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Joseph Nechvatal on the Influence of Gilles Deleuze

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Gilles DeleuzeGilles Deleuze

What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

For me, Gilles Deleuze’s vision of our post-industrial life re-opened the way for the production of subjectivity in art by affirming the befittingness of multiplicity and the necessary entitlement of dissension. In recognition of his work, my recent paintings are an attempt to hypothesize and demonstrate a counter-mannerist art of latent excess; an idea that was specifically inspired by the rhizomatic thinking of Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) and Félix Guattari (1930-1992). This idea re-establishes an ambiguously private critical distance for art: a distance achieved through the connectivist challenge of (and disparity between) pleasure and frustration. This is an idea for a rhizomatic art that demands of society an active visualizing participation in private interpretations - and thus is a legitimate metaphor for contemporary art as a form of simulation-shattering engagement.
The philosophic rhizomatic theory of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, at a general level, supports such a connectivist approach towards theorizing art, as rhizomatic theory encourages philosophic non-linear and non-restrictive thinking/imagining. A rhizome literally is a root-like plant stem that forms a large entwined spherical zone of small roots which criss-cross. In the philosophical writings of Deleuze and Guattari the term is used as a metaphor for an epistemology (that in philosophy which is concerned with theories of knowledge) that spreads in all directions simultaneously. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 7) More specifically, Deleuze and Guattari define the rhizome as that which is "reducible to neither the One or the multiple. (...) It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object... ." (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 21)
With my recent paintings (see Odyssey 4 & 5 attached below) I want to ask again what is art's contribution to the enlargement of self-understanding in the context of our conspicuously excessive and connectivist Western society (our contemporary consciousness)? According to Deleuze, consciousness is "the passage, or rather the awareness of the passage, from less potent totalities to more potent ones, and vise versa" (Deleuze, 1984, p. 21), an awareness which potentially helps remove the subject out of her or his glib indolence and points the subject in the direction of boundlessness.
It is pertinent that in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari describe this shift towards boundlessness as one's becoming a body without organs (BwO) in terms of our self-shifting representational planes emerging out of our field of compositional consistency, for the BwO (according to them) is an insubstantial state of connected being beyond representation which concerns pure becomings and nomadic essences. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 510)
Deleuze and Guattari go on to say that the BwO "causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not space nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree - to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced". (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 153)
I believe that my recent, very meshy, paintings (see Odyssey 4 & 5 attached below) argue that a connectivist post-pop art is indispensable to us now by demonstrating how an art of counter-mannerist latent excess (produced in the milieu of image superabundance and information proliferation) is an art that can problematize the pop simulacra and hence enliven us to the privateness - and unique separateness - of the human condition. This in lieu of the fabulously constructed social spectacle which engulfs and (supposedly) controls us. This private separateness offers us a personal critical distance (gap), and thus another perspective on (and from) the given social simulacra.
Such an art of phantasmagorical latent excess might provide us with two essential aspects relevant to our lives. (*) First, it can provide a private context in which to suitably understand our simulacra situation. Secondly (but more importantly) it may then undermine this understanding of the simulacra by overwhelming our immersion in the customary simulacra – along with our own prudent pose as observer and judge. Through the destructive-creative bacchanalia at the root of an art of latent excess, we are prodded to lose our position of detached observer - as such an art demands our engaged intellectual and perceptual production.
For me at least then, a nomadic post-pop art, when latently excessive in its own right, is capable of functioning, paradoxically, by nurturing in us a sense of polysemic uniqueness and of individuality brought about through a counter-mannerist style of reproducibility (ever more circuitous, excessive and décadent); a style which takes us from the state of the social to the state of the secret distinguishable I, by overloading ideological representation to a point where it becomes non-representational.
This takes, I believe, the judicious use of the process of Deleuzian/Guattarian nomadic thinking. Accordingly, Deleuzian/Guattarian art would be composed of variously formed segments, stratas, and lines of flight which involve territorializing as well as deterritorializing spacio/psychic activities. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983, p. 2) It is this nomadic non-representational counter-mannerist representation which breaks us out of the fascination and complicity with pop art and the mass media mode of communication. (**)
Deleuze/Guattari's term for experiences of this nature is "becoming-animal". For them to "become animal is to participate in movement, to stake out the path of escape in all its positivity, to cross a threshold, to reach a continuum of intensities where all forms come undone, as do all the significations, signifiers, and signifieds, to the benefit of an unformed matter of deterritorialised flux, of nonsignifying signs". (Deleuze & Guattari, 1986, p. 13)
So, what is an art of rhizomatic latent excess? It is an art that puts forth an aesthetic élan of superabundance that re-conceptualizes art in terms of connectivity so as to grant art an unbridled zone – free of the good manners of simple simulations. This is the experience of feeling intricated in a becoming-animal "panorama" (Deleuze & Guattari, 1986, p. 36) by fashioning a "map of intensities". (Deleuze & Guattari, 1986, p. 36) However, this character of de-simulated openness, which an inception of the rhizomatic art of latent excess assumes, demands that we seek a liberation from custom, doctrine and influence, and that we grasp again the autonomy and priority of art as a special type of excessive ideological activity.
According to Deleuze and Guattari, rhizomatic activity is boundless in its branching; thus rhizomatic art reflections may cross wide chasms of psycho/optic space on one surface as the most disparate elements and details may be linked. Moreover a psychic rhizome is continually dynamic and is ceaselessly actualized by the arousal its dynamism produces and thus it is never in accord with some pre-established strategy or imposed configuration. The psychic rhizome is regularly swarming itself into being as micro and macro factors attract. One cannot declare in advance what its limiting confines are or where it will or will not operate nor what may become connected and tangled up in the rhizome's multiple dimensions because the connections do not inevitably plait common types together.
Rather, a psychic rhizome's multiple dimensions instigate cross-overs between both the highest synthetic level and the slightest, most minute discrete distinctions. An artistic rhizome would be a complication of perceptual vicissitudes so intertwined that it gives birth to different scopes of phenomenological macro-perception.
This acknowledged probing at the outer limits of recognizable art representation, the excited all-over fullness and fervor of this syncretistic probe, isn't a failing of communications within excessive terms then; it is its subject. Such a copious realization is insinuated through overloaded/excessive stimulus inasmuch as latent excess can represent every integrated meaning conceivable, for in the art of excess the focal point is never circumscripted. The fusion of elements within rhizomatic latent excess are not, by definition, passively received and accepted. By nature of its conflicting excessive presentation, information is to some degree psychologically embedded and thus withheld even as it is inexorably displayed all at once to the limited nature of our human perceptive competence. Thus a rhizomatic art of latent excess takes us away from the habitual focus of the picturesque and potentially liberates us inwardly from the infringements stemming from the deluge of mass-media images - and so stimulates us to assess anew the caliber of any such infringement. Hence it is in the amity felt with the excessive and rhizomatic ground that we may feel a sensuous liberation from ideological monotony and cultural prudery.
My art of rhizomatic excess may stand then in defiance of the limits of ordinary perception and representational simulacra. Thus it is (or can be) about the opposition between the daily work-day and the transgressive/ecstatic moment. In a sense it attempts to set up a stable form of ecstatic transgression where one can go rhizomaticly back and forth at will via dissimulation.
Underlying this aim is a miasmatic idea which questions linear and hierarchical structures and seeks to replace them with atmospheric loose structures, keyed to a penetrable, reciprocal flow of events.
This realization came to me when reading Gilles Deleuze's Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. In it Deleuze points us towards a recognition of our desires' productiveness, as he indicates how desires propel us to move towards greater or lesser states of sublime wholeness "depending on whether the thing encountered enters into composition with us, or on the contrary tends to decompose us...". (Deleuze, 1984, p. 21)
So such a rhizomatic reading of art, as I have sketched out above using my recent paintings as examples, means a re-positioning of self-identity within an atmospheric and artistic ontological model of sublime wholeness - because a rhizome is this rich labyrinthine ensemble of relations, diversities, connections, heterogeneities, breaks and unexpected links which inter-connect. This means that the visual-intellectual situation of Deleuzian inspired art is one of magnanimous self-connectivity.


Joseph Nechvatal

Published at The Houston Literary Review


(*) This quality of phantasmagorical replacement has formulated a new understanding of phallocratic existence which Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have called schizoid. According to them, being is now inseparable from a technologically hallucinogenic/schizoid culture. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987)

(**) Perhaps it is relevant here to remember that Mannerism (generally the art of the period of Late-Renaissance circa 1530-1600) was an aesthetic movement that valued highly refined gracefulness and elegance; a beautiful maniera (style) from which Mannerism takes its name. The term usually means an art in which lavish attention is paid to stylisation and to the superficialities of semblance.


There is a fairly complete web-page with my writings here:



Deleuze, G. 1984. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights

Deleuze, G. 1988. Bergsonism. New York: Zone Books

Deleuze, G. 1990. Logic of Sense. New York: Columbia University Press

Deleuze, G. 1993. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. London: Athlone

Deleuze, G. 1994. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press

Deleuze, G. 1992. "Postscript on the Societies of Control" In October, Vol. 59, Winter 1992, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, pp. 3-7

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1983. On The Line. New York: Semiotext(e)

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1984. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1986. Nomadology: The War Machine.New York: Semiotext(e)

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1994. What is Philosophy?. London: Verso Books

Nechvatal, J. 1990. Selected Writings. Paris: Editions Antoine Candau

Nechvatal, J. 1991. An Ecstasy of Excess. Mönchengladbach: Juni-Verlag

Nechvatal, J. and Gagneur, D. eds. 1992. Excess in the Techno-mediacratic Society. Arbois: Musée d'Arbois

Nechvatal, J. 1987. "High Style" In Arts Magazine, April Issue 1987

Nechvatal, J. 1987. "Post-Simulation Decadence" In Arts Magazine, Summer Issue, 1987

Nechvatal, J. 1991. "The Collapse of the 80's Image" In M/E/A/N/I/N/G Contemporary Art Issues, May

Nechvatal, J. 1993. "The Art of Excess in the Techno-mediacratic Society" New Observations, No. 94

Nechvatal, J. 1994. "New Territory of Significance" In New Observations, No. 104

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images for the deleuzed masses

hi Joseph

Please take a look at :

"Images for the deleuzed masses"


Also I wonder if you can be of any help in helping me to exhibit my new works?

"Pan-Iconological research in separating the image from the meaning"
Large sized digital c-prints on paper


A. Andreas

See Deleuze-Guattari List

See Deleuze-Guattari List
Joseph Nechvatal on the Influence of Gilles Deleuze