The And/Or Sensation

July 27, 2011

Gilles Deleuze articulates in The Logic of Sensation(2003) two differing methods of going beyond the figurative. There is that of abstraction, whereby there is an effort to distil or extract the figure into an non-representational form, and in doing so, Deleuze categorises this with actions of the head, of thought. As such this is not immediately sensed or felt. Contrasting this is a method Deleuze terms the Figure, or sensation. This is associated with the nervous system, of flesh, and thus is felt. Sensation does not need to be explained, to be ‘worked-out’, and as such appears to operate outside of narrative. Sensation is described as a shifting, non-static force which operates across and between multiple “orders”, being felt and thus interpreted in that specific moment. Deleuze explains that sensation has “one face turned toward the subject … and one face turned towards the object”, and is thus neither, and both, at the same time.


This and/or pluralism brings to mind the figure of the flaneur, defined by Baudelaire as “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”. They are at once a distant observer of the urban environment, but through the action of movement, (of strolling) and being, they are in fact very much a part of the city. Whilst the flaneur’s sensation of the city is felt personally, it operates on and across varying orders, scales and influences (both preconceived beliefs and more ephemeral subconscious ideas) and as such is irreducible. Deleuze describes sensation similarly as “snapshots of motion”, where varying levels of sensation are captured, in that instant only, and given a Figure, which then dissipates and changes as the sensation does. The flaneur as a literary type observes and experiences the city into their own snapshot, and similarly the paintings of Francis Bacon viscerally depict sensation, seeking to portray forces otherwise invisible.


Deleuze writes of an active diagram, where workings and re-workings are overlayed to create multiplicitous levels which, although separate, combine to create a unified ‘sensation’. The diagram in this case is not a defined, finished figure but “is a possibility of fact – it is not the fact itself”. One starts with the figurative and “probabilistic givens”, or ideas already thought out beforehand, but then must allow for a “catastrophe” to occur. The act of doing must mess up preconceived ideas to get to their essential sensation. In this way Deleuze states “The diagram is indeed a chaos, a catastrophe, but it is also a germ of order or rhythm”.

-Tim Brooks

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