compete with paintings, but photos can only maul the image (transform the cliché). A photo always remains figurative as a perceived thing. A photo has certitude, but a painting has ‘equal and unequal possibilities’ on the canvas. ‘Free marks’ free the painting from figuration: this is the improbable itself. These marks are accidental but chance here is not probability but a type of choice without probability. They are ‘nonrepresentative’ precisely because they rely on the act of chance (manipulated chance). They are not concerned with the visual image, but the hand of the painter. Chance is non pictorial, and will extract the improbable Figure from the set of figurative probabilities. “There is no chance except ‘manipulated chance’, no accident except a ‘utilized’ accident.” The painter know what he wants to do but he doesn’t know how to get there: he cannot escape representation or resemblance, but Bacon has a formula: “create resemblance, but through accidental and non resembling means.”

When making these ‘accidental’ marks, a brush with a sponge or a rag opens a space, or as Bacon calls it a ‘graph’ or diagram. As if the ‘zone of the Sahara, were suddenly inserted into the head’, a catastrophe overcomes the canvas. “It is the emergence of another world. For these marks, these traits, are irrational, involuntary, accidental, free, random. They are nonrepresentative, non illustrative, non narrative, They are no longer either significant or signifiers: they are asignifying traits. They are traits of sensation but confused sensation.” They are suggestive to give us ‘possibilities of fact’: the diagram is a ‘germ of rhythm’ which ‘unlocks areas of sensation’.

The geometry of the painting is the frame and the sensation is the colour. The diagram is the motif: the colour and the frame.

The diagram or motif is analogical, where as the code is digital: analogical language belongs to the right brain hemisphere (the nervous system), digital language belongs to the left hemisphere. Painting elevates colours and lines to the state of language.

Modern painting begins when man no longer experiences himself as an essence, but as an accident”.

Light is time, but space is colour”

The formula of the colourists is: if you push colour to its pure internal relations (hot-cold, expansion-contraction), then you have everything.” “Colourism claims to bring out a peculiar kind of sense from sight: a haptic sight of colour-space, as opposed to the optical sight of light-time.”

Th practical rules of colourism are the following: the abandonment of local tone; the juxtaposition of unblended touches the aspiration of each colour to totality by appealing to its complementary colour; the contrasting of colours with their intermediaries or transitions; the prohibition of mixtures except to obtain a ‘broken’ tone; the juxtaposition of two complementary or similar colours, one of which is broken and the other pure; the production of light and even time through the unlimited activity of colour; the production of clarity through colour…” – this all attests to the haptic sense of the eye, a vision that everyone who has eyes sees clearly.

The three elements of Bacon’s paintings are the armature (structure), the Figure and the contour: these three converge in colour. Colour explains the unity of the whole and the distribution of each element. “There is indeed a creative taste in colour, in the different regimes of colour, which constitute a properly visual sense of touch, or a haptic sense of sight.” Bacon possibly understood ‘taste’ from when he was a decorator, as the objects in his painting, such as carpets and tables are there for deliberation, even when they are against the ‘taste’ of the artists himself.

One might say that painters paint with their eyes, but only in so far as they touch with their eyes. And no doubt this haptic function was able to reach its fullness, directly and immediately, in ancient forms whose secret we have lost (Egyptian art).

What we may call a fact’ is first of all the fact that several forms may actually be included in one and the same Figure, indissolubly, caught up in a kind of serpentine, like so many necessary accidents continually mounting on top of one another.”


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