Rendering the invisible: the problem of painting - Deformation: neither transformation nor decomposition - The scream - Bacon's love of life - Enumeration of forces
From another point of view, the question concerning the separation of the arts, their respective autonomy, and their possible hierarchy, loses all importance. For there is a community of the arts, a common problem. In art, and in painting as in music, it is not a matter of reproducing or inventing forms, but of capturing forces. For this reason no art is figurative. Paul Klee's famous formula "Not to render the visible, but to render visible" - means nothing else. The task of painting is defined as the attempt to render visible forces that are not themselves visible. Likewise, music attempts to render sonorous forces that are not themselves sonorous. That much is clear. Force is closely related to sensation: for a sensation to exist, a force must be exerted on a body, on a point of the wave. But if force is the condition of sensation, it is nonetheless not the force that is sensed, since the sensation "gives" something completely different from the forces that condition it. How will sensation be able to sufficiently turn in on itself, relax or contract itself, so as to capture these nongiven forces in what it gives us, to make us sense these insensible forces, and raise itself to its own conditions? It is in this way that music must render nonsonorous forces sonorous, and painting must render invisible forces visible. Sometimes these are the same thing: Time, which is nonsonorous and invisible - how can time be painted, how can time be heard? And elementary forces like pressure, inertia, weight, attraction, gravitation, germination how can they be rendered? Sometimes, on the contrary, the insensible force of one art instead seems to take part in the "givens" of another art: for example, how to paint sound, or even the scream? (And conversely, how to make colors audible?).
This is a problem of which painters are very conscious. When pious critics criticized Millet for painting peasants who were carrying an offertory like a sack of potatoes, Millet responded by saying that the weight common to the two objects was more profound than their figurative distinction. As a painter, he was striving to paint the force of that weight, and not the offertory or the sack of potatoes. And was it not Cezanne's genius to have subordinated all the techniques of painting to this task: rendering visible the folding force of mountains, the germinative force of a seed, the thermic force of a landscape, and so on? And Van Gogh: Van Gogh even invented unknown forces, the unheard-of force of a sunflower seed. For many painters, however, the problem of capturing forces, no matter how conscious it may have been, was mixed with another problem, equally important but less pure. This other problem was the decomposition and recomposition of effects: for example, the decomposition and recomposition of depth in the Renaissance, the decomposition and recomposition of colors in impressionism, the decomposition and recomposition of movement in cubism. We can see how one problem leads to the other, since movement, for example, is an effect that refers both to a unique force that produces it, and to a multiplicity of decomposable and recomposable elements beneath this force.
Bacon's Figures seem to be one of the most marvelous responses in the history of painting to the question, How can one make invisible forces visible? This is the primary function of the Figures. In this respect, we will see that Bacon remains relatively indifferent to the problem of effects. Not that he despises them, but he thinks that, in the whole history which is that of painting, they have been adequately mastered by the painters he admires, particularly the problem of movement, of "rendering" movement. But if this is the case, it is reason enough to confront even more directly the problem of "rendering" invisible forces visible. This is true of all Bacon's series of heads and the series of self-portraits, and it is even the reason he made these series: the extraordinary agitation of these heads is derived not from a movement that the series would supposedly reconstitute, but rather from the forces of pressure, dilation, contraction, flattening, and elongation that are exerted on the immobile head. They are like the forces of the cosmos confronting an intergalactic traveler immobile in his capsule. It is as if invisible forces were striking the head from many different angles. The wiped and swept parts of the face here take on a new meaning, because they mark the zone where the force is in the process of striking. This is why the problems Bacon faces are indeed those of deformation, and not transformation. These are two very different categories. The transformation of form can be abstract or dynamic. But deformation is always bodily, and it is static, it happens at one place; it subordinates movement to force, but it also subordinates the abstract to the Figure. When a force is exerted on a scrubbed part, it does not give birth to an abstract form, nor does it combine sensible forms dynamically: on the contrary, it turns this zone into a zone of indiscernibility that is common to several forms, irreducible to any of them; and the lines of force that it creates escape every form through their very clarity, through their deforming precision (we saw this in the becoming-animal of the Figures). Cezanne was perhaps the first to have made deformations without transformation, by making truth fall back on the body. Here again Bacon is Cezannean: for both Bacon and Cezanne, the deformation is obtained in the form at rest; and at the same time, the whole material environment, the structure, begins to stir: "walls twitch and slide, chairs bend or rear up a little, cloths curl like burning paper.. . ."2 Everything is now related to forces, everything is force. It is force that constitutes deformation as an act of painting: it lends itself neither to a transformation of form, nor to a decomposition of elements. And Bacon's deformations are rarely constrained or forced; they are not tortures, despite appearances. On the contrary, they are the most natural postures of a body that has been reorganized by the simple force being exerted upon it: the desire to sleep, to vomit, to turn over, to remain seated as long as possible...
We must consider the special case of the scream. Why does Bacon think of the scream as one of the highest objects of painting? "Paint the scream...". It is not at all a matter of giving color to a particularly intense sound. Music, for its part, is faced with the same task, which is certainly not to render the scream harmonious, but to establish a relationship between the sound of the scream and the forces that sustain it. In the same manner, painting will establish a relationship between these forces and the visible scream (the mouth that screams). But the forces that produce the scream, that convulse the body until they emerge at the mouth as a scrubbed zone, must not be confused with the visible spectacle before which one screams, nor even with the perceptible and sensible objects whose action decomposes and recomposes our pain. If we scream, it is always as victims of invisible and insensible forces that scramble every spectacle, and that even lie beyond pain and feeling. This is what Bacon means when he says he wanted "to paint the scream more than the horror." If we could express this as a dilemma, it would be: either I paint the horror and I do not paint the scream, because I make a figuration of the horrible; or else I paint the scream, and I do not paint the visible horror, I will paint the visible horror less and less, since the scream captures or detects an invisible force. Alban Berg knew how to make music out of the scream in the scream of Marie, and then in the very different scream of Lulu. But in both cases, he established a relationship between the sound of the scream and inaudible forces: those of the earth in the horizontal scream of Marie, and those of heaven in the vertical scream of Lulu. Bacon creates the painting of the scream because he establishes a relationship between the visibility of the scream (the open mouth as a shadowy abyss) and invisible forces, which are nothing other than the forces of the future. It was Kafka who spoke of detecting the diabolical powers of the future knocking at the door. Every scream contains them potentially. Innocent X screams, but he screams behind the curtain, not only as someone who can no longer be seen, but as someone who cannot see, who has nothing left to see, whose only remaining function is to render visible these invisible forces that are making him scream, these powers of the future. This is what is expressed in the phrase "to scream at" — not to scream before or about, but to scream at death-which suggests this coupling offerees, the perceptible force of the scream and the imperceptible force that makes one scream.
This is all very curious, but it is a source of extraordinary vitality. When Bacon distinguishes between two violences, that of the spectacle and that of sensation, and declares that the first must be renounced to reach the second, it is a kind of declaration of faith in life. The interviews contain many statements of this sort. Bacon says that he himself is cerebrally pessimistic; that is, he can scarcely see anything but horrors to paint, the horrors of the world. But he is nervously optimistic, because visible figuration is secondary in painting, and will have less and less importance: Bacon will reproach himself for painting too much horror, as if that were enough to leave the figurative behind; he moves more and more toward a Figure without horror. But why is it an act of vital faith to choose "the scream more than the horror," the violence of sensation more than the violence of the spectacle? The invisible forces, the powers of the future - are they not already upon us, and much more insurmountable than the worst spectacle and even the worst pain? Yes, in a certain sense - every piece of meat testifies to this. But in another sense, no. When, like a wrestler, the visible body confronts the powers of the invisible, it gives them no other visibility than its own. It is within this visibility that the body actively struggles, affirming the possibility of triumphing, which was beyond its reach as long as these powers remained invisible, hidden in a spectacle that sapped our strength and diverted us. It is as if combat had now become possible. The struggle with the shadow is the only real struggle. When the visual sensation confronts the invisible force that conditions it, it releases a force that is capable of vanquishing the invisible force, or even befriending it. Life screams at death, but death is no longer this all-toovisible thing that makes us faint; it is this invisible force that life detects, flushes out, and makes visible through the scream. Death is judged from the point of view of life, and not the reverse, as we like to believe.6 Bacon, no less than Beckett, is one of those artists who, in the name of a very intense life, can call for an even more intense life. He is not a painter who "believes" in death. His is indeed a figurative miserabilisme, but one that serves an increasingly powerful Figure of life. The same homage should be paid to Bacon as can be paid to Beckett or Kafka. In the very act of "representing" horror, mutilation, prosthesis, fall or failure, they have erected indomitable Figures, indomitable through both their insistence and their presence. They have given life a new and extremely direct power of laughter.
Since the visible movements of the Figures are subordinated to the invisible forces exerted upon them, we can go behind the movements to these forces, and make an empirical list of the forces Bacon detects and captures. Although Bacon likens himself to a "pulverizer" or a "grinder," he is really more like a detective. The first invisible forces are those of isolation: they are supported by the fields, and become visible when they wrap themselves around the contour and wrap the fields around the Figure. The second are the forces of deformation, which seize the Figure's body and head, and become visible whenever the head shakes off its face, or the body its organism. (Bacon knows how to "render" intensely, for example, the flattening force of sleep [53, 76]). The third are the forces of dissipation, when the Figure fades away and returns to the field: what then renders these forces visible is a strange smile. But there are still many other forces. What can be said, first of all, of that invisible force of coupling that sweeps over two bodies with an extraordinary energy, but which they render visible by extracting from it a kind of polygon or diagram? And beyond that, what is the mysterious force that can only be captured or detected by triptychs? It is at the same time a force (characteristic of light) that unites the whole, but also a force that separates the Figures and panels, a luminous separation that should not be confused with the preceding isolation. Can life, can time, be rendered sensible, rendered visible? To render time visible, to render the force of time visible - Bacon seems to have done this twice. There is the force of changing time, through the allotropic variation of bodies, "down to the tenth of a second," which involves deformation; and then there is the force of eternal time, the eternity of time, through the uniting—separating that reigns in the triptychs, a pure light. To render time sensible in itself is a task common to the painter, the musician, and sometimes the writer. It is a task beyond all measure or cadence.
GILLES DELEUZE: Francis Bacon:The logic of sensation/Painting Forces
Translated from the French by Daniel W. Smith
First published in France, 1981, by Editions de la Difference © Editions du Seuil, 2002, Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation This English translation © Continuum 2003
edit in Grammarly by Dejan stojkovski