Ya BastaA plan is afoot at archive : s0metim3s for a discussion of Mario Tronti’s “The Strategy of Refusal”. This comes on the heels of Jodi’s Long Sunday post on “Bartleby in Power” and coincides with Nate’s encouragement: Leggiamo Tronti.

We all want to say “We prefer not to.” The brilliance of the “strategy of refusal” is its immediate appeal. Against the moralism that so often characterizes the Left. Against notions of sacrifice, struggle, or self-improvement. A valorization of what starts as an exasperated sigh: “Enough already!”

And a realization that the real moralism lies elsewhere.


Monday Arguediana

Angel Rama

Angel Rama’s introduction to Arguedas’s Señores e indios is perceptive about the challenge Arguedas faced in adapting an essentially social realist novelistic form to his own purposes.

Rama suggests that Arguedas resorted to “a type of return to the accumulative system corresponding to earlier stages in the development of the genre” (35). Instead of the “organic unity” of the nineteenth-century novel, in which plot and character develop mutually and linearly, Arguedas’s novels turn around “the accumulation of intense and sudden ‘illuminations,’ structured and synchronic visions of an apprehension of the real that retains all its possible manifestations” (36).

In other words, Western narrative proceeds by the elimination of possibilities, as the plot puts options to characters who are unable to move on without making a decision between them. By contrast, Arguedas maintains a sense of the possible–perhaps better, the always present virtual–implicit in a landscape, human and natural, that always goes beyond the individual and his or her decisions. Or rather, bringing together the two forms, one Western the other closer to an indigenous worldview, Arguedas presents:

a double operation: on the one hand, a causal chain of actions and characters comes together in line with the traditional requirements of realist narrative; on the other, unexpected ‘illuminations’ arise, that may or may not be connected to the sphere of the action, but which enable another development and another interpretation that the author sees as more profound, and more effective as literature. (37)

Hence, for Rama, Arguedas offers a model of literary transculturation. More precisely, he offers his literature as a model of an ideal transculturation that might be an object lesson for Peruvian culture as a whole. Because “if it were possible in literature, then it might also be possible in the rest of the culture” (15).

So Arguedas’s is a transculturation in reverse: it is not that his novels are the products of transculturating forces; it is that they themselves aim to force the production of transculturation elsewhere.

It’s a little strange, however, that Rama should make this eloquent case for the importance of Arguedas’s literary project in the introduction to what is a collection of anthropological essays. Indeed, Rama says little to illuminate the thirty eight short pieces that his own essay supposedly introduces.

Perhaps Rama’s silence owes something to the fact that however much Arguedas may have struggled with literary form, however much his novels were a series of more or less inconclusive, even unsatisfactory, experiments, he seems not to have struggled in the same way with the conventions of anthropological writing.

There is very little sign in Señores e indios of the tensions that would later in the twentieth century lead to the myriad critiques and auto-critiques that have both plagued and invigorated the discipline of Anthropology. For all the autobiographical elements in Arguedas’s writing (for instance in “Canciones quechuas”) or the more journalistic accounts in which he writes of his own observations (such as “Andahuaylinos, alemanes y amueshas”), there is no point at which he produces anything like a self-conscious or self-reflexive approach to the business of studying Peruvian customs and culture.

There is in fact hardly anything like an explicitly theoretical approach. And though he declares that he is avoiding theory in what are mainly semi-popular essays (destined for newspapers rather than specialized journals), Arguedas is happy enough to endorse a straightforwardly positivist and empiricist, even scientistic, attitude to his object of study. In a discussion of Andean music, for instance, he deplores those who are ignorant of even “the rudiments of the science devoted to the study of this aspect of the culture” (210). Such ignorance leads, he tells us, to the adoption of “bluntening and deforming measures” (210) that increase the likelihood of “what we can perfectly properly call falsifications” (209).

And in what does such falsification consist? In an inability to tell the original from a copy. This is what anthropological science can provide: a distinction between the true and the false; between model and imitation. Here, however, a whole can of worms opens up. For it turns out that the “copy” that Arguedas is denouncing involves a return to what one might otherwise suggest would be an “original” pre-Hispanic, “Incaist” cultural identity.

Arguedas insists that this Incaist return to some pre-Hispanic form not only denies the continuity between Inca civilization and contemporary indigenous culture, but also thereby loses sight of the “authenticity” of that culture, much of which is in fact “richer and more extensive than the ancient, because it has assimilated and transformed excellent instruments of expression that come from Europe, and that are more perfect than the ancient” (216). This leads him to the counter-intuitive stance of defending transculturation on account of its authenticity and originality, and denouncing nativism for its artificiality and secondariness.

But above all: why and on what grounds denounce this transculturation, the product of the current vogue for indigeneity among an intellectual elite in Lima, but not the former transculturation, that has already taken place in the Andes?

John Galliano for Dior

Why denounce the “abyss between the original and the imitation” when it comes to the coastal appropriation of highland folk dances and music (219), but not when it comes to the centuries of very similar appropriations that, Arguedas emphasizes, have given rise to this very culture in the “first” place?

And what of John Galliano’s collection for Dior last year, inspired by Andean traje? Would this not confirm Arguedas’s intuition that were indigenous cultures presented properly abroad, “we would conquer the world for Peru” (232)?

In short: what are transculturation’s limits? And who can legislate as to those limits? The anthropologist as scientist?


Last night we were discussing the differences between “presentist” and “historicist” approaches to literature, especially in the classroom. I’m not entirely sure that this distinction is well put, though it echoes the recent discussion over at Long Sunday about “interpretation”.

A presentist approach to a text would treat it as though it spoke directly to our present circumstances. So we read Virgil on Empire, Chaucer on popular culture, Sarmiento on barbarism, because they like us are concerned with these issues. Shakespeare is our contemporary. And if Dylan is the new Keats, that’s because Keats was the old Dylan. Whether because of transcendent values (great works speak across the ages), transhistorical problems (the poor you always have with you), or tactical considerations (selling the classics to the kids), the point is to emphasize how familiar these texts are.

A historicist approach would say: no, we are not yet equipped to read the text. When we fancy we see our own concerns addressed in Chaucer or Keats, in fact we are imposing those concerns upon these authors. We need, rather, to read these texts as they were read in their time: and Empire meant something rather different to Virgil than it does to us; and Shakespeare’s plays only fully give up their sense once we see them as embedded in a whole series of cultural and political discourses very much of their own time (and place). So the point is to show the strangeness of these texts.

But this dichotomy is itself strange. On the one hand, the present is elusive: which present? Whose present? On the other hand, so is the past: and when precisely does a work become historical?

And a text in a class is unavoidably contemporary: we are all Pierre Menards; we cannot unlearn what we know and Cervantes did not. But it is also unavoidably strange: it comes from elsewhere, bearing the mark of the other. And so in reading we always run the risk of being moved or disturbed, or losing ourselves to some small extent. But isn’t that the attraction of literature, or indeed art in general? That it offers an unlearning: we are no longer quite so sure of who we are.

Or so, at least, one might hope…

Bush reading


As I seem to have a sideline on Latin American elections (Bachelet, Morales), and with all the talk of Latin America’s “leftward drift”…

Salvador flagIt’s worth noting then that according to Tim’s El Salvador Blog the FMLN are leading the polls in advance of Salvador’s upcoming National Assembly and mayoral elections.

The country’s Presidential election took place two years ago, and was won by Tony Saca of ARENA, the party that was, notoriously, the party of the death squads during the 1980s civil war.

The FMLN’s candidate in 2004 was their veteran leader, Schafik Handal, who died in January at the airport, returning from Evo Morales’s inauguration. It seems likely that the party’s current standing in the polls owes not a little to the sentimental affection expressed for Handal after his death, whereas in life the Communist leader was much vilified.

(For another example of a Communist leader whose recent death has done much to boost her public acceptability, see Chile’s Gladys Marín.)

At the same time, Schafik’s departure may enable some renovation within the FMLN. See again Tim’s discussion of the party’s internal debates. Splits within the FMLN–always at best a loose coalition, but united in the 1980s in line with the necessities of insurgency–have long meant that the left have failed to capitalize in peacetime on their strength and definite popularity as a rebel force. The party has never really recovered from the defection of Joaquín Villalobos, wartime strategist, who decided to ally with ARENA in 1994. Michael Zielinski summarizes the situation in the mid-1990s here. And Margaret Swedish comments on further divisions here.

Still, the former guerrillas have more recently performed well in Assembly elections and in local politics alike. In 2003, with 34% of the vote, they won a qualified majority in the Assembly. But they remained the opposition, facing a right of centre coalition dominated by ARENA. And the current mayor of San Salvador was elected as a member of the FMLN, even though he quit the party last year. Perhaps this year will see an electoral breakthrough. Which will irritate the US, if nothing else. But let us hope it achieves more than that.

For more news on Salvador, in addition to Tim’s fine blog, see the UCA’s Proceso, extracts of which are available in both English and Spanish.


Monday Arguediana

El sexto is no doubt the least read and least appreciated of Arguedas’s novels. Mario Vargas Llosa states that it is, with El zorro de arriba y el zorro de abajo, “the most imperfect one that he wrote” (20). But Los zorros has received a fair amount of critical attention. Precisely its imperfection, and the fact that it was left unfinished at the author’s suicide, are seen as symptomatic of the fate of the Peruvian’s literary project as a whole. El sexto‘s imperfections, on the other hand, are seen as altogether less interesting.

Moreover, this semi-autobiographical account of life in a Lima prison doesn’t fit well within the thematic continuities of the rest of Arguedas’s work. Though some of its characters are from the Andes, not least the protagonist, Gabriel, and his cellmate, Cámac, the prison walls limit the narrative. Any indigenism is thoroughly attenuated, glimpsed only in some of Gabriel’s more fleeting reminiscences. We are, instead, endlessly drawn back to the brute realities of the jail’s physical environment.

And that environment is brute and brutish with a vengeance. Arguedas provides us with a picture of utter filth and degradation, both literal and figurative. The jail’s bathrooms have been destroyed, so prisoners shit and piss in full view of each other. Except that is for the stronger, more vicious among them, who have made their way up the prisoners’ brutal hierarchy: they shit on pieces of paper in their cells, and get their lackeys to carry their excrement off to the holes in the ground that pass for latrines. Mealtime is survival of the fittest: those too weak to push their way to the front of the crowd, to have their gruel served directly into their cupped hands, soon further weaken and starve. The most desperate are prepared to lick up fellow inmates’ blood from where it falls on the stone floors. Half the common prisoners are crazy already or are driven mad by their surroundings. A cruel traffic in sexual favours predominates. The whole place gives off a stench of dirt, degeneracy, and decay: “The Sexto stinks as though all those locked up in there were rotting away” (221).

Sendero prisoners at Canto GrandeYet there is also music in the air. The novel opens and closes with a hymn. And throughout, an array of songs punctuate the story’s violence, death, destruction, and horror.

This music is diverse. It includes the Quechua huayno familiar from Los ríos profundos; but here the indigenous have no monopoly on song. These hymns are also rousing chants of war, political propaganda given some melody, however rough.

For the political prisoners who inhabit the prison’s upper levels are bitterly divided between apristas (followers of the populist APRA party) and Communists. Though they are equally persecuted by the military dictatorship that has shut both sets of activists away, their mutual enmity almost overwhelms their shared hostility to the state. And they express their rivalry, as well as maintaining internal discipline, in part through their party hymns: the “aprista Marsellaise” on the one hand; the “Internationale” on the other. These are the songs that greet Gabriel as he arrives at the novel’s opening, and with which the book also ends.

And in the interval we hear not only Gabriel’s attempts to recall the highland music appropriate to the occasions he’s living through–“as a good highlander I would repeat a huayno under my breath [. . .]. Its sadness consoled me, grabbed hold of my feelings” (178, 179). Also, for instance, the one flagrant, and so perhaps liberated, homosexual, Rositas, is often to be found humming or whistling a tune. Plus one of the Afro-Peruvian prisoners, a group whom Arguedas generally tends to portray as the lowest of the low, dances a dance “with an incredible energy” that marks out “a joyful rhythm” moving even the prison’s “rigid walls” and resonating through “the prisoners’ souls like a message from the coast’s broad valleys” (201). And the cellmate Cámac embarks on a project to construct a guitar, though this enterprise is cut short by his own death, a demise that his Communist comrades pin in part on this very deviation from orthodoxy.

So whether it stirs up and condenses hatred or pride, rivalry or brotherhood, joy or sadness, music is a privileged conduit of affect for lowlander and highlander alike.

It’s a matter of life and death: the dead are saluted with song, and at one point Gabriel and the cellmate who replaces Cámac make a rather macabre pledge to each other, to sing “the saddest melody, the saddest in the world” should the other die first (190). For what’s really heartbreaking is to have nobody to sing for you. “So sing something” pleads one prisoner as he’s led away to the hospital. “Sing some little thing for me!” (166). But no one sings, so he has to make do himself, “in a rasping voice, as though it came not from a human throat but from some ungainly, impotent bird” (167).

So, no, it’s not as though song will bring rivals together or transcend physical misery. This music is inflected by the physicality, whether decrepit or resistant, of those singing. But it is one of the few markers that forestalls utter abjection. For even the most abject of them all, a prisoner who has thoroughly lost his senses, who cannot live outside the jail and dies within it, and who is described as “the most lowly victim of capitalist society” (92), is a man who goes by the name of “the pianist” because while prostrate on the floor he acts as though playing a keyboard. The pianist, we are told, “had something of the sanctity of the heavens and mother earth. [. . .] He heard the music that comes from outside, invented by mankind, torn from space and the surface of the earth” (127).

This inaudible music promises perhaps to transfigure, if not redeem, a putrid materiality.


Highsmith book coverTom Ripley suggests that identity is as much a matter of habit and performance as of inheritance or the law.

The eponymous protagonist of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley is sent by a wealthy American businessman, Herbert Greenleaf, to persuade his son to return to the States from an overlong sojourn in Italy. But young Dickie Greenleaf has pretensions as a painter, a life of much ease and little responsibility, and scant incentive to “come back to subways and taxis and starched collars and a nine-to-five job” (52). Seeing Greenleaf’s fortune, Ripley “envied him with a heartbreaking surge of envy and of self-pity” (52).

So Tom abandons his mission, and seeks rather to become a part of Dickie’s life, a fixture in the rounds of excursions to beach and café in the village of Mongibello, or further afield to Capri or the Alps, perhaps even to Paris. Tom wants to see the sights, to educate himself by means of a European Grand Tour in the company of his new friend. But bonding with Greenleaf means prising him away from the only other American in the village: Marge Sherwood, with whom Dickie has an on-again off-again romantic engagement, more strongly pursued by Marge than by Dickie. Ripley’s goal, then, is to prevent Greenleaf from falling into Marge’s heterosexual trap.

But Dickie is hardly any keener to reciprocate Tom’s advances than Marge’s. Not that Tom’s desires are straightforwardly homosexual: Slavoj Zizek calls him a “male lesbian” rather than a “closet gay” (“When Straight Means Weird”). I’m not so sure about that, but it’s noticeable that in this novel permeated by accusations and counter-accusations of “sexual deviation,” nobody actually gets to have sex. “Tom laughed at that phrase ‘sexual deviation.’ Where was the sex? Where was the deviation?” (147).

Indeed, what leads Ripley eventually to murder is a desire to go straight, or rather, not to accept deviation, not to give up on desires that have more to do with class than with sexuality. And a more direct route to Dickie’s lifestyle means doing away with the need for reciprocity, and simply taking on the other’s identity: “He could–he had just thought of something brilliant: he could become Dickie Greenleaf himself. He could do everything that Dickie did. [. . .] He could step right into Dickie’s shoes” (100-101).

Alain Delon in Plein Soleil
So Tom clubs Dickie to death on a boat trip off San Remo and soon finds himself “happy, content, and utterly, utterly confident, as he had never been before in his life” (112). “It was impossible to be lonely or bored, he thought, so long as he was Dickie Greenleaf” (122). And as far as Tom is concerned, he is Dickie Greenleaf. It is not that he is playing at being Dickie, it is that he has subsumed his identity. “This was,” Tom reflects, “the real annihilation of his past and of himself, Tom Ripley, who was made up of that past” (127).

So when, after a series of scrapes and near-misses both with the law and with Dickie’s friends–one of whom has also to be put away–Tom returns, somewhat reluctantly, to being Tom Ripley, this too becomes a performance: “He began to feel happy even in his dreary role as Thomas Ripley. He took a pleasure in it, overdoing almost the old Tom Ripley reticence with strangers, the inferiority in every duck of his head and wistful, sidelong glance” (194). And being Tom as much as (perhaps more than) being Dickie requires that he tell a series of tall tales to head off the suspicions of the police, Mr Greenleaf Sr, and Marge. But he carries them off: “his stories were good because he imagined them intensely, so intensely that he came to believe them” (256).

Which is why I’m not sure either of Zizek’s characterization of Ripley in terms of “disengaged coldness.” It’s true that Tom’s attachments disrupt conventional notions of propriety and trust, constancy and reliability. But isn’t that precisely because of their intensity, an intensity in the contraction of habits and susceptibility to affect that is positively inhuman? Tom endlessly changes shape and shifts identity not so much to negate his old habits but to experience new sensations. If he is repulsed by so many of the characters he meets along the way, is it not because they accept their own limitations? Tom always wants more, which means also feeling more.

And surely the book’s final lines express enthusiasm more than they evince snobbery: “‘To a hotel, please,’ Tom said. ‘Il meglio albergo. Il meglio, il meglio!'” (295).


Deleuze articulates the core of Difference and Repetition, and perhaps of his work as a whole, with the following declaration:

In short, the negative is always derived and represented, never original or present: the process of difference and differenciation is primary in relation to that of the negative and opposition. (207)

Here, succinctly, is both Platonism overturned and Hegelianism rejected.

Immediately thereafter, Deleuze forestalls those who suggest that dispensing with negation would also mean doing away with critique, those who worry that giving up on the dialectic implies an acceptance, say, of the end of history. No, Deleuze states, the negative was never intrinsic to Marxism. Deleuze stands by an anti-dialectical Marxism, in tune with Althusserianism:

Those commentators on Marx who insist upon the fundamental difference between Marx and Hegel rightly point out that in Capital the category of differenciation (the differenciation at the heart of a social multiplicity: the division of labour) is substituted for the Hegelian concepts of opposition, contradiction, and alienation. (207)

A footnote to Reading Capital follows.

It’s worth noting en passant that Deleuze’s Marxism in Difference and Repetition is surprisingly orthodox, at least in so far as he holds to the base/superstructure model:

In all rigour, there are only economic social problems, even though the solutions may be juridical, political, or ideological, and the problems may be expressed in these fields of resolvability. (186)

But in what is almost an aside, Deleuze then notes:

Clearly, at this point the philosophy of difference must be wary of turning into the discourse of beautiful souls: differences, nothing but differences, in a peaceful coexistence in the Idea of social places and functions . . . but the name of Marx is sufficient to save it from this danger. (207)

This is an odd but crucial clarification. It also contains a significant ellipsis. Not the only one in the book, but no doubt the most symptomatic. (Compare xx, 26, 63, 72, 75, 85, 117, 155, 163, 187, 188, 191, 223, 228, 246, where in most cases the ellipsis is fairly trivially associated with a list.)

For the point is that overturning Platonism and rejecting Hegelianism are insufficient. Representation, the One, negation, etc. are false problems. Once their insubstantiality is shown, the real problems persist. And is “the name of Marx” really enough to save us from a functionalist celebration of the immanent? It certainly hasn’t stopped Manual de Landa, for instance, from employing Deleuzianism for an apologia for the market.

To put this another way, the end of hegemony is scarcely a liberation. It is only the beginning of the task facing posthegemony.

Girl Refuting Hegel's Dialectic Model of History“Girl Refuting Hegel’s Dialectic Model of History,” by Michael Laster


Kate MossJust as Latin America has long supplied raw material to feed the global economy, so the region has also been exploited for its affective potential. Gold, silver, copper, guano, rubber, chocolate, sugar, tobacco, coffee, coca: these have all sustained peripheral monocultures whose product has been refined and consumed in the metropolis.

And parallel to and intertwined with this consumer goods economy is a no less material affective economy, also often structured by a distinction between the raw and the refined. After all, several of these commodities are mood enhancers, and are confected into forms (rum, cigarettes, cocaine) that further distill their mood-enhancing potential. Others have inspired their own deliria: gold fever, rubber booms.

But there has always been a more direct appropriation and accumulation of affective energy, from the circulation of fearful travelers’ tales of cannibals and savages, to the dissemination of “magic realism” or salsa, or the packaging of sexuality for Hollywood or package tourism. Latin America marks the Western imagination with a particular intensity.

And the figures who come to stand in for the region are therefore distinguished by their affective intensity.

Carmen MirandaCarmen Miranda, for instance, who not only bore the signs of economic exchange (her headdresses loaded with bananas and other fruit provided by tropical bounty), but also served as a fetishized conduit for the exuberance and sexiness that Hollywood captured and distilled as “Latin spirit.”

At the same time, and despite the elaborate orchestration that typified a Carmen Miranda number, some disturbing excess remained, not least in the ways in which Miranda’s patter upset linguistic convention.

She blurred English and Portuguese and dissolved both, (re)converting language into sounds that were no longer meaningful, only affectively resonant. In Ana López’s words, “Miranda’s excessive manipulation of accents [. . .] inflates the fetish, cracking its surface while simultaneously aggrandizing it” (“Are All Latins from Manhattan?” 77).

So there has long been a complex relation between Latin affect and Western reason: both reinforcement and subversion. Fernando Ortiz suggests that at stake is a colonial pact with the devil. Of the appearance of tobacco and chocolate from the Americas, as well as Arabian coffee and tea from the Far East, “these four exotic products [. . .] all of them stimulants of the senses as well as of the spirit,” he writes that “it is as though they had been sent to Europe from the four corners of the earth by the devil to revive Europe ‘when the time came,’ when that continent was ready to save the spirituality of reason from burning itself out and give the senses their due once more” (Cuban Counterpoint 206).

An economy of the senses saves reason, gives it a shot in the arm, but also demonstrates reason’s addicted dependence upon sensual as well as spiritual stimulation.


I suspect that most people who read Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition–and there can’t be many of them–are reading the book through the lens provided by his and Guattari’s later Capitalism and Schizophrenia. And indeed, many of the elements of the later work are already in place here, not least the affirmation of difference and multiplicity, and the refusal of negation and representation.

The productivist ethos of Anti-Oedipus is on display: “In every respect,” Deleuze tells us, “truth is a matter of production, not of adequation” (154). As is the refusal of lack, and so implicitly an incipient anti-Lacanianism: “The unconscious is neither an unconscious of degradation nor an unconscious of contradiction; it involves neither limitation nor opposition [. . .]. The celebrated phrase ‘the unconscious knows no negative’ must be taken literally” (108).

Moreover, surely the syntheses of the later work (connective, disjunctive, and conjunctive) are anticipated in the discussion of Habitus, Eros, and Thanatos, the “three syntheses which must be understood as constitutive of the unconscious” (114). This triad reoccurs in a number of variations in the first half of the book: as present, past, and future (but also as different modalities of the past, and of time itself); and as “coupling,” “resonance,” and “forced movement” (117).

And although Deleuze’s concerns are not (yet) fully social, fully political, there are indications of both possible and actual connections with social critique. For example:

What is a thought which harms no one, neither thinkers nor anyone else? Recognition is a sign of the celebration of monstrous nuptials, in which thought “rediscovers” the State, rediscovers “the Church,” and rediscovers the current values that it subtly presented in the pure form of an eternally blessed unspecified eternal object. (135-136)

Indeed, and this is another of those subterranean connections to Bourdieu that interest me, the struggle against Philosophy’s “image of thought” is also a struggle against doxa, a posthegemonic analysis of a common sense that lies beneath or beyond ideology: “The image of thought is only the figure in which doxa is universalised by being elevated to the rational level” (134).

And I had forgotten that Deleuze attends so much to “the mystery of habit” (73), which he even discusses under the rubric of Habitus. There is something primary about habit in Deleuze: it constitutes the first synthesis, of connection or “contraction” (73). (Could one imagine a counter-contractarian tradition, then?)

larvaeHabit establishes the “larval self,” or the larval selves that inhabit us, “the primary habits that we are; the thousands of passive syntheses of which we are organically composed. [. . .] We speak of our ‘self’ only in virtue of these thousands of little witnesses which contemplate within us” (74). Habit is always already multitudinous. Or, again:

This living present, and with it the whole of organic and psychic life, rests upon habit. [. . .] We must regard habit as the foundation from which all other psychic phenomena derive. [. . .] These thousands of habits of which we are composed–these contractions, contemplations, pretensions, presumptions, satisfactions, fatigues; these variable presents–thus form the basic domain of passive syntheses. [. . .] Selves are larval subjects; the world of passive syntheses constitutes the system of the self, under conditions yet to be determined, but it is the system of a dissolved self. (78)

The issue, then, is how the Self, the Subject, is composed as an abstraction from and imposition on this teeming world. Whence the One, now all too recognizable, that stands in for this multiplicity? Deleuze here asks this question of Philosophy. And it is Plato who is the villain of the piece, though this is complicated by the fact both that Platonism has subsequently been compounded by (particularly) Descartes, Kant, and Hegel, and also that Plato at least is ascribed the virtue of having in some way failed to secure the victory of the Idea over the copy: “Was it not inevitable that Plato should be the first to overturn Platonism, or at least to show the direction such an overturning should take?” (68).

As such, an alternative tradition opens up, a fissure that runs through even the most canonical of philosophers. And it is tracing that fissure, and the larvae that spill from it, that is the object of so much of Deleuze’s other philosophical work.


There is much overlap between Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation and de Bolla’s Art Matters. What unites them is their interest in the affective. Deleuze argues that “there are no feelings in Bacon: there are nothing but affects: that is, ‘sensations’ and ‘instincts'” (39). And so “sensation” is an entry into the material, the immediately corporeal, against narrative: “sensation is that which is transmitted directly, and avoids the detour and boredom of conveying a story” (36).

Thus Deleuze, like de Bolla, stresses the physicality not only of the painting itself, which still retains the traces of the hand, but also in our viewing of paintings. Compare de Bolla’s observation “that closing one’s eyes the better to see is no bad thing” with Deleuze’s statement that “painting gives us eyes all over: in the ear, in the stomach, in the lungs” (52).

No wonder the LRB asked de Bolla to review Deleuze’s book [subscription required]. Here, de Bolla picks up particularly on Deleuze’s chapter “Body, Meat and Spirit” and his suggestion that the painter “goes to the butcher’s shop as if it were a church, with the meat as the crucified victim [. . .] Bacon is a religious painter only in butchers’ shops” (qtd. 20).

In some ways, this is only obvious. See the third of Bacon’s Three Studies for a Crucifixion

The theme is also discussed by Wieland Schmeid, quoted here. (And Schmeid notes this a crucifixion without transcendence: “there are no redeemers or saviours to be found.”)

But where de Bolla takes this expanded affectivity as also an expanded terrain of representation (“now I think I can see how Bacon’s paintings also smell of different things [. . .]. Perhaps this is on account of a deeply rooted mimetic affect” [20]), Deleuze insists on contrasting mimesis and affect. In his painting of sensation Bacon is waging a near-heroic war against the representational. The point is always to ensure that the Figure does not become mere figuration, and so inevitably cliché; that sensation does not become the sensational; that the visual field is not reduced to spectacle.

Resemblance is painting’s great temptation. Indeed, the clichéd image is in a sense originary. At least, we find ourselves now more than ever among such images. Clichés are already there, “on the canvas, they fill it, they must fill it, before the painter’s work begins” (96). Painting is not a question of application, of adding an image to a blank canvas. The canvas is teeming from the start; the painter is part of it, immanent with it. The problem is “how to get out of it, thereby getting out of cliché” (96). And yet without reconstructing a new transcendence, a new distanciation between masterful gaze and inert object.

This is a matter of establishing rhythms and resonances rather than likenesses. Relations of affect rather than identity. It’s a question of drawing a diagram, which is “the operative set of traits and color patches, of lines and zones” (102). For it’s only through the diagram that a “haptic” space, of contact rather than contract, convivial rapport, can be affirmed.