Dates: 1925-1995

Nationality: French

Gilles Deleuze  (January 18, 1925 – November 4, 1995) was a French philosopher of the late 20th century. From the early 1960s until his death, Deleuze wrote many influential works on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular books were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), both co-written with Félix Guattari. His books Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969) led Michel Foucault to declare that “one day, perhaps, this century will be called Deleuzian.” (Deleuze, for his part, said Foucault’s comment was “a joke meant to make people who like us laugh, and make everyone else livid.”)

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Gilles Deleuze’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 November 2010, 19:13 UTC, <>

Kant had dissociated aesthetics into two halves: the theory of sensibility as the form of possible experience (the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of the Critique of Pure Reason), and the theory of art as a reflection on real experience (the “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment” in the Critique of Judgment). In Deleuze’s work, these two halves of aesthetics are reunited: if the most general aim of art is to “produce a sensation,” then the genetic principles of sensation are at the same time the principles of composition for works of art; conversely, it is works of art that are best capable of revealing these conditions of sensibility. Deleuze therefore writes on the arts not as a critic but as a philosopher, and his books and essays on the various arts—including the cinema (Cinema I and II), literature (Essays Critical and Clinical), and painting (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation)—must be read as philosophical explorations of this transcendental domain of sensibility. The cinema, for instance, produces images that move, and that move in time, and it is these two aspects of film that Deleuze set out to analyze in The Movement-Image and The Time-Image: “What exactly does the cinema show us about space and time that the other arts don’t show?” Deleuze thus describes his two-volume Cinema as “a book of logic, a logic of the cinema” that sets out “to isolate certain cinematographic concepts,” concepts which are specific to the cinema, but which can only be formed philosophically. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation likewise creates a series of philosophical concepts, each of which relates to a particular aspect of Bacon’s paintings, but which also find a place in “a general logic of sensation.” In general, Deleuze will locate the conditions of sensibility in an intensive conception of space and a virtual conception of time, which are necessarily actualized in a plurality of spaces and a complex rhythm of times (for instance, in the non-extended spaces and non-linear times of modern mathematics and physics).

For Deleuze, the task of art is to produce “signs” that will push us out of our habits of perception into the conditions of creation. When we perceive via the re-cognition of the properties of substances, we see with a stale eye pre-loaded with clichés; we order the world in what Deleuze calls “representation.” In this regard, Deleuze cites Francis Bacon: we’re after an artwork that produces an effect on the nervous system, not on the brain. What he means by this figure of speech is that in an art encounter we are forced to experience the “being of the sensible.” We get something that we cannot re-cognize, something that is “imperceptible”—it doesn’t fit the hylomorphic production model of perception in which sense data, the “matter” or hyle of sensation, is ordered by submission to conceptual form. Art however cannot be re-cognized, but can only be sensed; in other words, art splits perceptual processing, forbidding the move to conceptual ordering. This is exactly what Kant in the Third Critique called reflective judgment: when the concept is not immediately given in the presentation of art. With art we reach “sensation,” or the “being of the sensible,” the sentiendum.

Deleuze talks about this effect of sensation as the “transcendent exercise” of the faculty of sensibility; here we could refer to the third chapter of Difference and Repetition, where Deleuze lays out a non-Kantian “differential theory of the faculties.” In this remarkable theory, intensity is “difference in itself,” that which carries the faculties to their limits. The faculties are linked in order; here we see what Deleuze calls the privilege of sensibility as origin of knowledge—the “truth of empiricism.” In the differential theory of the faculties, sensibility, imagination, memory, and thought all “communicate a violence” from one to the other. With sensibility, pure difference in intensity is grasped immediately in the encounter as the sentiendum; with imagination, the disparity in the phantasm is that which can only be imagined. With memory, in turn, the memorandum is the dissimilar in the pure form of time, or the immemorial of transcendent memory. With thought, a fractured self is constrained to think “difference in itself” in Ideas. Thus the “free form of difference” moves each faculty and communicates its violence to the next. You have to be forced to think, starting with an art encounter in which intensity is transmitted in signs or sensation. Rather than a “common sense” in which all the faculties agree in recognizing the “same” object, we find in this communicated violence a “discordant harmony” (compare the Kantian sublime) that tears apart the subject (the notion of “cruelty” Deleuze picks up from Artaud).

Smith, Daniel and Protevi, John, “Gilles Deleuze”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>

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