Law and Critique (2004) 15: 231–257 DOI 10.

1007/s10978-004-5434-8 MARTY SLAUGHTER

Ó Springer 2005


ABSTRACT. Lyotard and Deleuze made extensive use of modern art to mount a critique of representation as part of their attack on the enlightenment subject. Art breaks out of received rules, conventions, forms, and cliches and is an instance of ethical if not revolutionary activity. Lyotard first developed these ideas through the concept of the Figure, which Deleuze later adopted. Figure is the desire or force that transgresses and deforms the good form of mimetic representation. Using Cezanne and Francis Bacon as paradigmatic examples, they argue that art creates new feelings and desires (Lyotard) or intensities and sensations (Deleuze). For Deleuze this is the model of ethical behavior – the creation of new, productive forms of life free from the negativity of judgment. While Lyotard and Deleuze started from a common point, Lyotard changed his position in his later work on the sublime. Rather than positing a subject of purely affirmative desire and ideally free of the limitations of judgment, he posited a subject seized by and limited by the law. The subject is by nature divided: always already seized by and hostage to an Other, an unrepresentable excess or remainder. He is under an obligation to recollect and respond to the Other by bearing witness to it. The sublime experience of seizure by the law is exemplified in the paintings of Barnett Newman. While Deleuze would have done with judgment, Lyotard can never have done with it. KEY WORDS: aesthetics, art, Deleuze, ethics, Figure, judgment, Lyotard, representation, sublime

INTRODUCTION For many theorists, critique begins with representation. Critical lawyers are, or should be, no less concerned with it. This critique consists of a rejection of the platonic, mimetic view of representation. It implies that there is a world and a cosmic order that defines the good, and that that world and good are isomorphically represented. This theory has its analogue in the rational, autonomous subject of the enlightenment. Representation is an instrument of reason and under the control of it. If you no longer believe that the subject is defined by reason; or if you no longer believe that there is an isomorphic relation between reality, thought and image, then the whole enlightenment



edifice falls. Representation and the autonomous enlightenment subject have been challenged on a number of fronts – phenomenological, existential, psychoanalytic, deconstructive, Deleuzian – and, to the extent that these critiques have come into critical legal thought, it has been mainly in terms of language. The critical basis of representation, however, is wider than this and can extend into the visual. Two theorists who have done so are Lyotard and Deleuze. For Lyotard and Deleuze the crucial distinction is not between language and the visual but rather between the discursive and art. It is art that discovers the creation, deformation and/or limits of representation and they both delineated a critical category called ‘Figure’ that is before, beneath or beyond representation. This means therefore that they were not primarily concerned with the content or meaning of ‘images’ but rather with the way in which material or formal properties are the critical, if not fundamental element of art. Since visual art, particularly modern painting, keeps signification and representation to a minimum, it provides a particularly fertile ground to explore these formal properties and both Lyotard and Deleuze discuss it extensively. In order to extend the critique of representation beyond its narrow focus on language, I focus here on visual art.1 For Lyotard and Deleuze ‘art’ is not just a weekend activity. For both, it gives access to dimensions of ‘life’ that enlightenment theory ignored: the sensate (Deleuze) or the unconscious (Lyotard). It is a means of transformation and achieving change and some degree of ‘liberation’, not least from the illusion of the rational and autonomous subject and its theories of justice. Without art we are trapped in old and inadequate forms, like being trapped in old photos. Art creates its own kind of thought. As it turns out, however, although Lyotard and Deleuze started from positions that were sympathetic if not similar, they came to radically opposed visions of what that thought was. For Deleuze art flees from law, for Lyotard art inscribes it.

Note: Lyotard and Deleuze try to express what exists beyond the representational content of language through their writing styles. As a result, discursive summary or paraphrase is not entirely adequate. To the extent that is possible in a translation, I let them speak in their own words. It is ultimately these that will or will not move.






In all his works – both philosophical and psychoanalytic – Lyotard was interested in the remainder – what escapes thought, knowledge and representation. There is something more than the rational subject and its productions, and in his early work this is the energy of drive and desire. For Lyotard, there is energy, drive and desire on the one hand, and rationality, structure and signification on the other hand. These are not resolved in representation; rather there is something that remains after (below, beyond) it. In ‘discourse’, signifiers do not fully re-present objects, be they from the external or internal world. Rather there is always an irrational force that circulates and remains in excess. In his early book, Discourse, Figure, Lyotard called this excess Figure.2 Discourse – be it linguistic or visual – is infected with Figure. First some definitions. Lyotard defined discourse narrowly as a structure of signification, more broadly as the informational use of language, but it has its analogue in painting. The ‘discourse’ of painting would be rules of perspective, figuration or the well-formed image, and narration. For Lyotard, in painting and literature, modern art revealed a dimension of language and the visual beyond the significative and discursive. This excess he called Figure. Lyotard introduced the concept of Figure in Discourse, Figure, a long, complex, still untranslated book, written in a style meant to capture the excess in language. It analyzes the discursive and Figural elements in language and in painting but I will focus on the latter. To be precise, Lyotard identifies three kinds of figure. The first, Figure image, is what we normally call the ‘figure’ (as in the distinction between ‘figure’ and ‘ground’), the representation that we see in the picture of an object.3 It is ‘a contour (an outline) and belongs to the visible order’.4 The second, Figure-form, is ‘present in the visible, is
J.F. Lyotard, Discours, Figure (Paris: Editions Klinckseick, 1974). Parts have been translated in M. Lydon, ‘The Dream-Work Does Not Think’, in A. Benjamin, ed., The Lyotard Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 19–55 (Lyotard, ibid., 239–270); M. Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure: The Utopia behind the Scenes of Phantasy’, Theater Journal 35/3, (October 1983), 333–357 (Lyotard, ibid., 327–355); M. Lydon, ‘Veduta on Discours, figure’, Yale French Studies 99 (2001), 10–26; V. Constantinopoulous, ‘Discourse, Figure: Digression on the Lack of Reality’, Architectural Design (March 1998), 32–33 (Lyotard, ibid., 284–286); M. Smith, ‘From Discours, Figure’, in H. Pietersma, ed., Merleau Ponty: Critical Essays (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989), 309–322 (Lyotard, ibid., 18–23; 53–59). 3 Lyotard, ibid., 71. 4 Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, at 333n.



itself visible if need be, but generally is not seen.’5 It is ‘the regulating line, the Gestalt of a configuration, the architecture of a painting’.6 It is an invisible scheme that organizes, as in the scheme of Euclidian space as seen in Renaissance perspective.7 This kind of pictorial representation is ‘good form’ or a kind of ‘plastic writing’.8 The third kind, figure-matrix, is the most important, is what others mean when they refer to Lyotard’s concept of the Figure, and is what I shall be discussing.9 It is ‘invisible in principle’ but it is not a structure, which is an intelligible order.10 It comes from neither plastic nor textual space. Rather, the Figural comes from ‘the other space’, beyond the intelligible or rational, which is to say, the unconscious. The Figure is called the matrix because it is the source of disruption to discourse. It is not a thing but an energy or a force, like the wind, that works on the ‘discursive elements of language and art by disturbing or disrupting or complicating linguistic and visual representation’. It ‘blocks’ or brings together two discontinuous orders, e.g., signification and affectivity, to produce what is logically incompatible.11 Thus Figure creates a radical rupture with the rules of structural opposition that control signification, representation and rational discourse. Figure produces ‘difference itself’, which cannot be subsumed in the structure of oppositions in language, or into an image or a form in plastic art.12 In visual art, Figure disrupts the well formed image and transgresses the law of good form. It creates and/or is ‘bad form’ or the ‘formless’. It is the working or movement of desire and is seen for example in Jackson Pollack’s action painting, which is likened to drooling or dribbling.13 Lyotard’s model for the Figure is Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams: just as desire works on the figures in dreams and phantasies,
Lyotard, supra n. 2, at 271. Lydon ,‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, at 333n. 7 Lyotard, supra n. 2, 277. 8 Ibid., 271. 9 A word of caution: terminology here is confusing. A ‘figure’ is a shape or form, as for example the figure of a man or umbrella. A ‘Figure’, on the other hand, is a theoretical construct created by Lyotard and then used by Deleuze. I have tried to maintain a clear distinction between these two by the use of small and capital letters. 10 Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, at 333n. 11 Y. Bois and R. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 107. 12 Lyotard, supra n. 2, 278. 13 Ibid., at 277.
6 5



so Figure works in linguistic and visual discourse.14 One of the reasons Lyotard was interested in Freud’s model was that presentations in the unconscious are visual.15 There the ‘word-presentations’ of waking thought are ‘worked over’ and disguised through processes such as condensation and displacement. The dream pushes language into visual images and makes it spatial, somewhat like a newspaper text that has been crumpled.16 As it does this, it creates something different from waking thought. For Lyotard, therefore, the dream is something that ‘works’; it is the ‘effect on language of the force exerted by the figural (as image or as form).’17 The dream molds the force of desire, and just as that libidinal force is exerted on thing presentations in the dream, it is also exerted on linguistic and visual discourse to produce an excess. Two qualities of dreams (and phantasies) are significant for Lyotard’s analysis of art. First, the unconscious is a-temporal: things that are sequential appear simultaneously and this transgresses the laws of rational thought. Second, since there is no negation in the unconscious contradictory things can appear together. Thus dreams and phantasies have the logic of ‘but also’ or ‘but and’. Desire transforms ‘everything into its opposite, holding both of these things together at once’.18 This transgresses the laws of good (discursive) form. The capacity of something to be two different things is caused by the alteration or pulsation of the drives, Eros and the death drive.19 While Eros binds energy and conserves order, the death drive moves toward the external, toward a total discharge of energy, to return life to its original state; as such it unbinds energy and disrupts. Since the
14 See also Lyotard’s critique of (early) Lacan in Lydon, ‘Dream-work’, supra n. 2, 19–55. 15 Freud makes a distinction between ‘word presentations’ and ‘thing presentations’ (which are visual). In conscious thought, thing-presentations are bound to word-presentations. In the unconscious, however, only thing-presentations are found. In dreams, word-presentations are treated as thing-presentations and undergo the primary processes (condensation, displacement, etc.) just as thing-presentations do. J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 1973). 16 Lyotard, supra n. 2, 247. 17 Lydon, ‘Dream-work’, in supra n. 2, 51. 18 R. Krauss, The Optical Unconsciousness (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 221. Krauss provides an excellent analysis of Lyotard’s interpretation of Freud’s fantasy, ‘A Child is Being Beaten’. 19 See the discussion in Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, 352 ff.



drives work independently of one another, they produce rhythms of pulsation. The drives do not form a complementary system, however, but rather are blocked together to occupy ‘an identical position in (libidinal) space simultaneously’.20 This is the analogue (and the source) for the Figure, as it both forms and de-forms. The charge and discharge of pulsation of the pleasure principle is ‘an on/off throb, a recurrence, guaranteeing that an ‘‘on’’ will always follow an ‘‘off ’’.’ This creates good form or rhythm. The pulsation associated with the death drive, however, is experienced as ‘an interruption; existence followed by total extinction’, ‘as an absolute break, that discontinuity without end that is death’. This is the formlessness of the death drive operating below the pleasure principle.21 Figure therefore expresses ‘the pulsation of pleasure, but it is the pulse as well of death’ and attempts to say what cannot be said in discourse. It is not good form, rather it is the ‘bad form’: the ‘vehicle of undoing form’.22 The Figure as both form and its transgression confines or arrests difference ‘on the very brink of absolute difference (the difference between life and death)’, ‘on ‘‘the razor’s edge’’… in the state of tension between tension and discharge, life and death, lifedeath’.23 Thus it repeats itself ‘in the scansion of desire.’24 What particularly interests Lyotard is the edge of the fracture or gap. In the same way that Freud hesitates between these two in the Fort/ Da, figurality as difference is the opening up of a spacing.25 Thus it is not ‘an interval separating two terms that belong to the same order, but an utter disruption of the equilibrium between order and non-order.’ Figure de-constructs discourse: ‘underneath the figural: difference … the principle of disorder, the incitement to jouissance’.26

Ibid., 343. See also the discussion in G. Bennington, Lyotard: Writing the Event, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 98 ff. 21 Krauss, supra n. 18, 222; Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, 355. 22 Bois, supra n. 12, 108. 23 Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, 355; Bennington, supra n. 21, 99. 24 Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, 355. 25 This is not the spacing of opposition in a structure, the ‘separating terms that belong on the same plane’. Rather it is a ‘fracture’, or ‘chasm’, with two sides ‘of widely differing altitudes’. Lydon, ‘Fiscourse Digure’, supra n. 2, 354. 26 Ibid., 334–335. See J. Williams, Lyotard and the Political (London: Routledge, 2000), 66–71.




CEZANNE According to Lyotard, all great art bears some degree of the form-less qualities of the Figure and he was interested in modern painting because it is primarily based on the Figure rather than on mimesis or the representation of nature. For Lyotard, art following Cezanne and Klee is ‘the trace of an energy [affect] that condenses, displaces, figures forth, elaborates, without regard for the recognizable.’27 Painting ‘does not live by what it says or communicates, but by what affects it conducts.’28 The paradigmatic example is Cezanne. We tend to forget a painting is simply colored paint on a flat canvas. Instead we see a figure, a story, a meaning and read it like a text. Lyotard and Deleuze, however, are not interested in the semiology or iconology of paintings and are not interested in reading and interpreting figures like texts. Rather, they are interested in what lies outside of representation – in the intensities, affects and sensations. Those are not found in the ‘discourse’ of a painting but primarily in its materiality, in particular in color. In several instances they deal with painters who privileged color relations over form and contour. Cezanne is one of the greatest of the colorists. For Lyotard and Deleuze (and countless others) Cezanne is the founder of modern art. Both see Cezanne as the artist who broke with the regulative regime of good form, the resolved and closed forms of representation. In painting, good form is found in the structure imposed by Albertian perspective, in the contours of figures (whether ideal as in Leonardo or realistic as in Vermeer) and in narration (whether it be the Nativity or Rape of the Sabine Women). In painting, these elements are roughly the equivalent of words and grammatical rules in language and each poses a problem for the artist who would create something new. It is, for example, difficult to paint more than a single figure without introducing a narrative between the figures, a story indicated by the relation of the bodies or their exchange of gazes. Cezanne’s paintings of bathers were revolutionary because there are a number of figures but they do not exchange glances and this blocks any narrative relation. Or to take another example, Cezanne’s paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire do not

Lydon, ‘Veduta’, supra n. 2, 21 (Lyotard, supra n. 2, 238). Williams, supra n. 26, 70. Lyotard is responding to M. Merleau-Ponty, ‘Cezanne’s Doubt’, in Sense and Non-sense, H. Dreyfus and P. Dreyfus, trans. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 11.




establish space through Albertian perspective but rather through his use of color. Lyotard returned to painting and to Cezanne throughout his works but it is sufficient here to locate his elementary point. Like Deleuze, he argues that the artist’s task is to break out of ‘discourse’ – received rules, forms, representations, and structures. This is the way to change and the artist is an exemplary revolutionary in experimenting and working against structures and representations to create new ‘dispositions’, i.e., new feelings, desires, intensities, transferences and combinations of affect.29 And the prime artist-revolutionary is Cezanne, who broke with the perspective, figuration and narration that has dominated art since the Quattrocento. Cezanne accomplished his revolution by abandoning contour in favor of the intensities and affects of color, in juxtapositions of single patches of color that work against representation and unified space. For Lyotard, Cezanne achieved a revolution similar to Freud’s. Both rejected a principle of unity – Freud, the unity of consciousness; Cezanne, the unity of image and perspective – in favor of ‘an unsuppressible principle of dispersion’.30 What Cezanne particularly ‘disperses’ is the Renaissance canon of perspective (the syntax of painting). As Lyotard points out, the eye sees not only what the viewer focuses on frontally, but also what is on the periphery. Thus the eye and its percepts are not fixed but mobile. In focusing on an object, we repress the peripheral. Any attempt to analyze or grasp the periphery however reduces and falsifies it. There is therefore an irreconcilable difference between focal and lateral vision. For Lyotard, ‘the periphery is not merely blurred, it is other, and any attempt to grasp it loses it. Here is difference within the visible.’ What the artist needs to portray is the ‘unbalanced configuration of space before any construction’. 31 The truth of painting therefore is not signification or the straight lines of Albertian perspective but is ‘posed otherwise as plasticity and desire, curved extension…’32

Williams, supra n. 70 ff. See Lyotard, ‘La peinture comme dispositif libidinal’ ´ [1972] and ‘Freud selon Cezanne’ [1971], in Des Dispositifs Pulsionnels (Paris: Christian Bernard, 1980). 30 Ibid., 75. 31 Bennington, supra n. 20, 74. 32 Lyotard, supra n. 2, 13. See B. Readings, Introducing Lyotard: Art and Politics (London: Routledge, 1991), 24–26.




This truth is revealed in Cezanne’s late paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. There ‘space is no longer in any way representational, it embodies, on the contrary, the deconstruction of the focal zone by the peripheral curved range of the field of vision…’ The paintings do not present an image of the mountain ‘out there’, represented according to the rules of Euclidian space or good form. Rather they show the mountain ‘in the process of giving itself to be seen, so to speak, the landscape as it might be seen before looking at it …’33 They present ‘the density or thickness of the visible … which is lost once viewing is understood in term of vision, of the transparency of an object for a subject. For [Cezanne] the image is divided from itself by its simultaneous participation in radically different spaces, and the effect of this is to testify to something that cannot be represented.’34 It testifies to the Figure, the unrepresentable excess of the image. Cezanne insisted that the unrepresentable could not be accessed by a grasping rationality but only through an active stillness or immobility, through waiting for the mountain to give itself up. He described this as waiting until ‘little sensations’ arose, which sensations he then registered on canvas in multiple planes and layered patches of color. For Lyotard this welling up of sensation is the ‘event’, ‘the irruption of the figural’ into good form or a field of knowledge.35 It ‘permits the body’s own density to well up into the field of perception and carry along with it … an unconscious that is the object of repression’. The paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire record the irruption of the Figural, which is to say, the irruption of Cezanne’s desire.36

DELEUZE Although this was to change, Lyotard’s formations and deformations of the image through the pulsations of libidinal energy are not dissimilar to Deleuze’s flows of energy. And indeed that part of

33 34 35 36

Lydon, ‘Veduta’, supra n. 2, 22. Readings, supra n. 32, 23. Bennington, supra n., 75; cf. Discours Figure, supra n. 2, 21. Krauss, supra n., 218; cf. Discours Figure, supra n. 2, 21.



Lyotard’s project was praised by Deleuze and Guattari in AntiOedipus.37 They ‘are like flows that imply the breaks effected by points, just as the points imply the fluxion of the material they cause to flow or leak: the sole unity without identity is that of the breakflow. The pure figural element – the ‘‘figure-matrix’’ – Lyotard correctly names desire…’38 This comports with Deleuze and Guattari’s ideal of a positive energetics of the body – bodies as desiring machines or Bodies Without Organs before they have been disciplined, socialized and brought to judgment. For Deleuze and Guattari, such judgment is a form of negativity. It restrains or prevents the linking of desire (force) to a fundamental yes of affirmation. For Deleuze – more the philosopher than Lyotard – attacking negativity required a complete rethinking of representation and this required a complete rethinking of the Western philosophical tradition beginning with Plato. Negativity for Deleuze is founded on illusion. It is not something etched in nature but is simply a socially-induced restriction to the intensity and positivity of force. Negative desire and the ethics it generates is one of the problems to which Deleuze’s philosophy and aesthetics respond. From his earliest work, Deleuze argues that the entire edifice of philosophical conceptualization – the method of determining concepts, the concepts themselves and the representation of concepts – is faulty. The metaphysical foundations are based on illusions, as are conceptualizations of the ‘subject’, the moral law, and ethics. Deleuze will replace this with a philosophy of immanence derived from a minority tradition including inter alia the Stoics, Leibniz, Spinoza,
G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, R. Hurley, et al. trans. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 243. There is, however, another half to the story of Lyotard’s Freudianism (as there was for Freud). Lyotard treats not only the deformation of images in the unconscious. He also treats the way in which these are staged in scenarios that express the repressed wish and it is clear that, implicitly at least, he adopted Freud’s view of the law of castration which means desire is grounded in lack. Thus the positive energy of the Figure conflicts with the negative desire of the wish. In the second part of their review of Discourse, Figure, Deleuze and Guattari criticize Lyotard precisely on this point insofar as it prevented him from ‘linking desire to a fundamental yes’. Ibid. Lyotard later claimed that Discourse, Figure was too bound up with Freud and too beholden to the idea of the wish. Although he claimed that along with Levinas, Freud had been his constant companion, he did not write anything overtly psychoanalytic until his last and incomplete writings on the theme of infancy and nachtraglichkeit. He used this, however, not as a psychoanalytic concept but rather as a philosophical one to think a kind of knowledge that consciousness cannot access. 38 Ibid., 244.



Hume, Bergson and Nietzsche. His resultant ‘logic of sensation’ finds expression in modern art, beginning with Cezanne but seen most explicitly in the work of Francis Bacon. Deleuze’s critique of representation is somewhat different from, and more developed than Lyotard’s, in that it was tied to a more general critique of the way in which concepts of the Western philosophical tradition have come into being. His critique of philosophical method can be seen in Bergsonism and then in Difference and Repetition.39 He criticizes Plato’s abstraction of singularities into abstract forms or essences, as well as Aristotelian method, which distributes these into categories, i.e., a static structure of abstraction. In this tradition, concepts are copies of forms and representation follows the concept; it is mimesis. For Deleuze, however, it is the other way around. Representation determines and then reifies illusory concepts. Representation therefore is not a vehicle for establishing truth or the good. It is precisely the opposite – representation simply embodies and crystallizes illusory conceptions. What holds for representations in philosophy holds for conventions and cliches in every day life. In the Platonic tradition, actions are measured by the transcendent criteria of a form (e.g., the Good), as are the moral law and social conventions. But for Deleuze, these criteria are representations and hence illusions. Furthermore, representations have constituted various ‘regimes of signs’ that have been used to enforce social order (what kind of regime depends on the social set-up of power).40 Regimes use representations to codify the world in general and the body in particular and then regulate these through the moral law as well as through social conventions and orthodox beliefs. The point for Deleuze therefore is that it is not enough to attack representation; it is just the tail of the dog. What is necessary is to rethink the whole tradition of philosophical concepts and this must start with a different method of thinking. For Deleuze, the tradition of essences and their predications takes an original multiplicity or heterogeneity of forces – the infinite interactions in which they occur and the infinite varieties they produce – and suppresses their difference. Materials have their own singularities, idiosyncrasies, and their own intensities or forces and traditional
G. Deleuze, Bergsonism, H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, trans. (New York: Zone Books, 1988); G. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, P. Patton, trans. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 40 See R. Bogue, Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts (London: Routledge, 2003), 83.



philosophy denies the reality of pure difference a sensible existence of its own. ‘Reality’ is constituted by forces and these continuously interact to produce difference, i.e., the differential resulting from the confrontation of forces. Since all phenomenon is in the final analysis the action and interaction of force, life is becoming rather than being, natura naturans rather than natura naturata. Thus he replaces traditional theories of form and matter with the forces of becoming and of creating. For Deleuze ‘beyond prepared [formed] matter lies an energetic materiality in continuous variation, and beyond fixed form lie qualitative processes of deformation and transformation in continuous development.’41 Life is the endless and dynamic occurrence of ‘events’ – of germination, deformation, and recreation. At the most fundamental level, life is the collision and interaction of forces and affects rather than a static array of bodies, beings, or forms. For Deleuze traditional philosophical concepts have ultimately produced a vision of the world constituted by ‘organic’ bodies – organized and hierarchically ordered and hence regulated, forms. While Deleuze’s theory of force applies to all bodies, his observations apply most especially to the body we call human. For Deleuze a body is ‘not an organism – a coordinated, unified, regulated whole, with senses that operate together in their reports of the outside world.’42 Rather it should be understood as a ‘body without organs’ (BWO), an intensive body of sensation, sensation being an interaction of forces. The BWO is a membrane across or through which forces flow, a mediator between one body and the world of other bodies. Thus whatever organization is attributed to the body is provisional, always in the course of becoming or deforming. For Deleuze, the forces of sensation are immanent in all interactions of and with material. This is a world of ‘invisible forces and visible bodies, the body of sensation rendering visible the invisible forces that play through bodies.’43 In Discourse, Figure, Lyotard regards these forces as the unconscious workings of desire. For Deleuze, however, there is no distinction between mind and other phenomena. Not only is desire energy and force but all phenomena are assemblages of force. While these differences are substantial, for both Lyotard and Deleuze, art or the Figure is what makes the invisible force appear.

D. Smith , ‘Deleuze’s Theory of Sensation: Overcoming the Kantian Duality’, in P. Patton ed., Deleuze: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 43. 42 Supra n. 124. 43 Ibid., 125.




If for Deleuze the function of philosophy is to create new concepts, the function of art is to create new sensations and this entails releasing ‘the sensation beneath and beyond representation’. As for Lyotard, the function of art is ‘not to imitate but to appear.’44 Art makes visible the invisible force – for Lyotard the force of desire, for Deleuze the force of sensation. For Deleuze, art creates the experience of sensation by bypassing the brain and showing ‘on the nerves’ the intensities and collisions of forces. Thus art is a matter of exhibiting singularities and capturing intensities, just as for Lyotard it is a matter of capturing the pulsations of drives. For both, this requires artistic experimentation in order to break or loosen repressive and oppressive structures. Deleuze, in particular, emphasizes the fact that art is the creation of something new (although implicitly Lyotard would agree). Art creates something that is not representation, cliche or a conventional way of seeing things, nor is it the visual equivalent of signification separated from bodies and their desires. For Deleuze, the particular force of painting is that it shows the reality of a body without organs, a body freed from organic representation. (Lyotard’s Figure, the formless or bad form produced by desire is not dissimilar.) This is accomplished by forming and deforming images through the use of color. For Deleuze, therefore, what Cezanne paints ‘is the body, not insofar as it is represented as an object, but insofar as it is experienced as sustaining this sensation …’45 He shows the sensation and the world of becoming, ‘the folding force of mountains, the germinative force of a seed, the thermic force of a landscape’, the ‘applyness’ of apples.46 In Cezanne’s art, therefore, beyond figuration and representation there is sensation and that comes from a power that ‘exceeds every domain and traverses them all.’ This is a power of rhythm, a power ‘more profound than vision, hearing, etc.’. As Cezanne said, this is ‘a logic of the senses’ and ‘is neither rational, nor cerebral.’ 47 Deleuze’s rhythm of sensation is somewhat similar to Lyotard’s pulsations. It ultimately goes back to Klee’s theories of artistic

Ibid., 118, citing Henri Maldiney, Regard Parole Space (Lausanne: Editions l’Age d’Homme, 1973). 45 G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (London: Continuum, 2003), 35. 46 Ibid., 57, 87. See D.H. Lawrence, ‘Introduction to These Paintings’, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers (New York, 1936), 578–579. 47 Supra n. 45, 42.




creation, but Deleuze’s immediate source is the phenomenologist and art historian, Henri Maldiney, who identifies three movements in the creation of painting.48 First, there is a chaotic world of sensation (Cezanne’s ‘abyss’), then an opening toward creation, a point that ‘leaps into the realm of order’ and begins to move.49 Then comes a ‘systolic condensation of elements’ in which self and world are separated from chaos and definite shapes are formed. That is followed by a diastolic eruption of forces that dissolves those shapes and establishes a ‘pathic communication’ among the components of the whole (Cezanne’s ecstasy, ‘the blues’!).50 Then the ‘chaos’ returns and it starts again. The systolic-diastolic pattern is a rhythm of formation and deformation, appearing and disappearing. For Maldiney this was the rhythm of the lived body. For Lyotard it was the dissonant ‘rhythm’ of the pulsations of the drives, of binding and unbinding, of transformation and deformation in dreams and Figure. For Deleuze however it is the rhythm of the ‘affective forces immanent within the real.’51 Along with Lyotard, Deleuze saw Cezanne’s revolution developing in two different ways in 20th century art: into pure abstraction, as in Mondrian’s geometrical paintings, and into abstract expressionism and action painting, as in Pollack’s dribbles of paint. For Deleuze, however, the problem with abstract art is that it minimizes the force of chaos and is too dependent on line. It is cerebral and had become a new code and form of representation or signified. Abstract expressionism goes to the other extreme and is immersed in the chaos of materiality. It cannot ‘stand on its own’ (literally: Pollack worked on a horizontal canvas). Deleuze finds his ideal in Francis Bacon’s art of ‘figuralism’, a third way between the figurative and the abstract.52

Maldiney, supra n. 44. Bogue, supra n. 40, 119 quoting Paul Klee, J. Spiller, ed., Notebooks, Vol. 1, R. Manheim, trans. (New York: Wittenborn Art Books 1961), 4. 50 Ibid., 120. 51 R. Bogue, ‘Gilles Deleuze: The Aesthetics of Force’, in P. Patton, ed, Deleuze: A Critical Reader (London: Blackwell, 1996), 264. 52 Images of Bacon’s paintings, arranged by year, can readily be found at




Bacon’s work is exemplary for Deleuze. It is figurative, indeed almost exclusively focused on the human body but these figures are neither idealized nor naturalistic and in some ways they are analogous to Cezanne’s mountains. Furthermore, throughout his work Bacon was interested in the tensions or forces experienced by the body – a cough, hiccup, spasm, ‘the desire to sleep, to vomit, turn over…’53 While these may be ordinary tensions, they show the body rousing itself in minor movements from one state to another, which is to say, show the movement and collision of energies. Although Bacon claimed he was interested in the inertia of bodies, for Deleuze the dominant characteristic of Bacon’s paintings is movement, large or small. On a grander scale, therefore, it can be said that Bacon’s paintings move between inertia and arousal, figuration and deformation, contour and chaos to create Figure – the rhythms of force that stand on their own.54 Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation is a stunning combination of the originality of Deleuze and the genius of Bacon, characteristically including a minority tradition, in this case, of art historians. It is a brilliant ‘reading’ of Bacon (sometimes literally: it relies heavily on Bacon’s interviews with David Sylvester).55 One can see however the way in which Deleuze extends the idea of force and with it Lyotard’s Figure (or the Figural). What Deleuze calls the Figure emerges in Bacon’s paintings through the various combinations and renditions of contour, form and structure (space). For Deleuze the Figure in Bacon does not just show the forces that operate under and destroy the figurative or representation. Rather it goes beyond deformation to render sensation in itself. Where for Lyotard the Figure is the energy and work of desire, for Deleuze it is the rhythm of Life. In approaching Bacon’s style, Deleuze first shows the various ways in which Bacon presents sensation. He then deepens the analysis to show how the forces of the sensations are composed through Bacon’s material and ‘techniques’. Deleuze therefore identifies the three basic elements of Bacon’s paintings: these are figure (bodies), contour (rings, cubes, etc. which enclose bodies), and structure (the monochromatic ground of color). He further distinguishes the Figure or

Supra n. 45, 59. See J. Williams, ‘Deleuze on J.M.W. Turner’, in K. Ansell-Pearson, ed., Deleuze and Philosophy: The Difference Engineer (London: Routledge, 1997), 233–246. 55 The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, 1962–1979, D. Sylvester, ed., 3rd edn. (London: Thames & Hudson, 1987), 48.




Figural from the figurative or representation. It implies the ‘relationship of an image to an object that it is supposed to illustrate’.56 As had been the case with Cezanne, Bacon’s accomplishment was to liberate the Figure from the figurative, i.e., from representation, illustration and narrative. Deleuze goes on to identify ‘genres’ in Bacon’s paintings roughly corresponding to periods in his work. In the first genre, Bacon isolates single figures. In the second, he couples them. The third genre is represented by triptychs, which present multiple figures on separate panels. Each of the genres combines the elements of figure, contour and structure to produce three kinds of ‘movements’ or collisions of force. The three movements of isolation, deformation, and dissipation are analytic moments that illustrate more generally the ‘logic of sensation’. In the first movement of isolation, Bacon situates a single body in a ring, box etc. The field (background color) envelops the contour and presses in on the body to create vibrations between the two. This is the systolic movement toward the condensation of a shape and the vibration it creates characterizes simple sensation. In the second and diastolic movement, the figure is deformed as ‘[a]n intense movement flows through the whole body, a deformed and deforming movement…’57 Something inside it is happening and exerting effort to free itself in order to become a Figure, ‘become’ being the operative word.58 For Deleuze the primary becoming of man is becoming-animal. Roughly this means returning to un-organized and dis-organized materiality, which for Deleuze is the ‘common fact’ between man, animal and nature. Bacon, for example, often treats the body or flesh as meat.59 There is then a tension between the meat-flesh and the more durable structure of bone, spine and teeth. For Deleuze ‘[m]eat is the state of the body in which flesh and bone confront each other…’60 Flesh sinks into bone; it is drowsy, weighed down,

Supra n. 45, 2. Ibid., 19. 58 Bogue, supra n. 40, 127. 59 Bacon in supra n. 45, 24. (Bacon was fascinated by meat and carcasses in butcher shops: ‘Of course … we are potential carcasses.’ Supra n. 55, 46). See e.g., Painting, 1946; Figure with Meat, 1954. 60 Supra n. 45, 22.




wounded, suffering. Bone on the other hand rises up through flesh as, for example, the spine shows through a stretched back or teeth rise up through the soft flesh of the mouth.61 One of Bacon’s most characteristic deformations is of the face. For Deleuze ‘the face is a structured, spatial organization that conceals the head’. The head is the more interesting organ since it is dependent on the body and, as such, more integral to it.62 Rather than the face being the locus of spirit (as in conventional portraits) the head is a ‘spirit in bodily form … It is the animal spirit of man…’63 ‘The head-meat is a becoming-animal of man’.64 Bacon captures this by undoing the face to reveal the head: in Bacon’s many portraits, the face is rubbed out and distorted to reveal somewhat animal-like features, ‘like an animal we had been sheltering’.65 In these deformations, Bacon creates a ‘zone of indiscernability or undecidability’, which only art can penetrate.66 The zones of undecidability here are between man and animal. Man becomes animal, animal becomes spirit and most importantly, sensation is seen to pass from one to another. The third movement of force is dissipation, which completes the diastolic. The body presses outward, trying to pass out of itself and its contour to dissolve into the field of color. Bacon has several paintings of a figure bending or vomiting over a washbasin, or sitting on a toilet, or staring into a mirror. It is shown trying to escape or flow out of itself, to disappear down or through a hole. The escape is into the field of color and into materiality. The contour of the figure becomes a membrane as the figure moves toward or into the field of color, the material structure.67 In Figure at a Washbasin, 1976, for example, the
Ibid. See e.g., Head I, 1949; Three Figures and a Portrait, 1975. The difference between meat/flesh and bone is evidenced in Bacon’s fascination with the crucifixion: ‘on the one hand, the sublime religiosity of the crucifixion shows an attempt to redress the body upright toward the radiance of the heavens, but, on the other hand, all transcendent uplift is countered by the weighty pulling of the flesh downward toward its own animality.’ D. Polan, ‘Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation’, in C. Boundas and D. Olkowski, eds., Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1994), 238. See Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, 1944; Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962; Triptych – Crucifixion, 1965. 62 Supra n. 45, 20. 63 Ibid. 64 Ibid., 27. 65 Ibid., 21. See e.g., Three Studies for Self Portrait, 1973. 66 Ibid. 67 Ibid., 15.



body ‘exerts an intense motionless effort upon itself to escape down the blackness of the drain’, to destiny.68 In escaping from itself, it ‘discovers the materiality of which it is composed…’.69 In a similar vein, the body can be shown in ‘process of a full and violent becoming, racked by spasms, wrenching cries, vibrant thrusts of transmuting flesh.’70 The most famous examples are Bacon’s paintings after Velasquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X.71 Innocent’s scream is ‘the operation through which the entire body escapes through the mouth.’72 It seems to flow into the field, as if the color itself screams. This is what Deleuze means by painting the invisible force, the sensation of the ‘scream’ itself, not the ‘horror’ beyond it, which would be a representation.73 Bacon’s final and most impressive ‘genre’ is the triptych.74 These are three panels with figures but without the traditional narrative element. On each panel, single and/or double figures enter into movements and produce sensations along the lines described above. On top of those, however, further sensations are produced as the sensations of the single panels interact. The sensations draw apart from their individual panels and are released across the panels. This produces multiple interactions and movements that explode across the panels – ‘vertical–horizontal, descent–rise, diastole–systole, naked–clothed, augmentation–diminution’.75 Sensations overlap. As the figures move across the panels in all directions, they are sent into accumulating and accelerating waves of transformation and undergo endless change. The ‘limits of sensation are broken, exceeded in all directions’.76 As color passes into the figure and the figure passes into color, the separation of force and material, sensation and body is transcended. The intensive rhythm of force (systolic–diastolic) is no longer dependent on figure but becomes the Figure.77

Ibid. Ibid., 54–55. 70 Polan, supra n. 61, 237. 71 Among the many, see those painted in 1949 –1951, 1953, 1960, 1961. 72 Ibid., 16. 73 Ibid., 60. See supra n. 55, 48. 74 See e.g., Three Figures in a Room, 1964; Three Studies of the Human Body I & II, 1970; Triptych – In Memory of George Dyer, 1971; Triptych – May–June, 1973. 75 Polan, supra n. 61, 244. 76 Supra n. 45, 73. 77 Ibid., 71, 73.




If Deleuze describes what Bacon achieves, he is no less interested in how he achieves it. The artist is someone who creates something new, in this case sensation, but his manner of creation is no less a lesson for all. According to Deleuze (and Bacon himself) there is no blank canvas; one necessarily starts with representations, crystallized images and cliches (Bacon often started his projects with reproductions, prints and photos). They form the initial image or plan that is then disrupted by a ‘catastrophe’. This could be a line or patch of color that goes off in a new direction, a random mark, a smudge, a sponge thrown at the canvas; it becomes a ‘manual diagram’ that suggest new lines to develop. As the catastrophe scrambles or deforms the initial image, the painting begins to take on a different shape. It moves away from the original form and enters the world of intuition and accident. (Deleuze quotes the Talking Heads: ‘I am changing my shape; I feel like an accident’.)78 There is a zone of indiscernability between the catastrophe and the new image. The one is no longer and the other is not yet. This is the germinative chaos out of which the new form or rhythm emerges, the self-forming, self-shaping activity of art. ‘The essential point about the diagram is that it is made in order for something [the Figure] to emerge from it and if nothing emerges from it, it fails’.79 The Figure emerges from the catastrophe through the force of color. As Cezanne first demonstrated, you ‘must pass through the catastrophe for colors to arise…’80 Color provides a differential relation of forces, the result of which is sensation. Thus the ‘color system itself is a system of direct action on the nervous system.’81 It is ‘the differential relation upon which everything else depends.’ The expansion of color generates Figural form but this is not representation, mimetic form or form imposed by contour. Rather it is a form that is generated from within, that arises from within the field of color, or the field of color forces. ‘The formula of the colorists is: if you push color to its pure internal relations … then you have everything.’82 While structure, figure and contour can be thought in
78 79

See, e.g., Deleuze’s discussion of Painting, 1946, supra n. 45, 156. Ibid., 159. 80 Ibid., 111. See Conversations with Cezanne, M. Doran, ed., J. Cochran, trans. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 114–115. 81 Ibid., 52. Deleuze liked Godard’s formula, ‘it’s not blood, it’s red.’ See G. Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, trans. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 118. 82 Supra n. 45, 139.



terms of forces, they all converge in (the force of) color. They are ‘little more than pieces of a larger permutational or modulatory assemblage governed by the vibratory powers of color…’83 It is color that transforms reality. In the section entitled Analogy, Deleuze discusses his problem with structuralism, which is, as it was for Lyotard, the way in which it is based on clear-cut units and rigorous oppositions. This he likens to digital technology. Deleuze’s model is more like the modulation and gradation of analogue technology.84 In painting color acts as the ‘modulatory assemblage’. It is a ‘force of permutation’ of the various elements of structure and contour. It is an assemblage ‘into which figurative forms are fed and out of which haptic color relations emerge’.85 Through the juxtapositions and modulations of hues ‘there is no longer an inside nor an outside’, but only ‘a continuous creation of space, the spatializing energy of color.’86 The interactions between colors create ‘continuous and variable movements – oscillations, perturbations, flows, twists, spasms, jolts … and result in the forms of the completed canvas, not as objects to be represented, but as products of a self-forming process whereby color in its systolic and diastolic unfolding ‘‘spatializes space’’, spreads into monochrome fields, fills out figures, communicates across contour membranes.’87 The colors and the forms they create render visible the invisible forces inherent in sensation working through the figure.88 In Bacon’s painting there is then first representation, crystallized image and cliche. Subsequently, by virtue of the catastrophe and diagram, it is deformed, reformed and subsumed within a field of non-organic forces, i.e., color. At this point figures are hollowed out and the Figure emerges from the catastrophe. Here ‘we witness the revelation of the body beneath the organism [the BWO], which makes organisms and their elements crack or swell, imposes a spasm on them, and puts them in relation with forces …’89 The Figure here takes on its particular Deleuzian twist: heterogeneous forms may be caught up in the Figure. Bacon provides the final Deleuzian lesson in

83 84 85 86 87 88 89

Polan, supra n. 61, 251. See Bogue, supra n. 40, 132 ff. Ibid., 157. Supra n. 45, 134. Bogue, supra n. 40, 157. Supra n. 45, 151. Ibid., 160.



the multiplicity, difference and possibility that comes before representation. In this, the Figure is a ‘matter of fact’. Not only the figures but also the painting itself must go from the possibility of fact to fact itself ‘where the whole is given at once’.90 As the hand executes the diagram ‘the apparently arbitrary elements of the painting coagulate in a single continuous flow’ that has its own movement.91 This is where painting discovers how to pass ‘from the possibility of fact to the fact itself … the pictorial fact’.92 The movement of force through the hand takes over from eye/mind to achieve a new thing – a new Figure arising through the material or color. This is a way of seeing with the hand. With this ‘the work of art quits the domain of representation to become ‘‘experience’’’.93 What we witness is an elaborate and continuous circulation of force. It is not the imposition of form or concept ‘seen’ by the eye and the cognitive powers. Rather, as the painting takes on a life of its own, the artist is as much led as leading. The painting develops, he responds. He moves on a level of force that bypasses the brain and works directly through the hand. For Deleuze this is where the dichotomy between subject and object breaks down, where force and formation in the artist and the Figure are one. For Deleuze, ‘this passage to haptic vision is the great moment in the act of painting’. This is where the artist ‘seizes hold of life’.94 If there is a definition of the ethical in Deleuze this is it: to effectuate force and seize hold of life; to resist and liberate life from illusion, opinion, dead ideas and representations. Art is and shows the way to ‘becoming-ethical’, a process that necessarily defies law and judgment. In an essay entitled ‘To Have done with Judgment’, Deleuze argues, along with Nietzsche, that Christianity (including Kant) established a ‘new form of power: the power to judge’.95 It organizes an organic body, creates identifications and representations that constrain, and judges any deviations. It puts man under an eternal debt or obligation that can never be paid off. He is always before a judge (or the internal judge of the superego) who applies the law of a transcendent good. This
Ibid., 159. Ibid., 160. 92 Ibid. 93 G.Deleuze Difference and Repetition, P. Patton, trans (London: Athlone, 1994), 56. 94 Supra n. 45, 161. 95 G. Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, D.W. Smith and M.A. Greco, trans. (London: Verso, 1998).
91 90



prevents ‘the emergence of any new mode of existence’.96 To be ethical, one must create the new and to do that one must have done with judgment: ‘what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment’.97 By understanding the body’s intensities, its becomings, and its will to power, one affirms one’s forces and wrestles with antagonistic forces. The ethical is therefore a process, of resisting, of loosening up rigid molar structures so that they become more molecular and permeable, of creating situations for de-territorialization and of pursuing ‘lines of flight’.98 In all these cases it is a question of beginning with difference, with the heterogeneous, multiplicitous energies and relations that constitute ‘vital force’, of seizing hold of life. One must harness forces and join them to create new ensembles, to expand them and to paraphrase D.H. Lawrence, to make them whirl until they ‘harness the maximum force in all directions’.99 Thus the ethical is what is creative – creating new forms be they individual, social or political – in order to bring forth the difference that has until now only been possible, just as Bacon did in his paintings. This is the way to ‘a justice that is opposed to all judgment.’100 LYOTARD

While Deleuze followed these Neitzschean paths of the positive desire of affirmation, in Libidinal Economy Lyotard intensified the positive desire that had been implicit in Discourse, Figure.101 He reports, however, that in the process, he came up against the ‘terror’ of injustice, and this could not be solved without consideration of law.102 That led him to Kant and Levinas and an extended engagement with the concept of the sublime. The sublime is the experience of something so immense and overpowering that the rational faculties are dismantled and the powers of representation come to their limit. For Lyotard the sublime is the experience of the event, the shock of the absolute Other (aka
Ibid., 135. Ibid. 98 See Williams, supra n. 54. 99 Supra n. 95, 134. 100 Ibid., 127. 101 J.-F. Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, I.H. Grant, trans. (London: Athlone Press, 1993) (1st published, 1974). 102 J.-F. Lyotard, Just Gaming, W. Godzich, trans. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985).
97 96



excess, lack, void, abyss). It is the experience of a differend that reason cannot comprehend and it cannot be represented. It presents the ‘unpresentable’. For Lyotard, the essence of the sublime experience is its affects of pleasure and pain (here he borrows from Burke). It is the threat of privation (hunger, cold, dark and death) and the fear that nothing more will take place followed by relief that, in the midst of the terror, something is happening.103 (It is similar to the on/off pulsation of drives described in Discours, Figure and in his late works, he identified it with primary affect which is only experienced later in apre`s coup.)104 Lyotard analogizes the experience of the sublime to Kant’s ‘seizure’ by the moral law. (The content of that law is unknowable and unrepresentable as are the criteria for judgments.) He combined this with the Levinasian idea that the subject is always already hostage to the Other. For Lyotard the sublime is the call or command of the Other that places us under an obligation and judges us. We are taken hostage by the sublime event and bound to an Other that cannot be cognized or represented. The sublime event presents both the Other as the excess of representation – something that has no representation – and the command that we bear witness to it. It is only through the leveling of reason that we become receptive to this event. With this turn to the law, against the unrestrained force of Bacon, Lyotard juxtaposes the austerities of Barnett Newman. NEWMAN Barnett Newman was an abstract expressionist associated with Rothko and Pollock and most known for his vast and rigorously abstract color field paintings. They are distinguished by a flat, uniform field of color divided from top to bottom by two or three thin lines of contrasting color called ‘zips’. ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III’ for example is approximately one meter by two meters.105 On the left edge there is a thin strip of bright yellow, on the
103 J.-F. Lyotard, ‘Newman: The Instant’, in The Lyotard Reader, supra n. 2, 240– 49, 245. See also ‘The Sublime and the Avant Garde’, in The Lyotard Reader, supra n. 2, 196–211. 104 See for example Heidegger and the ‘jews’, A. Michel and M. Roberts, trans. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990) and ‘Emma: Between Philosophy and Psychoanalysis’, in H.J. Silverman, ed., Lyotard: Philosophy, Politics, and the Sublime (London: Routledge, 2002). 105 Excellent reproductions of Newman’s paintings can be found in A. Temkin, Barnett Newman (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002).



right edge a somewhat wider strip of darkish blue. A vast expanse of bright orange-red stretches between them. There is no figure, no depth, nothing ‘beyond’ the smooth, flat field of color. Newman painted the zips having first applied masking tape to outline them. When the zips were dry he tore off the tape and this leaves the impression that the strip is incised into the field of color. For Lyotard, the experience of a Newman painting is the experience of the ‘now’ of the sublime. It presents the occurrence, ‘the moment which has arrived’, the ‘visual event in itself’. There is no message; the painting ‘announces nothing’; it is in itself an ‘annunciation’ and Newman ‘allows it to present itself’. The only purpose of Newman’s paintings is to ‘present the presentation’.106 As Simon Malpas points out, Lyotard’s selection of Newman is not entirely fortuitous. Newman himself wrote extensively on the metaphysics of painting, as well as on the sublime, and he insisted that the subject matter of his paintings is ‘artistic creation itself, a symbol of Creation itself ’.107 This is why he called his strips of color ‘zips’, from the Hebrew word tzimtzum, meaning the moment at which Yahweh created the world by separating himself from the cosmos. In ‘Onement I’, for example, a dark brownish-red field is bisected by a lighter brownish-red zip. For Newman, creation comes out of chaos, its ‘beginning’ re-enacted by a line on empty canvas. ‘Like a flash of lightning in the darkness or a line on an empty surface’, in Creation, ‘the Word separates, divides, institutes a difference … and therefore inaugurates a sensible world’ – a world of color, of the painting.108 Without the flash there would only be chaos but the ‘flash of the tzimtzum, the zip … breaks light into colors and arranges them across the surface like a universe’.109 Creation (including artistic creation) is like the sublime event: ‘it is what happens (this) in the midst of the indeterminate’.110 What happens is the sublime event of the painting before us. Newman’s most ambitious work is a series of fourteen black and white paintings of the Stations of the Cross entitled ‘Lema Sabachthani’ (why hast thou forsaken me?). For Lyotard, ‘We are still
‘Newman’, supra n. 103, 241, 244. Ibid., 243. See S. Malpas, ‘Sublime Ascesis: Lyotard, Art and the Event’, Angelaki 7 (2002) 199–211, 201 and T. Hess, Barnett Newman (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1971). 108 ‘Newman’, supra n., 243. 109 Ibid., 246. 110 Ibid., 243.
107 106



waiting for the Messiah who will bring meaning’ to human suffering.111 Appended to the series is another painting, now entitled ‘Be II’. It is white with a cadmium red zip on one side and ragged black one on the other (perhaps signifying man and death, respectively). The painting does not offer a resolution or solution to Christ’s question. Rather it presents a command ‘Be’: ‘the recurrence of a prescription emanating from silence…’112 ‘Be’ – the ‘relief that there is’ – is the response to the terror of ‘forsaken’ man.113 This is the sublime event: in the instant, out of nothing, something is happening: light and color are happening. This ‘instant’ of Newman’s paintings is the birth of the ethical. For Lyotard Newman’s paintings give ‘colour, line or rhythm the force of an obligation within a face-to-face relationship … his model cannot be Look at this (over there); it must be Look at me, or to be more accurate, Listen to me’.114 The painting (as otherness, difference) creates an obligation to respond and we are judged accordingly. Thus while Deleuze strips art down to find a self-originating, self-germinating sensation in Figure, Lyotard strips art down to find the figure incised and divided by law. For Lyotard, just as Newman’s zips divide his paintings, the law divides man from himself. Lyotard comes down firmly on the side of castration, lack and debt and there is no hope of moving into credit, of force and the body being joined in affirmative desire. Force is necessarily constrained; some things are not Neitzschean and cannot be affirmed. Rather, ‘Being announces itself in the imperative’.115 The law and being are born in the same moment and we exist under a constitutive obligation. Looking inward, we are wounded by a law that constitutes our uncanny Other, obliges us to it, and excludes it from representation. Looking outward, there are the silent and invisible Others to whom we are hostage and obliged, those who ‘call’ but who are not and cannot be represented. For Lyotard, art is an event that presents the unpresentable. In so doing it bears witness to the remainder, what remains in excess of representation, and commands us to do likewise. The virtue of art is not that it unleashes unrestrained energy; the virtue of art is that it imposes an obligation: to respond, to recollect, to open ourselves to see/hear the trace/voice of the unrepresentable, to bear witness. And
111 112 113 114 115

Ibid., Ibid.; Ibid. Ibid., Ibid.,

248. Malpas, supra n. 107, 208. 242. 248.



we are judged in terms of that obligation. Unlike, Deleuze, Lyotard can never have done with judgment. CONCLUSION: THE ARC


Neither Deleuze nor Lyotard ‘happened’ to write about Bacon or Newman. They chose their art carefully for its defining characteristics – in Bacon, the arc of the figure; in Newman, the zip through the field. The arc and the zip are two paradigms for ethics and for justice. One shows the confrontation, then expansion of forces until they leap beyond the canvas into a rhythm of the future. The other sets force in motion but also limits it with a kind of Kantian Achtung! If I were to continue this study, it would be to interrogate the dynamics of these two ‘lines’. Deleuze (and Bacon’s) arcs are rhythmic. Each individual moment is taken up into the whole. While they are energetic, they are also recurrent and for all their deformation, the figures and paintings are curiously whole and graceful. Even as sensation resonates and is separated from bodies (as Deleuze would have it) it is reabsorbed into the Figure. If this is an analogue for ethical action, it suggests a kind of parthenogenesis. It would seem that the ethical actor never gets beyond himself. To be sure, he absorbs what is external and then, transformed, projects his new energy back into the ‘standardizations’ of every day life. This is the spiral of the eternal return. But what he takes back is himself. It is questionable how ‘productive’ this is. For Lyotard, on the other hand, the zip presents the law, the event that interrupts just as for Newman, creation is the event in which God separates from himself. It stands outside of and disrupts the arc of self-generation. The shattering of unity guarantees there will be no reabsorption. The division recognizes something other than self; the ethical is produced by two rather than one. For now, I offer no resolution: between Bacon’s movement and Newman’s austerity; Deleuze’s affirmation, Lyotard’s reality principle; Deleuze’s optimism, Lyotard’s responsibility; Deleuze’s long, detached horizon of revolution, Lyotard’s more urgent view of the least intolerable. The Deleuzian subject hovers on the edge of romantic heroism and risks solipsism,116 Lyotard’s subject teeters on
116 His examples do not always inspire confidence, cf. General Cipriano as the god of war, Huitzilopochtli, in D.H. Lawrence’s ed., The Plumed Serpent: Quetzalcoatl (London: Martin Secker, 1926).



the brink of cynicism and risks paralysis. Each has its ‘force’ as well as its shadow. If there is no resolution, there is a modest observation. Art (in both senses of the word) gives the lie to an illusory and oppressive idea of representation. Law and its order are based on representation and as such might be considered beautiful. Behind representation however is art, just as behind the beauty of the law is the sublimity of justice. Kent Law School University of Kent Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NZ UK E-mail:

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