Jacques Ranciere

The present article will not seek to situate a Deleuzian aesthetics within a general framework that would be Deleuze's thought. The reason for this is simple: I do not quite know what Deleuze's thought is; I am still looking for it. His so-called aesthetic texts are, for me, a means of approaching it. Approaching, however, is an improper term. Understanding a thinker does not amount to coinciding with his center. On the contrary, to understand a thinker is to displace him, to lead him on a trajectory where his articulations come undone and leave room for play. Only then is it possible to de-fig­ ure [de-figurerj1 his thought in order to refigure it differently, to step outside of the constraints of his words and express his thought in that foreign language that Deleuze, after Proust, made the task of the writer. Here, aesthetics will be a means of loosening that Deleuzian tangle, which leaves so little room for the irruption of another lan­ guage, in order to take him on the trajectory of a question. The present article will not seek to situate Deleuze's dis­ course on art within the framework of aesthetics understood as a discipline having its own objects, methods and schools. For me, the term aesthetics does not refer to a discipline. It does not designate a branch of philosophy or a knowledge of works of art. Aesthetics is an idea of thought, a mode of thought that unfolds about works of art, taking them as witnesses to a question: a question that bears
Qui Parle, Vol. 14, No.2 Spring/Summer 2004

. the calm ideal of the Greek statue in Hegel's work. 5). Deleuze seems to bring us face to face with the work of art in the form of a "here is what there is" ["voila ce qu'il y a"]. that does not need us. Accordingly. The artist creates blocks of percepts and affects. already bicentennial and still so obscure. A round area. as Maurice Denis defines painting. or the flat surface of colored blotches. seated" (FB. on the flat and autonomous surface of the work of art. The surface .that is to say. hysteria becomes art."3 At first glance. an oval area. the first statement expresses what seems to be the requisite of any aesthetics understood as discourse on art: the work of art has a specific mode of being. with the painter. etc. as the unthought in thought. plastic procedures. The work of art can therefore be tragedy as Aristotle defines it. The exem­ plary description of what one of Bacon's paintings presents to the spectator begins in this way: "A round area often delimits the place where the person . And "what there is" may be explained in the terms of a certain grammar of forms. Or rather. the Figure . Flaubert's novel about nothing that rests on the sheer force of style.2 JACQUES RANCIERE on the sensible and on the power that inhabits the sensible prior to thought. of parts and their assemblage. but persists by virtue of its own unifying law of form and matter. a well­ delimited and characterized space. The first statement is found in What is Philosophy?: "The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself. but the only law of creation is that the compound must stand up on its own."2 The sec­ ond appears in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation: "With paint­ ing. I will therefore attempt to show how the objects and modes of Deleuze's descriptions and conceptualizations lead us toward the center of what remains to be thought under this name. this is how Deleuze describes "what there is" [lice qu'il ya"] in front of us. . It is the object that is before us. . The work of art is such that it stands up on its own. of aesthetics. I will take as my point of departure two Deleuzian formula­ tions whose distance from one another seems to amply fix the apparently antagonistic poles of Deleuze's thought on the work of art. hysteria becomes painting.

but that would be freed from this essentializ­ ing function. Here I am thinking of what Flaubert said of his Saint Antoine: the power that should have shaped the work of art like a block of marble reversed its direction. The surface of Bacon's painting is thus defined as a specific combination of the following forms: Riegl's haptic Egyptian space disorganized by the identification of its con­ tour with Worringer's northern line. the field of color that functions as background. the contour has the function of essentializing the figure that it encir­ cles. that prevents the work of art from existing as an autonomous entity. fades. Instead of acting outward. A formula for the painting can thereby be defined in a gener­ al grammar of forms. and deforma­ tion of other elements. why would this arrangement of planes and lines defined by stylistiC criteria take the name of a mental ill­ ness: hysteria? I say "mental illness. the line that curves in. it plunges it into the world of the acciden­ tal by rendering it a space of tension. This problem is formally resolved by an operation focusing on the contour. it acted inward. and while moving inward. it deliquesced. Deleuze identifies the contour with another line that adheres to the logic of another form: Worringer's northern Gothic line. is the reestablishment of a haptic space: a space connecting sight and touch in a single plane.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 3 of Bacon's painting may be described as the simple combination of two forms. it is this space that characterizes the Egyptian bas-relief. Hysteria is precisely the illness that opposes itself to the process of creating the work of art. According to Riegl. while retaining imprisoned within the artist's body the powers that should objectify the work of art and make it autonomous. confrontation. and the rounded form or contour that at once unites and separates them. Yet. changes direction. however. the coexistence on the surface of the canvas of the figure. The problem faced is thus one of defining a space that would have haptic planarity. In Bacon's work. In that space. both identified by the historians and theoreticians of art. This inorganic line disorganizes the essentializing contour. . breaks. First and foremost." but there is an entire tradition of thought that does not consider hysteria to be just any illness.

The classical model of the autonomous work of art consists in dissociating the Aristotelian model in order to play the work's organic consistence against its mimetic dependence. The two ways of becoming an element in a story actually define two different aspects of a single model: Aristotle's represen­ tative model as it was established in his Poetics. not in order to spiritualize it like the Byzantine mandrel. nature as the power of the work against nature as the model of figuration. And there are two ways of becoming an element in a story. but in order to prevent it from coming into contact with the other figures. or make it out of hysteria. from becoming an element in a story. and in the human organism in particular. Second. It is the system or linked sequence of actions. in fact. in the image of the power that finds its fulfillment in the living organism in gen­ eral. means two things. That is to say that the work's techne is in the image of nature. the work of art is the action of representing. It is the nervous effusion or pas­ sion that opposes the athletic and sculptural power of muscles. Representation. The work of art. in so far as it is an organism. is alive. First. There is the external relationship of resemblance. in fact. it means that the work of·art is the imi­ tation of an action. the arrangement of parts that order themselves according to a well­ defined model: the functional arrangement of the parts of an organ­ ism. not in order to essentialize it like an Egyptian contour. A ver­ itable liberation of the work thus presupposes the destruction of this organicity that is the second principle of representation. There are also the connections maintained by the figure to other figures on the very surface of the painting. the oval. How then can the artistic maxim according to which the work of art must "stand up on its own" [lise tenir en soi"] be identified with hysteria? let's return to the first lines of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation for our answer. It is in this way that hysteria is precisely the anti-work.4 JACQUES RANCIERE It flowed within Flaubert like a nervous malady. a well-defined function. The rounded form. They isolate the figure. means undo- . the relationship of the figure represented to what it represents. By its resemblance it makes recognizable some­ thing that exists outside of it. "To hystericize" the work of art. the parallelepiped have.

the non-human. It conveyed an anguish and a disorder. non-organic forces. Within the field's interior. and lead to its disintegration. Consider the manner in which he changes the meaning ofWorringer's analysis. The pictorial work will conse­ quently have to be thought as an illness of organic nature and of the figuration that imitates its power. the power of order. rather. the point is not to replace this organic aesthetics with a negative aes­ thetics of the sublime or the inferiority of the sensible to the Idea. the non-organic life of things that come to lash out at the figure. It means rendering ill that nature which has organic autonomy as its telos. the background field of color advances the powers of chaos against the figure. However. The elements of the previous­ ly evoked formal grammar in fact constitute the sickness of a nature. the power of becoming-animal that undoes the human figure. Dionysian hysteria: it is not the flow of the work's forces in the body of the artist. It engages what is shown by the other name Deleuze gives to the "hysterical" combat of de-figura- . a track. where the line was ideality. It explicit­ ly opposes an organic aesthetics of the beautiful. to empty itself through its head so as to become a body with­ out organs and thereby return to non-organic life. Bacon's contour is thus a ring. The "hysteria" of the work of art defines the task of de-figura­ tion particular to the work within a twofold opposition. on the contrary. What this combat engages. a gymnast's floor. The Apollonian maxim "stand up on its own" is. but the flow within the work of the figurative givens that the work must undo. The contour thereby encircles a closed field in the center of a twofold pressure: around it. is the status of thought in general. It is the place of combat between painting and figuration. Even the Gothic line had a twofold function. via the description of the work of art. but it also cor­ rected them by manifesting an ideal vital power. In Deleuze's work. the line becomes the power of chaos that carries away all form. to disorganize itself. They designate the scene of combat or crisis. Deleuze just as well carefully twists the elements of the "formal code" in order to organize this ring.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 5 ing that organicity that is latent in the very definition of the "autonomous" work of art. the catastrophe of the figurative space. the figure seeks to escape itself.

on every screen. Even if the association between justice and the desert evokes first of all Holderlin's Antigone. to clear off the terrain. in order to reach the place from which the sensible receives its measure. not simply covered by the pictorial figurative codes. even if the sensible will vanish into it. The work of art administers justice. he gives a new name: he calls it desert. of the credible. of the meaningful. in order to give reign to a justice that will no longer be anything but Color or Light. that is to say. into the center from which it delimits images of the world. sweep away all that is already on the canvas. empires considered as collective actualizations of the subject's imperialism. the true measure is called the Idea. the world of shad­ ows on the wall. doxa. What does admin­ istering justice amount to in Deleuze as well as in Plato? One may answer: to the sensible as such. a space that will no longer be anything but the Sahara" (FB. It amounts to telling its true mea­ sure. What are "figurative givens" or doxai? They are the meaningful sensory-motor delimitation of the perceptual world as the human animal organizes it when it makes itself the center of the world.6 JACQUESRANCrnRE tion: justice. to decapitate . opinion. Doxa is the justice that the sensible administers to itself in the present order of things. a painter's canvas is not a blank slate waiting for something to fill it. but by cliches. Now. It is therefore necessary to leave the cave. 25). To justice itself. and the idea has an enemy: doxai. figuration. it seems to me impossible not to hear here the echo of another discourse on justice and its locus. in Deleuze. to depopulate that world. covered by the "figurative givens" ["donnees figuratives"]. the sensible. such as empires organize them. I am referring to Plato and Book VII of The Republic. when it transforms its position of image among images into cogito. and justice originates in a specific place. The fifth chapter of Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation accordingly describes the end of the movement by which the fig­ ure escapes toward the molecular structure of matter: "It is this extreme point that will have to be reached. justice also has ene­ mies: doxa. The task of art is to undo the world of figuration or of doxa. doxai. The "figurative givens" are also the delimitation of the visible. The canvas is overpopulated. No more than the soul in Plato. In Plato's work.

Its hysteria is schizophrenia kept within the framework where it creates again and again the work of art and the allegory for the task of produc­ ing the work of art. its its combat with the figurative givens. "This extreme point will have to be reached. . the work of art is first and foremost allegory of the work of art. the end of the work of art becomes the absence of the work of art. the book on Bacon is precisely a vast allegory for the task of producing the work of art. qua dispenser of justice. the privileging of expressionism in a broad sense in Deleuzian pictorial aesthetics. of course. However. Truth is the pure sensible. the work precisely retains in place the lashed figure that wants to slip away. Yet. serves to show and to allegorize the moment of metamorphosis. It is the unconditioned sensible that is called jus­ tice or desert. "This extreme point will have to be reached. the end of the work of art. is reached. madness. truth is not an idea behind or above the sensible. The work of art is the Way of the Cross of figuration that manifests the lashed figure as a dishonored Christ. is at once the formula for a transformation and its alle­ gory. and its restraint. the unconditioned sensible that opposes the "ideas" of doxa. The work of art is a march into the desert. of a tension and a sta­ tion . is the absence of the work of art. Yet. for him." but the work of art would only be able to reach that point at the expense of annulling itself. The privilege granted to Bacon. is reached. To go toward justice is to go toward that which gives the true measure of the sensible.hysterically . madness.IS TIIERE A DELEUZIAN AESTIIETICS? 7 those images in order to put in their place a Sahara. And his judgment on the figure is linked to the figure's capac­ ity to become formula and effigy that simultaneously operates and allegorizes the movement of restrained flight. to show art in the midst of making itself . for Deleuze. in truth. what presents itself when the justice-administering desert. And. The work of art is a station on the way to a conversion. In a sense. The fig­ ure. once the desert. the world of the Idea. For the sense as well in which one speaks of the Stations of the Cross. The theater of the work of art is consequently one of a movement restrained in its place. It presents its telos." says Deleuze.

how does Deleuze mark this transition? By making Irene an allegorical effigy. toward the pure spiritual: the landscape that sees. Yet. and the face of Irene in Rossellini's Europa 51. the land­ scape before man. Yet. evades this crossing to the other side that engulfs the beautiful edifice of the movement-image and the well-con­ structed fable. he draws for us a face that allegorizes what it sig­ nifies: the disjunction. two "madwomen": the face of the woman in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man. of Antigone. played by Ingrid Bergman. unbearable vision. of petrifaction and interment. what does "aesthetics" mean. They go toward the other justice. specifically the way in which the limit of the movement-image and the genesis of the time-image are emblematized in two effigies. The whole power of the effigy rests in the words that Irene pronounces while returning from the factory: "I thought I saw the condemned. the one who has seen the too strong.8 JACQUES RANCIERE Deleuze's books on cinema may be evoked here. the Aristotelian. who becomes mad in the eyes of the world that she deserts for the work­ ers and prostitutes. and who will henceforth never be in harmony with the world of representation. two female faces. played by Vera Miles. and the more the interpreta­ tion of it becomes allegorical. Only Hitchcock. Deleuze does not show us the time-image. Everything happens as if the more art approaches its own truth. the disaccord of the sensible givens. and the grande bourgeoise in Europa 51. the justice of the desert." She thereby becomes the allegory of the artist: the one who has gone to the desert. Everything happens as if the specific purpose of art is to allegorize the crossing toward the true in the sen­ sible. It is possible to bring back his critique of figuration and of organicity to the meaning of aesthetics. the more it becomes an allegory of itself. Both faces withdraw from the universe of doxa and justice. Rossellini takes the leap and makes the kind of cin­ ema that this face calls for. Both faces testi­ fy to the transition from doxa to desert: the wife of the wrong man who sinks into schizophrenia following the unjust inculpation of her husband. precisely that which man cannot describe. At this point it is possible to situate Deleuze's thought within the destiny of aesthetics as a figure of thought. in the sudden appear- .

Poetics was the mode of truth governing works of art in the universe of rep­ resentation. While the col­ lapse of the norms of representation opens in principle the reign of the work of art and its power. subjective feelings. consciousness that equates itself with the unconscious. a product that equates itself with the non­ product. the presence within the sensible of a power that exceeds its normal regime. Still. as it was effectuated between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century? Nega­ tively. regardless of its origin. the phusis. aesthetics no longer places the work of art at the center. even by its very name. it indicates first and foremost the collapse of poetics. Kant's theory of genius . but the aistheton. this is not the point at stake here. but also. a "living beauty" ["un beau vivant"]. the movement that brings about life in an organ­ ism. that is and is not thought. Whence the paradox that seems originally to mark aesthetics. It is known how Hegel settles it at the beginning of his Lectures on Aesthetics. The work's techne extends nature. the work of art is itself a dynam­ ic resemblance in so far as it constitutes an organism. organism. What aesthetics indicates is a change in perspective: a change occurring when thought about the work of art no longer refers to an idea of the rules of its production. but is subsumed under other things: the idea of a particular sensi­ ble form. a logos. In contrast to poetics. The universe of representation is governed by the dual impulse of the mimetic principle evoked earlier: the work of art produces a resemblance. The word is not an anachronism or an impropriety. privileging the affect. and is used without problem to designate the theory of fine arts. drowns the work of art in a thought about the sensible. the common power of life.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 9 ance of that notion. the word entered into use. Yet. bearing the mark of a past epoch: the time of Burke and Hume in which works of art were explained by an empirical psychology of sensation. and work of art. that is a thought become other than itself. and an affect that belongs to the receiver or spectator. The techne is a production regulated by that other production that is the phusis. He declares the word clearly incorrect. Aesthetics makes the work of art into the intermittent manifestation of the power of a contradictory spirit. aesthetics.

" It is impossible to give it determin ations more precise than the follow­ ing: the idea of a zone of the sensible qualified by the action of a heterogeneous power that changes its regime. heterogeneous form of the sensible.the power of that which.that may be named the spirit. where the spirit is presented as the vitality of the canvas. and rising toward even more explicit forms of manifestation.10 JACQUES RANCIERE defines it as a power that cannot account for what it produces. Aesthetics is born as a mode of thought when the work of art is subsumed under the category of a greater. The second schema on the other hand seizes the spirit at that point of arrest where the image becomes . From what has been seen. coex­ tensive with the sensible. inscribed in the strata of rock or shell. The work of art is a sensible form sep­ arated from the ordinary connections of the sensible that hence­ forth has value as a manifestation of the spirit. and testifies to the presence of anoth­ er power. that makes it so that the sensible is more than the sensible. Aesthetics is the mode of thought that submits the consideration of works of art to the idea of this heterogeneous power. knows without knowing . The first highlights the immanence of logos in pathos. consciousness that equates itself with the unconscious. but thought in a singular regime: a thought other than itself. Hegel makes the work of art a station of the spirit outside of itself. the "spiritual. the power of the spirit as a flame that equally illuminates and burns everything. or the smile of the God of stone. a product that equates itself with the non-product. or the idea that there is a zone of the sensible that distinguishes itself from the ordinary laws of the sensible universe. Thought is embodied. so that it belongs to thought. or as Deleuze named it. lets itself be read in the sensible. this power in the sensible of a form of thought that does not think may be understood according to two alternative schemas. of thought within that which does not think. a pathos that belongs to logos. It is this other power . It is the Romantic model of thought that goes from stone and desert to the spirit. but the spirit in so far as it does not know itself. Schelling's System of Transcendental Idealism fixes the paradigm of the product that renders the conscious and unconscious equiva­ lent. from thought already present within the very texture of things.

What does it become then? It becomes an image of the world. render the spiritual the inverse of the classical power of incarnation and individualization. it did not fail to illustrate the older movement in an exemplary manner: there the work of art is a station of the spirit outside of itself. from the pyramid that seeks vainly to contain it. The death of art marks the moment when the spirit no longer needs to present itself to itself in external forms of representation. but that in losing itself makes the success of the work. the spirit that loses itself in exteriority. the power of the spirit that equates itself with its other ." the bottom­ lessness. . The question of an aesthetic modernity. of a-pathy [d'a-pathie]. which made Apollo.under the conditions of a race against those doxa machines. make the work of art the reconquest of the spiritual lost in this movement. the dust of atoms or grains of sand. mutism . where it acquires its adequate sensible figure. is thus formulated in terms of an affirmation of the power of artistic presentation against representative doxa. to the poem that takes it to the limit of all sensible presentation. The destiny of the work of art is then suspended from the other figure of the "spiritual": the immanence in thought of an element that does not think. the immanence in thought of an element that does not think: Schopenhauer's "thing in itself. It emphasizes the imma­ nence of pathos in logos. Aesthetics is the history of the various forms in which the space of artistic representation has coincided with the space of the spirit's presentation of itself to itself in the sensible.nature. As much as Hegelian aesthetics tried to mark its distance from the Romantic geology of the spirit. the pathic at its point of rest. the undifferentiated or the obscure in pre-individual life.IS THERE A DELEUZlAN AESTHETICS? 11 petrified and returns the spirit to its desert. those machines called media or television. the pathic beneath the logical. the unconscious. the god of journalists. The aesthet­ ic program of art will thus mean: reverse the direction of the spirit that goes from art to doxa. Plato's doxa or Flaubert's stupidity [betisej. meanwhile passing by the acme of Greek art. that of art after the death of art. non­ individual life. already in the time of Holderlin. the bottomlessness of the undifferentiated. those machines in the image of the world.

landscapes or the moment of the day. of a truth of the pure sensible. A book must be composed with the construction of an ana­ logic fable. pebble or grain of sand. The modern work of art takes the figure of a paradoxical object.12 JACQUES RANCrERE The project of equating the power of the work of art with the power of a pure. In the same way. thus emerges in the form of a task or a combat. This clearing of the terrain replaces one stupidity (the oversignification of doxa that adds up to nothing) with another stupidity: the a-signification of the void. line after line. a fable constructed to elicit the same affect as the affect of the pure sensible. Flaubert's novel is the intentional construction of a nature that is identical to the uncreated nature that does not arise from any inten­ tion. the book made of "tastes of light. trees. a-signifying sensible. The process of de-figuration analyzed by Deleuze in Bacon's painting is identical to Flaubert's clearing of the terrain. thought or sentiment. truth as the evolution of error. Proust links the power of the work of art to the experience of a sensible removed from its conditions. the grammatical conjunctions and semantic inferences that make up the ordinary substance of a story. which may think. It is the inclu­ sion of an aesthetic truth. of the sensible sensed by stones. The ideal book dreamed of by the young Proust is familiar: the book made of the substance of a few instants arranged in time. which undoes. the great indifferent tide that displaces and mixes atoms. to that moment when two worlds reunite and all reference points shatter. of the het­ erogeneous sensible in an Aristotelian poetics: the plot of change in knowledge and fortune that passes by peripeteia and recognition. . the world of the pure sensible. but the sensibility of the contemplator become object of his own contemplation: foam. but certainly does not write. The problem is that a book is not written with this pathic sub­ stance." of the substance of our most beautiful moments. This clearing of the terrain has the pre­ cise purpose of equating the power of the phrase with the power of a sensibility that is no longer the sensibility of the man of represen­ tation. of the infinite. The Proustian book is the construction of an organic plot that encloses moments of epiphany : a fable of the discovery of truth of truth thought according to the modern model of truth fixed once and for all by H6lderlin.

that is to say sympathy with non-individual life. which is emblematized in the representation of the work of art as combat. In sum. coherent with itself.IS THERE A DELEUZIAN AESTHETICS? 13 Proust's book presents this exemplary form that includes Schopen­ hauer's undertaking . Deleuze's analysis is thus inscribed in the destiny of aesthet­ ics as a mode of thought. He returns a second time to Proust as if to destroy what he left to subsist. From there stems the combat with the work of art.the shattering of the world of representation . "We search Proust's work in vain for platitudes on the work of art as an organic totality."4 Deleuze tells us. It establishes itself in the zones where pity. Deleuze is faced with the modern work as the contradictory work where the pathic element. he attempts to annul an Aristotelico-Hegelian plot of truth as error evolved. the work of the age of aesthetics. to render the modern work of art. is this not destroying its very substance? Is it . but where this pathic element is itself included. Deleuze fulfilled the destiny of aesthetics by suspending the entire power of the work of art to the "pure" sensible. He wanted to know nothing of the evolution of error. He denounces this compromise. He achieves the coherence of his anti-logical turn. of non-communicating boxes and sides. rendering coherent the inco­ herent modern work. on the loss of the entire world. exceeding the schemas of the represen­ tative doxa. His engagement with the Proustian cor­ pus is exemplary in this regard. in the destiny of the modern work of art tied to that pure sensible. to construct the model of the Proustian anti-logos: the work of art made of assem­ bled pieces. Yet. of the final reunion of sides and the equilibrium of arcs. We may search for them in vain but we will surely find them. because it gives his book a contin­ uation. and a continuation of the continuation. Deleuze wanted to know nothing of the insistent organicity of the Proustian schema. to reconstruct the modern work of art so that it obeys a single logic or anti-logic. as if it were neces­ sary to incessantly bring Proust back to the purity of an anti-organ­ ic model. borders on folly. the thought-tree or the thought-pebble. there remains one question: achieving the destiny of aesthetics. recuperated in a new type of organicity and logos. it suf­ ficed for Deleuze to render the Proustian work coherent. has undone the order of doxa.

trans. 164. 2 3 4 (New York: Columbia University Press. 1971). Hereafter cited as FB.14 JACQUES RANCIERE not making it into a simple station on the way to a conversion. Daniel W. . Gilles Deleuze. 1994). Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell Gilles Deleuze. a simple allegory for the destiny of aesthetics? And wouldn't the para­ dox of this militant thought of immanence consist in incessantly bringing the substance of blocks of percepts and affects back to the interminable task of depicting the image of thought? Translated by Radmila Djordjevic Translator's note: de-figurer and de-figuration are translated as de-figure and de-fig­ uration (as opposed to disfigure and disfiguration) in order to preserve Ranciere's own hyphenation as well as his reference to the practice of figuration or figurative representation. 45. trans. Smith (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Proust et les signes (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Gilles Deleuze. 2(03). 138. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. What is Philosophy?.

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