Vassar Critical Journal

The Vassar College English Department Student Journal of Critical Essays

In The Logic of Sensation, Gills Deleuze shows his appreciation for Bacon’s lifeless and disproportionate portraits of the human figure and analyzes his paintings as a representation that delineates the body-without-organs. Before this book, Deleuze and Guattari already developed the theory of body-machine in Anti-Oedipus in 1972. Deleuze claims, “the [seemingly human] Figure [in Bacon’s paintings] is the body-without-organs,” which manifests the unity of chaos where “differences of level are perpetually and violent mixed” (44). A museum in Marbella, Spain, reserves an exhibition space within its permanent collection for: Surrealisms. From Giorgio de Chirico to Francis Bacon. With much ambiguity of the significant differences between de Chirico’s and Bacon’s paintings, this exhibition looks at them as the beginning and end of the surrealist movement in art. Closely associated with André Breton from 1923-1925, de Chirico is known as one of the pioneers of surrealism and contributed to its prominence, whereas Bacon’s works were rejected by the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. Compared with Bacon’s paintings of deformed and tortured human figures, de Chirico prefers to depict objects and topography and make associations between starkly different sceneries and objects. Deleuze thinks this kind of surrealist painting wishes to escape the figurative and narrative relationship between the image to the object it depicts through pure forms and abstraction whereas Bacon’s paintings succeed through chaos (Deleuze 2). De Chirico’s paintings are “not a matter of drawing, but simply of tracing” abstract thoughts (Breton 21). A comparison and contrast between the paintings of Bacon and de Chirico is conducive to a deep analysis of Bacon’s paintings and their chaotic core. Additionally, this paper will conduct the analysis in light of Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of body-machine, wishing to shed light on the link that Deleuze makes between the Figures in Bacon’s paintings and the famous body-without-organs. Therefore, this paper will consist of two parts: a detailed account of body-machine theory and ananalysis of Bacon’s and de Chirico’s paintings.

There are three processes of synthesis in the body-machine operation: connective syntheses, disjunctive syntheses, and conjunctive syntheses. By defining different syntheses as “process,” D&G do not mean that there are three stages of operation, each of which undergoing a limited period and moving to a progressive goal. Instead, they assign a very different sense to it: the beginning of each process immediately links with another’s end and vice versa, and none of the processes move towards nor do they attempt to complete or perpetuate themselves—it is each machine’s implementation of itself in every moment (Deleuze and Guattari 5). The process of connective syntheses determines the homogeneity of the machines under operation, each of which constitutes the smallest unit. In the connective syntheses of production, each (organ-)machine (Holland would summarize them as “part-objects,” because he thinks the prefix “organ” can be misleading since they are not necessarily organs) is always ready to be plunged into another (organ-)machine (26). In fact, one never fails to find a(n) (organ-)machine in its attachment to another machine. E.W. Holland, in his Introduction to Schizoanalysis, roughly translates the connective syntheses into the terms of Freud’s libidinal investment and cathexis (Holland, “Schizoanalysis” 25). A cathexis is a form of attachment like an infant latching on to the mother’s breast. The analogy with Freud’s cathexis is apt here to bring to notice a fundamental feature of machines that induces their homogeneity. First, each machine constitutes the smallest unit in operation, tantamount to one unit of libidinal energy. Other machines that are generated in its division are not only independent of the original one but also are absolutely the same in size and occupy the smallest unit, like an assembly line of identical products. When D&G give the example of the organ-machine mouth sucking the organ-machine breasts, they mean this attachment no differently than the organ-machine eyes looking at the (organ-)machine trees. The machines are homogenous in the sense that when functioning, they perform the same action of “plugging into” or attachment regardless of their partner machines. D&G explains it as such: “Producing, a product. A producing/product identity” (Deleuze and Guattari 7).

These disjunctive syntheses, or the body-without-organs, are also carried out under this homogeneity principle. D&G present the inauguration of this process like an advent of apocalypse: “Everything stops dead for a moment, everything freezes in place—and the whole process will begin all over again. From a certain point of view it would be much better if nothing worked, if nothing functioned. Never being born, escaping the wheel of continual birth and rebirth, no mouth to suck with, no anus to shit through” (7). It is indeed because of its apocalyptic characteristic that D&G call it “anti-production.” In the disjunctive syntheses, the body-without-organs heralds a halt to all machine-machine connections and allows for connections with different machines to occur. This continual replacement is possible only because of the homogeneity of machines. It should be recognized that each (organ-)machine consists independently of every other, cannot replace each other’s existence, and does not overlap with other machines. In this sense, they are heterogenous in their materiality. On the other hand, the homogeneity persists in each machine’s tendency to plug itself into other machines, not in the essence of the machines themselves. One can find the same homogeneity in the concept of rhizome that D&G introduce in A Thousand Plateaus: “the first feature [of rhizome] is connectability: any rhizomatic element has the potential to connect with any other element” (Holland “A Thousand” 38). The body-without-organs desexualizes the connective syntheses of production and neutralizes the desiring-machines. One can understand this neutralization process (in the meaning that D&G designate) as a big blackout in the city, which the movie Shortbus uses as a symbolism. In the movie, protagonists let go of their conflicts, suspicions, and anxieties and see their friends and lovers’ most sincere and original form in the candlelight during a blackout in New York City. For D&G, “the body-without-organs presents its smooth, slippery, opaque, taut surface as a barrier for organ-machines” (Deleuze and Guattari 8). The neutralization smooths and flattens the machines—their heterogeneity is not effective in front of the body-without-organs, a non-differentiated object—making them ready to form new connections; the replacement of connections is imminent for every machine. “A mouth that drinks coffee” undergoes no difference but a repetition when it is replaced with “a mouth that eats stones.” The effect of anti-production on the connective syntheses is not the engendering but the establishment of a recording-surface, the body-without-organs, tracing and documenting the network of relations among the replacements. One can imagine the body-without-organs as a cumbersome object that is plunged into anarchy, into the night, and inertia. Because of the similarity between such characteristics and those of the Figure in Bacon’s painting, Deleuze will also use the body-without-organs to explain how the Figure in Bacon’s painting holds onto the rest of the painting; that is, the Figure inflicts force on the field and the field isolates and confines the Figure. Finally, the conjunctive syntheses produce, thanks to the memory recorded of the relations among different machines in the disjunctive syntheses, infinite series of the differentiated intensity of experience and states. Each of them is consumed and consummated by a subject which in turn creates the illusion for said subject of a mastery over the replacement of machines when generating connections, and a freedom of choice of various experiences. What is important in this process is that it creates an imaginary sovereignty of subjectivity.

The Figure in Bacon’s paintings is a body-machine, and its relationship with the rest of the painting is of various aspects, which are nonetheless material. One finds that the Figure in Bacon’s paintings is often delimited within or by a round area that either extends beyond the edges of the painting or occupies the center. In Two Figures in A Room, the two Figures are situated on an oval ground and an encircling and enclosing wall. Bacon deploys the same configuration in Two Men Working in a Field where two Figures prostrate themselves and farm an oval field against blue background. The round and oval surroundings consign the Figure to a kind of isolation, such that it looks like it is trapped alone in a round amphitheater that Deleuze calls “place.” However, Deleuze argues that the enclosing place does not render the Figure immobile; instead, an exploration is made possible for the latter itself and of its relation to the place: “the Figure becomes a Figure only through this [confinement in which] it confines itself” (Deleuze 14). Deleuze concludes that “[Bacon’s painting] is an operative field” (Deleuze 2), which harkens back to the operative relationships between the (organ-)machines in the factory of the desiring-machines. Each (organ-)machine is always identified and defined in its attachment with other (organ-)machines. Their relationship with one another is material, and is determined by the fact that one machine is plugged into another. In Bacon’s paintings, “[t]he relation of the Figure to its isolating place defines a ‘fact’: ‘the fact is…,’ ‘what takes place is….’” (Deleuze 2). Employing isolation of the Figure as a technique, Bacon is able to break with the traditional figurative representation that wishes to exhibit the illustrative relation of the image to an object by sticking to the “fact.” In Two Figures in A Room and Two Men Working in a Field, there is only a large field of bright, uniform, and motionless color besides the Figure. The material or “factual” relation of the isolated Figure to its isolating place, each (organ-)machine to another, is also true for the Figure to the large field of color. In Two Figures in A Room, the structuring and spatializing field of red and blue is not beneath, behind, nor beyond the Figure; instead, it is right beside the Figure and forms a tactile relation to it. The Figure and the color are equally present in the painting. According to Deleuze, “[the] two sectors [are structured] on a single plane, equally close [to the viewer]” (Deleuze 5).

There is a homogeneity in the Figure and its field (of color and in other paintings of objects), that is also at work for the (organ-)machines. Under the equal presence of the Figure and the background, two movements in different directions make it possible—one is the isolation and confinement of the Figure exerted by the place, as mentioned before, and the other movement has its source in the Figure’s body and directs to itself. By identifying these two movements, Deleuze recognizes the athleticism of Bacon’s paintings. The body, encompassed by the place and the field, appears to await an intense effort in itself to escape from itself by means of a spasm. Deleuze argues that this is the source of horror and abjection in Bacon’s paintings. For example, in Figure at a Washbasin, the Figure clings to the oval washbasin and clutches the faucets, motionless yet poised, apparently exerting an intense effort upon itself to escape down the drain. Deleuze explains, “[i]t is no longer the material structure that curls around the contour in order to envelop the Figure, it is the Figure that wants to pass through a vanishing point in the contour in order to dissipate into the material structure” (Deleuze 17). As a result, these two movements of the place/field and the Figure have each other as the end and the source: the place/field curls around the Figure while the Figure exerts a force to return to the former in order to dissipate into it. Their homogeneity thus arises: the place/field and the Figure repeat the manner of each other’s movement. Their repetition induces tension between them, thus making them appear side by side and equally present “on a single plane.” This homogeneity of repetition leads to the necessary deformation of the Figure and the place/field. What happens to the objects immediately relates to the Figure and vice versa. Even if to the degree to which the object/color occupies the whole background, its deformation still transfers to the Figure and vice versa. In Anti-Oedipus, homogeneity is granted for the (organ-)machines because they repeat another’s tendency to form a connection. Therefore, the form of neutralization from the body-without-organs is destiny to enable replacement. Nevertheless, the difference is that the body-without-organs as a recording surface can eliminate the effect of one machine on another because the effect is transferred to and recorded on the surface.

Deleuze states in The Logic of Sensation that the Figure in Bacon’s paintings can be seen as a body-without-organs, which shares the essence of the body-without-organs in Anti-Oedipus but functions slightly differently. First of all, he identifies the Figure in Bacon’s painting as a nonorganic life as opposed to an organism that imprisons life. It is a body-without-organs. Sensation of the Figure is not created by itself, through its interaction with other objects and colors. Instead, it spawns when “a wave with a variable amplitude flow[ing] through the body without organs, [tracing] zones and levels on their body according to the variations of its amplitude, [encounters] external forces at a particular level” (Deleuze 47). In Anti-Oedipus, sensation, experience, and their intensity are recorded on the body-without-organs and generated in the conjunctive syntheses, which create an illusion of sovereignty over subjectivity. In Bacon’s paintings, the result is an appearance that reflects in the deformation of the body, the variation of texture and color on the body-without-organs. The Figure is the body-without-organs because it shares the same cumbersome and inert quality—it also works as a surface.

On the other hand, in de Chirico’s paintings, body-machines do not exist, but instead a fusion of thinking-images that comes from a “reason so much vaster than the other [reason], makes dreams seem so natural and allows [one] to welcome unreservedly a welter of episodes so strange” (Breton 13). De Chirico seldom depicts figures; his paintings often present abstract objects and vast and open landscapes. In Melancholia, he imagines the long, sad shadows cast by the sculpture on the ground in an isolated Italian square shrouded in eerie light on an evening. When looking at this painting, the viewer feels a strong, ineffable “presence.” The viewer feels the spirit being pulled to a deeper place through immediate and blurry objects. The sculptures, the shadows, the Byzantine arches, the sky that transitions from green to yellow, the two people with unreadable figures and faces, and the train that is emitting air, all seem to point to a presence that the viewer does not know and that is not present in the painting. None of these elements are essential to each other because other combinations can express the same feeling (as in Mystery and Melancholy of a Street). However, the selection of each element is absolutely crucial to the painting, and to this unspoken and non-present presence. This mysterious presence comes from a vaster reason transcending the common rationality that Breton declares. Breton proclaims that to exercise this reason of unconsciousness and dreams, he believes his eyes and his ears (Breton 13). De Chirico must have believed his eyes and ears, too, for they have seen and listened to and grasped a vision that cannot be achieved through banal thinking and expressed with common figurative representation. Surrealism’s poetics consider that “the more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be—the greater its emotional power and poetic reality” (Breton 20). De Chirico’s paintings follow the same principle. In The Song of Love, one sees a huge sculpture of a head and a pink glove nailed to a brown plate. A train is on the left, and the Byzantine arches are on the right. A green ball is in the front. These objects do not necessarily have intimate connections with each other because they are fragments of a vision. What de Chirico pursues in this painting is the spark sprung from the fortuitous juxtaposition of the images.

Bacon’s paintings form a conspicuous contrast with those of de Chirico in terms of the latter’s intention to express a presence or a vision that transcends common rationality. Bacon’s paintings do not wish to express or find a vision through his Figure and its field, nor do the (organ-) machines that D&G imagine connect, plug in, and replace for a specific purpose envisaged by a trained system of thinking. The objects and landscapes in de Chirico’s paintings are meditative and they have identities (although the identities are not differentiated) in the anterior fusion of various thinking-images, a vision of rational activity in reference to the irrationality. In de Chirico’s paintings, objects, topography, and colors all exist in parallel, but they do not exert force on one another. The abstraction of de Chirico’s paintings lies in the fact that presenting these objects, topographies, and colors is tantamount to presenting an unnamed surreal presence. Therefore, one can even venture to say that the objects in the painting are originally one and same thing that connects with this presence. Deleuze in one of his seminars compares Breton’s surrealism with a “school” with scores, trials and exclusions (“Deleuze”). Indeed, Breton’s surrealism is a school that provides a scientific and systematic pathway to an imaginary vision where common rationality is rendered ridiculous. Whereas the surrealism of de Chirico and Breton transcended above the thought and back into it, there is no trace of such thought in Bacon’s paintings, but rather abyss and chaos. In Bacon’s paintings, one is confronted with the experience of disaster and the realm of pure material intensity. The Figure is isolated and confined by the field and the place in the rest of the paintings whereas it also exerts intense effort on itself to escape itself and dissipate in the rest of the paintings. The repetition of the two powerful movements circulated between the Figure and its field creates a tense and fleshlike visual torture. Deleuze claims that meat is the chief object of Bacon’s pity that expresses convulsive pain and vulnerability, the deep and broad human suffering (Deleuze 23). To be meat is the essence of an existence shorn of value, personality, and community. In Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, Deleuze sees meat as the object of the scream that comes out of the Pope’s mouth and the pity that comes out of his eyes (Deleuze 26). In Bacon’s works, as well as the features of the body-without-organs have shown, a flesh materiality is produced by something hyper-material. This hyper-materiality is presented as deformed and unrecognizable because it comes from a sort of primal disarray and infernal gulf. Bacon’s art is ultimately sensational in a chaotic manner; Cézanne would agree because he believes that people are born with disrupted sensational ability (Deleuze 46). The surrealism of de Chirico and Breton again directly opposes this because the effect of their abstract vision minimizes the abyss and chaos. Nevertheless, de Chirico and Bacon stand together on a new reality, opposing a rigid, naturalistic, stale realism.

Works Cited

  • Breton, André. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Univ. of Michigan Press, 2012.
  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley et al. University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis, 1983.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. Continuum, 2003.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. “Gilles Deleuze: The ABC Primer, Lecture Recording 3 – N to Z, 3 June 1989.” Gilles Deleuze: The ABC Primer, Lecture Recording 3 – N to Z, 3 June 1989 | The Deleuze Seminars,
  • Holland, Eugene W. Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: A Reader’s Guide. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
  • Holland, Eugene W. Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. Routledge, 2003.

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