Giles Deleuze’s ‘Logic of Sensation’ is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. It is elliptical, confusing and confused and deliberately obfuscates in way typical of French theory of this period. It should also be stated that some clarity is undoubtedly lost in translation. Yet once you get through all of this it is a book full of thoughts insights which tackle the depth, complexity and power of Bacon’s work unlike any other writing I have read. I have written up a series of notes from the book, which I will post as separate blogs, as together it is (typically) sprawling.
THE POPE’S SCREAM
It is particularly worthwhile to view Bacon’s Pope in comparison to the Velasquez image it directly quotes. Velasquez gives us calm majesty, an image of power and a wonderfully in depth character studio. It is an image which speaks of authority and the strength of the Catholic church. It is the rich history of this image, this pope and Velasquez that Bacon’s image engages with. But it goes beyond this, the image he responds to becomes a leitmotif of a broader history, a art historical history, a history of catholicism and a history of power. This entire context is sat somewhere in our collective consciousness when we view Bacon’s image which appears to be in the process of erasing, or obscuring behind a veil this multitude of layers. It is a rich tapestry and values which is pierced by the interruption of a visual scream.
When we view Bacon’s screaming Pope we are viewing a painter who is aware of the limits of painting and narrative. As such he makes no attempt to linear narrative, but rather celebrates paintings lack of linear context, its lack of any clarity of before and after or cause and effect. The horror of the scream in most forms of narration is a horror which is the effect of some action. It is normally an action we are aware of. yet in theatre and film, particularly tragedy and horror, directors will often heighten the tension and horror by choosing to situated the cause off stage, so that the cause is unknown. This is just a prerequisite of painting. In Bacon’s Pope the cause of the scream is not temporarily off stage, it is permanently off stage. He stares out at us, breaking the save divide between viewer and viewed, and projects the cause of the horror as a unknown force which exist either in our space or in the liminal space between the false space of the painting and the space we inhabit. The permanent absence of the cause is at the root of its power. Bacon realises that narrative in painting is a veil, a confusion and an attempt to compete with other art forms, which gets in the way of more direct engagement with emotions. He manages to deal with figure, image and subject matter and yet avoids the trappings of narration.