Sometimes Jokes Are Hard To Get
This is an enormous synopsis of Gilles Deleuze’s book Nietzsche and Philosophy. I apologize in advance for its existence.
No strategy on this one. We’re supposed to read the book in its entirety, and I’ve heard that Deleuze’s books about other philosophers are always his best, so I’m looking forward to reading this. I’m not looking forward to trying to make a cogent and reasonably short post for it, though. But what’s that I hear? A chorus of supportive readers and friends telling me I can do it?! A sea of encouragement is building, can you hear it?! You can do it Dru! You can make this post! It’ll be great! It’ll be really helpful to others! You can do it! YOU CAN DO IT! YOU CAN DO IT!!!
I CAN DO IT!!!!!!! YES!!!!!!!
Okay. So here it is: Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy.
In his foreward to the book, Michael Hardt writes that ‘the three most important concepts in this book are multiplicity, becoming, and affirmation’ (ix, in the Columbia UP edition). Thanks for the tip, Michael. I’ll make sure, then, to give as much attention to these terms as I can.
Actually, fuck that. You should just read Hardt’s foreward, because it’s better than whatever shit I’m about ready to come up with here. I’m going to just write it because it helps me study, but for real just read Hardt’s thing. It’s very good. You can read this post if you are my enemy and you delight in my failures.
This book is broken into five chapters, each of which has a series of like sub-sections. I’ll rock this post by going chapter to chapter. Here’s the first one:
One: The Tragic (1-38)
Though we might assume that this chapter will be primarily about the notion of tragedy in Nietzsche’s philosophy, it begins instead with a brief synopsis of Nietzsche’s conception of genealogy (that it ought to be a determination of the value of value) and sense (that the sense given to a word or idea or whatever is a result of the forces vying for dominance within that term). ‘The history of a thing,’ writes Deleuze, ‘is the succession of forces which take possession of it and the co-existence of the forces which struggle for possession’ (3). To interpret anything, then, becomes a multi-dimensional endeavor demanding not simply a semiological, biographical, scientific, or deconstructive perspective, but rather all of them at once in their succession and coincidence. ‘There is no event,’ Deleuze claims, ‘no phenomenon, word or thought which does not have a multiple sense’ (4). This commitment to plurality is a mark of Nietzsche’s philosophy and, according to Deleuze, ‘pluralism (otherwise known as empiricism) is almost indistinguishable from philosophy itself’ (ibid.). To philosophize is to maintain a permanent alliance with pluralist interpretation.
This multiplicity of forces engaged with one another all the time, struggling to possess the ‘meaning’ of a certain event, concept, notion, idea, etc. leads us to Deleuze’s take on Nietzsche’s will to power. Deleuze writes,
Nietzsche’s concept of force is therefore that of a force which is related to another force: in this form force is called will. The till (will to power) is the differential element of force. A new conception of the philosophy of the will follows from this. For the will is not exercised mysteriously on muscles or nerves…but is necessarily exercised on another will. The real problem is not that of the relation of will to the involuntary but rather of the relation of a will that commands to a will that obeys — that obeys to a greater or lesser extent (7).
The will (of an individual) wants to command, and only another will can obey (matter, perhaps, is subject to will but can never obey it….except for in the case where Casey claims to control the elements and all objects via his ability to fix things that break at his mom’s ranch). A genealogy, then, aims to uncover and distinguish all the competing wills present in any given interpretable thing while simultaneously determining the hierarchy of these forces.
But why will? For, like, money or fame or sex or something? To satisfy some abstract need to dominate? ‘The question Nietzsche constantly repeats, “what does a will want, what does this one or that one want?”, must not be understood as the search for a goal,’ writes Deleuze. ‘What a will wants is to affirm its difference. In its essential relation with the “other” a will makes its difference an object of affirmation’ (9). We might tidily sum this claim up by portraying Hegel and Nietzsche on two opposite poles of basically everything. Where Hegel expounds the importance of negativity, Nietzsche champions affirmation, where Hegel highlights and lionizes the plight of the slave, Nietzsche encourages and insists on the power of the master. Where Hegel sees the slave as desiring to have his power recognized (by some legitimated arbiter of value), whereas, for Nietzsche, one wills one’s power. For Hegel the creative moment is the No, for Nietzsche it is the Yes.
After establishing these points, Deleuze then moves to tragedy.
‘What does Nietzsche really mean by “tragic”?’ asks Deleuze. The tragic takes different forms depending on the deaths it dies, and Nietzsche distinguishes three types of deaths: the Euripidean death (represented by the Socratic dialectic), the Christian death, and the modern dialectic/Wagnerian death (to get up to speed on The Birth of Tragedy, you can read posts about it here. I’ll be drawing from it without really expounding). Deleuze (and Nietzsche) ultimately sees the real innovation of The Birth of Tragedy not in the development of the opposition/collaboration between Apollo and Dionysus (with Dionysus being the force of pure affirmation, anti-dialectical, expressed in the individuated forms of Apollonian representation), but in the opposition between Dionysus and Socrates. Deleuze sums this opposition up by claiming that
[Socrates] asks us to feel that life, crushed by the weight of the negative, is unworthy of desired for itself, experienced in itself. Socrates is ‘the theoretical man’, the only true opposite of the tragic man (14).
Nietzsche, however, becomes dissatisfied with this opposition as he comes to see in Socrates more of Apollo and Dionysus than he at first thought (the clarity of Apollo, Dionysus arriving in Socrates famed musicality at the end of his life). The real opposition is between Dionysus and Christ who are bizarre inversions of one another: ‘it is the same phenomenon but in two opposed senses,’ writes Deleuze (15). Dionysus affirms suffering, Christ diagnoses suffering, concludes that suffering is the consequence of a life that is blameworthy.
The result of this is that life must be justified, that is to say, redeemed of its injustice or saved. Saved by that suffering which a little while ago accused it [the difference between the Old and New Testaments]: it must suffer since it is blameworthy. These two aspects of Christianity form what Nietzsche calls ‘bad conscience’ or the internalization of pain (ibid.).
Christianity, beneath the façade of a joy in life and love, conceals a denial of life.
We might begin to wonder, if Dionysus is all about affirmation, then why does Nietzsche associate him with tragedy? The tragic plight of Dionysus is constructed around the complexity of affirming everything, everything in its plurality. Multiplicity and diversity in the matter to be affirmed is where lies the tragic. Joy itself is tragic. But just listen to this sentence:
the anti-dialectical and anti-religious dream which runs through the whole of Nietzsche’s philosophy is a logic of multiple affirmation and therefore a logic of pure affirmation and a corresponding ethic of joy (17).
It doesn’t take long for us to see that this dream circulates around the central problem of philosophy’s most difficult and important question: what’s the fucking point? Affirmation for affirmation’s sake? Why bother struggling toward an ethic of joy (especially if it’s difficult to achieve)? Why not just eat pizza and ice cream and watch porn and shit in your pants? Why not let Incandenza’s jest destroy us? The problem of tragedy becomes the problem of existence.
Deleuze traces an intricate history of the problem of existence as reflected through Nietzsche’s encounters with the Greeks and with Schopenhauer, highlighting the recurring theme of existence as blameworthy in both Greek and Christian thought. The only difference between the two is in how the responsibility for this blame crystallizes: the Greek can say a god inspired a man to his ill-deeds, whereas the Christian is essentially to blame, and the god redeems him, not inspires him. Nietzsche’s insight consists in suggesting that blame might altogether be removed from the equation. Deleuze writes,
the question is not: is blameworthy existence responsible or not? But is existence blameworthy…or innocent? At this point Dionysus has found his multiple truth: innocence, the innocence of plurality, the innocence of becoming and of all that is (22).
Nietzsche transposes this question into the realm of multiplicity and pluralism by maintaining that the only thing that could justify a notion like innocence is absolute multiplicity, a plurality that has no outside, no exterior unifying identity, no perfect authority, no reward, and no promise of an eternal life beyond this one. ‘[Innocence],’ writes Deleuze, ‘derives immediately from the principles of the philosophy of force and will’ (ibid.). Instead of committing ourselves to a philosophy of forces we fall prey to the seduction of hierarchizing these forces, of denying other wills, of avoiding interpretation in lieu of complicating it. We become spectators and not players. This last opposition is, differently writ, the opposition between being and becoming, about which Deleuze has this to say:
multiplicity is the inseparable manifestation, essential transformation and constant symptom of unity. Multiplicity is the affirmation of unity; becoming is the affirmation of being. The affirmation of becoming is itself being, the affirmation of multiplicity is itself one. Multiple affirmation is the way in which the one affirms itself (24).
The being that is inseparable from becoming is the eternal return.
Two: Active and Reactive (39-72)
Deleuze begins this chapter with a critique of dualism: the separation of body and mind (or consciousness) can, for him, be simplified into an equation that deals exclusively with forces. Consciousness can appear only as an inferior force desires to be incorporated into a superior one – the master is himself not conscious. With bodies, as well, there is nothing but force. Deleuze asks,
what is a body? We do not define it by saying that it is a field of forces, a nutrient medium fought over by a plurality of forces. For in fact there is no ‘medium’, no field of forces or battle. There is no quantity of reality, all reality is already quantity of force…. Every force is related to others and it either obeys or commands (40).
This will set the table for a discussion of active and reactive forces, which themselves are related to the master and slave consciousnesses, respectively (the latter being associated with ressentiment). Moreover, active and reactive forces are the ‘original’ quantity expressing the relation of force to force, and their distribution (within and among bodies) is called hierarchy.
Let’s hear Deleuze tell us about reactive forces:
inferior forces are defined as reactive; they lose nothing of their force, of their quantity of force, they exercise it by securing mechanical means and final ends, by fulfilling the conditions of life and the functions and tasks of conversation, adaptation, and utility…[the] concept of reaction [is]: the mechanical and utilitarian accommodations, the regulations which express all the power of inferior and dominated forces (40-41).
Most important here, then, is the ability of the reactive forces to maintain their status as inferior, which is a way of expressing their power. From my reading of the Genealogy of Morals, these sorts of institutions seem often to be pro-social, pro-diversity, pro-equality types, seen by Nietzsche to be walls within which excellence / nobility / power etc. can never materialize.
Things get more interesting at the level of active forces, which are by nature inaccessible to consciousness and do most of their work at the unconscious level. We are unable to determine precisely what a body can do because we determine its power only in relation to its reactions (think how science proceeds: stab x with a scalpel and y happens, inject z with a serum and q happens, act on the body and determine its reaction). The real search, though, ought to be for the active forces ‘without which the reactions themselves would not be forces’ (41). And what are these forces? Deleuze writes,
appropriating, possessing, subjugating, dominating – these are the characteristics of active force. To appropriate means to impose forms, to create forms by exploiting circumstances (42).
The emphasis here is on creativity, on transformation, on the ability to change: these are marks of truly active forces. Additionally, Nietzsche, according to Deleuze, equally emphasizes that which insists on difference. Force, for Nietzsche, is made apparent only by the differences in forces, and Nietzsche carries this insistence on difference into his critique of logical identity, mathematical equality, and physical equilibrium (45), these all being forms of the undifferentiated. Why is this a critique worth carrying out? Deleuze writes,
in the first place, it expresses the way in which science is part of the nihilism of modern thought. The attempt to deny differences is a part of the more general enterprise of denying life, depreciating existence and promising it a death (‘heat’ or otherwise) where the universe sinks into the undifferentiated (ibid.).
We might confuse this final arrival at total undifferentiation with Nietzsche’s Eternal Return (of the same), which can be easily misunderstood as a machine of identity, an affirmation of the perpetual sameness of all things. Deleuze nips this misconception in the proverbial bud and insists, rather that,
the eternal return is not the permanence of the same, the equilibrium state or the resting place of the identical. It is not the ‘same’ or the ‘one’ which comes back in the eternal return but return is itself the one which ought to belong to diversity and to that which differs (46).
The remainder of the chapter consists in articulating two aspects of the Eternal Return: the cosmological/physical doctrine and the ethical and selective thought. I’ll focus on these two dimensions for the remainder of this chapter, but I want to note ahead of time that I’m cutting out a big chunk of this chapter in order to focus on the Eternal Return.
Eternal return conceals an implicit critique of any possible final state of equilibrium because eternal return implies an infinite past and a becoming that, itself, could not ever have come into being. That is to say, becoming is not something that itself underwent, after some initial catalyzing movement, becoming. Become must necessarily always have been, it has no starting point, it places the past infinitely far off. We can affirm becoming by simply witnessing the present passing into the past, and we likewise affirm that what has no beginning necessarily has no end. That becoming is demands that we think in terms of an eternal return. Deleuze writes,
how does the thought of pure becoming serve as a foundation for the eternal return? All we need to do to think this thought is to stop believing in being as distinct from and opposed to becoming or to believe in the being of becoming itself. What is the being of that which becomes, of that which neither starts nor finishes becoming? Returning is the being of that which becomes (48).
The eternal return makes passage thinkable. The passing of time, the changing of things, becoming in general, can only be thought as having a being that itself is always becoming, a sort of perpetual circulation that, however, is never a simple return of the same. Precisely that which allows the being of becoming to be becoming (to be always changing, always different, always passing) is non-identity, an eternal return that is never the same. How is difference maintained within this repetition? Via the will to power, which constantly appropriates, dominates, destroys, masters, commands, etc. What does the will command? Forces.
The ethical dimension of the eternal return appears when it comes time to distinguish between active and reactive forces (the latter, after all, are not simple nihilism, simply negativity, or simply party-pooping. Reactive forces frequently come together to separate the active forces from what those active forces are capable of, thus supplanting them force-wise). Deleuze poses the problem thus,
because it is neither felt not known, a becoming-active can only be thought as the product of a selection. A simultaneous double selection by the activity of force and the affirmation of the will. But what can perform the selection? What serves as the selective principle? Nietzsche replies: the eternal return (68).
The selection process is governed by a primary principle that itself is structured around the eternal return: whatever you will, will it in such a way that you also will its eternal return. By willing the eternal return one also wills that whatever returns does so eternally, which is to say that it endlessly pursues the unreachable terminus of its consequences. Even if it is stupidity and laziness that one wills, one must will it so that it might return eternally. I may indeed will, for example, addiction eternally (as do the opium addicts in Nolan’s Inception or Michael Pemulis in Wallace’s Infinite Jest). And, like these characters, the selection process is governed by a second principle which is the will to self-destruction, and this is the real problem of the eternal return, as Deleuze puts it. He writes,
active negation or active destruction is the state of strong spirits which destroy the reactive in themselves, submitting it to the test of the eternal return and submitting themselves to this test even if it entails willing their own decline (70).
To will this destruction is not at all allied with the nihilism that Nietzsche perpetually rallies against (but is often accused of espousing), but rather the antidote to it: destruction as selection, selection as creation.
Three: Critique (73-110)
Deleuze carries Nietzsche’s commitment over into an analysis of the object of critique. What does criticism do? How does criticism act? For the most part, what science (and this includes the human sciences) protects and preserves and nourishes itself on are facts, and facts are, to this day, hierarchized according to their usefulness. The difficulty here, of course, is determining those for whom any given action is useful. For Nietzsche, the one who determines or judges of the use is never the one who acts, but rather a third part, the sufferer of said action or a bystanding spectator. As Deleuze puts it, ‘the essence of the activity is confused with the gains of [this] third party’ (74). The thrust of this chapter, then, is to establish a science of action, or an active science, one that is capable of distinguishing between active and reactive forces and, more importantly, a science that understands itself as the willing that it is. Elaborating on the structure of this active science, Deleuze writes,
only an active science is capable of interpreting real activities and real relations between forces. It therefore appears in three forms. A symptomatology, since it interprets phenomena, treating them as symptoms whose sense must be sought in the forces that produce them. A typology, since it interprets forces from the standpoint of their quality, be it active or reactive. A genealogy, since it evaluates forces from the point of view of their nobility or baseness, since it discovers their ancestry in the will to power and the quality of this will (75).
Thus the philosopher of the future will have three different incarnations: the physician, the artist, and the legislator.
The first step in proceeding along this method of critique is reevaluating the meaning and purpose of the questions we ask; in particular reevaluating the structure of those questions. The fundamental metaphysical question always takes the form ‘what is…?’ and this (as Socrates demonstrated so many times) demands a particular kind of response, namely, ‘x is…’. Socrates stultified his interlocutors again and again by demonstrating that their responses were only instances of the idea of the thing, and thus developed his metaphysics of Forms or Essences. Nietzsche, on the other hand, insists on a different question: ‘which one?’. This restructures the metaphysical framework so that essence no longer finds its place in the heavens but rather in the individual for whom the thing is what it is. Deleuze writes,
essence, being, is a perspectival reality and presupposes a plurality. Fundamentally it is always the question, ‘What is it for me?‘ (77).
We can see how this might lead us easily toward a kind of Foucaultian framework that establishes the entire system of values and meanings within a highest authority: the meaning of things is their meaning for Me (that is, some dominant Me orchestrates all possible systems of meaning). We might imagine Nietzsche claiming that, therefore, the meaning of essence will belong to those who will its meaning by dominating the rest. Deleuze corrects this impulse, noting that the notion of struggle (for power, for recognition, etc.) is absent in the will to power. The will doesn’t desire power as an object, power is a symptom of its willing. Struggle, on the other hand, is the means by which the weak — by banding together against the strong — dissolve the active forces in the strong into reactive forces. The will to power is transcending struggle. ‘In Nietzsche’s terms,’ writes Deleuze,
we must say that every phenomenon not only reflects a type which constitutes its sense and value, but also the will to power as the element from which the signification of its sense and the value of its value derive. In this way the will to power is essentially creative and giving: it does not aspire, it does not seek, it does not desire, above all it does not desire power (85).
A part of this giving and creative quality gets injected into critique, which for Nietzsche is allied with the will to power and the eternal return. The will to power is an active power, and its willing consists in commanding the reactive powers within which it is constantly enveloped; the will to power wills only what it would will eternally to return, and the eternal return, therefore, cannot allow any reactive forces to subsist. Even when the will to power negates reactive forces, this negativity is ultimately an affirmation. Deleuze, then, writes,
but negation in this new form has become critique: destruction becomes active, aggression profoundly linked to affirmation. Critique is destruction as joy, the aggression of the creator. The creator of values cannot be distinguished from a destroyer, from a criminal or from a critic (87).
Critique, it is important to note, does not simply take the form of destruction, but it is a destruction that is simultaneously creative and, moreover, life affirming (because, for Nietzsche, to live as a work of art is the only way to justify the existence of man to eternity). Art excites willing, it is a stimulant to the will to power. But art is also essentially a commitment to falsehood, art brings this commitment to its final term, raising falsehood to the highest affirmation, placing it on par with truth. Both, then, are revealed as the appearances that they are, the value of each being determined solely by the extent to which they excite willing, encourage us to seek new possibilities of life (102-103).
Four: From Ressentiment to the Bad Conscience (111-146)
Oh man. You know that feeling you get when you write a whole bunch of stuff and then lose it? That just happened to me. But it’s okay because, as usual, I can pretty much summarize everything I was going to say by just inserting a clip from a cartoon:
This is a few lines from The Incredibles, in which Buddy Pine (aka Syndrome) reveals his master plot to the protagonist of the story, Mr. Incredible. Buddy Pine is Nietzsche’s ‘man of ressentiment‘. Buddy never acts, is not himself a man of action, because everything he does is a reaction to the superiority and power of Mr. Incredible — a power Buddy desperately wants but can never have. Buddy’s ‘action’ takes the form of revenge for Mr. Incredible’s unwillingness, when Buddy was young, to accept buddy as a sidekick (Incrediboy!). Buddy cannot forget the past, his memory is too powerful, and this prevents him from being alive, from experiencing the present, from acknowledging change. Finally, Buddy’s primary diabolical objective is, like the primary objectives of the man of ressentiment, democratic: to provide gadgets and weapons to everyone so that everyone, and therefore no one, can be super. Buddy represents an absolute leveling down of all exception, power, initiative, and action in an effort to strip power of its ability to act and distribute that power, in an innocuously attenuated form, to everyone, in exchange for profit (utility). As far as I can tell pretty much all of Nietzsche’s (and possibly Deleuze’s) philosophy is to be found lurking around somewhere in The Incredibles. So there.
Now: click ‘Save’.
Then we have a long section that is basically a synopsis of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Lucky for, I’ve got one of those handy in my little back pocket! So instead of repeating myself I’ll just recommend, if you’re interested, in reading my back pocket post.
This brings us to bad conscience, which is basically what Mr. Incredible has after the government passes the ‘Superhero Relocation Program’, which compels Supers to stop using their powers and redistributes them all across the globe under new names and identities. The force of ressentiment is so overwhelming here that the Supers come to feel guilty about their powers. Mr. Incredible becomes Bob Parr (get it, like par) and he has to stop using his powers, tell his kids not to use theirs (to the point where his daughter Violet becomes ashamed of hers), and take a job as an insurance claims agent. Bad Conscience is like ressentiment infecting the Supers. Deleuze writes,
reactive forces continue to pass through the successive stages of their triumph: bad conscience extends ressentiment, leads us further into a domain where the contagion has spread. Active force [Mr. Incredible] becomes reactive [Bob Parr], the master becomes slave (128).
Yep. Good thing Bob threw that asshole boss of his through 7 walls and got himself fired! That’s what Nietzsche would’ve done! It’s sort of a remarkable scene because the entirety of the drama is established around the dynamic of active and reactive forces, action and ressentiment, bad conscience and, in the end, affirmation.
There will be no shortage in your life of those who will accuse you for your power to act.. They are the priests. They will destroy you by turning your power on yourself and transforming it into guilt along the road of ressentiment. They will turn your power to act into an internalized pain the only remedy for which is more pain: more suffering, more compromise, more conditions, and more sacrifice. These priests will make you believe that you are doing the right thing by refusing to act. They will teach you to be nourished by your sacrifices, they won’t bother stopping you from acting, they will let you stop yourself by paralyzing you with guilt. ‘The priest,’ moreover, writes Deleuze, ‘always acts through fiction’ (133). The priest will tell you stories about yourself that are not true and insist upon them until the guilt derived therefrom stultifies and cripples you. And, in an interesting inversion, only someone who has already submitted bravely to the influence of the priests can ever come to see the arbitrariness of the priests’ power and make a decision to disregard/annihilate them.
We see this happening in the most Nietzschean of movies: The Matrix:
The matrix, after all, produced Neo, and it is only after Neo becomes convinced that he is not the one that he can come to understand, through the power of love, that he is. (Also, isn’t Hugo Weaving awesome in these movies? I’m pretty sure he was cast exclusively for his ability to manipulate his own forehead vein. If Gollum can get an Academy Award nod, I think Hugo Weaving’s forehead vein should get one too!).
Five: The Overman: Against the Dialectic (147-198)
Deleuze begins this chapter with a section entitled ‘Nihilism’ and writes, compellingly,
in the word nihilism nihil does not signify non-being but primarily a value of nil. Life takes on a value of nil insofar as it is denied and depreciated. Depreciation always presupposes a fiction: it is by means of fiction that one falsifies and depreciates, it is by means of a fiction that something is opposed to life. The whole of life then becomes unreal, it is represented as appearance, it takes on a value of nil in its entirety. The idea of another world (God, essence, the good, truth), the idea of values superior to life, is not one example among many but the constitutive element of all fiction (147).
These stories negate the will to power — restrain and dilute it. Deleuze calls this a negative nihilism, which is opposed to the more colloquial meaning of nihilism: a principled devaluation of higher values insofar as they are higher values. This is the ‘nothing matters’, the ‘in vain’, the ‘wherefore’ variety of nihilism, which Deleuze calls reactive nihilism. Reactive nihilism in turn leads to passive nihilism, which is this:
(The Neverending Story would be another example of a film that already says all of this stuff).
The movement from negative nihilism, to reactive nihilism and finally to passive nihilism follows a very particular historical trajectory for Nietzsche (the passing of consciousness through its Judeo-Christian, European, and Buddhist iterations respectively), and could easily be compared with Hegel’s philosophical method. What Hegel’s philosophy never asks, however, is ‘for whom is consciousness attaining its self-consciousness?’ and ‘for whom is the Prussian State the final end?’ Hegel never examines forces and never interprets, only diagnoses. Deleuze writes,
[Hegel's] dialectic does not even skim the surface of interpretation, it never goes beyond the domain of symptoms. It confuses interpretation with the development of the uninterpreted symbol (157).
So long as these symbols remain uninterpreted and brought into the domain of reality (out of the domain of abstraction), they remain fictions. For all the power and nuance of Hegel’s philosophy it is, according to Nietzsche, destined to present a fictitious solution to the problem of history because Hegel’s history is a fictional one, an abstract one.
The consequence of this accusation? Deleuze writes,
the dialectic foretells the replacement of God by man. But what is this replacement if not the reactive life in place of the will to nothingness, the reactive life producing its own values? At this point it seems that the whole of the dialectic moves within the limits of reactive forces, that it evolves entirely within the nihilistic perspective (159).
And against all of this, what does Nietzsche have to say? After diagnosing the problems of Hegelianism and detailing its shortcomings, what will be his (and Deleuze’s) response? Well, as the title of this chapter clearly suggests, it’ll be the Overman. Not only does Nietzsche re-pose the Hegelian question ‘what is the essence of man’s self-consciousness’ as ‘for whom does the question of man’s essence have an answer?’, but he goes further by asking how man, the passively nihilistic man of 19th century malaise, torpidity and ennui, will be overcome. Deleuze writes,
we should not think of Nietzsche’s overman as simply a raising of the stakes: he differs in nature form man, from the ego. The overman is defined by a new way of feeling: he is a different subject from man, something other than the human type. A new way of thinking, predicates other than divine ones; for the divine is still a way of preserving man and of preserving the essential characteristic of God, God as attribute. A new way of evaluating: not a change of values, not an abstract transportation nor a dialectical reversal, but a change and reversal in the element from which the value of values derives, a ‘transvaluation’ (163).
Man will be overcome by introducing a new way of feeling (in the overman), and a new way of determining values (in transvaluation). We’re sick with Hegelianism, and this sickness leads Nietzsche to develop his theory of the higher man. And listen to this!:
the characters which make up the higher man are: the prophet, the two kings, the man with the leeches, the sorcerer, the last pope, the ugliest man, the voluntary beggar and the shadow (164).
Cool! But WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!?!
I don’t really know. Each of these aspects represents another aspect of man’s ressentiment, and therefore, all bundled together, the higher man is kind of like man pushed to his crisis of ressentiment. Though man is everywhere and throughout history drenched in ressentiment and bad conscience, there nevertheless is a constitutive element that lies deeper in man than his surface ressentiment, no matter how saturated in it he seems to be. Deleuze writes,
to the question ‘is man essentially reactive?’ we must reply that what constitutes man is still deeper. What constitutes man and his world is not only a particular type of force, but a mode of becoming of forces in general [this is the kicker], not reactive forces in particular, but the becoming-reactive of all forces. Now, such a becoming of forces always requires…the presence of the opposite quality, which in becoming passes into its opposite (167).
You can see where Deleuze is going here: it may the case that man is a fuck-up, but this power of becoming-a-fuck-up has, within the faculty of becoming, the power also to transform into a becoming-a-non-fuck-up.
Difference between the higher man and the overman? Glad you asked. Deleuze writes,
the higher man remains within the abstract element of activity, he never raises himself, even in thought, to the element of affirmation. The higher man claims to reverse values, to convert reaction into action. Zarathustra speaks of something else: transmuting values, converting negation into affirmation (170).
You know, the more I think about it the more it seems like the academy, which is my main hang-out, is full of higher men (and women), but no overmen (or overwomen). There’s lots of power here in the academy, lots of passion, lots of attempts to reverse things, to change things, to overcome this world and make a new one that’s better. But there’s very little affirmation. There’s basically none. There’s mostly fear, actually. Fear of what? Of dancing. Deleuze writes,
the element of affirmation is what man lacks – even and above all the higher man. Nietzsche expresses this lack symbolically as the deficiency at the heart of man in four ways:
- there are things the higher man does not know how to do: to laugh, to play and to dance. To laugh is to affirm life, even the suffering in life. To play is to affirm chance and the necessity of chance. To dance is to affirm becoming and the being of becoming.
- The higher men themselves recognize the ass as their ‘superior’. They adore him as if he were a god; through their old theological way of thinking they have an inkling of what it is they themselves lack…what the mystery of the ass is… (170).
The academy breeds higher man (and women) because it knows that their powers are always reactive, cynical. Boo! But is the overman (or overwoman) possible? Would that be cool if one showed up? I don’t know. He’d probably be a crazy person. He’d probably be just as annoying as higher men (and women) are, but in a different kind of way. I mean, I know people who I’m pretty sure think they’re overpeople and they basically always totally suck and are boring and not fun and the absolute last people on the planet I would want to have a dance party with. And, yes, maybe I’m an idiot or naïve or something, but I don’t think Nietzsche is talking about some kind of metaphorical dancing, I think he’s talking about actually shaking your booty. On the entire comps list, there are maybe 3 people I’d like to have a dance party with, and this depresses me. Does this make me passively reactive? Does it make me an overperson? Do you think I care? There’s a lot that’s appealing about Deleuze and Nietzsche, obviously, but the thing, I think, that always drives me to the deepest annoyance is that the direction both of them point us toward follows a road that produces the most idiotic, pompous, preening and oblivious wrecks. Am I among those wrecks? If I am then I’m sorry to you and wretchedly sorry for everything.