If one concedes that the Freudian unconscious is inseparable from a society attached to its past, for example, its phallocentric traditions, Guattari’s alternative model dealing with “the production of subjectivity” offers a new perspective (1995: 11). From this vantage point, it is possible to map the way “every individual and social group” models the creation of subjectivity, a subjectivity “composed of cognitive references as well as mythical, ritual and symptomatological references” (1995: 11).
Guattari has reacted against Freud in the psycho-analytical domain because of his scheme’s inability to assimilate shifting social and political mores. Guattari, as so many of us, continues to employ Nietzschean perspectives. Nietzsche’s cartographies of the ‘body metaphysic’ accommodate a discourse of the arts that does not fall outside contemporary debate. Working within a Nietzschean context dealing with space, myth, the body, and perspectivism, this paper will examine a lineage in modern to contemporary art (from de Chirico to Walker) with a focus upon the representation of the body–of partial bodies in illogical space–and its enigmatic affects.
More specifically, we shall explore some of the most works by the contemporary artist, Deborah Walker, who overtly acknowledges Nietzsche and de Chirico as part of her artistic construction, and, to that extent, we shall introduce the artistic and intellectual context provided by both men. In addition, this paper aims to demonstrate how the visual arts provide a realm other than the verbal for the exploration of the enigmatic through its (re)configurations of the body in space.
De Chirico acts as a watershed in the way that the visual arts of the early twentieth century constantly re-configure the body in relation to space. His work explores representations of representations, often by specifically depicting partial presences–geometric shapes, empty frames, paintings within the painting and boxes (see Metaphysical Interior with Sanatorium, ). Elizabeth Grosz discusses philosophical thought as an encounter. The thinking involved here has
At the same time, de Chirico overtly regards his frame of reference as metaphysical, connecting his work with Nietzschean motifs, themes, and his actual life. Consider The Red Tower . In the setting of a piazza, bordered by arched porticos, is the partial outline of a shadowed equestrian statue with Carlo Alberto (the son of Victor Emmanuel who led Northern Italy in the Risorgimento). The foregrounded street view, the site of Nietzsche’s last address in which he collapsed in January 1899 (the year of de Chirico’s birth), comprises frozen remnants of Piedmontese modernity. Cross-cultural references abound here: apart from the national historical facet, the personal historical experiences of de Chirico include the very street in which he had a revelation that his work was about enigma which, in turn, was inspired by Nietzschean writings. In this sense, the presence of the shadow in the painting–the only image of fluidity–may be its central subject. In other words, it is evocative of the collapse and the birth and the revelation.
However, cross-cultural references, so typical of Nietzsche, can be better garnered by an earlier depiction of the Florentine piazza in The Enigma of the Autumn Afternoon . Here, the statue of (a headless) Dante alongside a severed tree, not unlike that of the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican, is juxtaposed not with the church of Sante Croce but with a quasi-classical bathing house. As can be seen from the above examples, these ‘classical’ representations of partial presences operate within ‘illogical’ spaces, illogical in the atemporal sense. Atemporality is conjoined with the non-gravitational in the late painting Mysterious Bathhouses (Flight to the Sea)  where the staff of Apollo is foregrounded as an imposition of order. It is possible to construe that the separate dark and light bath-houses are emblematic of Dionysian and Apollinian motifs. In similar fashion, the clothed and naked figures in the painting are immobilised and seemingly silent. Given the placement of the bath-houses and the six figures, the painting suggests the splintering of the Apollinian and the Dionysian. The Greeks, according to Nietzsche (1872/1993: 20), saw music as an Apollinian art, but only because of its rhythm; the sound, by contrast, is Dionysian. The Apollinian staffs which can also be seen as large musical notes or signatures are an imposed form upon the painting; notes which stop short of song. What we have in this painting are all its elements separated, but promising a struggle towards expression. Nowhere is this more succinctly captured than in the figure of the oarsman in his small craft pointing towards the sea glimpsed in the background. As Nietzsche writes of humankind trapped in the ‘veil of Maya’ applicable to the Apollinian, and citing Schopenhauer directly:
On the contrary, even if we thought of these examples as dreamscapes, they invite the perceiving self to connect with fragmentations of the physical, historical, and/or social worlds represented. However, in Guattari’s terms, the act of dreaming is not the mere effluent of a self coping with its repressed construals of the waking world since such a view ultimately cannot deal with the question of “How are the representations of the exterior world changed when it itself is in the process of changing?” (Guattari, 1995:12). Dreaming is ‘productive’ of the self, as it were: it involves “incorporeal domains of entities we detect at the same time that we produce them” (Guattari, 1995: 17).
What we have been demonstrating is that de Chirico is strongly influenced by Nietzschean philosophy; that, indeed, he believes that paintings can embody a philosophical message. This concern with the loss of unity and the separation of the Apollinian and the Dionysian is one that heralds the collision and collusion between modernism and postmodernism. The reflexivity in his work is one that influences Deborah Walker. Her apparently ‘naive realist’ paintings contain a philosophical, mythological, and poetic instancing of enigma, not a static conception of the mystery of life, but in the presences and absences apprehended. The ‘bodies’ or figurations that exist in these spaces are, in the Guattarian (1972/1995: 128-129) as opposed to the Freudian sense, ‘desiring machines’ caught in the moment between deep sleep and waking, the moment of emergence in which the Apollinian and Dionysian seem to coalesce. Their very stillness contains within in them a pre-sentiment of knowing, flight, action: a presentation of the enigma and its affects.
At this point in our paper, let us now look at four of Walker’s works to show the congruence of philosophical and aesthetic interests depicted above. Perhaps contextualisation is necessary here. Deborah Walker has been painting for more than twenty years and has received numerous awards for her work. She believes that paintings, rather than being read by analysing iconography, might be more creatively read as engaging with myth, history and philosophy. Yet, this point of view needs to be seen within a framework where visual artists amongst others would in the main concur with Isadora Duncan’s famous statement that ’if I could have put it into words there would have been no need to dance it.’ Expressed more formally, the latter can be construed in the following terms. Being reflective about art has, following Jean-Luc Nancy (1993: 28), two kinds of thought or language: “one type of thought…re-absorbs art” making it a different kind of knowledge and the other, pertinent to this paper, thinks of art “in its destination.” The latter is the thought of the sublime or the enigmatic whereas the former is the thought that re-absorbs art and, in reducing art to philosophical knowledge, signals the end of art as becoming subsumed in knowledge; it becomes more the presentation of an idea.
In conversation, Walker sees herself as a painter who refuses to reduce the meaning of her art to knowledge. She does, however, believe that a “universe of constellations,” the mixing and movement of philosophical contexts always changing, reconnecting, and producing, may be a way of having a code to feel the enigma of her work. In her postgraduate studies, Walker has therefore chosen to look at a series of de Chirico’s paintings. The influence of his work on her own may be identified in his representation of components of visual enigma and his philosophical schema that informs his aesthetic and poetic vision. Objects are seen to have an internal life existing in time that is not characterised by chronological order.
Firstly, Walker argues that the way in which de Chirico’s work has been categorised has led to a serious misunderstanding of his art. Most apprehensions of de Chirico’s paintings divide his metaphysical paintings into two categories, the early works which were considered successful and the later ones which were seen as departures from his metaphysical interests and largely inferior to his early work. Walker’s argument explores, in what we construe as Deleuze and Guattari’s terms (1976/1983: 1-65), how the ‘tap-root’ system of knowledge has circumscribed de Chirico’s work within the surrealistic movement inappropriately and, furthermore, that this limited category served as a cause for neglecting any continuity in his work. In short, when the work evolved and incorporated elements not peculiar to the surrealistic, his works were deemed to have changed direction not only in his visual representations, but in his ontological and poetic concerns. The point of continuity that Walker identifies in his work is his obsessive interest in the presentation of enigma and the use of classical mythology throughout his life to paint what he saw as poetic revelations of the eternal meanings or enigma of things and bodies.
Walker’s identifies, in paintings ranging from 1913 to 1968, de Chirico’s four major pre-occupations as follows:
(iii) His understanding of Nietzsche’s thinking and aesthetics concerning the Apollinian-Dionysian distinction.
(iv) His representation of this world in the form of places and objects whilst actually dislocating our perception of the world.
Consider, in the light of the foregoing, Deborah Walker’s recent oil painting, The Dream  VIEW HERE. Like de Chirico’s use of the Ariadne myth, Walker composes this dreaming figure on a hard solid draped surface: we are aware of a statue-like form. In this, both artists use references to statues to endorse the Nietzschean point about the problematic relationship between appearance and reality. The perspective created suggests two virtually simultaneous ways of viewing. In one, we seem to be looking down from above, yet the placement of the poles in the foreground implies a direct encounter. It is as if a camera had a double duty. The poles might evoke a cage, an imprisonment, and yet the figure rests in a state of tranquillity. Does she rest against the miniature horse or is it placed there as de Chirico places things–illogically and discordantly? Her mind might be with the horse, but her body is woven into fabric whilst that the curtain and the bed are seemingly aligned. The dichotomy of mind and body is apparent. The legs are tightly bound, almost mummy-like, yet the mind is ‘stilled’ at a point of departure, perhaps with the immobilised horse. Why is the curtain twisted around the pole in the foreground? Why is the rear curtain pulled top the side in line with the body? Is there another presence? The curtain rings and base of the bed appear to menace us as if they were teeth.
Tragedy, according to Nietzsche, can only be enacted when there is unity between the Dionysian and Apollinian aesthetic forces. Walker’s painting enacts the schism that separated them. Consciousness destroys the primal oneness of the universe Nietzsche (1872/1993: 64-75) argues in his discussion of how Socratic throught splintered the original unity in art. This is an unsettling painting, one that embodies both Nietzsche’s and de Chirico’s influences. One suspects that there might be another story of the painter’s own that is woven into this painting and as such may remain enigmatic. Nevertheless, given the Ariadne myth of loss, rejection, and the need to escape into stillness or with the flight of the horse, one suspects that the dream of the painter is beseiged by obstacles–the division of mind and body, the unseen presence drawing the curtain, the teeth-like entrapment.
Before more detailed discussion, it is worth noting that Deborah Walker’s paintings have unusual titles; titles which have been selected to highlight the connexions to a philosophical state dependent upon Nietzsche’s aesthetic and cultural framework. Walker has commented that she was inspired by Nietzsche’s description of a state of unknowing which he called the ‘innocence of becoming.’ As Joan Stambaugh (1985: 165) remarks, an ‘innocence of becoming’ frees us from “the relation to an existent being,” be it a God or a Platonic Idea and frees us from “subordination to any final aim or goal” whatsoever. In other words, ‘becoming’ signals that there is “nothing outside the whole, outside this world” which is “‘perfect’ in a non-moral sense and has no further need of anything” (1985: 165). It also signals that “[n]othing exists primarily for the sake of anything else” (1985: 165). Hence, as Stambaugh concludes, everything literally is in a process of becoming; there is no reality beyond or outside the world of becoming about which one must feel guilt. This, of course, needs to be contextualised within Nietzsche’s philosophical perspectivism, namely, there are as many truths as there are people coming to them: there is no one absolute truth. Walker also abandons the idea of an external truth such as a portrait or likeness. The images therefore embody the concept of the horror underlying the illusion of beauty.
Returning to these enigmatic titles, let us now discuss paintings from 1998/1999 “The Innocent” series as well as The Poem , Homage , The Unity I . In “The Innocent” series, the innocents, ready as they are to embark beyond their tranquillity to further ‘becoming,’ take with them the torment, the loss, the fear, and the knowledge of the schism between Apollinian and Dionysian unity. This can in part be demonstrated by the oil painting Innocent I  VIEW HERE. This figure is dressed in clothes that do not ground it in any particular historical period. Indeed, the clothes could represent a tight yet dishevelled costume within which the figure looks uncomfortable. Furthermore, the large ‘genderless’ hat almost obscures the eyes as if it were containing ideas from within and refusing ideas from without. At first sight, the background suggests a storm-strewn sky and desert landscape. On closer inspection, the sky can also be seen as a theatrical backdrop. The figure is both playing a part and about to ‘become’ in another place.
Walker is aware of the question posed by her viewers about the gender of her figures: do they possess a discordant relationship with a ‘male gaze’? Her response is to return to a Nietzschean reading rather than a feminist one. As Debra Bergoffen (2000: 25) argues,
The statue in de Chirico’s and Walker’s work project an identity which challenges the truth of our perception. This is central to Walker’s purpose. Like de Chirico, the haunting mood of her paintings creates an overriding sense of the temporary presence of humans and their shadows. Consider, for example, Homage  VIEW HERE, where the figure is statue-like in a state of deep thought. Again, Walker employs the curtain that perhaps indicates a hospital ward more than a stage, though, it might be added, a role in either involves a point of performance, a sense of entering a role, a point of departure into further ‘becoming.’ The curtains are pristine white whereas the base of the painting is dark and concise, a block of triangular colour. Whether the figure is being deeply reflective or in psychological despair is not the point so much as is the depiction of deep consciousness that will create beyond itself, an idea, contained within this moment of ‘dialogue’ with ‘truth,’ ‘despair,’ ‘meaning.’ Will this consciousness destroy ‘oneness’? Will the insight be a Dionysian one learnt from Silenus, the companion of Dionysus?
Where does this exploration of work by de Chirico and Walker leave us? In Guattari’s terms, with which this paper began, we have suggested that illogical bodies in partial spaces enable the artist to re-conceptualise bodies as ‘desiring machines,’ a location of subjectivities by their enigmatic absence. In Guattari’s own words (1980/1995:41), he refuses to talk of such representations as “ensembles of machines”
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Nancy, Jean-Luc (1993) “The Sublime Offering,” in J.-F. Courtine et al., Of the Sublime: Presence in Question, tr. J.S. Librett (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 25-53
Nietzsche, Friedrich (1872/1993) The Birth of Tragedy, ed. Michael Tanner, tr. Shaun Whiteside (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books)
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Walker, Deborah (private communications, 1997-2002)