‘This small book is directed to questions about the ontology, that is, the material and conceptual structures, of art.’ And so begins Elizabeth Grosz’s deceptively modest bouquin, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth: with a self-reflexive twist.
Grosz constructs her argument around three basic tenets, or modalities of comprehending our relationship(s) to art practice(s): Chaos; Vibration and Sensation. Successive chapters enlist a heavyweight armoury of interdisciplinary intellectuals including: Charles Darwin, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacob von Uexküll, to populate a treatise which aims to explore what ‘concepts’ art entails, how these may be reloaded within an atavistic lineage, and the potentiality they offer for virile sensuousness between creative disciplines.
The backbone of Grosz’s writing in this book rises from Deleuze and Guattari’s celebrated observations in What is Philosophy? on the construction of a ‘frame’ as the first gesture of art, (set perhaps against a more Nietzschean notion of art exteriorising deep-rooted impulses and interred desires). Here Grosz argues for the interpolation of sensory knowledge as utile imperative, counter-pointing a dense argument about the collective condition of art-making with its dissemination: ‘Framing and deframing become art’s modes of territorialization and deterritorialization through sensation; framing becomes the means by which the plane of composition composes, deframing its modes of upheaval and transformation…’
Grosz’s reasoning is keen and well informed throughout, drawing upon selected details from her sources to good effect, she builds to a somewhat totalizing ‘worldview’ about the real level of control we have over our impulses towards production, setting this within the unavoidable force of experiential ‘chaos’, to suggest that in order to usefully partake of this experience we must ‘extract something of these forces, nothing that resembles them, for they cannot be present themselves…’
For a publication that examines the impact of art as how we, as sentient creatures, ‘test’ the substance of the world around us, the book is however remarkably inattentive to the substance of its own writing, and by implication its reader. Whilst Grosz’s text—as mentioned earlier—is erudite in thesis, its textual surface is sometimes very hard to decipher, often relying on academic convention to flesh out arguments. Around halfway through Chaos, Territory, Art, the footnotes threaten to mutiny the body text, (an unwitting reference perhaps to Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman ), consuming most of the page.
Whilst it is understandable that a relatively slim book, dealing with such an expansive subject, would have a right job fitting in all the relevant material, explanatory footnotes that sprawl across the page are distracting and undermining, for they suggest that everything we as readers need to know in order to ‘read properly’, (by that I mean to use the book for our own forms of production, whether they be intellectual, social or artistic) is not contained within the ‘frame’ of the main page. Ultimately, this is somewhat at odds with Grosz’s observations on the instinctual affiliations of the body to art production.
Maria Fusco is a writer and lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, London