poetry, art and deleuze

Sheridan Linnell & Bronwyn Davies


In this paper, we open ourselves materially to the poetry of thought, to a thoughtful poetics, via the specificity of works of art. Through poems written to and for each other we seek the haecceity or just-thisness of the inter-connectivity of being. Art, poetry and the subject are some of the many actors that constitute our particular field of play. If "[w]e are vital materiality and we are surrounded by it ... The ethical task at hand is to cultivate the ability to discern nonhuman vitality, to become perceptually open to it." It is percepts and affects we would ride in our poems – rather than individual perceptions and affections – seeking to overturn the clichés of individualism with all its bureaucratized isolation.


Sheridan Linnell and Bronwyn Davies read their work.

poetry, art and deleuze

The painter does not paint on an empty canvas, and neither does the writer write on a blank page; but the page or canvas is already so covered with preexisting, preestablished clichés that it is first necessary to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos that brings us the vision.

[1] This is our challenge: to open up a space, and a language, beyond the expected, beyond the bounds of signification, to become participants "in a shared, vital materiality" (Bennett, 2010: 14) where we discover our own earthiness, our body earth, our "hair a wild shrub growing out of the land". To this end we engage in a poetic conversation that seeks to break open the 'old language' riddled with clichéd repetitions, in search of the affective flows among art-works, ideas, and ourselves. The capacity to be affected and to affect others is not separate from the capacity to think: "As the body is more capable of being affected in many ways and of affecting external bodies ... so the mind is more capable of thinking" (Spinoza, 1992: pt. 4, appendix, no. 27). Poetry and poetic philosophy, in Deleuzian terms, works at a threshold where moving over the threshold enables us to both catch the moment and pierce it, creating a break between the over-burdened modes of signification and the possibility of the collective percepts and affects, the ongoing movement, through which we go on coming into existence.

It is not only that words lie; they are so burdened with calculations and significations, with intentions and personal memories, with old habits that cement them together, that one can scarcely bore into the surface before it closes up again. ... Is there no salvation for words, like a new style in which words would at last open up by themselves, where language would become poetry, in such a way as to produce the visions and sounds that remained imperceptible behind the old language...
Three dangers threaten thinking.
The good and thus wholesome
danger is the nighness of the singing
The evil and thus keenest danger is
thinking itself. It must think
against itself, which it can only
seldom do.
The bad and thus muddled danger
is philosophizing.

[2] Deleuze and Heidegger, both, invite us into a conceptual, de-territorializing playfulness. By paying attention to the inter-connected materiality of beings (human and otherwise) and of thought, by seeking the lines of force that open us to the not-yet-known. The "ultimate folding of the line outside, [is] to produce an 'expectant interiority'". Poetic writing is a folding of 'the line outside'; it seeks to open up that expectant interiority. Our poems seek the interconnectedness of our being in relation to each other and to the materiality of the paintings and sculptures that we have seen—or not seen—together and apart.

[3] In his conversation with Claire Parnet: "A portrait of Foucault", Deleuze says that Foucault found a new/final "line of research, like Leibniz 'thrown back onto the open sea'". This line is

... no more in thought than in things, but it's everywhere that thought confronts something like madness, and life something like death. Miller used to say that you find it in any molecule, in nerve fibers, in the threads of a spider's web.... I think we ride such lines whenever we think bewilderingly enough or live forcefully enough. They're lines that go beyond knowledge (how could they be 'known'?), and its our relations to these lines that go beyond power relations... Are you saying that they're already there in Foucault's work? That's true, it's the line Outside. The Outside, in Foucault as in Blanchot from whom he takes the word, is something more distant than any external world. But it's something closer than any inner world. So you get an endless switching between closeness and distance. Thinking doesn't come from within, but nor is it something that happens in the external world. It comes from this outside, and returns to it, it amounts to confronting it.

[4] Deleuzian philosophy is deeply poetic, dismantling the lines of force and relations of power that hold quotidian life in place. Deleuze and Guattari challenge us to take off in lines of ascent, beyond individualism and a tendency to stasis, toward continuous becoming, our material specificities taking shape among, and part of, multiple material specificities. In seeking out the haecceity or just-thisness of our encounters with art and each other we seek to unlock ourselves from semiotic chains and subjectifications that hold predictable identities in place. In T. S. Eliot's words:

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, 'What is it?'
Let us go and make our visit.

[5] We propose, with Deleuze, that poetry and art are not determined by the intentions of their makers, but are part of the vital materiality that we share with each other and with other material specificities. Our poems are not us; and even if they are 'by' us, the word 'by' is not so much a signifier of authorship as a notation of proximity. We are close to our poems and we stand by them, as we stand by and are affected by each other in the ethics of a co-authorial relation. Our poems may have arisen from our perceptions, and in particular from our perceptions of art, but to the degree that they succeed in becoming poetry, our perceptions have become percepts and affects – that is, something not of oneself, but something that comes to exist in the movement in-between.

[6] As poems take flight from their writers and assume form, they become actors with their own wayward ontologies. We must allow them to escape us a little, lest we reproduce the machinery of control that we wish to challenge. Each and all of us, poems, artworks and writers, audience too, have powers to act and to suffer action, to affect and to be affected. "Deleuze explicates this point: the power of the body to affect other bodies includes a 'corresponding and inseparable' capacity to be affected; 'there are two equally actual powers, that of acting, and that of suffering action'".

. . . .

[7] We have wondered whether these poems, have taken on a life of their own, are robust enough to stand alongside us in this particular space. Deleuze and Guattari are reassuring on this point, telling us that too great an abundance of individuated talent would only get in the way of such a project. We should write in a minor register, paint our words for pleasure, and sing in a minor key.

Nessus and Deienira: Picasso exhibition Chicago May 2013

The centaur twists her rump round
in thick hands, her legs astraggle
eyes wide and staring
strong arms pushing hard
against his matted chest.
He bares his teeth a wild grin
nestling his shaggy head toward
hers which he's half twisted off
snorting with desire for
that elusive (w)hole.
I step back, embarrassed.
A gentleman hooked back
round as a question mark
steps up tenderly craning his neck
alive with his forceful artistry.

[8] I am fascinated and repelled by his presumptive masculine privilege, his hooked back on the one hand and the force of masculine desire on the other, a force Dylan Thomas expressed so beautifully in A winter's tale, where after a long seduction

Burning in the bride bed of love, in the whirl-
Pool at the wanting centre, in the folds
Of paradise, in the spun bud of the world.
And she rose with him flowering in her melting snow.

The unknown masterpiece

Those who have missed this experience in the early days of light purses; who have not, in the dawn of their genius, stood in the presence of a master and felt the throbbing of their hearts, will always carry in their inmost souls a chord that has never been touched, and in their work an indefinable quality will be lacking, a something in the stroke of the brush, a mysterious element that we call poetry.
—Honoré de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece.
I have never seen Picasso's Guernica.
Never stood in the presence of 'a master'.
I have not seen a silver gelatin photograph of the artist by his lover
that intent face the eyes the brush a live extension of the arm.
A reproduction, websites. Ghostly ekphrases.
A gaping hole where was
the painting or its shouting absence
the painter or his double
made of chemicals and light.
At Guernica the bombs fell and fell.
If you type 'Guernica' into Google you get 8,930,000 hits.
History sculpture woodcut music novel film Hemingway
a club a bar a press an art magazine as well as the painting by Picasso.
What could the young pilots of the Luftwaffe and Aviazione Legionara
(their purses light/ a throb in their hearts/ the genius of their masters)
see from the air?
No more than I.

Anish Kapoor at the MCA, February 2013

All sensation is composed with the void in compositing itself with itself, and everything holds together on earth and in the air, and preserves the void, is preserved in the void by preserving itself.
Outside the MCA at dusk
the sky mirror is empty and flat
as a depression.
From an extreme angle we catch
a flicker of skyscraper blue.
Inside, I am sliced into red by the almost invisible
motion of steel.
I lured my friend into this machine that carves history
out of our flesh.
Skirting around
a universe being born,
I wonder what to make
of a long rectangle of indigo blue. I don't even know at first
that I'm on the edge
of a void.
Only my reluctant attentiveness,
the effort to be still and the impossibility of being so,
allow me to see nothing.
I am split into infinity by giant prisms
shattered bent distorted joined separated repeated endlessly abstracted.
A suited man thins on the margins
of my silvery fatness.
More and more mirrors
implicate us in the making of what we see.
There's no sign here. Only the discipline
of not touching
the slight swelling
of a pregnant white wall.
A rusting hulk pushes out the gallery walls.
Memory is hard to get around.
It clangs and echoes
smells like an old iron bunker
is bigger and scarier on the inside.
Sunday there's a southerly change
driving over the Bridge
and almost too late
I look for the sky mirror
white clouds rolling fast across a pale disc of graying blue
I roll down the window yelling now I can see it I can see the sky
White wall/black hole? But depending on the combinations, the wall could just as well be black, and the hole white.

Anish Kapoor March 2013

Today the clouds lifted off the sky mirror
and shimmered just above it like mist
was it the sprinkler in front or the clouds above
or the mysterious curve of the disk?
I have been patient
with this great silver disk
withholding its secrets
going back and back again
walking around it
back and forth waiting.
It loves to tease
to make me work for my pleasure.
The blue flat rectangle at first
gave a blue surface
and then an illusion of movement underneath
and finally a gorgeously curved tunnel
receding and shifting
spiralling away from me
in a perfect tubular encircling motion
contracting and expanding
orgasmic in response to my swaying body.
The flat red rectangle
is a gorgeous deep red
no more than that
the warder tells me its a hole
more than a metre deep
and Kapoor is teasing us,
because the eye can't make its way in
I beg her to let me put my finger into the void
but she wont let me
won't even put her own finger in for me
so I can see it's the truth
she's telling, my eye longing for proof
I am amazed at my own cowardice
my arm staying by my side.
The multiple diamond shapes of polished steel
fracture the viewers into hundreds of themselves
then settle the hundreds into an image
multiple and one at the same time:
"A single and same voice for the whole
thousand-voiced multiple,
a single and unique Ocean for all the drops,
a single clamor of Being for all beings".
someone tells me its the eye of a mosquito
and I look with Deleuze and mosquito eyes.
The others in the room are vital
splitting and multiplying
a vivid scarf multiplying
a sensuous black curl on nape of neck
repeating itself in gorgeous abundance
across the mosquito's eye
letting me see what is there by bending and swaying
asking me to stand where they have been standing
because it is not the same where I am standing
and its hard to believe this smooth surface can do that.
They smile bemused
reaching out their hands when I can not
and they disappear into a vortex
upside down swirled around
there and in a flash not there.
The pregnant belly swelling from the wall
asks me to stroke it and
for once there is no sign that says do not touch
I content myself with seeing the perfection of its swelling body
and its oneness with the wall
I don't want to risk dirty finger marks on its white smooth surface.
I long to have a wall that swells just like that
just like that
the perfect shape that wholes me in its embrace.
Lurking behind the shining perfection
under my skin and behind my eye
is the bloody slaughter house
grinding blood and meat in a relentless gritty clockwork motion
enough to make one vomit
into the red blood earth.
A room full of rusting hand-grenade
under the earth
a dangerous time bomb
inviting memory.
Outside a window into its empty interior
opens into echoing darkness
a thousand silent voices
held tight in the gloomy emptiness.
I become the silence.
... I come again to the void
with my son who leans into it
and whoops and whistles
filling the echoing chamber.
Warders rush to hush our clamor
the other viewers are disturbed.
Elated and crestfallen we retrace our steps
back through the curving shining
distorting multiplying surfaces
holding them close to enfold them
in memory.
... drawn back again and again
I make myself vulnerable to the impossible
teasing withholding distorting surfaces and
sudden shocking revelations.

[9] In my successive visits to the Anish Kapoor exhibition, I struggled to find a livable line, an art of living that did not end in stasis, searching at the same time for an unfolding "without falling into a breathless void, into death" as Deleuze says, and then asks: "how can we fold it, but without losing touch with it, to produce an inside copresent with the outside, corresponding to the outside?'"

[10] It's nothing but délire and madness, like Captain Ahab's 'monomania.' We need both to cross the line, and make it endurable, workable, thinkable. To find in it as far as possible, and for as long as possible, the art of living. How can we protect ourselves, survive, while still confronting this line? Here a frequent theme of Foucault's comes in: we have to manage to fold the line and establish an endurable zone in which to install ourselves, confront things, take hold, breathe—in short, think. Bending the line so we manage to live upon it, with it: a matter of life and death. The line itself is constantly unfolding at crazy speeds as we're trying to fold it to produce 'the slow beings that we are,' to get (as Michaux says) to the 'eye of the hurricane': both things are happening at once.


[11] The current political/economic order might be thought of as a bureaucratic machine, a Castle, with a labyrinthine set of controls that are intended to lock us down in a machine-like production of work – a machine that the bureaucracy controls the levers of, regulating and codifying, making experimentation very difficult, at least for obedient subjects--while the actual schizo-creative process we rely on for our writing and thinking involves us in creative tension with that machine, finding multiple entries and exits, laughing at it, behaving like clowns, finding the lines of force that take us outside its controls—always and above all experimental. The language of a minor literature like the poems we have written here can only ever partially escape the regulation and codification of bureaucratic control. It doesn't set itself up in dualistic opposition to bureaucratic control, but instead messes with its codes and its restrictions, finds heterogeneous forces within the machine/castle and generates lines of flight out. Within the Castle itself, a minor literature makes it difficult for the bureaucratic machine to subdue the intensities that would resist its clichéd repetitions.

[12] Composed of "language affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialisation" this paper might be thought of as a small parasitic literary machine - about the size and capacity of a cockroach we would imagine – for scuttling into the inner workings of the bureaucracy and messing up the forms of signification that would construct us within regimes of bureaucratic control. It is also, we hope, a winged machine, for taking flight from the Castle...


Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.

Deleuze, G. (1995) A portrait of Foucault. In G. Deleuze, Negotiations. (Trans. M. Joughin). New York: Columbia University Press pp. 102-118

Deleuze, G. (1997) Essays Critical and Clinical. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press

Deleuze, G. (2004) Difference and Repetition. London: Continuum.

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? New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1986) Kafka: Towards a minor literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Eliot, T. S. (1954) The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Selected Poems. London: faber and faber.

Heidegger, M. (1971 Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans A. Hofstadter. New York: HarperCollins.

Mahon, D. (2004) Introduction. Poems selected by Derek Mahon. London: faber and faber. Pp. vii - xviii.

Spinoza, B. (1992) Ethics: Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Selected Letters. Trans S. Shirley. Ed. S. Feldman. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Thomas, D. (2004) A winters tale, Dylan Thomas. Poems selected by Derek Mahon. London: faber and faber.


  1. Bennett, 2010, p. 14.
  2. Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p. 204.
  3. Dylan Thomas in a letter to Pamela Hansford Johnson describing John Donne's poetry, cited by Mahon, 2004, p. viii.
  4. Deleuze, 1997: 173.
  5. Heidegger, 1971, p. 8.
  6. Deleuze 1995: 113.
  7. Deleuze, 1995: 110.
  8. Eliot, 1954, p. 11.
  9. Bennett, 2010: 21.
  10. 1986 p. 18.
  11. Thomas, 2004, P. 53.
  12. Gilles Deleuze, What is Philosophy? p. 165.
  13. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 169.
  14. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition 2004, p. 304.
  15. Deleuze, 1995: 112-113.
  16. Deleuze, 1995: 111.
  17. Deleuze and Guattari, 1986, p. 16.