Reading Deleuze Reading: Francis Bacon and Franz Kafka

In the final chapter of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Gilles Deleuze writes:

Painting (1946)

We might assume that the [Baconian] diagram makes us pass from one form to another—for example, from a bird-form to an umbrella-form—and thus that it acts as an agent of transformation. But this is not the case in the portraits, where we move across only a single form. And with regard to Painting [see left], Bacon even states explicitly that we do not pass from one form to another. In effect, the bird exists primarily in the intention of the painter, and it gives way to the whole of the really executed painting or, if one prefers, to the umbrella series—man below, meat above. Moreover, the diagram can be found, not at the level of the umbrella, but in the scrambled zone, below and to the left, and it communicates with the whole through the black shore. It is from the diagram—at the center of the painting, at the point of close viewing—that the entire series emerges as a series of accidents “mounting on top of another” [Bacon, Interviews]. If we start with the bird as an intentional figurative form, we see that what corresponds to this form in the painting, what is truly analogous to it, is not the umbrella-form (which merely defines a figurative analogy or an analogy of resemblance), but the series or the figural whole, which constitutes the specifically aesthetic analogy: the arms of the meat which are raised as analogues to wings, the sections of the umbrella which are falling or closing, the mouth of the man as a jagged beak. What is substituted for the bird is not another form, but completely different relations, which create a complete Figure as the aesthetic analogue of the bird (relations between the arms of the meat, the sections of the umbrella, the mouth of the man). The diagram-accident has scrambled the intentional figurative form, the bird: it imposes nonformal color-patches and traits that function only as traits of birdness, of animality. It is from these nonfigurative traits that the final whole emerges, as if from a pool; and it is they that raise it to the power of the pure Figure, beyond the figuration contained in this whole. Thus the diagram acted by imposing a zone of objective indiscernibility or indeterminability between two forms, one of which was no longer, and the other, not yet: it destroys the figuration of the first and neutralizes that of the second. And between the two, it imposes the Figure, through its original relations. There is indeed a change of form, but the change of form is a deformation; that is, a creation of original relations which are substituted for the form: the meat that flows, the umbrella that seizes, the mouth that is made jagged. As the song says, I’m changing my shape, I feel like an accident [Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless”]. The diagram has introduced or distributed formless forces throughout the painting, which have a necessary relation with the deformed parts, or which are made use of as, precisely, “places.” (126-27, bold emphasis added)

I’ve been referencing Deleuze’s “Bacon” writings quite a bit lately (see here, herehere, and here), partly because of a renewed fascination with how Deleuze—for lack of a better word—”reads” things (whether literature, film, painting, physical gestures, etc.). What details catch his eye? What interests him when he reads or views or observes or feels his way around or into or beside an aesthetic object?

It seems to me that Deleuze patiently watches aesthetic objects from the inside out in order to give an account of ideas that (might) emerge from them, ideas that are (or seem) immanent to the singular material and technique and strangeness of each object. And so, for Bacon, he watches the relations between colors, backgrounds, shapes, borders, zones, recognizable objects and partial objects, blurs, arrangements, and resemblances (which turn out to be partial, suggestive). In this brilliant paragraph , for instance, we learn that during his time on the lookout with and among Bacon’s interviews and paintings, Deleuze encounters ideas of

  • deformation (against transformation),
  • accidentality (against the clichés of heroic avant-gardism),
  • pure figuration (the adequation of purity with unfinishedness and awkwardness rather than completeness or untaintedness; the adequation of figuration with collage and the space between rather than symbolic correspondence of a vehicle and tenor),
  • wholeness as the open, changeful assemblage of fragments that together take on a strange consistency,
  • painting as the substitution of the One (this bird or that man) by a whole series or display of different, jagged, blurred, and moving relations,
  • and a non-representational notion of analogy (which, in Difference and Repetition, is one of the restraints that philosophy has put on difference). Is this immediate analogy? Analogy without organs?

Just for an experiment someday, I want to try to read a paragraph of Lawrence or Woolf (or anyone, for that matter: Godwin, Shelley, Wordsworth…) the way Deleuze reads Bacon’s paintings. What would this look like? What would I pay attention to? One wouldn’t look for themes, symbols, or correspondences but, rather, a verbal/visual diagram. An originary deformation around which one might ask, “What flows? From where? To where? What cuts off flows here? Or redirects them? Collects them? Disperses them? What is flowed over? Past? What is lost? Left behind? How am I moved? What forces me to feel and think?” Perhaps there’s a danger in reading literature the way Deleuze reads Bacon. There’s a difference in material, after all.

But, then again, there’s a consistency between the paragraph above and Deleuze(-and- Guattari)’s approach to Franz Kafka:

How can we enter into Kafka’s work? This work is a rhizome, a burrow. The castle has multiple entrances whose rules of usage and whose locations aren’t very well known. The hotel in Amerika has innumerable main doors and side doors that. Yet it might seem that the burrow in the story of that name has only one entrance; the most the animal can do is dream of a second entrance that would serve only for surveillance. But this is a trap arranged by the animal and by Kafka himself; the whole description of the burrow functions to trick the enemy. We will enter, then, by any point whatsoever; none matters more than another, and no entrance is more privileged even if it seems an impasse, a tight passage, a siphon. We will be trying only to discover what other points our entrance connects to, what crossroads and galleries one passes through to link two points, what the map of the rhizome is and how the map is modified if one enters by another point. Only the principle of multiple entrances prevents the introduction of the enemy, the Signifier and those attempts to interpret a work that is actually only open to experimentation. (Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature 3)

For Deleuze(-and-Guattarii), it seems that an act of critical reading—whether one reads Bacon or Kafka—is an act of selection (random selection?) followed by a work of mapping. One locates the diagram and follows the assemblage of connections. One chooses a door or a window and follow the rhizomes. Resist cliché. Resist the signifier. Does the Deleuzian reader become the double of the work itself? Of the writer? Having discussed Mary Shelley and her novel Frankenstein (1818) with my romanticism class last night, I’m sensitive to the idea of making a location in the work of art the beginning of an act of reading. This novel is structured as a series of embedded frames. But with which frame might one begin and to what frames (literary, corporeal, visual, emotional, spatial) does the frame connect? What literary ideas—of solitude, moral decision, sympathy, scorn, loneliness, curiosity, compassion—emerge?

Reading on.


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