Outlining his “transcendental empiricism”, Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition writes,
The object must therefore be in no way identical, but torn asunder in a difference in which the identity of the object as seen by a seeing subject vanishes. Difference must become the element, the ultimate unity; it must therefore refer to other differences which never identify but rather differenciate it. Each term of a series, being already a difference, must be put into a variable relation with other terms, thereby constituting other series devoid of centre and convergence. Divergence and decentering must be affirmed in the series itself. Every object, every thing, must see its own identity swallowed up in difference, each being no more than a difference between differences. Difference must be shown differing. We know that modern art tends to realise these conditions: in this sense it becomes a veritable theatre of metamorphoses and permutations. A theatre where nothing is fixed, a labyrinth without a thread (Ariadne has hung herself). The work of art leaves the domain of representation in order to become ‘experience’, transcendental empiricism or science of the sensible.
It is strange that aesthetics (as the science of the sensible) could be founded on what can be represented in the sensible. True, the inverse procedure is not much better, consisting of the attempt to withdraw the pure sensible from representation and to determine it as that which remains once representation is removed (a contradictory flux, for example, or a rhapsody of sensation). Empiricism truly becomes transcendental, and aesthetics an apodictic discipline, only when we apprehend directly in the sensible that which can only be sensed, the very being of the sensible: difference, potential difference and difference in intensity as the reason behind qualitative diversity. It is in difference that movement is produced as an ‘effect’, that phenomena flash their meaning like signs. The intense world of differences, in which we find the reason behind qualities and the being of the sensible, is precisely the object of a superior empiricism. This empiricism teaches us a strange ‘reason’, that of the multiple, chaos and difference (nomadic distributions, crowned anarchies). It is always differences which resemble one another, which are analogous, opposed or identical: difference is behind everything, but behind difference there is nothing. (56-57)
What Deleuze here proposes is a new transcendental aesthetic. For Kant, the transcendental aesthetic made up a part of the critical philosophy, answering the question “what are the conditions under which experience is possible?” Kant argued that time and space must function as a priori forms of sensibility or receptivity imposed on the matter of experience by the mind. As a result, Kantian sensibility or receptivity is passive. Deleuze diverges from Kant in arguing for a creativity sensibility, a sensibility in which forms of experience are created rather than simply received. Thus, in Deleuze, “aesthetic” does not merely refer to what is felt or senses (as in the Greek sense of “aisthesis“, but also refers to an artistic production or creation within sensibility.
Even the most casual glance at Deleuze’s work reveals a profound engagement with art. Within the space of this engagement, Deleuze is not interested in evaluating whether the artwork is beautiful or not as in the case of traditional aesthetics (aesthetic judgment), nor in interpreting the artwork, but rather in the artistic process of production, it’s creation, its genesis. Deleuze devotes four books to literature alone (Sacher-Masoch, Proust, Carroll, Kafka), two volumes to cinema, another volume to painting (Francis Bacon), a plateau to music in A Thousand Plateaus, and a third of What is Philosophy? to an account of art. In addition to this, Deleuze’s devoted a variety of essays to various artists, as diverse as Jarry, Klossowski, and Tournier. In all these works, the question is never one of representing the artist or in engaging in the critical analysis of the artist. Rather, for Deleuze, art is a form of thought and thought is always the creation of new forms, new potentials, new ways of living. This, perhaps, is seen most clearly in his analysis of Sacher-Masoch, where Sacher-Masoch’s literature does not merely represent a pre-existing form of desire known as “masochism”, but brings it into being as an entirely new way of living. Just as the bat and bat-sonar must come into being, the artist, philosopher, and scientist, for Deleuze bring new forms of life into being. In this regard, it is clear that Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism must be radically distinguished from classical empiricism. The task of the latter is epistemological, and is concerned with how we might invent the world. For Deleuze it is a question of how worlds are produced, where there is no assumption of a world in itself pre-existing that production. Moreover, Deleuze always approaches the artist as a thinker, treating the artist on the same level as the philosopher. Thus Francis Bacon provides a logic of sensation, Proust an account of signs, cinema an ontology of images, etc. The question is not one of representing the artist or saying what the artist “meant”, but of developing the concepts proper to the affects and percepts the artist has invented.
Although his studies have been around since 2003, it does not seem that Ronald Bogue’s magnificent three volume analysis of Deleuze’s relationship to art has received much attention. Bogue had already written an outstanding introduction to the thought of Deleuze and Guattari, released in 1989. To this day, Bogue’s introduction remains among the best available, distinguished by its careful attentiveness to the various texts it explores and the clarity of its exposition. Deleuze on Cinema, Deleuze on Literature, and Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, are no different in this regard. As I reread these works now, years later, I remember just how much I’ve learned from Bogue and what an illuminating reader of Deleuze he is. Bogue’s style is free of the irritating trendiness that blemishes so much work on Deleuze, distracting from the force and vitality of his concepts, and is instead animated by a rigor that sheds light on the most obscure elements of Deleuze’s thought. Not only does Bogue exemplify a careful attention to Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari’s texts, but he is a model of clarity. Additionally, Bogue carefully follows Deleuze’s references to various other philosophers such as Ruyer and Simondon, shedding a tremendous amount of light on Deleuze’s often allusive references. For anyone interested in understanding Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism and Deleuze’s metaphysics, one could do worse than Bogue and Deleuze’s writings on art.