Nietzsche and Philosophy

Deleuze, Nietzsche and PhilosophyAs with most of his books on the History of Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy is in large part a work of ventriloquy. Deleuze is speaking through Nietzsche, or making Nietzsche speak for him, as part of a series of debates and concerns that are perhaps more properly “Deleuzian” than they are “Nietzschean.” This is no doubt clearest in the book’s excoriation of Hegelianism and the dialectic: “There is no possible compromise between Hegel and Nietzsche,” Deleuze tells us (195). Written in 1962, Nietzsche and Philosophy is then part of a broadside within French thought against the prevailing postwar interest in Hegel (very much as mediated by Alexandre Kojève). A few years later, Louis Althusser would also join in the fray, with his attempt to construct a Marxism in which all indebtedness to Hegel had been absolutely excised.

The war against Hegel and Hegelianism is also a war against negation. In Nietzsche, Deleuze claims to find a philosopher of pure affirmation: the affirmation of affirmation against the dialectic’s famous negation of negation. The dialectic can at best produce “a phantom of affirmation” (196). In Hegelianism, “everywhere there are sad passions; the unhappy consciousness is the subject of the whole dialectic” (196). By contrast, for Deleuze,

Nietzsche’s practical teaching is the difference is happy; that multiplicity, becoming and chance are adequate objects of joy by themselves and that only joy returns. Multiplicity, becoming and chance are the properly philosophical joy in which unity rejoices in itself and also in being and necessity. (190)

At every turn, Nietzsche chooses activity, life, the will, over against the forces of reaction and ressentiment. The only negativity in his work, Deleuze says, is in fact positive: it is always in the service of creation; it is a total critique that enables the new to manifest itself. Hence “destruction as the active destruction of all known values is the trail of the creator” (177); in Nietzsche, “the whole of the negative has become a power of affirming” (179).

Deleuze’s book, as though intoxicated by Nietzschean affirmation, ends with rather a flourish, heralding the powers of Zarathustra, Dionysus, and the Over-man. We a presented a vision, that can’t help but seem a little mystical, of the triumph of dance, “laughter, roars of laughter,” and a sense of “play [that] affirms chance and the necessity of chance” (194). All well and good. But the fact is that, if we look around, all we see is the supremacy of reaction, the ubiquity of ressentiment, and the ascendancy of nihilism. How can this be? Is it conceivable that reactive forces are in fact stronger than active ones? If not, what explains their triumph? How does action, activity, affirmation, and the will to power give way to the tyranny of the negative?

This is a question that Deleuze will never stop asking. Indeed, in some ways it is the central question of his philosophical career. In Anti-Oedipus, he and Félix Guattari put it in more strictly political terms:

Even the most repressive and the most deadly forms of social reproduction are produced by desire within the organization that is the consequence of such production under various conditions that we must analyze. That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” (Anti-Oedipus 31)

In short: if activity and affirmation are primary, how are they so easily overcome? What goes wrong? Are reactive forces of the same nature as active forces? Do active forces somehow become reactive? If so, how? How does joyous creation end up so badly?

Deleuze’s argument is complex. It all begins when the strangely positive power of forgetting is itself forgotten. Forgetting is “an active and in the strictest sense positive faculty of repression” (113). After all, the first distinction between the noble soul and the slave is that the noble soon forgets any slights; the slave, by contrast, broods and breeds resentment. Ressentiment is only possible once the traces of past ills are preserved, even harboured and nurtured. When this happens, “reaction itself takes the place of action, reaction prevails over action” (114). But what Deleuze wants to stress–indeed, it is vital that he does so–is that “reactive forces do not triumph by forming a force greater than active forces. [. . .] Everything takes place between reactive forces” (114). Then, in a second stage, active force is itself disarmed by being “separated from what it can do; or rather, we find this fiction is propagated. Here we see also the birth of the subject, a fictional entity separated from its own powers of action and activity. But what is most important is that in the forgetting of forgetting and in the construction of the fiction of the subject alike, “in neither of the two cases do reactive forces triumph by forming a greater force than active forces” (124).

Deleuze has again to push further: How for instance does fiction gain a hold over the reality of force? Indeed, this question will soon be redoubled as the ascetic ideal itself is likewise founded on fiction, on the “projection of debt” and the internalization of guilt. How does fiction gain the upper hand? Why would a narrative about the way things are trump our sensation and experience, our affects and bodily investment in the world. Essentially, this is the question of hegemony–or rather, of the hegemony of hegemony. Why did we come to believe in the superiority of reactive forces? Why did we take their omnipotence for granted, so much so that we became habituated into submission and subjection? And with what effect?

I’m not sure that Deleuze is entirely satisfied with his answers here in Nietzsche and Philosophy. He does after all return to the problem over and over. Is this a symptom of some anxiety? Or is it simply that he feels that we need as many answers as possible: later, the figure of the fold will come to the fore in his consideration of how interiority and subjection develop. Or perhaps it’s the power of the return itself that Deleuze wants to affirm.

About these ads

12 thoughts on “Nietzsche and Philosophy

  1. “In short: if activity and affirmation are primary, how are they so easily overcome? What goes wrong? Are reactive forces of the same nature as active forces? Do active forces somehow become reactive? If so, how? How does joyous creation end up so badly? […] Why would a narrative about the way things are trump our sensation and experience, our affects and bodily investment in the world. Essentially, this is the question of hegemony–or rather, of the hegemony of hegemony. Why did we come to believe in the superiority of reactive forces? Why did we take their omnipotence for granted, so much so that we became habituated into submission and subjection? And with what effect?”

    It’s this sort of thing that I find so deeply irritating about Deleuze. Now, part of that irritation doubtless reflects the fact that I am, at heat, a miserable old get, eaten up with the kind of ressentiment that Nietzsche excoriates. However, above and beyond my own personal proclivities, I really don’t see how, once we strip away the philosophical vocabulary, this comes down to saying anything much more than what you’d find in any happy-clappy self-help manual – “You may believe that life has dealt you a poor hand and that there are insuperable obstacles in the path of realising your goals but you’re fooling yourself; you can overcome all obstacles by mere force of will, by recognising and realising the potential that lies in all of us if only we don’t give in to pessimism and passivity!” Oh, perlease …!

    Grumpily yours, Jezza.

  2. Well, you are indeed of course a miserable old get… :)

    And while I understand your irritation, I’d suggest that the kind of appeal to individual responsibility exhorted by a self-help manual (which indeed piles on the guilt more than it relieves it) is rather different from the affirmation of lines of flight and the like proposed by Deleuze.

    You may say, however, that the similarities remain striking. But then you are a nihilist. :)

  3. I always have thought that the very point Deleuze wants to make about why reactive forces triumph over active forces is related to how these forces have constituted themselves as a strata, a sediment, a fold as you suggest: reactive forces mean the human ‘nature’ as species: though the human is an incomplete animal (human as the lack that exceeds us and that we should be overcome): the hu-man is still just hanging there between the monkey and the over-man. So reactive forces win because they have sedimented in such a way through history that their polarity is magnified retroactively by history itself: reactive forces win because the will to negate life has thickly sedimented. This is why only an event of absolute affirmation might imply an electrifying rupture with reactive and transcendent polarities: the event of transvaluation that comes as a lightning strike: meaning an absolute aperture to life’s immanence.

  4. Pingback: Conversation in Posthegemony «

  5. Oh dear! I fear Naxos is just making me more grumpy. Why on earth assume that all forms of sedimentation are ‘reactive’ and hence opposed to any affirmative life force? Why this attachment to such simplistic binaries? In what sense is affirmation ‘absolute’ and, again, what explains your evident libidinal investment in believing and constantly asserting it to be so?
    I have a lot more time for Merleau Ponty’s point that it’s only on the basis of the sedimentation of certain habits and practices that agency and change become thinkable at all.
    Jezza.

  6. Heh, Jezzer. Of course, you may also find a take on habit that emphasizes its creative character in Posthegemony, chapter four…

  7. In the Gorgias, Callicles complains that the strong and vigorous have been shackled by conventional law, that they are unable to discharge their true power because of the ethical and social rules (like equality) that the weak have invented to “tame them like young lions.” And Socrates counters: but if the strong are so strong, why have the weak been able to tame them with social conventions? Perhaps it is the ‘weak’ that are strong, he suggests, since they seem to have won the battle. It is an objection Callicles never answers well, and it is a question that Nietzsche seems to avoid as well, at least in BGE and OGM, where the millenial victory of slave morality is never explained, I don’t think. And so it would stand to reason that Deleuze (and D&G) have inherited the problem and continue to struggle with it. Hardt and Negri, similarly, never fully come to terms with why constitued power should be able to control constituent power. It is a scheme of thought I like a lot, and I am not giving it up, but the questions remains: why does desire desire its own repression? If only Callicles had seen it though to the end…

  8. Reblogged this on deleuzianexcursus and commented:
    I like the idea of D returning to the same problem. It seems that if he found an answer he was fully satisfied with and stopped ‘working on it’, he might be guilty of that which he cautions against, falling into habit. If the context is always changing, it seems like the answers would change. This is a nice reminder for myself to actually finish this text…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s