Logic of Sensation

by Beth Metcalf

In ‘What is Philosophy?’ Deleuze and Guattari tell us that philosophy creates concepts of events, science constructs states of affairs in functions, and art erects monuments with sensations.  Each must use its own means when speaking of another discipline.  Science must use its functions when speaking of sensations or concepts.  Art has sensation of concepts and functions.  Philosophy has to use concepts when thinking about science’s functions or art’s sensations.  Therefore, when Deleuze writes ‘Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation’, he writes as a philosopher of Bacon’s art.  ‘The Logic of Sensation’ is Deleuze’s philosophical concept of univocity that he sees exemplified in Bacon’s paintings.  From Deleuze’s philosophical perspective, Bacon’s art avoids representation and narration by reaching univocal sensation.  The Figure becomes a singular fact that can never succumb to the generalizing notion that a copy can represent a model. 

Deleuze says that Bacon isolates the Figure.  Isolation liberates the Figure.  The Figure becomes singular fact that is not part of any totalizing relational structure, original or produced.  Deleuze says that Bacon’s three elements are the field as spatializing material structure, the Figure as fact, and the contour as a membrane of exchange of flows between Figure and field.   The first movement is from field to Figure.  The Figure is composed by the movement that comes from the spatializing field.  Figure becomes ‘place’ through this movement --- an empty place that circulates through orders and across levels.  The Figure waits.  The slowness of waiting -- ‘What is going to happen?’  But there is also another movement in the other direction.  It is the movement from Figure to field.  The Figure is a body that is not waiting for something from the field.   It waits for something inside itself.  The Figure tends to dissipate into the field.  Figure is a body that waits to escape from itself.  This is the speed of ‘What happened?’  The Figure waits from its place of solitude.  I take this to reflect what Deleuze elsewhere calls the time of ‘Aion’.  The slow waiting of ‘What is going to happen?’  The speed of ‘What happened?’  The Figure is the place of solitude in a present without thickness.  This is not the time of spectacle as represented to a spectator.  It is the movement of the event.  It is the nomadic distribution of forces that compose sensation.  The contour is the membrane that exchanges flows in both directions between figure and field.  There is a rhythm of the systole that contracts the body and goes from field to Figure.  There is diastole that extends and dissipates the body and goes from Figure to field.  The coexistence of all movement introduces rhythm into painting.  Diastole – the world closes in around the Figure.  Systole – the Figure contracts or expands to rejoin the field.            

Then there are coupled Figures of intensity.  Disparate Figures become the same fact.  A zone of indiscernibility is the diagram that territorializes and deterritorializes.  Bacon paints a zone of indiscernibility between man and animal.  This is not a combination of forms but the common fact of becoming animal.  The body is the material of the Figure opposed to the spatializing field of material structure.  Bacon dismantles the personalizing face to rediscover a zone of individuation.  This is not a combination of forms but the common fact of man and animal – the fact of body as meat and flesh. 

Sensation is not represented in an object.  Bacon paints the immediacy of this singular sensation as it passes through orders and levels without mediation of a prior form.  There are not equivocal sensations represented by objects united in a common structure, but orders of real difference said as same.  There are disparate relations between rhythm and sensation as these pass across different orders and levels.  Disparate relations of rhythm compose new singular sensations.  Therefore, it is not representational figuration that provokes a sensation.  When Bacon paints the Pope’s scream, he paints the sensation itself, not the horrified face.  If a generalized horror of the personalized face is introduced, the sensation of the scream is botched.  Horror is inferred from the scream, not the reverse.  If the scream is inferred from a subjective sensation of horror or a horrifying object, then narration and representation are re-introduced.  The scream is botched.

For Bacon, the form related to sensation (Figure) is not a form related to an object represented (figuration).  Sensation passes from one level to another, deforming bodies, acting directly on the nervous system, and liberating the Figure.  This does not merely transform a form.  It deforms bodies.  There are not equivocal sensations of a unified organism, but different levels of univocal sensation.  Therefore, I take Bacon’s ‘logic of sensation’ to be that which Deleuze calls ‘univocity’.  The logic of sensation is not a rational logic.  A non-rational logic is produced in the relation between sensation and rhythm (FB 37).  There is no synthetic unity of objects represented to a subject.  The Figure is not representational figuration.  Rather sensation is the non-resembling means that provokes a Figure.  Bacon paints the sensation itself in the univocal logic of sensation.  Sensation places in relation a rhythm of levels through which it passes. Figure and field contract/expand in a rhythm.  This disjoins the faculties and finds a new common accord of organs.  A common accord of sensation is not derived through an organism.  There is only the body without organs. 

Bacon’s expressionism is not a phenomenon of the lived.  There is new unity of rhythm only when there is a violence that mixes levels in the body without organs.  However, the body without organs must not be confused with an organism (i.e., an organization of organs).  Sensation is intensive vibration of the body without organs.  This has nothing to do with a phenomenological unity of an organism.  Painting is the “hysteria” of variable amplitudes flowing throughout the body without organs.  There are gradients, zones of indiscernibility, orders and levels, and intensive thresholds that produce provisional organs.  The body without organs is not without organs.  It is without the organization of an organism. 

Time itself is painted in Bacon’s Figure.  Sensation is intensive vibration.  Every sensation implies a difference in level.  The mouth at one level is anus at another.  This is hysterical reality of the body without organs with its oscillations of speed and slowness in the production of before-after.  There is direct action on the nervous system.  Deleuze mentions the hysteria of ‘autoscopia’ where the transitory organs are felt under the organization of the organism.  (FB 43) “….it is no longer my head, but I feel myself inside a head….”  The transitory organs of the body without organs are felt under the organization of the body.  Things are felt as too present --- an interminable presence of transitory organs.  It is the waiting of perpetual delay --- the speed of already happened.  Painting makes visible this hysterical presence.  The eye is no longer a fixed organ.  The eye becomes a transitory organ across levels.  Representation and narration become impossible. 

Phenomenology in art is not sufficient.  It invokes the lived body, but never reaches the unlivable power of univocity.  Univocal sensation is reached only when rhythm plunges into chaos.  The limit of the lived body is the body without organs with its gradients, thresholds, and levels.  Bacon paints the intensity of the body without organs.  Phenomena of appearances and resemblances do not provoke sensation.  Rather, it is the reverse.  Sensation composes new singularities of never seen resemblances.  Painting renders visible the forces that are not visible in themselves.  Sensation “gives” something that does not resemble the forces that condition it.  It is the forces of time that must be painted.  Bacon paints the scream by creating a relation between visibility of the open mouth and invisible forces of the future.  (FB 52-3) “Life screams at death….it is this invisible force that life detects, flushes out, and makes visible through the scream.  Death is judged from the point of view of life, and not the reverse, as we like to believe.”  Bacon’s painting renders the forces of time visible. 

Therefore, Deleuze finds three relations in Bacon’s painting.  First, the simple relations of movement from structure to Figure and from Figure to structure.  This is the fact of the Figure when the body feels forces of isolation, deformation, and dissipation.  Secondly, bodies undergo coupling, two Figures resonate to become a single “matter of fact”.  Two sensations each at its own level can share a zone of indiscernibility.  In coupling of sensation, rhythm is liberated as different levels resonate.  Finally, there is movement of force in the triptych.  There is separation of bodies that becomes a common fact of the Figures in a rhythmic being --- a union that separates.  A joining-together separates the Figures in a new “matter of fact”.  The three panels are separated but not isolated.  There is no longer a limiting unity of each Figure in isolation, but a distributive unity of panels.  I take these three relations to be what Deleuze elsewhere calls the syntheses of connection, disjunction, and conjunction of flows in new continuities and across levels.  All relations are the immediacy of immanence. 

There are complex relations between the painter’s eye and hand.  There are heterogeneous parallel series of optical and tactile images.  The relations are univocal.  That is, they are really distinct yet ontologically singular.  Their singularity becomes the haptic image by which the eye gains the sensation of touch.  Sight discovers its own function of touch apart from its optical function.  The diagram creates a new sensation of resemblance, an asignifying, non-representational resemblance never seen before will emerge.  The diagram is a zone of indiscernibility between two forms from which the haptic Figure emerges.  It produces resemblance through non-resembling means.  The duality of the tactile and the optical is surpassed in the diagram from which emerges the haptic function of the eye.  The diagram is logic of sensation from which emerges Figures of haptic sensations.   

The tactile-optical space is disrupted by the catastrophe of the diagram.  Something new emerges from it.  A form (the Figure) emerges from the diagram and acts as an agent of transformation.  The diagram distributes formless forces.  It produces resemblance by non-resembling means.  The diagram overcomes the duality of tactile/optical and emerges in the haptic function.  Sight discovers its own function of touch apart from its optical function.  Something emerges from the diagram.  The diagram-accident scrambles the intentional figurative form.  It takes asignifying traits of Figures of different planes to create a sensation.  The diagram creates a new sensation of resemblance, an asignifying, non-representational resemblance will emerge that has never been experienced before. 

The diagram draws zones of indiscernibility among forms from which new Figures emerge.  The duality of the tactile and the optical is surpassed in the diagram from which emerges the haptic function of the eye.  As forces pass through the violent catastrophe of the diagram; planes collide, colors no longer delimit objects, and bodies are thrown off balance.  In order to avoid the continuation of catastrophe, there must be a produced resemblance that does not merely reproduce clichés.  The painter must reach the analogical language of modulation* through the diagram.  Colorism is the modulation that constitutes a visual sense of touch and a haptic sense of sight.    

The painter begins with a blank canvas that is virtually filled with clichés.  The problem is how to begin without just reproducing clichés.  Bacon begins with the chaos of random marks in order to battle against cliché.  New resemblances are created through these accidents.  When Bacon clears the canvas of cliché’s with free random marks, this does not outline a form but creates zones where forms become indiscernible.  Then the body without organs is a provisional presence that introduces time into painting.  Time itself is painted in the hysterical reality of the body.  “Autoscopia” is hysterical presence.  (FB 44) “Presence, presence…things and being are present, too present…excessive presence…interminable presence…insistence of a scream that survives the mouth, the insistence of a body that survives the organism….the identity of an already-there and an always-delayed.”   There is neither the object of sensation, nor the subject of sensation.  Rather, it is sensation itself that is the “hysteria” of painting.  The body without organs is felt underneath the organization of the organs.  Different levels become different organs experienced as same sensation.  The artist does not paint the sensible or perceptible.  Rather, the sensations of percept and affect capture invisible and insensible forces. 

Abstract painting is mediated by a code that still maintains clichés.  On the other hand, action painting fills the entire canvas scrambling codes into chaos.  But Deleuze sees in Bacon a “middle way” of the diagram.  Bacon’s diagram composes an analogical language that does not reduce the diagram to a digital code.  But neither do diagrams proliferate into a chaotic scrambling of code.  Bacon’s “middle way” uses the catastrophe of chaos in the battle against the clichés of opinion.  It collapses visual coordinates in order to introduce new orders and rhythms.  The diagram collapses the old coordinates to create new experiences of sensation.

Bacon’s “middle way” is a diagrammatic “abstract machine” that escapes identity of a code.  The diagram plunges into chaos in order to fight clichés of opinion.  But it does not merge with chaotic forces.  It liberates planes, colors, and bodies by passing through violent catastrophe.  It liberates the Figure.  Bacon paints modulation* of images.  Bodies fall.  Planes collide.  Color no longer delimits objects.  The Figure is sensation itself that emerges from chaos.  It renders visible the forces that are invisible.  The diagram is the Abstract Machine of asignifying, non-resembling, and non-representational lines and zones.  It is a non-rational logic of sensation that creates new resemblances through non-resembling means.  Therefore, it is not representational figuration that provokes sensation.  Rather, sensation produces, and is produced by, new resemblances of real difference.    

*Deleuze gives his explanation of modulation in Cinema 2 p. 27-8.  Painting is analogical art in the sense that the diagram is modulation, not a mould, of resemblance.  Bacon uses color to modulate the image without mediation of a code.      


Return to Home Page