Triptychs, Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body

D. C. Ambrose

Canterbury Christ Church University

This paper develops a detailed reading of Deleuze’s philosophical study of Bacon’s triptychs in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. It examines his claims regarding their apparent non-narrative status, and explores the capacity of the triptychs to embody and express a spiritual sensation of the eternity of time. Keywords: Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, triptychs, eternity, spiritual realism, rhythm One of Deleuze’s ambitions in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation is to outline an experimental conceptual analogue of Bacon’s paintings that demonstrates a genuine fidelity to the specificity of his work. His book produces a philosophy of painting where Bacon is conceived as one of the great painters of immanence, a painter of the body without organs. His figural paintings are understood to repeatedly explore the vital intensities and sensations associated with the dynamisms of becoming, processes of individuation and the destratification of the organism, subject and individual. Deleuze suggests that a brutal form of realism is manifested by Bacon’s art, but it is not a realism associated with the violence of appearance but a violence of sensation associated with a spiritual realism of the body. Bacon’s paintings depict, he claims, a visceral topography of embodied sensation that is profoundly nonrepresentational and spiritual. One of the most complex and creative sections of the book is his philosophical analysis of the triptychs. In just a few dense pages he arguably provides one of the most powerful accounts yet written about triptychs in relation to the questions of what they are, how they function, and what operative principles govern their production. In this paper I wish to develop a reading of Deleuze’s philosophical understanding of the triptychs that incorporates his arguments regarding their

but it is a unity radically removed from narrative meaning. From the very beginning Deleuze aligns himself closely with Bacon’s own remarks on triptychs. Deleuze will claim that it is still capable of conveying intense spiritual sensations associated with the celestial and abstract realm. Some initial remarks on the triptychs are also contained in the preface to the English translation of the book. there is a definite logic but it is of a profoundly irrational order – it is a ‘logic of sensation’. with the separation between panels serving to effectively negate any imposed narrative meaning across the different parts. C. Triptychs exhibit a ‘brutal’ unity where an array of complex forces and sensations. namely. which he terms their ‘internal law’. which were made in an interview from 1962 with David Sylvester (Sylvester 1987). Ambrose non-narrative status within the claims he makes about their capacity to express a spiritual sensation of the eternity of time. In an interview from 1981 Deleuze talked explicitly about the role intuition played in developing his own understanding of the triptychs when writing: ‘I was looking at the triptychs and had the feeling that there was a certain internal law.260 D. . more detailed reading.2 where he clearly identifies the broad shape of his subsequent. The triptychs establish a common unifying fact for the diverse and separated figures within each of the three panels. in order to fully grasp the significance of Deleuze’s claims regarding the eternal time of triptychs it is necessary to re-examine his initial analysis of classic religious painting which forms much of the context for his argument. Triptychs are composed of three distinct sections. Once we develop an understanding of how this was achieved in the past. Despite the fact that religious art labours under the auspices of obvious narrative content. Deleuze recognises an inherent quality in Bacon’s triptychs. He argues that there has to be some kind of relationship between the separated parts of each triptych.1 I will briefly demonstrate that the notion of eternity being elicited from Bacon’s triptychs is largely derived from Spinoza’s Ethics. forcing me to jump from one reproduction to the other to compare them’ (Deleuze 2006: 184). but that this relationship cannot be narrative or logical in any straightforward way. for Deleuze it is precisely this separation which provides the means for linking the three panels in new and unique ways. the eternity of substance and the eternal cycles of becoming. As he identifies in his subsequent analysis. the significance Bacon’s liberation from the constraints of narrative has for his ability to embody a Spinozistic sense of eternity within the mechanism of triptychs can be explored. However. However. Figures present in triptychs become reconceived as ‘rhythmic characters’ rather than agents or subjects operating within a narrative.

Bacon’s deeply personal obsessions. Deleuze discusses one of Bacon’s operative propositions (a proposition derived from André Malraux) that is almost a truism within modern art. and would seemingly necessitate a move within painting towards a form . rather he is bracketing it off. Somewhat enigmatically. It is here. simultaneously. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 261 rather than stories. For Deleuze. that it is part of his effort to control and conceal inconvenient biographical truths and sources in favour of constructing an elaborate mythological artistic persona. when in conversation with Sylvester. Nevertheless. One might take the view that Bacon’s insistence. Bacon’s work instantiates a profoundly anti-narrative spiritual dynamic of matter. unifying force. This force acts to separate figures. in order to concentrate upon the ‘involuntaristic’ aspect of Bacon’s practice or the ‘second order’ of figuration. I think it is necessary to question the legitimacy of his emphasis on the non-narrative status of Bacon’s triptychs. Deleuze identifies a mysterious. forces and sensations.3 Deleuze is not necessarily denying the existence of this type of intentionality. which is captured by the arrangement of the triptychs but which is also. Before progressing with an analysis of Deleuze’s complex reading of the triptychs. the force operating to structure and unite the triptychs. suspending explicit consideration of it. by focusing on the non-narrative element I do not believe that Deleuze is altogether denying residues of narrative content that might be clearly present and form an important factor in fully understanding a specific composition. Each triptych operates like an infernal machine producing novel circulations and rhythmic interplays of these characters. are distributed across the separated panels. A significant clue to understanding Deleuze’s attitude towards specific narrative residue emerges from his treatment of religious painters whose figurative innovations are linked to Bacon’s own. transformative and liberating realm (or experimental amphitheatre) of paint on the canvas. Deleuze suggests that this unifying and separating force is the force of eternal time. and the panels themselves. Whilst this is probably the case.Triptychs. within what he calls ‘the diagram’. When discussing the structural and historical underpinnings of Bacon’s practice. experiences and inspirations form and shape the voluntaristic intentions that guide his hand at a primary pre-pictorial level and at the ‘first level’ of figuration on the canvas. on there being no explicit straightforward narrative is in fact mendacious. that Bacon’s particular range of visual motifs are injected into a metamorphic. it remains possible that his broader non-narrative ambitions indicate a more significant philosophical and artistic ambition that is indeed worth taking seriously. both within and across the panels.

ranging from Cimabue to Grünewald. However. ostensibly governed by the historical task of representing and communicating a sacred narrative. This is particularly true if one spends any time at all looking at the different ways Christ’s body is depicted within the history of Christian painting as a means of expressing the broadest range of intense and extreme sensations. . immaterial and spiritual sensations. To support his argument Deleuze analyses El Greco’s The Burial of Count Orgaz. many of which go some way towards countering the idea that Deleuze is guilty of the most crude and naïve intentional fallacy. in the upper section where the count’s living spirit is being received by Christ. This is the supposed conditioning of painting by ‘religious possibilities’ or imperatives which simply no longer apply. colours and movements’ are freed from the demands of representation and narration. outside all constraint’ (Deleuze 2003: 9). there is an astonishing figural liberation – ‘the Figures are lifted up and elongated. C. Here ‘lines. refined without measure. When writing of Bacon’s proposition regarding the way painting’s representational function was largely confined by religious or theological sentiment. given that we arguably exist within an atheistic milieu. Deleuze uses this particular work to demonstrate how a Christian painting. The figures in this section of the canvas are relieved of their representative (earthly and bodily) role. I want to argue that Deleuze’s remarks on religious painting are critically incisive and do genuinely illuminate an important aspect of Bacon’s work. spiritual register (they are being put ‘into relation with an order of celestial sensations’ [Deleuze 2003: 9]). . Deleuze contests whether this historical proposition is really adequate. discovered startlingly aberrant painterly means for expressing non-representational and sensational affects. for my purposes. He notes the presence of a horizontal division separating the painting into two distinct sections – the terrestrial and the celestial. More importantly. and are placed upon an entirely different. and of slavishly adhering to Bacon’s point of view.4 . Such contestation is only the first of a series of critical contestations of Bacon’s ideas as outlined in the Sylvester interviews. they provide useful insight into Deleuze’s concentration on the non-narrative character of Bacon’s triptychs. seems poorly defined by the hypothesis of a figurative function that was simply sanctified by faith’ (Deleuze 2003: 9). infernal. In the lower section of the painting there is figurative and narrative content (albeit unorthodox and already displaying a degree of figural distortion) as the Count’s terrestrial dead body is laid to rest in the Earth. Ambrose of total or absolute abstraction. Deleuze responds by arguing that ‘the link between the pictorial element and religious sentiment .262 D. and express celestial.

figured and represented in the paintings of this time. then one cannot legitimately abstract the religious sentiment from them. sometimes with external forces that traverse them. i. El Greco.Triptychs. the realm of the immaterial and the invisible.7 If the extraordinary manifestation of bizarre figural metamorphoses in classical religious art (Cimabue. In Christian painting representational and narrative space is placed into a direct relation with not only accidents but also an aberrant nonrepresentational space (an any-space-whatsoever). the painter can easily be indifferent to the religious subject he is asked to represent’ (Deleuze 2003: 124).e. Intriguingly. the body without organs). With Michelangelo Christian painting achieves an extraordinary level of pictorial facticity which ‘no longer tells a story and no longer represents anything but its own movement. Christ’s passion. Religious sentiment and narration (for example. but also the efforts to express them . sometimes with the variable forces of a flowing time’ (Deleuze 2003: 160–1). Deleuze returns to the theme of Christian painting at the end of the book with a discussion of ‘pictorial fact’ (as opposed to representation.e. within the realm of Christian art. marked by representational imperatives. the emergence of Figures5 freed from figurative constraints and able to become the vehicles of sensation. a spiritual space. Tintoretto) are functions of a religious sentiment being explicitly narrated. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 263 Deleuze’s argument suggests that great religious narrative paintings. the Apocalyptic visions of Hell) animate and inform not only the efforts within painting to ‘represent’ them as events in space and time.6 This body beneath the organic figure causes it to ‘crack or swell’ and imposes a ‘spasm’ on it forcing it into a relation with ‘forces’ – ’sometimes with an inner force that arouses them. despite recognising within modernity that such ‘truths’ no longer hold. With Michelangelo ‘pictorial fact’ emerges in its purest state from Christian art where ‘the forms may still be figurative. the Creation. thematisation and narration) in Michelangelo’s work. a form of proto-Baconian pictorial fact where organic figuration provides a painterly vehicle for the ‘revelation of the body beneath the organism’ (i. His figures realise. provide the conditions of possibility for an essential liberation of figures. and which makes these apparently arbitrary elements coagulate in a single continuous flow’ (Deleuze 2003: 160). He notes that ‘Christianity contains a germ of tranquil atheism that will nurture painting. and there may still be narrative relations between the characters’ – but these constitute the residues of the primary act of figural painting which are supplanted by the properly ‘pictorial fact’ (Deleuze 2003: 160). sometimes with the eternal force of an unchanging time.

Deleuze’s account is not incompatible with the idea that certain residues of narration remain as inevitable. as in Michelangelo’s work. Such content is simply of no relevance to Bacon – his work signifies an accelerated form of pictorial atheism. the religious sentiment and concrete theological concerns have been extracted and are no longer being represented or narrated. For Deleuze. However.264 D. operates as a disruptive modulator to ‘good’ stable representational form and the earthly body becomes subject to deformation by invisible celestial forces. Indeed. sensations. Ambrose as intensities. This explains the insistence upon the nonnarrative quality of Bacon’s triptychs – first and foremost Figures become the vehicles of sensation (rhythmic characters) and survive to serve as representative characters in a depicted narrative only in a residual and secondary manner. Rather. the crucifixion) as a type of religious or spiritual portrait. crucifixions.g. C. negotiation and sculpting of forms in space and time on the canvas. Bacon’s paintings operate like great religious paintings evacuated of their religious narrative and representation. and the effort to replace it with an elaborate and audacious attempt to translate elements and events drawn from his own physical existence and filter them through his .e. the very roots of which Deleuze identifies as being present in great Christian art itself. and extreme modes of affectivity (a divine realm seen and a divine realm felt). Bacon’s paintings involve an evacuation of religious content. Bacon’s own practice inherits much of this dynamic structure in so far as his work displays repeated motifs seemingly borrowed from (or almost certainly analogous to) traditional religious art – i. however to do this it is not enough merely to illustrate it as a discrete event in time. his account allows for the insistence that the primary narrative content (in so far as any can be adequately and accurately established) forms an important framework in the overall germination. irreducible or deliberate traces. Such art might aim to represent a particular event in Christ’s life (e. is the subsidiary status of such content. and bodies placed in relation to animals (a process of ‘becoming-animal’). bodies confronting spirits. it is important to utilise the depiction of such events to communicate the affective force of the ‘spiritual’ depth associated with them. bodies in the process of becoming immaterial (a process of ‘becomingindiscernible’). informed by religious sentiment. This affective quality. The affective register of religious painting remains locked into a causal relationship with the narrative content of the Christian religion. What Deleuze does insist upon. and in this he is absolutely aligned with Bacon’s own statements. theological narrative and spiritual drama. death and physical dissolution.

The historical specificity of Bacon’s life becomes reconfigured through art into the grandeur of elemental eternity. and much more insurmountable than the worst spectacle and even the worst pain? Yes. beyond representation. again and again. His paintings repeatedly attempt to make such overwhelming and intense presence immediately visible. affirming the possibility of triumphing. Following the pictorial facticity of Michelangelo. In his clearest and most unambiguous passage Deleuze writes of Bacon’s indomitable and visceral spirituality which has supplanted hoary old religious truisms and transcendental myths: But why is it an act of vital faith to choose ‘the scream more than the horror’. It is within this visibility that the body actively struggles. his spiritual conviction. He enacts a similar dialogue between the ‘actual’ and the ‘virtual’ as El Greco had explored between the material and the spiritual. hidden in a spectacle that sapped our strength and diverted us. no. which was beyond its reach as long as these powers remained invisible. This clearly fits with Deleuze’s recognition of how the ‘eternity of art’ remains a constant reference for Bacon’s practice: ‘Like Rodin. When the visual sensation confronts the invisible force that conditions it. the violence of sensation more than the violence of the spectacle? The invisible forces. It is as if combat had now become possible. it releases a force that is capable of vanquishing the invisible . the visible body confronts the powers of the invisible. as ‘a kind of declaration of faith in life’ (Deleuze 2003: 61). and asks why choosing to paint ‘the scream more than the horror’. But in another sense. Bacon’s paintings pursue a hyperbolic form of pictorial hysteria where he is directly attempting.Triptychs. it gives them no other visibility than its own. the violence of sensation. When discussing Bacon’s renunciation of represented violent spectacles in favour of excavating the invisible forces beneath or beyond appearance as sensation. or eternity are the primary characteristics of the work of art’ (Deleuze 2003: 123) In my reading of Deleuze an understanding of Bacon emerges as a ‘spiritual’ painter (a mystical atheist). to release the presences beneath representation. The struggle with the shadow is the only real struggle. he [Bacon] thinks that durability. He considers statements from the interviews with Sylvester (particularly the remarks about cerebral pessimism and nervous optimism). is an act of vital faith. Deleuze comes close to identifying Bacon’s ‘spiritual’ thematic. When. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 265 particular nervous system onto the canvases as figured sensation. more than the violence of the spectacle. or the terrestrial and the celestial. the powers of the future – are they not already upon us. essence. like a wrestler. in a certain sense – every piece of meat testifies to this.

and which involves a degree of figural deformation. in much the same way as the divine celestial realm had for the classic Christian painters. Having established the ‘spiritual’ dynamics and thematics of Bacon’s work. namely of eternity. C. no less than Beckett. the eternity of time. or even befriending it. is one of those artists who. in the name of a very intense life. they have erected indomitable Figures. His work cannot be simply reduced to a matter of what is straightforwardly representational or narrative. He is not a painter who ‘believes’ in death. a sensation (an affective element) of these realms could be allied to the familiar representational coordinates of the religious or theological dogmas of the time. (Deleuze 2003: 61–2) This ethos is clearly linked to Bacon’s efforts. . or at least its relegation to secondary traces or residues. and then there is the force of eternal time. what it brings to visibility is something which is usually invisible. or failure. It presupposes that all the things in Bacon’s paintings exist prior to the work as something to be represented or narrated. but death is no longer this all-too-visible thing that makes us faint. Death is judged from the point of view. Ambrose force. but one that serves an increasingly powerful Figure of life. mutilation. They have given life a new and extremely direct power of laughter. One can begin to discern the reason for Deleuze’s insistence upon the complete evacuation of represented narrative from Bacon’s work (as he insists is evident within Michelangelo’s work too). In the very act of ‘representing’ horror. What Bacon’s work ultimately tries to figure is an expression of something fundamentally inexpressible.266 D. Deleuze initially establishes the key elements in their . With Bacon no such scripture exists apart from his own lived reality in time. Bacon. a pure light. and makes visible through the scream. can call for an even more intense life. For Bacon there is the chronomatic force of changing time which he depicts through the allotropic variation of bodies. and not the reverse. what it attempts to figure is the un-figurable. following Michelangelo. it is this invisible force that life detects. fall. since these imply the prior existence of things. Bacon’s ultimate theme lies outside all such coordinates. which is established through the uniting–separating that reigns in the triptychs. Life screams at death. For Deleuze. His is indeed a figurative misérabilisme. his own nervous system. to render life and time visible through the material of the body. as we like to believe. flushes out. prosthesis. . indomitable through both their insistence and their presence. which he transmutes into figures resonating and hystericised by the invisible forces and intensities of the virtual in matter and the eternity of time. this paper will now proceed with an analysis of how that work specifically functions to encapsulate a certain sensation of time. There. events and ideas to be merely represented as such.

a sinister cameraman in the right panel of Triptych – Studies from the Human Body. but not be restricted to. Whilst the attendant function can initially be seen as something deliberately imposed upon certain visible characters in the paintings. 1970. In an interview . the prone bodies of sleepers. A steady or attendant rhythm 2. he argues. autonomous and self-generating character of the work is clearly something that resonates deeply with Bacon’s own understanding of the process of auto-composition and auto-figuration. and the spectators in both the left and right panel of the Crucifixion Triptych. photographs of figures. This horizontal quality defines a rhythm without increase or decrease. and Deleuze goes some considerable way to further developing an account of its apparent complexity. a steady measure or cadence in relation to which spectators are able to discern or distinguish rhythmic variation. Crescendo or simplification 3. The attendant rhythmic character does not necessarily always signify a straightforward visible observer or spectator/voyeur despite their frequent appearance in triptychs (for example. In the triptychs. and/or coupled or copulating bodies. rhythms become characters and objects. This dynamic. faces or objects which are flattened out onto two dimensional mirror-like surfaces. However.Triptychs. Deleuze claims that it can be figured through flat hysterical smiles. 1965). photographic apparatus. Rather the attendant refers to a constant function. the circular arena. the presence of a voyeuristic figure in the right panel of Triptych Inspired by T. 1967. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 267 structural mechanics. By initially focusing on their rhythmic characteristics. These are defined as attendants because of their steady and almost constant horizontality. Deleuze attempts to uncover each of their rhythmic elements and demonstrate the full complexity of their actual interplay across the panels. This function can have multiple objects which might include. A diminuendo or elimination Referring to Bacon’s triptychs. Underpinning their mechanics is the principle of rhythm. 1. or it can be presented in several figures. It does this by being assigned as that character by the active rhythmic characters in other parts of the painting. Deleuze identifies three basic rhythms being circulated across the separated panels of many triptychs. the attendant function is anything but simple.S. it actually abandons them to become an autonomous rhythmic character which emerges into existence at different points throughout the three panels of a triptych. augmentation of diminution. Eliot’s Poem ‘Sweeney Agonistes’.

On the left panel the figure has a diminished torso.268 D. or an augmentation/diminution of the flesh. The example which Deleuze talks about in most detail is Bacon’s Triptych – August. Occasionally the opposition at play is between being naked or clothed. everything changes if one looks at the legs. might actually appear to have either active or passive rhythms. attendants can be seen as assuming other functions – as on the brink of turning to an active rhythm or passive rhythm – thus linking themselves to one or the other and ceasing to be an attendant. Here. if isolated from the entire composition. It is as if the triptychs function like musical machines possessing a range of different rhythmic permutations. which he claims is Bacon’s most ‘profoundly musical painting’. 1972 depicting George Dyer. The simplest variation consists of descending or rising opposition (for example. Throughout different triptychs there exists an extraordinarily subtle and diverse process of additions and subtractions. 1962) or perhaps a diastolic/systolic opposition. Equally. you know. it is just the opposite – one leg has been amputated . Triptych – Three Studies for a Crucifixion. the attendant couple in the centre panel are accompanied by organic elongations and a clear and well defined mauve oval. For Deleuze this is why some of the prone sleeping characters in the triptychs have an odd trace of activity or passivity – so although explicitly situated across the horizontal they retain a certain heaviness or vivacity. what Deleuze terms their ‘great circulation’. while on the right the figure is in the process of being built up or added to. However. The triptych is like an assemblage of hysterical sleepings and wakings affecting diverse parts of the body. Attendant function might subsequently emerge from figures in full context which. I think of the disposition of the forms and then I watch the forms form themselves’ (Sylvester 1987: 136). having had a significant portion of its body subtracted. Having introduced the attendant rhythmic character. Deleuze proceeds with an explanation of the two vertical directions of active and passive rhythms. C. This auto-formation of forms explains the type of emergence of the attendant rhythmic character in triptychs that Deleuze indicates. Ambrose with Sylvester from 1979. while in the right panel. relaxation or contraction. In the left panel one leg is completed while the other is being subject to further addition and definition.8 This fluid autonomy creates not only great tension and instability but is also indicative of an extraordinary mobility within triptychs. that comes from elsewhere. Bacon said: ‘I don’t really think my pictures out. Across this triptych Bacon uses figural mutilation and prostheses in ‘a game of added and subtracted values’ (Deleuze 2003: 79).

The diverse oppositions across different panels are never logically equivalent in any normal sense and their different terms never quite coincide. dilation or dissipation. It could also be expressed through a variety of different movements in the paintings – diastolic or systolic. What triptychs represent is a radical combinatorial freedom where multiple permutations can be produced. a passage identifying variation and difference of level within sensation. For Deleuze this profoundly musical triptych is emblematic of the degree of rhythmic complexity and variation achieved by triptychs. the body descends from arms and thighs. The fall is that which is experienced as the sensation of living. since the constancy they seemingly imply can change depending on the case at hand. the fall as . Correlatively the defined mauve oval in the centre panel changes its status within the other two panels – on the left panel it is transformed into a pink liquid pool lying next to the chair. he also indicates that the socalled fall of a sensation should not be confused with a fall through spatial extension. This does not of course preclude the possibility that it could coincide with a spatial descent. in developing his understanding of the active rhythm. The dynamic circulation is always composed of variable. the horizontal of the constants govern extremely variable terms from the viewpoint of both their nature and their relation. diminution or augmentation. But equally it could coincide with a rise. Deleuze insists upon the primacy of ‘the fall’ in Bacon’s triptychs. At this point. Sensation develops though this fall by falling from one level to another. and then becomes a red liquid discharge flowing out from the figure’s leg in the right panel. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 269 and the other is apparently flowing away. opposable rhythms (where each operates as the retro-gradation of the other) offset against a common and constant value in the attendant rhythm. The fall thus exists to affirm a variation in level. Whilst Deleuze reiterates Bacon’s view that one shouldn’t confuse the violence of sensation with the violent spectacle. Each and every element can coexist in a unified way – share a simple matter-of-fact – yet the different oppositions set up can vary in diverse ways or even be reversed depending on the perspective or viewpoint that one adopts as a viewer. Hence.Triptychs. However. One cannot assign a single univocal role to the centre panel. Rather the fall records variation and change and is simply what is most vital and alive in sensation. The active is a fall in the sense of it being a descending passage of sensation. In this sense. Flesh descends from bones. He claims that differences of intensity in sensation are often experienced and figured in Bacon’s work as a fall. it is not a sense of descent which should be identified with any straightforward spatial notion.

if the making is more instinctive. 1. Deleuze crucially shifts his attention to the question of what forces correspond to the triptychs. if the formation of the image that you want is done irrationally. Again. the figures look like trapeze artists whose milieu is nothing but light or colour.270 D. and the degree to which it is assigned to a particular figure or object within the painting rests upon which viewpoint or perspective one chooses to adopt. 2. There are three distinguishable. it seems to come on to the nervous system much more strongly than if you knew how you could do it. In many cases. Deleuze instinctively aligns his own account again and again with Bacon. rhythmic figures. The particular methodology identified by Deleuze within triptychs is again something Bacon talks about with Sylvester. Why is it possible to make the reality of an appearance more violently in this way than by doing it rationally? Perhaps it’s that. Ambrose the measure of variation in sensation is precisely what is meant by the active rhythm in the triptychs. There is a determination of an active and passive rhythm with all of the variations that depend on the character chosen to represent the active rhythm by the spectator. Having analysed the different rhythmic characters associated with the triptychs. Having set out these formal laws. C. that constitutes the art of painting in general. (Sylvester 1987: 121) The full complexity of the formal elements now established. By stressing the power and vitality of this non-normative logic and non-voluntaristic means of composition. this active rhythm is fluid and variable. Particularly in relation to the question of precision and clarity: ‘I’ve increasingly wanted to make . What precisely is this complex machinic apparatus a means of capture for? And in what way does this force impact upon the structure of the triptychs? In the triptychs the question of the relation between the different Figures becomes extremely significant. Deleuze concludes by claiming that they broadly embody a profoundly irrational logic. the image is more immediate. 3. It thus exchanges its function with the passive rhythm. In 1979 Bacon told Sylvester: One of the things I’ve always tried to analyse is why it is that. a logic of sensation. Figures are violently projected onto the field and are often governed by the simplicity and clarity of uniform colour or naked light. There is the existence of an attendant rhythm which circulates fluidly through the panels as both visible attendant and rhythmic attendant. Deleuze establishes what he describes as ‘the laws of the triptychs’.

as they perform their small embodied feats upon the grand amphitheatre of nowhere. The frames or borders of each panel and the outlines of each figure no longer refer to the limited unity of each but represent and figure the distributive unity of all. Figures separate while falling into black light. Here time is no longer simply expressed in the apparent chromatism of bodies via the broken tones across flesh – it has become a monochromatic eternity. They are united within the eternity of time. each expressing a new spiritualism of matter. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 271 the images simpler and more complicated. producing brilliant aberrant figural spaces which resonate historically with the greatest achievements in religious art to figure the divine celestial realm. In the triptychs an immense space-time unites all things as if in a fourth temporal dimension. I think that probably is why I have used a very clear background against which the image can articulate itself’ (Sylvester 1987: 121). colour fields separate while falling into white light. The three canvases remain separated. (Deleuze 2003: 85) In Bacon’s triptychs a profound sensation of eternal time is being figured. is the quality of light. Deleuze claims. In the triptychs everything becomes aerial – the separation itself is in the air. Bacon’s rhythmic characters flow with an extraordinary dynamism across the vast spaces of the monochromatic eternity presented within the triptychs. Deleuze observes that if this unity and clarity of light or colour immediately incorporates and unifies the relationship between Figures and the Field. A joining-together acts to separate the Figures and colours. placing them within an almost spiritual milieu of eternity. the result is that Figures also attain their maximum separation in light and colour. unite things only by introducing between them the distances of a Sahara. a new spiritualism of the body. Within the triptychs there resides the mysterious force of the eternity of time. And for this to work it can work more starkly if the background is very united and clear. . This separation is therefore the unique principle of the triptychs (their pictorial fact) – maximum unity of light and colour for the maximum division of Figures. Such. the centuries of an aeon. It is the force of this separating light and colour that engenders the distinct yet interrelated. evacuated of any straightforward narrative linkage. Deleuze writes of how triptychs.Triptychs. A force of separation or division sweeps over them. rhythmic characters. The separation of bodies in universal light and colour becomes the common fact of the Figures – their overall rhythmic being – a disjunctive synthesis – a union that separates. yet they are no longer isolated. figures within them remain separated.

They had to disclose the night of the spirit. ‘after’. where they are in relation to other finite things in their normal durational existence. According to Spinoza God and Substance are both eternal. C. since what leads it to seek the elementary forces beyond the organic is a spiritual will. the spirit is the body itself. For individuated bodies to be seen as eternal they must be considered not in their temporally and spatially bound state. what Bacon ultimately manages to elaborate is a profound spiritual mechanics for displaying Figures under the aspect of eternity. Hegel writes at length about how painters had to betray the verisimilitude of representation in order to express ‘spiritual’ depths . It is the ‘revelation’ of the ‘spirit’ immanent to the body which Deleuze suggests as the entire ‘spiritual’ thematic of Bacon’s work. 3. See Deleuze’s remarks in The Logic of Sensation (Deleuze 2003: 97–8) regarding first and second order figuration in Bacon’s work. This point is clarified in the chapter on ‘Hysteria’ where Deleuze links the spiritualism of Wilhelm Worringer’s Gothic Line to Artaud’s Body-Without-Organs: ‘It [the Gothic Line] attests to a high spirituality. Deleuze’s most complex and controversial claim about Francis Bacon in The Logic of Sensation is thus to reconfigure him as a Spinozistic mystic. In the Ethics Spinoza defines eternity as that which stands outside all duration or time – ‘Eternity can neither be defined by time nor have any relation to time’ (Spinoza 1992: 214). This text first appeared in Artforum in January 1984. and for this purpose fashioned a type of colour which corresponds in the most splendid way to this storm.272 D. and even individuated and singular things as instances of substance are eternal. When writing of how certain painters had depicted Christ’s suffering on the cross. ‘later’ and all such ascriptions are completely inapplicable to what is eternal. Ambrose all playing their different roles in the musicality of becoming. This would seem to call for a rigorous study of Hegel’s remarks on the history and development of Christian painting in the second volume of his Aesthetics. ‘Before’. Thus. True eternity stands outside of all temporal categories whatsoever. 2. he notes how ‘some masters discovered an entirely peculiar tone of colour which is not found in the human face. to these black clouds of the spirit that at the same time are firmly controlled and kept in place by the brazen brow of the divine nature’ (Hegel 1975: 824). 4. Despite the fact that we have no recollection of our own bodily emergence from eternity ‘we feel and experience that we are eternal’ (Spinoza 1992: 214). but from a more abstract perspective as atemporal essences – what Spinoza terms sub specie aeternitatis. ‘now’. and is republished (with minor emendations) as a preface to the English translation of The Logic of Sensation. engaged in the profoundest of spiritual revaluations of existence through art. the body without organs’ (Deleuze 2003: 46–7). But this spirituality is a spirituality of the body. according to Deleuze’s reading of Bacon’s triptychs. Notes 1.

New York: Semiotexte. Spinoza. 6. London: Thames and Hudson. Oxford: Oxford University Press. These two figures hover and resonate with an ambiguous rhythmic character that is extremely disturbing and affective. Sylvester. F. 8. which ‘has shown how Michelangelo destroyed the narrative religious fact in favour of a properly pictorial or sculptural fact’ (Deleuze 2003: 196). Gilles (2006) Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975–1995. Note Deleuze’s use of the specifically religious notion of ‘revelation’. Gilles (2003) Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. David (1987) The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon. Volume II. trans. trans.3366/E1750224109000634 . Samuel Shirley.Triptychs. (1975) Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. David Lapoujade. ed. G. In a footnote to this passage Deleuze cites Luciano Bellosi’s work on Michelangelo. 1962. London: Continuum. This differentiation is marked in Deleuze’s text with the capitalised form of ‘Figure’. References Deleuze. 7. Deleuze. Hegel. Smith. Eternity and the Spirituality of the Body 273 and sensations. third revised edition. Malcolm Knox. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company. Baruch (1992) Ethics. and even replaced by accidents’ (Deleuze 2003: 124). trans. Of particular note here are the two spectral figures in the left panel of Triptych – Three Studies for a Crucifixion. 5. DOI: 10. trans. Deleuze’s own remarks on what he calls the ‘accident’ and the depiction of Christ’s body in the history of Christian painting recall Hegel’s remarks. Deleuze notes how ‘Christ is besieged. Daniel W. Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina. W.

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