Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Reflections on the Scream: Francis Bacon, Lessing, and the Aesthetics of the Beautiful and the Sublime

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Reflections on the Scream: Francis Bacon, Lessing, and the Aesthetics of the Beautiful and the Sublime

Article excerpt

"I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted the sunset."

-Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon is held to be one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century, and yet his paintings can hardly be considered "beautiful" in any ordinary respect. Indeed, more often that not viewing one of Bacon's works evokes unease, discomfort or even psychological pain. As Ernst van Alphen comments: "The first time I saw a painting by Bacon, I was literally left speechless. I was touched so profoundly because the experience was one of total engagement, of being dragged along by the work. I was perplexed about the level on which these paintings touched me: I could not even formulate what the paintings were about, still less what aspect of them hurt me so deeply."2 We might say that Bacon's work is a provocation that undermines many traditional certainties including the certainty of self and the redemptive power of art. In this essay I shall consider the significance of Bacon's work for contemporary aesthetics, and in particular the way in which it forces us to challenge traditional notions of the beautiful and the sublime.

The public's response to Bacon has not always been kind; and even today, a traditionalist might argue that in abandoning "ordinary" notions of beauty, Bacon is a typically modern artist who has fallen away from the aesthetic achievements of the past. In his classic work, Laocoon, first published in 1766, Gotthold Lessing provides a reasonable basis for such a criticism.3 Lessing is a staunch defender of the traditional aesthetics of the beautiful and he is clearly uncomfortable with the development of modern art, even in the middle of the eighteenth century. Lessing argues, in particular, that a scream can never be beautiful, and so, he believes, the great visual artist, like the sculptor of the Laocoon, would not try to depict one. It is interesting to reflect on this claim, especially in light of Bacon's own repeated attempts to paint the screaming mouth. The conjunction of Lessing and Bacon is a provocative one and it can tell us a lot about the fortunes of contemporary aesthetics. After looking at Lessing's discussion of beauty, the latter part of this essay investigates the sublime as the second fork of traditional aesthetics that is elaborated in the work of Kant and Burke and then revived in Lyotard's discussions of postmodern art. I argue that the aesthetics of the beautiful and the sublime has become less helpful in explaining the functioning of the contemporary art work, and by using Bacon as a test case, I suggest that the reduction of art to the beautiful and the sublime should now be abandoned. Bacon himself was quite articulate about painting and his own technique, and his observations as well as his paintings may now inspire a renewed philosophical enquiry into the nature of art.4

Gotthold Lessing's Laocoon is one of the earliest significant works of modern aesthetics, and as such it has helped to shape our own thinking about the nature of art.5 Lessing's essay is wide-ranging and often polemical as he criticizes other writers for idealizing the Greeks and misrepresenting their inner nature to be one of serenity and calm. Lessing begins this work with the famous Greek statue of Laocoon and his sons as they are seized and crushed to death by a monstrous serpent. He notes that in spite of the obvious physical anguish of such a situation, Laocoon himself does not cry out. His bodily agony is obvious in his whole posture, in the contraction of his stomach and the tension of his muscles, but even so, "this agony ... is yet expressed with no violence in the face and attitude" (L 1). The classicist Winckelman had tried to explain this feature of the statue in terms of the artist's desire to express the moral greatness of Laocoon and the Greeks in general-that in spite of such physical anguish his spirit is not overwhelmed and so he remains "a great and steadfast soul." But Lessing is not convinced. He points out that the Greek poets and dramatists would often give a very physical expression to the sufferings of their heroes, with Sophocles's Philoctetes screaming, crying, and moaning throughout the third act of the play; or his dying Hercules, "wailing, moaning, weeping and screaming" (L 6).

According to Lessing, the specific problem of the Laocoon actually derives from the inherent possibilities of sculpture and the other visual arts, including painting, as opposed to what is possible in literature. As the subtitle of his work announces, the Laocoon is an "essay upon the limits of painting and poetry," and Lessing puts these two arts in opposition to each other because he wants to emphasize that the rules that determine one do not determine the other. The literary representation of pain and anguish can be successful because they are mediated by language and their effects are achieved through a description that is necessarily dispersed through time. But in painting and sculpture there is no mediation because everything is given all at once. Thus screams must be reduced to sighs, not because this would somehow betray the moral greatness of the Greeks, but because screams would "deform the countenance to a repulsive degree" (L 13).

Behind all of this there lies an inherent contrast between the ancients and the modems. Lessing's target is Winckelmann, but he has in common with the latter a very strong sense of the artistic and spiritual superiority of the Greeks. "Among the ancients," he writes, "beauty was the supreme law of the imitative arts" (L 11); and so an ugly figure would not be depicted. But in modern times, "imitations are allowed to extend over all visible nature, of which beauty constitutes but a small part" (L 16). Lessing believes that in this respect at least we have fallen away from the ancient Greeks. He questions the subordination of beauty to truth- "Allowing this idea to pass unchallenged at present for whatever it is worth"and he shows a basic scorn for the priorities of contemporary artists who are more likely to show off their artistic skills than attend to the timeless ideal of beauty.

But let us now consider the main point. Lessing argues that a scream cannot be aesthetically rendered in a great painting or a sculpture because, "the simple opening of the mouth, apart from the violent and repulsive contortions it causes in the other parts of the face, is a blot on a painting and a cavity in a statue productive of the worst possible effect" (L 14). This is quite consistent with his aesthetic ideal and it does support a particular account of beauty as something that is ultimately timeless and removed from all the vicissitudes of everyday life. But it is also one of those absolute claims which almost cries out to be falsified. In modem art, there is a cry depicted in Poussin's The Massacre of the Innocents that Francis Bacon regarded as the finest ever painted. There is also, of course, The Scream by Edvaard Munch; and at one point, Bacon himself made it his artistic mission to paint the human scream, although he felt that he had never been entirely successful. In fact, Bacon's canvasses seem to be filled with images of terror and despair: Most famously, perhaps, the series of screaming popes that he painted in the early 1950s, or the equally powerful triptychs, Sweeney Agonistes (1967), the Three Studies for a Crucifixion (1962), or the Triptych May-June 1973, painted in memory of George Dyer. We must now either condemn his work or else we must condemn the traditional standard or model of beauty that Lessing describes and which would require us to reject Bacon as an inadequate artist. What is at stake here is the measure of beauty and the possibility that Lessing's account which helped to inaugurate modern aesthetics is actually inadequate to the reality of our experience of art.

According to the dominant tradition of modern aesthetics, which includes Lessing and Kant, the beautiful is that which promotes the harmony of our faculties and the free play between them. Along these lines, Lessing had argued that a sculpture of Laocoon crying out could not be beautiful because it would leave nothing to the free play of the imagination: "When, for instance, Laocoon sighs, imagination can hear him cry; but if he cry, imagination can neither mount a step higher, nor fall a step lower, without seeing him in a more endurable, and therefore less interesting, condition" (L 17). Now certainly, Bacon's images do not tend to promote the harmony of our faculties, and they actually threaten the ease and the sovereignty of the viewing subject. Hence to avoid Lessing's negative judgment, it now becomes tempting to explain the power of Bacon's paintings not in terms of the harmonious and harmonizing power of beauty, but in terms of the sublime, in which the individual is threatened by the power and immensity of the cosmos but recovers herself in a movement that is ultimately self-of-- firming.

In Kant and other eighteenth century writers, the traditional objects of the sublime were oceans and mountains, cataracts and storms that impress us by their sheer power or size. Kant argued that the powers of the imagination are overwhelmed by these objects that are so excessive they can only be experienced as a kind of outrage upon the senses. Thus our senses cannot grasp the raging torrent or the vast ocean that seems to threaten us and we are left with a strong sense of our inadequacy and the limitations of our physical nature. But in the experience of the sublime, the individual finally reasserts herself when she recognizes that at a deeper level she is actually superior to the workings of physical nature: while she cannot imagine it she can at least think the infinite as a whole, and even though she is threatened she also realizes that something merely physical cannot destroy her higher nature. Hence the experience of the sublime is ultimately an affirmative experience, even though it is also threatening. Kant's examples of the sublime are typically drawn from nature, but there is no good reason to limit the sublime to the natural world, and Kant himself gives a clear illustration of the sublime experience on entering the St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: "For here a feeling comes home to him of the inadequacy of his imagination for presenting the idea of a whole within which that imagination attains its maximum, and in its futile efforts to extend this limit, recoils upon itself, but in so doing succumbs to an emotional delight."6

According to Edmund Burke, terror is the ruling principle of the sublime.7 Terror is the most powerful of all the passions because it is the response of our most basic instinct of self-preservation when we are threatened by something that could destroy us. There are some situations, however, in which an image or a representation that would normally produce terror actually produces "delight" when we realize that we are not immediately threatened and so we can contemplate the terrible object with a certain detachment and calm. For Burke, as for Kant, the experience of the sublime involves a strange mixture of pleasure and pain, or attraction and repulsion, to something that would be directly threatening in another context. It is a paradoxical experience, and Burke, spends a lot of time trying to explain it.

Now in spite of the differences between Kant and Burke on the nature of the sublime, the two accounts do share a corresponding structure. In both writers, two moments of the sublime experience are singled out as privileged: First, the threat of annihilation that is posed by the ocean, mountain, or image of death, where the individual is forced to recognize her own limitation and lack of consequence in the physical perspective of the world. Second, the moment of recoil, or the reassertion of the individual in which she affirms the absolute value of her existence in spite of the "threat" that has just been posed.

Many of Bacon's early paintings-the series of screaming Popes for example, the terrifying Three Studies for a Crucifixion, or the various "heads" enclosed within their prisonhouse frames and apparently crying out in anguish-would seem to offer the best possibilities of interpretation in terms of the sublime. For in a very obvious way, these are all images of horror, and we are definitely threatened and challenged by them. The canvas elicits anguish. But this is also an experience that we survive; it is not a real horror but the representation of horror that confronts us, and so to look at one of Bacon's paintings may actually be an experience of the sublime and ultimately empowering.-As an example, we might consider Bacon's study after Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953): Here, the Pope is easily recognizable by his robes of office, purple and white, and by the ornate gold throne on which he sits. But our eyes are drawn to his mouth, the focal point of the painting, which seems to scream out in terror. The burden of existing in this cramped space has become unbearable, It seems that his whole body is disintegrating; the line of his throne and the golden poles that support it can be made out through his body, and the body ends abruptly beneath the knee. His hands seem to grip the chair in desperation. Flecks of blood appear on his white robes and his glasses are askew. The whole scene is covered by a "curtain" of dingy gray and other dull tones, which suggests the idea of a sideshow attraction with the subject being put on show for our own curiosity and amusement. The picture as a whole evokes a sense of real horror whose ultimate referent must remain nameless (although other paintings of this time, such as the famous Painting 1946, directly summon up thoughts of war, dictatorship and the slaughter of people like cattle).

The earliest critics of Bacon were perhaps particularly interested in "narrative" interpretations like this last one. This inherently disturbing and ambiguous painting seems to be telling a story and the critics took it upon themselves to explain what that story was. Later critics, beginning with Deleuze, have resolutely opposed the recourse to narrative because it short-circuits the visceral impact of the painting by going beyond what is actually given, to an imaginary "meaning" the painting is intended to convey. In this they are more faithful to Bacon's own pronouncements about his work. In an interview with David Sylvester, for example, Bacon explains why he tends to concentrate on a single figure in his paintings:

In the complicated stage in which painting is now, the moment there are several figures-at any rate several figures on the same canvas-the story begins to be elaborated. And the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in; the story talks louder than the paint. This is because we are actually in very primitive times once again, and we haven't been able to cancel out the story-telling between one image and another. (IFB 22)

According to Bacon, painting, as opposed to mere "illustration," involves a direct assault on the nervous system. This is presumably what he intended to achieve in his Study After Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X. But he insists, "I wanted to paint the scream more than the horror" (IFB 48). In one sense, of course, the two cannot really be separated from each other for it is presumably the horror that produces the scream while the scream is experienced most intensely as a scream within a horrific context. Nevertheless, his point is well-taken: the painting exceeds whatever narrative is used to explain it. It assaults the nervous system and forces a response without the intermediary of the story it is meant to convey. Finally, we can add that while this painting as a whole depicts an image of real horror, it is also the case, as van Alphen has pointed out, that it mirrors the inner turmoil and discomfort that such a picture produces in us.8 Thus the painting becomes an image of our own response to it: it reverberates with our own anguish and despair, and in this respect also it cannot be reduced to an ordinary narrative theme.

Now to some degree or another, all three of these readings, the narrative reading that tells a story, the anti-narrative reading that focuses on figure, and the affective reading that turns directly to the nervous system of the spectator are all valid ways of responding to a particular painting. Perhaps some of Bacon's works are more helpfully addressed by one of these approaches as opposed to another, but all three perspectives have proved useful in getting us to see what Bacon's paintings are all about and now they achieve the effects that they do. And yet none of these readings obviously involve the notion of the sublime or the possibility of sublime effects. Certainly the first element of the sublime is present in Bacon's paintings, for they are mostly presentations of images and figures in attitudes that threaten us or cause us unease. But it would be wrong to say that the sublime moment of recuperation and self-affirmation is present. With the painting of the screaming Pope, for example, there is no sense in which we stare down the horror. The painting overwhelms the everyday subject, but it leaves us in this fractured state. In fact, the painting presents us with an image of our own death, but one that is not mastered and overcome as it would be in the case of the classical sublime. Any great painting is ultimately a celebration of life-or as Bacon puts it, "I think art is an obsession with life" (IFB 63) -but within this context, Bacon's paintings are not ultimately reassuring about who we are and neither do they testify to the significance of our individual lives.

The concept of the sublime has undergone several transformations since its apparent rediscovery in the late seventeenth century, and most recently, through the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard, the sublime has been proposed as the defining characteristic of postmodern art. As Lyotard writes in his essay "What is Postmodernism?": "I think in particular that it is in the aesthetic of the sublime that modern art (including literature) finds its impetus and the logic of the avant-gardes its axioms."9 Within this general context, but focusing more specifically on postmodernism itself, he adds,

A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules, and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment, by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. (PC 81)

Lyotard's ideas are suggestive but underdetermined, although in later essays he clarifies his reappropriation of the sublime, suggesting, for example, that Barnett Newman's abstract paintings Vir Heroicus Sublimis, and sculptures, Here 1, Here 2, and Here 3, are examples of what he had in mind. Significantly, Barnett Newman also wrote an essay titled "The Sublime is Now" and in reflecting on the meaning of this title, and Newman's work in general, Lyotard develops a non-recuperable version of the sublime-one that emphasizes the shock of contemporary art and its disruption of all traditional categories of subjective appropriation and control.10 Like the traditional sublime it involves an intensification of experience, not the feeling of pure delight as with the beautiful, but a mixture of pleasure and pain; but while it unsettles the subject it does not conclude with the final reassertion of individual sovereignty and control. Lyotard explains,

one would have to read The Sublime is Now not as The Sublime is Now but as Now the Sublime is Like This. Not elsewhere, not up there or over there, not earlier or later, not once upon a time. But as here, now, it happens that ... and it's this painting. Here and now there is this painting, rather than nothing, and that's what is sublime. Letting-go of all grasping intelligence and of its power, disarming it, recognizing that this occurrence of painting was not necessary and is scarcely foreseeable.... It's still the sublime iri the sense that Burke and Kant described and yet it isn't their sublime any more. (SAG 199)

All of this fits quite well with some of the dominant features of art in postmodern times.-If the sublime moment of the art work lies in its absolute character as an event, then what must be emphasized are all the experimental possibilities of art, performance art and video for example, the emphasis on "collage" and mixing of different forms, materials, and styles, and the art events or "happenings" that actually seek a blurring of the boundaries between art and life itself. As Arthur Danto has also noted, this kind of art is inherently reflective and theoretical; in many cases, beginning with Barnett Newman or Andy Warhol, it is the art work itself which poses a question about the very nature of art.11

John Russell describes Bacon's own entree onto the modern art scene with the paintings exhibited in the Lefevre gallery in April 1945: "They caused a total consternation," he notes,

We had no name for them, and no name for what we felt about them. They were regarded as freaks, monsters irrelevant to the concerns of the day, and the product of an imagination so eccentric as not to count in any possible permanent way. They were spectres at what we all hoped was going to be a feast, and most people hoped that they would just be quietly put away. 12

Likewise, Bacon often talked about the need to take risks as an artist and to avoid problems and themes that one knows one is capable of dealing with. And yet, it would now be very limiting to suggest that the power of Bacon's painting lies only or even primarily in its shock value as an artistic event. One of the interesting things about Bacon is that he is not an experimental artist in the sense of someone who challenges the traditional themes of painting, who experiments with different media and materials, or who calls into question the boundaries between art and life. Bacon is very much a painter in the traditional sense and he draws on the history of painting-as in his series of Popes based on the Velasquez original-not to challenge its authority, to deconstruct it or go beyond it, but as a way of paying homage to it.

Now Lyotard is certainly aware that there is a big difference between art as Ereignis (which is the sense of art as existential happening or as the disclosure of Being) and art as innovation. The first serves to unsettle and confound established modes of thinking and being while the latter is easily circumscribed within the circuits of the dominant system itself.13 Likewise, Lyotard is famous for his definition of postmodernism as "incredulity towards metanarratives," and in his major writings on postmodernism, justice, and the differend, his professed goal is the proliferation of language games and the jubilation of being that emerges in the celebration of a multiplicity of different perspectives. But at the same time, in other passages he seems to recognize the existence of a dominant system, or metanarrative, that is slowly destroying and absorbing all that belongs to the individual life. In this context he writes that, "The experience of the human subject-individual and collective-and the aura that surrounds this experience, are being dissolved into the calculation of profitability, the satisfaction of needs, self-affirmation through success" (SAG 209). In the end, of course, the dominant system that he refers to can be nothing other than capitalism and the goal of art becomes the production of new forms that can't be immediately appropriated by the life-denying tendencies of capitalist commodification. Hence the sublime is whatever resists commodification. It serves to renew life and it signifies the possibility of something which exists beyond the established forms.

Notice, though, how this interpretation of art (and the sublime) ties them both to a very specific agenda, and it repeats the mistake of making art into a stand-in for religion. According to Lyotard, the world is profane, it is ordered, controlled, and commodified by capitalism. But art is the force of disruption that continually escapes and eludes this ordering and gives us notice that there is something-the unpresentable-that exists beyond all the circuits and flows of everyday life. Hence for Lyotard the art work or the art event points us away from everyday existence and towards a sacred alterity that remains unappropriated (at least for the time being).

This is an interesting line, but none of this really squares with Bacon. We certainly do need to be careful about supplying a narrative or a story that would reduce his pictures and so make us blind to their power. But in the portraits of the screaming popes especially, one is given an image of something like the death of god. There is no transcendence here, and no way out to another order of being. This is expressed in the totally claustrophobic feel of the painting. The pope seems to dissolve as traditional certainties are also in the course of disappearing, and this leads to the anguish of his scream as the strongest expression of despair. This particular painting may offer a more intense expression of this idea, but it expresses the same underlying emotional quality as many if not most of Bacon's other works. The sublime, even in Lyotard's contemporary version, is ultimately reassuring insofar as it opens up a higher or more authentic plane of being that we are held to belong to. But nothing like this is present in Bacon's work which offers no reassurance-even though it must be said that Bacon's work is not simply nihilistic, for in focusing intensively on the human figure, and by addressing and uncovering the powers of darkness that threaten us, it also seems to speak for an intensely charged life.

This essay began with an account of Lessing's book Laocoon, and his argument that a scream, in painting or sculpture, can never be beautiful and must always spoil the work of which it is a part. It is probably no accident that Lessing chose the example of the scream to illustrate his more general thesis about the nature of beauty, because the scream is the most basic human utterance suggesting self-abandonment and the sense of being overwhelmed by whatever threatens from outside. The one who screams is no longer sovereign, self-contained and independent, but given over to all of the powers of life and death. But this is at odds with the traditional model of the beautiful which evokes sovereignty, poise, and grace; and it is also at odds with the ideal of the composed and self-contained subject that supports and is supported by this model of beauty. In fact, both the beautiful and the sublime affirm the ultimate self-mastery of the individual subject, and the scream is significant because it shows the point at which self-mastery is overcome. Lessing objected that this moment of loss was irrecuperable in painting and sculpture although it might be redeemed as one aspect of an underlying unity in the literary work. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche described the Greek fascination for the Dionysian horror underlying all appearances and at the heart of life; and something like this is probably also the source of our fascination with Bacon, insofar as his paintings seem to offer an extremely vivid and immediate encounter with the forces of life and death. In this respect, though, Bacon's work cannot be appropriated by the traditional categories of the beautiful or the sublime since these derive from another view of the Greeks-the one endorsed by Lessing-that regards them as the guardians of internal and external harmony, and of the associated values of subjectivity and self-control.

More speculatively, then, it follows from this that Bacon and other contemporary artists may be working with a different conception of beauty. Not one that is otherworldly or eternal, and hence out of play, but one that is given within time and that must therefore involve a relationship to change and chance and a continual proximity to death itself. John Russell describes how Bacon was once given a book written by his friend Michel Leiris. In this book, Leiris traced back to its origins in Baudelaire the notion of an ideal beauty that is quintessentially modern insofar as it refuses to fall back on "the emptiness of a beauty that is empty and cannot be defined." "For Baudelaire," Leiris wrote,

beauty cannot come into being without the intervention of something accidental (a misfortune, or the contingence of modernity) which drags the beautiful clear from its glacial stagnation: it is at the price of degradation that the mummified One turns into the living Many .... We can call "beautiful" only that which suggests the existence of an ideal order-supraterrestrial, harmonious and logical-and yet bears within itself, like the brand of an original sin, the drop of poison, the rogue element of incoherence, the grain of sand that will foul up the whole system.14

Russell tells us that Bacon immediately ringed this passage with a thick flat nib, for what Leiris had written resonated very deeply with his own understanding of the nature of art and its relationship to the beautiful: Not art as serene optimism which escapes into otherworldly forms, but art as the power of life that affirms itself in spite of, or even through, the horror that it discovers in this world, and that causes Bacon's own figures to scream out in terror. This suggests a more fractured and poignant sense of the beautiful than the one that Lessing had affirmed; for it is beauty that illuminates the life that is given to us and that actively embraces contingency, chance, and suffering even up to the point of death.

Bacon's paintings challenge the traditional concept of the beautiful while they also avoid, and call into question, the alternative of the sublime. They are disturbing pictures which work by undermining the certainties of subjectivity while they resist the possibility of sublime transcendence that would return the subject to herself. And yet his paintings do not suggest the triumph of "impersonal forces" or something like the dissolution of humanity that is suggested by much of twentieth century art. In many ways Bacon was a very traditional painter whose preferred theme was the human figure. In his work he made it his business to express the truth about human beings. Not just the outward truth that is given by illustration and that photography is just as capable of recording, but the deeper truth that he thought could only be produced by the direct assault of paint upon the nervous system. As he comments, "This is a very, very close and difficult thing to know why some paint comes across directly onto the nervous system and other paint tells you the story in a long diatribe through the brain" (IFB 18). And again, "I've always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that it is horrific. Because if you say something very directly to somebody, they're sometimes offended, although it is a fact." (IFB 48). Bacon's great (and sometimes horrific) paintings cannot be contained by traditional concepts of the beautiful and the sublime. But in this respect, they can serve as a test case that now encourages us to abandon the traditional, "subjective" aesthetics that supports these categories as a way of maintaining the imaginary sovereignty of self.


1. See David Sylester, ed., Interviews with Francis Bacon (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), p. 50. Henceforth cited as IFB.

Ernst van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss (if Self (Cambridge. Harvard University Press, 1993), p. 9. Gottbold Lessing, Laocoon: an Essay upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. Ellen Frothingham (New York: Noonday Press, 1957). Henceforth cited as L.

4. It is significant that several contemporary writers have been drawn to Bacon's oeuvre: Gilles Deleuze's book on Bacon is a case in point-for Deleuze. Bacon is very much a philosophical painter; also Michel Leiris who wrote on Bacon and became a close friend of his: and Milan Kundera who wrote an extended essay in appreciation of Bacon's art. See Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation (Paris: Edition de la Difference, 1984); Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and Profile (New York: Rizzoli, 1983); Milan Kundera, Bacon: Portraits and Self-Portraits (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997).

For an excellent scholarly discussion of Laocoon and its origins, see Victor Rudowski. "Lessing Contra Winckelmann," The Journal of Aesthetics andA rt Criticism 44 (Spring 1986): 235-44,

6. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. L. Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 100.

7. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958).

8. See van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, especially pp. 20-58.

9. Jean Francois Lyotard, "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?" in The Postmodern Condition, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), p. 77. Henceforth cited as PC.

10. Two essays in which Lyotard develops these ideas about the sublime are "The Sublime and the Avant-Garde" (henceforth SAG), and "Newman: the Instant," both included in The Lyotard Reader, ed. by Andrew Benjamin (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991).

11. See. for example, Arthur Danto, After the End of rt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

12. John Russell. Francis Bacon (New York: names and Hudson, 1993), pp. 10- 11.

13. See for example Lyotard's comments on Ereignis. innovation, and the art-market in "The Sublime and the Avant-Garde": "It is understandable that the art-market, subject like all markets to the rule of the new. can exert a kind of seduction on artists. This attraction is not due to corruption alone. It exerts itself thanks to a confusion between innovation and the Ereignis, a confusion maintained by the temporality specific to contemporary capitalism" (p. 210).

14. Russell, Francis Bacon, p. 88.

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