Monday, December 11, 2006

Gilles Deleuze: Theorist as Artist

Sometimes, the pursuit of theory can seem a cold and unrewarding endeavor. Given the amount of time I spend experiencing and reflecting upon visual art, the very fact that I will always be a mere observer and commentator can begin to fill me with a sense of futility and superfluousness. What do I, the theorist, add to the already rich landscape of actual artworks? Granted, these are only passing moods from which I am thankfully spared for most of the time. After all, my readers are already familiar with my defense of and devotion to the value of art theory. But nevertheless, I am on these rare occasions gripped with a sense of loss that I will never myself become an artist.

You can only imagine my relief upon my recent discovery of an article by Valentine Moulard in a 2004 issue of Philosophy Today in which she holds up a third possibility, the possibility of the theorist as artist. The central thesis of her article is as follows:

To understand Deleuze's "transcendental empiricism" (perhaps the only thought which truly effects the overthrowing, and not simply the reversal of Platonism), we must read Deleuze as a modern artist.1

In other words, not only does Moulard suggest that Deleuze, even as theorist, is himself a modern artist, but that it is only within this framework that we could possibly understand his work. That is, his status as artist is the condition for the possibility of his theory's validity. If Plato, firmly engrasped by a logocentric rationalism, held that it is the theorist's noble duty to banish the artist as inimical to the proper development of reason, Deleuze, the anti-Platonist, performatively renders philosophy as a theoretic-aesthetic discourse fundamentally opposed to the rational erasure of difference, an opposition oriented by a recognition and commitment to the creative and fundamental role of the unconscious in every discourse.

Now, as Deleuze writes in Cinema 2, when we experience a work of art,

we constitute a sheet of transformation which invents a kind of continuity or transversal communication between several sheets, and weaves a network of non-localizable relations between them. In this way we extract non-chronological time. We draw out a sheet which, across all the others, seizes and prolongs the trajectory of points, the evolution of regions. This is evidently a task which runs the risk of failure: sometimes we only form generalities which retain mere resemblances... But it is possible for the work of art to succeed in inventing these paradoxical and hallucinatory sheets whose property is to be at once a past and always to come.2

This point is of the greatest import, as Moulard reminds us:

This transversal sheet of transformation which inaugurates non-chronological time and that the work of art has the power to constitute is none other than the famous third type of repetition which, in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze identifies as the ungrounding, the untimely or the order of Aion, and which, from the point of view of memory or the past, he associates with death and destruction; but from the point of view of the future, it coincides with creation. In this profoundly counter-intuitive third synthesis of time lies the key to the radical novelty and uniqueness of Deleuze's transcendentalism. The important point is this: the third synthesis is the Deleuzian transcendental. I argue that it is there that his thought becomes a work of art, there that the concept becomes indistinguishable from the affect and the percept, that non-sense comes up to the surface so as at once dislocate and constitute sense.3

As a theorist, it is easy at times to simply believe that sense is opposed to non-sense. This supposed insight lies at the center of any bifurcating rationality. Fortunately, Deleuze reminds us of the profound dependence of sense on the more fundamental, unconscious, and immanent non-sense. And, as Moulard helpfully points out, within the Deleuzian framework, even mastery

is rooted in some unconscious, involuntary, non-subjective-in a word, purely immanent-repetition which, as the affirmation of difference, necessitates the creation of lines of flight from within the sterile paradoxes of modernity.4

For Moulard, theory crosses over into the realm of art precisely when "it creates concepts as affects, as percepts, as the sensible out of which thought and subjectivity are generated."5 I cannot help but think of Marion's conception of the icon as always surpassing our attempts to delimit, determine, and cognize its meaning, a surpassing that speaks of the overflowing and unlimited that both constitutes art and stands parallel to the purely immanent in Deleuze.

I am personally tired of the sterile paradoxes of modernity, as I'm sure my readers will understand. I have written on the topic elsewhere, in terms of bifurcating rationality and the theoretical straightjacket of form and content. Little did I know, however, that even I, as theorist, could potentially engage in a fundamentally artistic project whose purpose is to performatively lift us out of this tedious vortex of logocentrism. I wish to reflect further upon these matters, hold myself to account for the disappointing fact that my concepts have so far failed to be either affects or percepts, and make a concerted effort in the future to recognize at a deep level the role of non-sense in simultaneously dislocating and constituting sense.

1. Moulard, Valentine, Philosophy Today, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 288-298, Fall 2004, 288-289
2. Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 2: L’image-temps (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968), 162, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 123.
3. Moulard, Valentine, Philosophy Today, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 288-298, Fall 2004, 290
4. Ibid, 293
5. Ibid, 292


Blogger Sallow Siserary said...

First, I must thank you for this post. I happened upon it while following a Deleuze trail, and find your perspective quite refreshing. As a so-called 'artist', I must commend your hope. Of course theorists can be artists. To limit art to the strictly visual would be sensist, or anti-sense. I have a deep appreciation for non-sense. But anti-sense, or the idea that art can be perceived only through a strictly regulated subset of senses, is preposterous. Art should not be defined by some imagined prejudice of the body, where an eye is better than an ear or a brain. It should only be defined by prejudices of the mind. And if we allow our minds to be truly rhizomatic, it is not possible to limit art based on the geography of perception.

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Angela said...

To be a true artist it is not a choice, it is a simple thing that comes naturally, even if takes voluntary poverty or rich madness. Look in to the art history; many died in fame, many died in misery, and many more were never recognized during their lifetime! What really matter is: if you are a real painter, you cannot live without it, its fate my friend!

11:49 AM  
Blogger Hans said...

Hi, my name is Hans. I was looking for a blog like this, glad I found it via George's

need to read first some of your texts. Best regards, Hans

3:12 PM  
Blogger tony said...

Being a painter and not a writer I admit to a profound confusion when it comes to making bridges between practice and theory. After so many years of painting when I read/write there is a specific part which functions according to the word and yet when I paint there is a completely different sort of engagement & this engagement exists beyond the word. If one talks of the 'language of painting', outside of an aesthetic sense, it suggests the possibility of translation but I believe painting functions at a completely different level. For me I am fascinated by the notion of 'slippage'. That is to say one looks at something which is fixed, the details are given and dependent upon the scale, the information can be taken in but the thing which intrigues is not that which can be perceived but that which 'escapes' yet is still sensed. It's a feeling and for me Deleuze, from what little I understand of what he says, gives room for this 'slippage' I'm not sure 'theorist as artist' is valid in a theoretical sense but it may be so in 'artistic' terms.

5:34 AM  

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