18 May 2009

Carroll's Games of Chance, Bacon's Controlled Chance, Pollock's "F__ing" Chance Operations, Cage's "Hazard of the Dice" & Brakhage's Colored Chaos

[The following is taken from my master's thesis, The Rhythm of Sensation on the Surface of Sense: Communication in Deleuze as NonSensed and Intense, pages 102, 112-113. Completed, defended, and archived June 2008]

Games of Skill, Carroll's Games of Chance,
Bacon's Controlled Chance,
Pollock's "F__ing" Chance Operations,
Cage's "Hazard of the Dice," and
Brakhage's Controled Color Chaos

The introduction of chance through diagramming endows the painting with rhythm;[1] for, it throws the formal regularities into disarrays which no mental calculation could have formulated, and thus the viewer’s faculties will never be able to synchronize and harmonize in agreement over a common recognition. For Deleuze, real artistic creation and thinking come about only when they affirm chance, but they do not do this by completely submitting to the random.

Deleuze distinguishes two sorts of games that make use of chance. In games of skill, the rules are fixed in advance; and, the element of randomness, the dice, is introduced in a controlled way that has no influence on those rules; it merely helps to determine a winner and loser. Games of chance, however, have changing rules, “each move invents its own rules;” that is to say, random events in this game change the very way the game is played. Deleuze illustrates by referencing the chaotic games Carroll portrays in Alice in Wonderland, yet he claims that a game of chance may “only exist in thought” and have “no other result than the work of art;” for, each dice-throw produces the aleatory point, which forces together incompatible series.[2] This is precisely Bacon’s diagramming technique: before making his involuntary marks, there is a different probability for what images can be placed into which zones of the canvass; for example, the more important figurations would more likely be placed in the center. Action painting equalizes those probabilities by painting past the canvass’ edges and letting the splatters land by pure chance. Abstract painting, accomplishes the opposite by predetermining with mathematical precision how the images are to be distributed, which almost entirely eliminates the element of chance. However, when Bacon diagrams with his involuntary marks, he creates new probabilities for the distribution of images, and he opens new possible dimensions and directions to take the painting. He neither obeys the rigid pre-formed unequal probabilities, nor does he reduce the painting to a single zone of equal probability; rather, he creates entirely new sets of possibilities and limitations.[3] Yet, Bacon’s chance is not totally blind; he explains that although his cleaning woman could take a handful of paint and throw it upon the canvass to produce a viable diagram, she most likely would not produce a fruitful outcome, because accident for him is a controlled chance: he has practiced throwing paint long enough to be able to aim its trajectory somewhat.[4]

Director Stan Brakhage narrates a story illustrating that Pollock’s aimed throws are also a sort of controlled chance.[5]

This misnomered painting was essentially finished and hung stuck on the walls of Pollock’s barn, and Pollock was dead drunk with a quart of whisky beside him, two-thirds down. And these New York painters . . . used the word ‘chance operations,’ which . . . really angered very deeply Pollock, and he said, ‘don’t give me any of your fucking “chance operations,”’ he said, ‘you see that doorknob?’ And there was a doorknob about [15 meters] from where he was sitting, that was in fact the door that everyone was going to have to exit-by. And drunk as he was, he just with one swirl of his brush, picked up a glob of paint, hurled it, and hit that doorknob smack-on with very little paint over the edges, and then he said, ‘And that’s the way out.’

Brakhage likewise does not see chance operations in John Cage’s works, which he created using the “hazard of the dice;” for, Cage rejected almost all the outcomes, until arriving upon one that seemed to express his “soul.” It needed to be a work that, although created by chance, was still something he could authenticate with his signature and take responsibility-for. Brakhage explains that his own chaotic color images come about much this way.[6]

It is for this reason that Bacon may enhance the force of communication; he both blends order & chaos while also maximizing the tension between them. Thus, our faculties remain farthest apart from each other, all while being under a profound pressure to try to synchronize; for, there is an element of order for them to recognize, but the diagrammed chaos keeps such a representation always at bay.

[1] “The painting thus becomes a catastrophe-painting and a diagram-painting at one and the same time. This time, it is at the point closest to catastrophe, in absolute proximity, that modern man discovers rhythm,” Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation, Transl. Daniel W. Smith, (London: Continuum Books, 2003), p.74. Francis Bacon : Logique du la sensation (Paris : Les Éditions du Seuil, 2002), p.98-99.

[2] Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense, Transl. Mark Lester (London: Columbia University Press, 1990, reprinted by Continuum, 2001), p.69-71. Logique de sens, (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1969), p.74-75.

[3] Logic of Sensation, p.65-66. Logique de la Sensation, p.88-89.

[4] Francis Bacon & David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1975), p.92.

[5] Stan Brakhage, Encounters 1.

[6] Brakhage, Encounters.

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