Percepts: The Landscape Before Man

In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze presents art as a compound of sensations that is preserved in itself, in so far as it exists, and sensations as true beings, real existences.

“Art preserves, and it is the only thing in the world that is preserved”

Art is a compound of beings that preserve themselves for themselves, in themselves, without having anything else to explain, help them or would justify them. In their expression, sensations find a self-sufficient mode of existence. Art creates entities that remain as much as their own expression.


‘The percept is the landscape before man, in the absence of man.’

Deleuze is particularly struck by the way the great English and American novelists write in percepts, claiming that authors like Heinrich von Kleist and Franz Kafka write in affects by comparison. This could manifest itself in the ability of the characters of Virginia Woolf to merge with the world, in T. The destruction of his own ego by E. Lawrence, or even the relentless reluctance of Bartleby to be’ particular.’

Percepts are no longer perceptions; they are independent of a state of those who experience them.

As small children are unable to distinguish between themselves and the outside world, with the percept, literature becomes a way of exploring not how we exist in the world, but rather how we become with the world. It has the capacity to explore our existence as “thisness” on phase space to remind us that we ourselves are part of these sensation compounds.

The percept makes visible the invisible forces of the world, that overwhelm the writer. Consequently, it has the power of vision. The percept challenges conventional notions of forms and subjects. It also could have political significance, in that it enables us to explore an impersonal and pre-individual soup that might be the basis for a particular sort of community.

In DUNE through his perceptions of the worm, Paul passes into the landscape, which in turn becomes a plane of pure expression that escapes form. Paul enters into a relationship of becoming with the worm, and the desert emerges as a pure percept, a compound of sensations.

In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab and the ocean emerges as a pure percept, a compound of sensa-tion. Ahab enters into a relationship of becoming with the whale. Another important reference point is Virginia Woolf, who talks of ‘moments of the world’, in which a character such as Mrs Dalloway ‘passes into’ the town.

Deleuze referred to the way the moor is perceived by Thomas Hardy, like the steppe by Anton Chekhov and the desert by T.E. Lawrence. It can be seen, then, that the percept implies a particular relationship between character and landscape. The landscape is essentially no longer an environment that either mirrors, mocks, or shapes the character. Nor is it the case that by directing a gaze at it the character perceives the landscape. It’s more a case how the mind is a kind of membrane that is both in contact with the outside world and is actually part of it.

The self is not a distinct thing from the outside world, but something more like the outer world’s’ fold,’ a membrane that captures other things. The intimate contact between the outside and the inside means that literature can explore the resulting’ private desert’ (T. E. Lawrence) or’ private ocean’ (Melville).

As Deleuze puts it, every bomb that T. E. Lawrence explodes is a bomb that explodes in himself. He cannot stop himself from projecting intense images of himself and others into the desert, with the result that these images take on a life of their own.

Given this emphasis on impersonality and ego dissolution, it is not surprising that the’ man without qualities’ is the literary hero of perception. This kind of character-closely related to what Deleuze calls the’ seer’ (the voyeur) in his cinema books-ultimately tends to’ be’ everyone and everything, at once modest but also crazy.

He might be a literally’ on the road ‘ character, and an obvious example of popular literature would be the open-mindedness of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road narrator. Deleuze talks about how a specific, practical notion of democracy is reflected in the way the soul finds fulfillment in American literature, rather than redemption, through’ taking the road’ and being open to all interactions.

The percept is mainly an artistic literary form, but it has something to add to politics. Simply put, experience has the effect of pulling us out of ourselves and into the world and questioning the individualizing and infantilizing propensity of a great deal of contemporary culture.

It’s not enough to turn our own experiences and affections into a book,

Deleuze and Guattari suggest,

to embark on a journey in search of the father who eventually turns out to be ourselves


Art is presented as a radical philosophy of Nature where the brain exists among vegetables and minerals. Affects are blocks of space time. Affect is the change, or variation, that occurs when bodies collide, or come into contact. As a body, affect is the transitional product of an encounter, specific in its ethical and lived dimensions and yet it is also as indefinite as the experience of a sunset, transformation, or a ghost.

Deleuze engages and extends Baruch Spinoza and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical conceptions of affect in order to describe the processes of becoming, transformation through movement and over duration. Deleuze rejects the philosophical tradition of passive reflection, and the value-laden associations of ascribing emotions to subjective experience or perceptions.

‘On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature’, Deleuze describes affect as

verbs becoming events —

naming affects as perceivable forces, actions, and activities. Within a Deleuzian context, affect acts as a matrix of attraction within any assembly to exploit meaning and relationships, inform and produce attraction, and create intensity.

Percept is a non-passive, guided and influenced constant moulding. Affect is an experiential force or a source of power that becomes enveloped by emotion by experiencing and mixing with other bodies (organic or inorganic), becomes an idea, and as such, as Deleuze describes, can compel information, history, memory, and power circuits systems.

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