Deleuze and the Gothic: Notes on Francis Bacon.

bacon dog

Barbarian or Gothic art (in Worringer’s broad sense of the term) also dismantles organic representation […] Worringer has described this “northern line”, which goes to infinity either by continually changing direction, perpetually twisting, splitting, and breaking off from itself; or else by turning back on itself in a violent peripheral or whirling movement. Barbarian art goes beyond organic representation in two ways, either through the mass of the body in movement, or through the speed and changing direction of the flat line. Worringer discovered the formula of this frenetic line: it is a life, but the most bizarre and intense kind of life, a nonorganic vitality. It is thus opposed to the organic life of classical representation, but also to the geometric line of Egyptian essence, and the optical space of luminal apparition.[3]

The Gothic is neither purely abstract nor any form of realism. Rather, gothic art oscillates in style between the abstract and the representational optics of the Western tradition in a vitalised hybrid fashion which assimilates the affective assemblages of both while formally identifying with neither. This is such that the representation of the organic by the classical tradition undergoes in the gothic a radical monsterisation into abstraction, a deterritorialisation of its conceptual apparatus until it rescinds any claim to life. In its place the gothic reconstitutes an impossible non-organic life which abhors the human body as the centre of being and threatens it with disintegration.

Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability, delimit a field that neutralizes in advance any expressions or connections unamenable to the appropriate significations. […] the face itself is a redundancy. It is itself in redundancy with the redundancies of significance or frequency, and those of resonance or subjectivity […] the face digs the whole that subjectification needs in order t break through; it constitutes the black hole of subjectivity as consciousness or passion, the camera, the third eye.[4]

Bacon’s paintings, in which human-animal faces and figures are always on the verge of disintegration – their lines and brush strokes intersecting at abstract angles and their colours calcifying into chemical smears and bleeding into the body-without-organs of the not-quite-background which threatens to disappear into the canvas, create the affective singularity – the violence to the organic – without which A Thousand Plateaus’ concepts of faciality and becoming-animal would not be thinkable. Bacon’s Painting of a Dog (1952) – in which the vitalised abstract lines of paint collide and fracture to create an ambiguous zone of affects and percepts (rather than the static ‘body’ of the animal) emerging and dissolving back into the canvas (as body w/o organs) – shows how the Gothic line corrodes the organic-representational line of western art into an assemblage of anarchic connections of both organic and non-organic forms; to which Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptual personae respond:

A becoming-animal always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling, in short, a multiplicity. We sorcerers have always known that. […] One may retain or extract from the animal certain characteristics: species and genera, forms and functions, etc. […] Animal characteristics can be mythic or scientific. But we are not interested in characteristics; what interests us are modes of expansion, propagation, occupation, contagion, peopling. […] The wolf is not fundamentally a characteristic or a certain number of characteristics; it is a wolfing. The louse is a lousing, and so on. What is a cry independent of the population it appeals to or takes as its witness? […] It is at this point that the human being encounters the animal. We do not become animal without a fascination for the pack, for multiplicity. A fascination for the outside? Or is the multiplicity that fascinates us already related to a multiplicity dwelling within us?[5]


[1] What is philosophy? p.112

[2] Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. London: Continuum 2003 p.129

[3] Ibid. pp.129-130

[4] Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari.  A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Massumi, Brian. London: Continuum 2004 p.186

[5] A Thousand Plateaus. p.264

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