John Rajchman: Deleuze’s Nietzsche

By John Rajchman

By ‘Deleuze’s Nietzsche’, I don’t mean simply what Deleuze wrote about Nietzsche but also how Nietzsche figured in the larger ‘image of thought’ he tried to work out throughout his career and the new ideas or questions it might pose for us today. In the 1960s, Deleuze wrote several influential studies and related essays about Nietzsche. But after 1968, as he began working with Foucault in GIP, and started on the great experiment in multiple authorship with Felix Guattari, he felt such ‘interpretation’ was not enough, that it need to be connected to ‘uses’ and address itself in new ways to young film-makers, writers and artists; politics and aesthetics mattered in a new way at this moment. I’d like to concentrate on this second phase, when the ideas he had found in his earlier reading of Nietzsche assumed many new forms that he would later take up in his study of cinema, and then in the late essays collected under the title Critique et Clinique as well as in What is Philosophy?, when he returned to writing about Nietzsche after his own long itinerary, political and aesthetic. I will try to isolate several themes in this itinerary, which, in the spirit of this Seminar, might generate new questions. I’d like to suggest how Zarathustra itself might be re-read in this light and how Deleuze might be seen to have taken up the famous last sentences of Ecce Homo – “Have I been understood? Dionysus versus the Crucified?  — and launched them anew.

I start therefore in 72-3 with ‘La pensee nomade’. In this essay, we already find a change in attitude. It is no longer, Deleuze declares, as earlier with Acephale (Bataille, Klossowski, Jean Wahl), a matter of rescuing a French Nietzsche from the clutches a bad German fascist one. Instead one needs to see in Nietzsche’s style and its opening to an ‘outside’, a kind of ‘war machine’ that goes against national ‘codes’ everywhere, in France as in Germany. It is in such a ‘political style’ that we can now discern a new kind of ‘counter-culture’, not to be found in the existing ‘bureaucracies’ of Marx and Freud, or in the ‘abominable synthesis Nietzsche Freud Marx’, suggestive for young artists or activists, through whose new uses Nietzsche might make a new return. What then is this political style?  Deleuze likens it to way Kafka would later mount a ‘war-machine’ within a hegemonic or ‘majority’ German language – what with Guattari, he would later call a ‘minor’ language – or, again in a phrase from Proust, he was fond of quoting, the creation of a ‘foreign language in a language’. The notion that national languages are thus more like embattled ‘territories’ than ‘imagined communities’ is to be found in Nietzsche in a remarkable way. Especially in his last works, Nietzsche was at great pains to explain why he was not ‘German’ in his style of thinking  — not ‘imperial German’ (he excepted Austrian German) — in which we find a whole geography, involving a certain idea of Europe which, in Bismark’s time, he sensed ‘German’ thinking had forfeited. In his Swiss Alpine heights or in Savoyard Italy, Nietzsche located his own search for a new style in German lighter, quicker, less moralistic, less Luther-like and ponderous, more frohliche, filled with wit and dance  — in that sense, more French, or even Polish, closer to Karl Krauss than to Kant. No wonder Heidegger would later recoil from the way Nietzsche was thus undeutsch –it didn’t fit with the philosophical nationalism of his “history of Being’, with Nietzsche as the last ‘metaphysician’.

Never drawn to Heidegger, Deleuze would go on to develop (in French) this picture of forces of ‘deterritorialization’ at work within any national linguistic territory.  Thus, in what Foucault would call Deleuze’s ‘philosophical theatre’, Nietzsche would mingle with many new figures, from many times and places, some rather ‘un-French’ — as with great American writers like Herman Melville –and eventually with great film-makers from many countries as well. With this early question of ‘political style’ in Nietzsche, we thus find the theme that runs throughout Deleuze’s work – that thinking in art and politics, as in philosophy, in the end, is always the work of a ‘creative minority’ working within a given coded, stratified conditions, and its related ‘bureaucracies’ of thought. Thus, taking up Blanchot’s ideas on ‘friendship’ in thinking in What is Philosophy? he would offer a picture of philosophy in an endless drama of ‘deterritorialization’, now set within the reactive climate of a neo-liberal capitalism, and opposed to the very idea  of some ‘intrinsic narrative’ in the history of philosophy, of the sort still to be found in Hegel then Heidegger. He already had a keen sense of the futility of the strategy of ‘re-territorializing’ on some  ‘imagined community’ of Europe itself and of the forces of nationalism and fundamentalism already in play. In his commentaries in the sixties, Deleuze had paid special attention to the question of style in Nietzsche, the way he had introduced his ‘long aphorisms’ and the dramatization of ideas into his ‘image of thought’, opening up new possibilities; in the 70s, he then went on to develop this notion in a more political sense, following a turn in his work after ’68, when he sensed that one was close to a new philosophical and a new political ‘vitality’.

I’d like to draw attention to one aspect of this turning point in the early 70s in  ‘use’ of Nietzsche, which he shared at the time with Foucault, who himself was engaged in new readings of Nietzsche – notably his essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy and History’, written just after two striking reviews of Deleuze’s books Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, in which we find the oft-quoted phrase, ‘ perhaps, the century will be Deleuzian’. In Nietzsche, Foucault would share Deleuze’s focus on the idea of ‘the untimely’, suggesting, in his work , that it might free us from the ‘anthropological idea of memory’, which he himself had worked out in his ‘archeology of knowledge’, itself presented as well in 1969 with the proviso to not to ask him to remain the same, leaving it to bureaucrats to keep his papers in order. In the new ‘use’ of Nietzsche that Foucault would go on to make in his own work in these years, we find as well an attempt to get out of an earlier framework still hostage to the ‘abominable synthesis’ or related ‘bureaucracies’ of Marx and Freud — and their French ‘readers’, Althusser and Lacan. Thus, the ‘political anatomy of the body’, he would go on to diagram in his great ‘genealogy of the prison’ would be one, irreducible to the traditional distinction between violence and ideology, that called for a new more bellicose style in politics, directed against the great ‘normalizing’ machine he called ‘discipline’.

But, associated with this new found ‘political materialism’ of the body, was a theme that also concerned Lacan, and in another way, Bataille and the idea of ‘transgression’ –namely the notion of The Law, which Lacan had linked to Levi-Strauss’ idea of a Symbolic Order in kinship as in exchange, against which Foucault had argued early on that power is positive or productive, not simply exclusionary. We see this in La volonte de savoir, when Foucault declares that the central purpose in his new history of sexuality is to offer a picture of ‘le sexe sans la loi, le pouvoir sans le roi’. Not only, he declared, have we not ‘cut off the King’s head’ in political theory, but the ‘transgressive’ ideas of sex or desire to be found in Bataille or in Freud (via Lacan) are only to be seen as a kind of ‘retro-version’ in a larger formation that they don’t determine and so cannot fundamentally challenge. In such remarks, part of the larger Nietzschean ‘moment’ the concerned the two authors in the 70s, retrospectively at least we find a common theme, which the Nachlass of both authors now helps us to better see:  in both cases, this refusal of ‘the Law’ would lead to a search for a ‘anti-juridical’ conception of power, and the role of law (or more precisely of ‘juridical forms’ or of ‘jurisprudence’) in it, part of the larger ‘war’ carried on through politics. In some ways, Foucault’s striking lectures on ‘juridical forms’ in Rio can be read as his ‘Anti-Oedipus’.

Of course, we are dealing with something like a ‘posthumous’ interpretation. I’d nevertheless like to venture a hypothesis concerning Nietzsche’s role in it. From early on Deleuze had associated Nietzsche with a change in the question of ‘belief’, found in one way in Pascal’s wager – kneel down and pray, and eventually you will believe – contrasting it with Mallarme’s game of non-probabilistic chance. More generally, it seemed that Nietzsche brought to bear a new ‘materialism of bodily practices’ in his analysis of the strategies of ‘the Crucified’, or the idea of the deaths of God and of Man, which Foucault would to go on to develop in his own ‘genealogy’, eventually extending it to a new analysis of Christianity, focused on the practices of ‘avowal’ in it and its relations to ‘pastoral power’ (contained in part in still unpublished books). The body, in other words, was not in the first place a matter of ‘the flesh’, a term found in one way in what Dominique Janicaud would see at the ‘theological turn in French phenomenology’, exemplified by Jean-Luc Marion or Levinas.  Foucault would see Christianity not so much a matter of theology, as of monasteries, practices of confession, etc. through which the idea of ‘the flesh’ (and with it a relation to law) would be invented; thus the great Pauline idea of ‘original sin’ and related ‘thorn in the flesh’, needed to be analyzed accordingly, part of a larger ‘genealogy’ extending back to ancient Rome. There is, I’d like to suggest, something distinctive in the ways in which Foucault and Deleuze would thus each (and together) go on to develop this Nietzschean materialism of bodily practices.

In particular, the way they turned away from Lacan, Bataille, and the theme of ‘transgression’ may be seen in this light.  Lacan had introduced the idea of ‘the Law’ into the very heart of the psychoanalytic ideas of ‘sexuality’ and ‘desire’ – in effect, ‘repressed desire’ was a kind of pleonasm of a constitutive ‘structure’ (and related ‘lack’).  But, following 68, this great ‘trangressive’ tradition would be confronted with the new sexual movements of women and homosexuals, opening the question anew, calling for new ways of thinking. We know that Deleuze, unlike Foucault, had never himself been much drawn to the theme of ‘transgression’, complaining that in effect, it amounted to sex seen from the point of view of a dirty priest. Already in his study of Masoch, in posing the question of the relation of the Law to the Good, especially in the strange form it would assume in Kant’s moral philosophy, he was already moving in another direction – that of Spinoza, who had developed instead a conception of the body (and what it ‘can do’) as a pure immanence, prior to any Law or related theological superstition. Indeed, what is singular in Deleuze’s Nietzsche is this sort of connection with Spinoza (as in his Spinoza, the connection with Nietzsche), focused on the question of the ‘powers’ of thinking (and thinking together) to be found especially in Book V of the Ethics. The Nietzsche-Spinoza identity in Deleuze would form part of a larger search for a new vital ‘image of thought’ in which an immanence, expressed through the powers of the body, would always be prior to any transcendence that figures in its field; Nietzsche then would taken up this idea again in relation to crisis in belief to be found in the nihilism and anarchism of the 19th century.

Though elaborated in different ways, this Nietzschan materialism of the body and its priority to ‘the Law’ of Priests and Kings is something that seems to set Foucault and Deleuze – and their Nietzsche – apart from others in France. It contrasts with the return to questions of the Law and God’s Judgment, found in a kind of ‘messianic’ form in Derrida or with Lyotard’s differend, or for that matter Badiou’s later anti-Nietzschean attempt to recast Saint Paul as a sort of proto-Leninist, all of which try to re-establish the idea of ‘the Law’ in some form. In late essays he collected under the title ‘Critique et Clinique’  (Essays Critical and Clinical), Deleuze stuck to his guns; we need to be done with the very idea of Judgment, the very idea of a Tribunal or Court of Reason, still haunting Kant in his idea of ‘Critique’, he would declare. In these essays, in which Deleuze returned to Nietzsche, we find a sort of cry against the tendency to go back to some ‘transcendent’ Law at a moment when Deleuze feared that ‘trust’ or ‘faith’ in Revolution had been lost, leading to a kind of ‘de-politicization’ in style as in thought. It seems that, just before his death, Deleuze had projected a last book called ‘The Greatest of Marx’, in which he would take up new forces that Marx himself had not yet had to contend, which he had begun to analyze in a short essay called ‘Societies of Control’.

Before turning to some questions about all these ideas, I’d like to make just a few more remarks on the destiny of Nietzsche in Deleuze’ larger itinerary.  Deleuze considered A Thousand Plateaus, written with Guattari, to be his best book; and, in it we find a complex development of the idea of ‘deterrittorialization’, concerned with the ideas of ‘the Earth and the ‘people to come’, each in turn bound up with the nature of ‘nomad thought’. But the reception of the book in 1979 proved disappointing, as though the time were not right for it; and Deleuze would turn to other matters. In the two volumes on cinema he would go on to write, Nietzsche was acquire a singular role – not simply in the fate of Wagnerian Opera as mass art in Syberberg’s film ‘Our Hitler’, with which the study concludes, but also in the manner in post-war film, we find a ‘cinematic’ way of developing Nietzsche’s critique of ‘veridical narration’, undoing earlier distinctions between fiction and documentary or ethnographic film. Indeed introducing the question of the ‘faiths’ of Catholicism and Revolution in this new ‘art of the masses’, he would declare that ‘Cinema in its entirety seems to fall under Nietzsche’s formula: in what way are we still too pious?” (p222) Following this study, in What is Philosophy? Deleuze then came back to the question of what it means to see philosophy itself (as Nietzsche already had) as a vital, creative or experimental activity, prior to any given knowledge or judgment.  For, as already with the (non-historical) figure of Socrates in Plato, philosophy is intrinsically a drama of ideas with changing personae – thus Descartes might have signed ‘the Idiot’ or ‘the Un-learned’ as Nietzsche later, having become all the names in history, would sign ‘the Anti-Christ’.  How then might we look back at the great Anti-Wagnerian philosophical Opera called Zarathustra, this book ‘for everyone and no one’, announcing to an empty house that God is Dead? Can we perhaps, as Deleuze implicitly suggests, now see it as a great drama of ‘deterritorialization’  — of ‘the Earth’ and ‘the people to come’ – always to be taken up anew?

From this fast sketch of Deleuze’s itinerary, and role of Nietzsche in it, I’d like then to formulate a few questions:

  1. If we look back to Deleuze’s writings about Nietzsche in the 60s, we see that an important role in them was played by the new Colli Montinari edition, of which Foucault and Deleuze would become the editors in France, thus raising the question of new ‘translations’ of Nietzsche in a great moment of philosophical invention and discussion in France. At issue, was 400 pp of notes towards a projected book to be called The Will to Power, the nature of which we can only imagine today, as Nietzsche’s sister already published her own restricted edition of it with a view to establishing the Wagnerian anti-Semitism she shared with her husband, thus preparing for subsequent Nazi exploitation. After the War, the archive containing these notes was to be found in Weimar; and the East German government invited two Italian scholars to make new edition, in which the notes would be re-published in manner accompanying various books Nietzsche himself had published or left unpublished — Lacoue-Labarthe says Heidegger called it the ‘communist edition’ of the Complete Works. In English, Walter Kaufman ruled against it, preferring his own way of presenting the fraught story of the posthumous publication of Nietzsche’s works. Foucault and Deleuze were in charge of the French edition, the new translations it called for; and as an introduction to the first French volume, Le gai savoir, translated by Klossowski, they wrote together a beautiful short preface, now unfortunately lost in Dits et Ecrits (vol I, no 45) (it would be great if someone would translate it!). But given the new turn Deleuze would take in La Pensee nomade, posing the question of ‘political style’ against German ‘nationalism’ as well as State ‘Marxism’, can we see the fate of post-war Nietzsche scholarship, the singular new role of ‘French’ philosophers and writers in it, in something like the terms that Deleuze would go on to raise about ‘geo-philosophy’, now in our more ‘global’ less ‘Eurocentric’ condition? In what sense, in other words, was Nietzsche, in his own way, already in the 19th century, involved in something that we might call ‘transnational’ in the image and practice of philosophy today?
  1. I suggested earlier that in the turn away from the idea of ‘The Law’, as it is found in different ways in Bataille, Lacan, and Levi-Strauss, we find in Deleuze as well as in Foucault, a renewed interest in the practices of law, set within a anti-juridical notion of the sort of ‘war’ carried on in politics. In Foucault 13/13 last year, we had a number of discussions about this. But it is very striking, that Deleuze himself would say, especially in later years, that law, ‘le droit’ had been his starting point and would inform his long-standing interest in the politics of ‘collective creations’. An analysis of this line in Deleuze’s itinerary can now be found in Laurent de Stutter, Deleuze: La pratique du droit (Editions Michalon, 2009). Deleuze says as much in an interview with Toni Negri, published in Negotiations, in which he says that what interested him was not ‘La loi’ or ‘les lois’ (the first being empty, the second complacent), or even ‘le droit’ and ‘les droits’ (rights), but rather ‘jurisprudence’ (with its problematizations and inventions) regarded as a zone of creativity in thinking in legal matters, and the ways it might now bring together groups of ‘users’ and not simply ‘experts’ (he gives biology as one example). In some striking passages in ‘G is for Gauche’ in his deliberately posthumous, filmed interview (Deleuze A to Z) he declares that in our moment of ‘distrust’ in Revolution, yet in the grand tradition in which there is no such thing as a ‘Left government’, to be ‘on the Left’ today has come to involve raising or confronting such questions in law. Then, later in What is Philosophy? Example 4, he goes on to suggest that the differences in modern French, German, and English language philosophies in modern Europe are refracted in the role that ‘le droit’ would play in their respective traditions, by contract, foundation or convention. What would it then mean to take up or extend this idea in our current condition, not simply, with respect to ‘human rights’, about the practice of which Deleuze was already suspicious, but also ‘translation’ itself, or again, with issues of ‘privacy’ emerging from new forces he was already trying to get at in his essay on ‘Societies of Control’? In what ways might these questions be extended beyond the ‘geo-philosophy’ of modern Europe in which Nietzsche still lived?
  1. Running throughout Deleuze’s work is a focus on the role of the body, its singular material powers, at once vital and material; it is what lies at the heart of the great retrospective ‘identity’ he tried to work out in the philosophies of Nietzsche and Spinoza. Perhaps no one in our time has gone further than Deleuze in thus developing a picture in which to ‘have ideas’, in philosophy as in art or politics or law, is something, that is, in itself, intrinsically, ‘vital’ (joyful, gay) – a many-facetted image of how we think with our bodies and our brains in ways that go beyond anything we can know or judge, exposing us instead to an active ‘experimentation’ with forces outside it. That is what he would find in the question of ‘free powers of thought’ in the Spinoza, found in the opposition of the puissances (or potentiae) in our modes of thinking to the constituted power (pouvoir, potestas) of Priests and Kings and the ‘bad conscience’ and ressentiment that fuels our obedience to them.

Looking back from the vantage point of his own later works at his early still Wagnerian Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche declared that it had opened the question of how to view science from the point of view of art, and art from the point of view of life. We might see Deleuze elaborating this notion that there is something ‘vital’ in the very act of thinking and creating for the peculiar moment in which he found himself and through the particular ‘friendships’ he came to form. His idea that there exists a ‘vitality’ in act and function of philosophy itself would thus be developed in a number of ways, along a number of lines. We see his idea of ‘a life’ (as distinct form ‘the life of the corresponding individual’), found already in what Spinoza called a ‘singular essence’ or mode of existence, and its role in the peculiar powers of ‘subjectivization’ in thinking, as, for example, with Spinoza’s own ‘solitude’ in Amsterdam, or with Nietzsche mad travels in Europe with Lou Salome and Paul Ree. We see it as well in his sense that we need to go beyond Foucault’s great analyses of (very idea of) ‘biology’ in the Order of Things and the Birth of the Clinic, in the new situation of ‘information control’ in which we find ourselves, and the ways the sciences of neurology and genetics figure in this new situation (published as an Appendix called “On the Death of Man and the Superman” to his book on Foucault). For his part, Foucault raised such questions about the philosophy in ‘science and life’ in his Introduction to Canguilhem’s Normal and the Pathological. But perhaps no one saw as vividly as Deleuze in what ways these questions about science, were at the same time, inseparably, questions about art and life — questions posed to art or to politics as they are already constituted, calling for the invention of fresh ‘political styles’ in our thinking and thinking together. What would it mean to take up this rich sense of material ‘vital ideas’ in our work or our friendships today, or the ways we contend with the forces with which we are confronted?

4.  In the last phase of his work, Deleuze was fond of quoting an adage of Nietzsche, to the effect that a great thinker is someone who picks up the arrow sent by an earlier one and launches it anew. How then might we pick up not simply Nietzsche’s arrow today, but, also at the same time, the great one that Deleuze himself has sent us?