Deleuze's Nietzsche

Dave Harris

I am not claiming to be well versed in the works of Nietzsche, and I should confess that I find them rather tedious, ranty and self serving. So much seems to relate to his own circumstances - his mood swings become Zarathustra's mood swings as he demonstrates his needs for company and then his to revulsion from company and so on. Deleuze discusses the connections between Nietzsche's philosophy and life in his'clinical project' . Nietzsche urges us to put nobility and wisdom above all else, just as he hopes people will remember him in terms of his nobility and wisdom and not his stupidity and recklessness.  We are urged to condemn academic life as pettifogging and scholastic, but this looks a bit like sour grapes from a man who had a glittering academic career and then had to relinquish it.  He urges us to consider our heroes as human all-too-human which is probably how he explains his own peccadilloes and the lapses (sexual dalliances and contracting STD?) that so disappointed his mother and sister.  He clearly has a vengeful and distrustful view of women, and of their evil wiles in diverting heroes from their true purpose, which is to boldly adventure, take risks, heroically laugh at fate, take their losses at gambling, and press on and do things that produce social change instead of sitting about whingeing about inequalities.  At its worst it reads like a cross between Baden Powell and the fantasies of the Freikorps analysed byThewelheit [I must put my notes online] .

Nor am I particularly convinced by attempts to suggest that Nietzsche was not actually antisemitic.  He does condemn current German antisemitics, but that does not mean that all versions of antisemitism are to be rejected.  Judaic heroes can also be admired as are all heroes.  Nietzsche  seems to me to offer  a particularly potent form of anti Semitism that sees Christianity, with all its corrupting influences, as a kind of judaic revenge.  It is not necessary to actually hate specific Jews, of course, or all Jews, but antisemitism simply takes a more general form.  Studies of racism in England have clearly pointed to these variations in racist thought and noted that racists can clearly exempt individual black people from their hatred, while entertaining racist views of politics and culture.  More generally still, we might pursue Adorno's view that it is not necessary to hate Jews specifically to be antisemitic—that any minority ethnic group will do as scapegoats, or seen as threats to some natural community.  Nietzsche again clearly despises people who are outside his ideal cultural community, the brave elite, the blonde beasts, the heroic nobility, the Aryans, so he has all the mechanisms for antisemitism, so to speak, even if it is largely Christians are not Jews who qualify for the most hatred.

The same might be said for misogyny.  Generally, women come out as the main source of feminised corruption of the manly spirit, and this point emerges again and again.  He specifically says that giving women equal rights is a sign of the triumph of this decadence.  Apologists, including Deleuze, might be able to say that Nietzsche are clearly also admires particular women, for Deleuze, Ariadne who plays a major part in the Dionysus myth.  Again this does not exempt him from the charge, however, since it is common for misogyny to differentiate between good, idealised, divine and usually asexual women on the one hand, and the majority of nasty, corrupting, venal peddlers of sentimental myth and judgment on the other.  As usual, philosophers like Deleuze need much more understanding of the existing types and nature of prejudice, and they miss this if they generalise excessively.

Deleuze offers one of the worst and most dangerous kinds of generalisation I have come across so far.  A naive reading of Nietzsche, such as the one I have pursued, would see his main interest in developing a strong morality that values heroic fatalism, inevitably associated with elite men.  That seems to drive everything, including his ethics, his reverence for Greek tragedy, his educational policy, his attacks on Christianity and his philosophical excursions into critiquing Kant or Hegel.  I see excursions, not major themes, but for Deleuze it is the exact opposite.  Again this is convenient if you want to apologise for Nietzsche, but it requires a highly selective reading, and a symptomatic one.  We have to see Nietzsche as pretty well indifferent to surface forms, and wanting to develop a general symptomology, to look beneath the surface in the classic manner, which is how he is introduced in Deleuze's book: the extended rants would suggest that surface forms were all-important, though.

We can illustrate the different approaches by considering an early argument in chapter one of Deleuze's book on Nietzsche.  For Deleuze, Nietzsche is one of  the first to recognise the significance of difference as the source of dynamism in the material and ideal world.  This clearly is going to be supported by Deleuze's own work in Difference and Repetition.  Nietzsche and Deleuze alike see these differences as material, expressed in empirical matter, appearing as multiplicity.  This is a concept that rejects the dialectic (Hegel's dialectic) as oversimplified, selecting particular differences as crucial, calling them negations, and using the tension generated as a mechanism for social change.  Nietzsche's attack on Socratic dialectic (in Birth of Tragedy) is based on its excessively cynical and rational/theoretical tone.  There are more differences than dialectical opposites,andmore at stake than logic or rationality.  It follows for Deleuze at least that this means we do not have to emphasize the negative either in philosophy or ethics, and here Nietzsche is celebrated again as an early advocate of the affirmative, the celebration of life, the Dionysian, with all its ups and downs.

However, the main originating difference that drives history for Nietzsche is the difference between the noble and the ignoble, the wise and the ignorant, the masculine and the feminised, the strong and the weak.  So far at least, I have seen no general account of difference at the level of reality itself, nothing to support Deleuze's account of the intensive differences between ontological forces appearing in multiplicities.  Nietzsche's multiplicities, like his differences are social ones.  We cannot divide human affairs into good and evil but have to go beyond those categories.  Heroes are not entirely heroic, but have definite human all-too-human elements.  There are no simple moral precepts to follow, rather political and cultural uncertainties to be pursued.  Attacking conventional morality involves restoring a time when social division, and the rule of the strong and the masculine were properly valued, and left to get on with the great task of developing social relations with daring and creativity: modern notions of community simply gloss over these divisions. When Deleuze generalizes from these descriptions to support his own ontology, it serves also to apologise for these highly controversial political and ethical views.

Take a more specific controversy, the eternal return.  When I first read Deleuze on Nietzsche on the eternal return, in Difference and Repetition, I thought then that it was rather special pleading.  Deleuze spent time and effort on explaining that difference was the real source of dynamism, not repetition of the same.  Apart from anything else, this enabled him to dismiss an awful lot of conventional thought as unduly conservative, including scientific procedures based on the probabilistic return of the same.  However, Deleuze then has to deal with the notion of the eternal return, only because one of his heroes uses the term, which is usually understood as a form of repetition, the cyclic reproduction of the same sort of social life.  I said in my own comments that this reproduction needed to be distinguished from sociological conceptions of social reproduction that predict development, not the return of the identical, but Deleuze does not even mention those accounts.  Instead, he has to deal with Nietzsche who implies that life will return in the same way.  In Zarathustra, this eternal return is used to make ethico/political points, that basically we should try to be far more daring in this life because otherwise we will have to simply repeat all the old tedium in the next.  However, Nietzsche specifically says, in the same Zarathustra, that it will be the identical that returns, not the similar but the identical:

I come again with this sun, with this eagle, with this serpent --NOT to a new life, or a better life or a similar life: I come again eternally to this identical and self-same life, in its greatest and smallest, to teach again the eternal return of all things (LVII)

Deleuze tells us exactly the opposite!  In Zarathustra, he says, Nietzsche refers to the eternal return as the great Becoming, and, secondly, that it was not by the identical that returns:

Deleuzes actually smuggled in his notion of becoming in the earlier discussion about difference.  For him, becoming is a quality of the multiplicity, which makes it far more important than static orfrozen states of being.  I'm not sure that Nietzsche has exactly the same emphasis, however, and that he does not mean the same strong sense of becoming when he talks about individuals or objects being multiple.  The Becoming that is cited does not seem to me to have particular philosophical importance, but is a pronouncement of social change, with a rather Christian emphasis, perhaps for ironic purposes.  Again much will depend on how you read your Nietzsche, and I am of course aware that the translations might be different.

While I am here, an enthusiast on the web gathered together some other discussions in Nietzsche on the eternal return, and here, there might be more support for Deleuze's view. Even so, change requires the strong to grab the opportunity to assert themselves and the weak to gladly erase themselves?:

Plan for an unfinished book: The Eternal Recurrence

My philosophy brings the triumphant idea of which all other modes of thought will ultimately perish. It is the great cultivating idea: the races that cannot bear it stand condemned; those who find it the greatest benefit are chosen to rule...

I want to teach the idea that gives many the right to erase themselves - the great cultivating idea...

Everything becomes and recurs eternally - escape is impossible! - Supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength (and barbarism!!)...[He is saying we could select if we only accepted his values?]

To endure the idea of the recurrence one needs: freedom from morality; new means against the fact of pain ( pain conceived as a tool, as the father of pleasure...); the enjoyment of all kinds of uncertainty, experimentalism, as a counterweight to this extreme fatalism; abolition of the concept of necessity; abolition of the "will"; abolition of "knowledge-in-itself." [well yes -- all that tosh about the will would have to be revised? Do we learn to love fate or will our lives to be different?]

Greatest elevation of the consciousness of strength in man, as he creates the overman.[Who will end the eternal return?]

from The Will to Power, s. 1053,1056,1058,1060, Walter Kaufmann transl.