Sensations of a Non-organic Life. An analysis of Gilles Deleuze ‘Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation’.

Colour acting upon the nervous system, upon the sense organs, creates a sensation that is prior to thought, a sensation is the ‘action of invisible forces on the body’ (Deleuze, 2003 p.41). Bacons painting captures the invisible forces and movements as they manifest through the folding in of the external and a folding out of the internal. A violent spasm, or rhythm vibrates through the levels of sensation, moving through the sense registers, connecting the senses through the visual. Deleuze asks how can one make invisible forces visible? The answer emerges in Bacons painting through demonstrating the forces that affect the body as isolation, deformation and dissipation. For Deleuze, as for Bacon, sensation is the folding of the object and subject into a ‘pure vision of a non-human eye, a haptic-eye whose vision constructs matter at the same time as perceiving it’ (Zepke, 2005 p.204). This haptic eye is a convergence of the tactile and of the visual. It is a being in the material world, while also constructing it through a colouring sensation. Modulating colour is the key to the logic of sensation; ‘sensation is paintings way of thinking a haptic thought’ (Zepke, 2005 p.204).

‘The diagram is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe but it is also a germ of order or rhythm’ (Deleuze, 2003 p.102). Francis Bacon’s diagram is composed of colour patches and line-traits, explored by Deleuze, as the random marks and cleanings that scramble the logic of thought into the logic of sensation. These random or involuntary markings and unmarkings insert a ‘vitalist non-organic life’ into the place where the figure attempts to evacuate itself, a shifting and bleeding between the mental/optical and the material/manual registers. ‘The Diagram is thus the operative set of asignifying and nonrepresentative lines and zones,’ (Deleuze, 2003 p.101), ‘from which something must emerge, if nothing emerges it fails’ (Deleuze, 2003 p.159). The diagram, then, is a kind of machine that negates or erases the accumulated clichés of art history to create the new.

‘The body is living but non-organic, the organism is what imprisons life. The body is completely living, and yet non-organic. Likewise, sensation, when it acquires a body through the organism, takes on an excessive and spasmodic appearance, exceeding the bounds of organic activity. It is immediately conveyed in the flesh through the nervous wave or vital emotion…the body without organs is flesh and nerve; a wave flows through it and traces levels upon it; a sensation is produced when the wave encounters the forces acting on the body, an “affective athleticism”, a scream breath’ (Deleuze, 2003 p.45).

We can further define the Body without Organs in Manuel DeLanda’s essay ‘The Geology of Morals: A Neo-Materialist Interpretation’, in which the BwO is a ‘special state of matter-energy-information, a flowing reality animated by self-organising processes constituting a veritable non-organic life’. DeLanda’s quotes Deleuze where the BwO is ‘that glacial reality where the alluvions, sedimentations, coagulations, foldings and recoilings that compose an organism occur’ (Deleuze, 1989 p.159). This strange non-organic life in which is evident for Deleuze and Delanda ‘the flows of lava, biomass, genes, memes, norms, money (and many others) are crucial for the emergence of just about any stable structure that we cherish and value (or, on the contrary, that oppresses and slaves us)’ (DeLanda, 1995 p.10). This flow is evident in the formations of painting as an ontological and aesthetic formation, painting as a ‘non-organic life’, the same sedimentations and coagulations, foldings and recoilings that DeLanda sees in the BwO, are present in the material, manual, optical and mental systems of painting.

Deleuze says, in Bacons painting, the figure attempts to escape from itself, from its body it is drawn out by the forces affecting it into a becoming animal, non-human or inorganic. This ‘zone of indescernability’ between human and animal comprised of emerging forces shows how, unlike the phenomenological approach, sensation is not immanent to the subject but to the twitches of a non-human vitalism. Flesh matter no longer relates to any figure but only to a collapsing rhythm, fall or flow.
‘If everything is alive, it is not because everything is organic or organized, but, on the contrary, because the organism is a diversion of life. In short the life in question is inorganic, germinal, and intensive, a powerful life without organs, a body that is all the more alive for having no organs’ (Deleuze, 1989 p. 499).

DeLanda, Manuel. The Geology of Morals: A Neo-Materialist Interpretation 1995. Presented at the Virtual Conference 95, Warwick University, UK.
Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981) 2003. Continuum London New York
Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia 1987. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London.
Zepke, Stephen. Art as Abstract Machine: Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze and Guattari 2005. Routledge, New York, London.


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