Urbanomic — 20th Century Spinozist : Rancière on Deleuze

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20th Century Spinozist : Rancière on Deleuze
As a companion piece to Infinite thought’s review/report of Jacques Rancière’s recent London lecture, I thought I would post a quick (=possibly flawed) translation of the short interview with Rancière which appeared in Magazine Littéraire’s 2002 issue dedicated to Deleuze.
Rancière takes a unique and fascinating approach to Deleuze as aesthetician, focusing here on a characteristic tendency in Deleuze’s aesthetic writing to apparently collapse the regime of representation whilst simultaneously using figures drawn from specific representations, or certain fictional traits, as abstract models for his analysis.
I remember being struck on first reading of this interview by how well this describes an aspect of Deleuze’s book on Bacon that had bothered me vaguely: the way in which ‘abstract machines’ such as that of the triptych, or the observer, are said to organise the paintings whilst not corresponding to their figural equivalents (the ‘actual’ observers, the ‘actual’ panels of the tryptych.) This can be hugely puzzling, in that one asks (and the question is the same in many other eccentric instances in A Thousand Plateaus) how it is that these machines, supposedly operating on a level anterior to any figuration, nevertheless seem to be modelled after certain figurations, or “fictions”?
Rancière suggests (but very schematically, given the brief compass of this interview) that this movement and its tension, is a symptom of a sort of inevitably falling back onto the plane of radical immanence of the figuration, and a necessary symptom of Deleuze’s attempt to consummate the end of representation and simultaneously ‘fulfil the destiny’ of the aesthetic.
Now this simultaneous disavowal of representation and inveterate dependence on allegory or metaphor can be read as nothing more than a dissembling, whether conscious or not – and this is arguably the position Badiou takes on Deleuze in his Clamour of Being (ie. that Deleuze claims to have ‘done away with’ metaphor whilst constantly using metaphor to back up his ideas). Although Badiou recognises as constitutive of Deleuze’s thought the movement from the ‘simulacra’ to radical immanence, and the peripatetic narrative Deleuze makes of this movement, he apparently fails to see anything in this movement but a failure of philosophical probity…
A problematisation of this approach is consequent upon Ranciere’s more general complication of the definition of the post-representative regime of art: it is defined not by the autonomy of the art object, a “freedom” which would be cognate to that of the radically free-floating sign of postmodernity (the very blithely-assumed unconstrained ‘freedom’ that is Badiou’s nemesis), but a mixed regime in which the artistic will is bound to a certain automatism. In which, we can assume, the escape from representation is never achieved, but is expressed in a constant becoming.
(One last brief comment; this recourse to a falling back into representation, to a constant movement between absolute and relative immanence also connects with a very difficult chapter on Derrida I am currently trying to read, from Laruelle’s Philosophies de la Difference. Laruelle argues that a philosophical decision is always made to set up such tensions, which in the absence of an interrogation into this founding decision can constitutively never be ‘resolved’ but rather act as the ‘paradoxal motor’ that drives the interminable philosophical peripitaeia.)
“Deleuze Fulfils the Destiny of the Aesthetic”
an Interview with Jacques Ranciere
from Magazine Littéraire: L’effet Deleuze (February 2002)
Deleuze’s studies on art, whether of literature (Proust, Melville, Lawrence, Beckett), of painting (Bacon, Fromanger) or cinema (The Movement-Image and The Time-Image), distinguished certain artists and philosophers by the ways in which they opened up one to the other. But it is rarely asked whether there is such a thing as a “Deleuzian aesthetics”. It fell to Jacques Rancière to pose this question in all clarity (“Existe-t-il une esthétique deleuzienne?” in E.Alliez, ed, Gilles Deleuze. Un vie philosophique, Synthelabo, 1998). Maybe because the idea of the “aesthetic” was itself a problem for him, an object of his genealogical quest. In his work, he brought out the fact that the aesthetic is the name of a specific regime of art, a rather recent one (dating from the 19th Century), and, more interesting still for us: that Deleuze “fulfilled its destiny”. This is something we cannot ignore: above all if this destiny carries with it ontology as politics-of-philosophy (see the chaptre of La Chair des mots, Galilee, 1998: “Deleuze, Bartleby et la formule littéraire”). In his most recent book (La Fable cinemotagraphique, Galilée, 2001), a collection of his articles on cinema, Rancière returns to Deleuze’s singular position and the tensions that it conceals (“From one image to another. Deleuze and the ages of cinema”). Deleuze as latter-day Flaubert? Why not…
David Rabouin: How did you come to be interested in Deleuze’s work?
Jacques Ranciere: Through others, in fact. I was a colleague of Deleuze’s for a long time, but without feeling any particular affinity with his writings. After his death, there were a certain number of organised events where people wanted to include points of view that were a little bit “external”. That is to say that there are many of his texts that I came to read very late — although of course I knew certain of them for various reasons. I had for example read the Nietzsche for my agrégatif, the Proust because it interested me, Anti-Oedipus because of its polemical and political currency at the time; but many texts, I had only viewed from afar and I became interested through the agency of two things: firstly the request that was made of me to speak about Deleuze as a “non-Deleuzian”, and secondly my own preoccupations, as a function of which I have privileged the texts in his oeuvre that one might call aesthetic.
DR: This aesthetic bias produces some interesting effects. When one reads the different studies that you have dedicated to Deleuze, whether on literature, painting or cinema, one is struck to see that he takes up quite a constant position despite the difference of his objects. Is there, to take up one of your questions, is there something like a “Deleuzian aesthetics”?
JR: I am struck, whether it’s a matter of painting, literature or cinema, by the same fundamental approach of Deleuze. It operates in two moments: always, the affirmation of a sort of radical materiality, immanent to pictorial expression, literary language – for the cinema it’s a little more complicated – the affirmation then, of a sort of characteristic of the pictorial or literary object; but, in a second moment, he produces a sort of return. For example, what seems to be a definition of painting starting from a formal grid is revealed as a description of a sort of history. I’ve said in speaking of Bacon that it is almost a manner of transforming each canvas into an allegory of the picture, then into an allegory of painting itself. Deleuze shows us in each picture a working on the Figure where it appears as assailed by the forces of the Outside, trying to evacuate itself but ultimately held in place. Each picture becomes a sort of crucifixion or a “Figure of violations” which is an allegory of all of painting. The same with happens with literature. For example, Deleuze literalises Proust’s formula according to which the writer creates another language within language; he shows us the language of Kafka torn apart by the moaning of Gregory in Metamorphosis or that of Melville by the whispers of Isabelle in /Pierre/. But the langauge of Kafka or Melville remains the common language, unaffected by the sounds that it describes. Deleuze must therefore allegorise this unlocatable other language in transforming the fictional traits assumed in the description of the characters into imaginary traits of language. I’ve shown the same thing for cinema, in regard to this rupture of the sensory-motor schema which, according to him, divides cinema into two ages: that of the movement-image and that of the time-image. Here again the rupture is actually illustrated through fictional traits: there is for example James Stewart’s leg in plaster in Rear Window or his vertigo in Vertigo which act as figuration of the sensory-motor paralysis and thus of the passage to another age of the image and of cinema. The same device appears several times. As if Deleuze makes of art a radical critique of representation, addressed to a sort of total immanence; and at the same time, as if this immanence must always be transformed at once into something like an allegory or a scenario, which is properly speaking a metaphysical scenario – and which, it every case, supposes that one must reintegrate or reinvest in a massive fashion all that depends on the fictional or historial aspect of the picture, the film or the novel.
DR: And this provokes a certain tension: as if the only way to exit from the regime of representation was to bring representative traits to the fore. You say that in this tension Deleuze “fulfils the destiny of the aesthetic”.
JR: Yes, he fulfils the destiny of what I call the “aesthetic regime” of art, a regime that wants to break with the representative tradition. Now, breaking with this tradition cannot be done in a simple way. It cannot be done, as one sometimes thinks, in favour of a simple autonomy of the artwork, where the work subtracted from representation would be consigned to a liberty or a sort of radical immanence. This vision is extraordinarily simplistic. The aesthetic regime of art is not a simple autonomy of the work of art, but always an autonomy blended with heteronomy. It is not a simple regime of free artistic will, but a regime in which this free will is always bound to something like the weight of the unconscious, of the passive, the involuntary. It is an immanence, if you like, but not a simple immanence. This is why it must always be represented in its turn, allegorised, made into a scene. Deleuze is representative of this tension because he wants to push the idea of an absolute immanence to the extreme. Now he must constantly reintroduce representational traits in order to picture [figure] it. For example he must borrow the idea of a minor language within a language in Kafka, Proust, or Melville from purely fictional traits. The problem comes from his will to reduce them all to a single plane. That which one traditionally separates under the names of content ad form must be for him on one plane and this plane must be that of the pure processes of expressive matter itself. But this imanence also means that everything is blended together and that, in consequence, any fictional trait whatsoever can be taken as a trait of material expression. Deleuze would supress all the representative traits in favour of material traits of expression; but in reality, it is ultimately the former which give their principle to the latter. This takes us back in fact to the fact that the radical immanence that Deleuze claims for art is for him not the definition of an autonomous sphere of art, but on the contrary the identification of the processes of art with quasi-physiological or ethological processes.
DR: Your reflections lead in two directions: one direction where you study Deleuze’s aesthetics insofar as they are inscribed in a certain regime, one that you have arising with the end of the 19th Century – with all the tensions that traverse it and the difficulties that Deleuze experiences in getting out of it; another direction, very intriguing, which concerns metaphysics, since it also emerges from your studies that Deleuze could well provide the metaphysics of this regime. Do you think that there is an “aesthetic” direction in Deleuzian metaphysics?
JR: Yes, I do think so. What I try to say is that the destruction of the representational regime supposes that one opposes to the Nature which supportts it – Nature governed by the model of the form working on matter – something like another Nature or an “anti-Nature”. When I speak of the “metaphysics of literature”, it is in this sense. In The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Flaubert brings in his Spinozist devil – Spinozist in the 19th-Century style! He offers a temptation to the Saint which, as with all temptation, is properly speaking metaphysical: he makes the context of representation, of which the story of his God is an integral part, disappear, to make him feel in its place a molecular world, a world that is made of pure percepts, pure identities of perceived and perceiver; a world, above all, of pre-individual or non-individual realities. It is this, the “metaphysics of literature”: a world before the chaining together of causes and effects, a molecular world which consists of the mixing of atoms, in an agitiation of matter that one might call immaterial. All the 19th century had fantasised on the idea of basing art on an “immaterial matter”. Think of all that has was dreamed of with regard to energy, electricity, etc. All of this passed into Bergson, and through Bergson, to Deleuze. What did Deleuze create? A 20th Century Spinozism. What did Flaubert do, even if he was no metaphysician? A 19th Century Spinozism. It is this Spinozism which the romantic young turks, Schelling and Schlegel, claim at the dawn of that century in their Conversations on Poesy. Deleuze is like a continuation of this – except that this continuation supposes that the domain of art should be entirely turned over to the domain of a nature or contra-nature, the “chaosmos” which Guattari speaks of. Which is to say also that Deleuze approaches the domain of art from a perspective where the one who speaks is properly a metaphysician – but a metaphysician who would at the same be something like a physician.
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