Vered Engelhard | The Becoming-Nietzsche: Thoughts on 4/13

By Vered Engelhard

Very much in harmony with the material, the Nietzsche 4/13 seminar tackled a multiplicity of problems. The urgency of our concerns might stem from the skin-deep contemporaneity of Deleuze’s conjuring of Nietzsche. When confronted with Deleuze’s own book on Nietzsche, it is often difficult to tell who is actually speaking. And the impact of this work can still be felt in his later writings where, as Jesús Velasco remarked, a passage from Nietzsche et la Philosophie (1962) appears again, almost identical, in Qu’est-ce que la Philosophie? (1991).

For, according to the Nietzschean verdict, you will know nothing through concepts unless you have first created them–that is, constructed them in an intuition specific to them: a field, a plane, and a ground that must not be confused with them but that shelters their seeds and the personae who cultivate them. Constructivism requires every creation to be a construction on a plane that gives it an autonomous existence.

An intuition specific to these created concepts implies that there is a training that this intuition should undergo, an arena that it should prepare for itself to create. Yet this preparation is already creation, the difficulty is in actually navigating, namely finding original lines through which this intuition can start weaving. This would not be, then, about transcending life, but about moving through it, in order to craft a plan (plane and map) that would give our created concepts an autonomous existence. This quoted statement resonated throughout the talk, questions surrounding as to how this creation of concepts must take place, what did Deleuze mean when he said this? What happened between the Deleuze of ’62 and the Deleuze of ’91? Similarly, what happened from the Nietzsche of Birth of Tragedy all through the Nachlass?

To the first question, Michael Taussig exemplified what Deleuze meant by assemblage, these arrangements of beings and of things that give way to new bonds as clinches, openings. A “construction” where labels and points of association in the form of names end up being dismembered. He also remarked on the potential of the “list technique”. On how lists give way to names or images to reorganize their concepts, and follow an open rhetorical structure. He asks invoking Boroughs: “cut-ups? I’ve been a cut-up for you, words know better than we do where they belong”. And another, yet analogous question, that still resonates, really: How to read Mille Plateaux?!

John Rajchman spoke of a “becoming-Nietzsche”, implying a new style of reading philosophy, hence, a new style of thinking. Like Kafka writing in “minor German”, writing would be a war machine, a “multicultural philosophical theater”, with Pascal and Hume, Spinoza and Nietzsche, Bergson, Melville, Beckett, et all.

Barbara Stiegler spoke of the transformation of the two Nietzschean liberations in younger Deleuze: the failure of representation as the loss of the identity of the “same” (death of Apollo, being the god of representation), and the liberation of difference from the negative through the tragic (movement of Dionysius). In Nietzsche himself, Apollo didn’t die but transfigured into Ariadne, Dionysius’ “favorite human animal”. Stiegler reminds us from The Birth of Tragedy that “life can only be experienced in Apollo’s organs with Dionysian blood running through it veins”. In Deleuze, the ideal of body is without organs; hence representation ceases to be a problem. Thus her argument follows that this conception of the body is a difference that crystalizes in a political implication:

For Nietzsche, the aim of swallowing the reactive (representation) can only be achieved through a training of memory, and here his “greatest political question”. This entails, according to Stiegler, a double movement: a passive exposure to the flux of becoming as well as an active incorporation of identity. In other words, the Nietzschean philosophy of the body is assimilation for individuation, and it would have to be materialized in a project of collective political education (this would also be Nietzsche’s, expanded sense of the word “art”). On the other hand, the Deleuzian body without organs aims at a dissolution of identity, the materialization of which, Stiegler says, would be a “micro-politics”. Perhaps this comes from Deleuze’s certainty of Nietzsche’s redefinition of truth as “sense and value”, hence the movement of reevaluation would be that of art and politics (which, at this scale, are no different). This movement would have to be necessarily pragmatic; there would be no room for any collective programme. The question for this kind of argument would be if whether for Nietzsche there really could be such a collective programme?

Rosalind Morris raised another very important question that, I believe, truly nailed this dichotomy. It was about Deleuze’s notion of sociality, in relation to the technique of schizoanalysis. It seems as if it were an infinite series of dialectic relations, constantly chaotically shifting centers; namely, a paradoxical mode of sociality that cannot think the social. Needless to say this is extremely dangerous, yet important to remember since Morris herself remarked on this fear.

A seminar participant solved, in a way, our habitation of this dangerous zone of ideas (i.e. collective education project, sociality that cannot think the social vis-à-vis the “micro-political”). She reminded us that both identity and the body without organs are necessary fictions (Apollo didn’t die for Deleuze either, he would be “striated space” of measurement in relation to the “smooth space” of continuous becoming). That the plane of immanence is actually unlivable, and that we should beware of “micro-fascisms” that pretend these fictions as ideals for a so-called real. That this is the first distinction that has to be effaced. I believe that, on these grounds, we are speaking of a method that cannot describe itself but only mark its limits.

Nietzsche, just a year after The Birth of Tragedy wrote an essay Concerning Truth and Falsehood in an Extramoral Sense. Here, he states truth as “a mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, a sum (…) Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions”. It is in this spirit that he sets up to write the rest of his oeuvre. Similarly Deleuze, taking truth as “sense and value”, sets up to create concepts, and in this way, reevaluate life by affirming it in a new kind of empiricism. How to read Mille Plateaux? With a disjunctive synthesis, moving comfortably in chaos, hysterically through a center-shifting multiplicity of contrasts; that is, creating an original line between all of these counterpoints. The urgency was made felt in the room; everyone could sense that the stakes of these concepts are high. And this is because, let’s not forget, they are high for us: this is their real contemporaneity.

If these stakes are about a how of “moulding types”[1], about identifying lines of affinity between life and thought[2] in order for life to make thought active (a new style of reading), yet more importantly for the moment of the 4/13 session, in order for thought to make life affirmative; then it would follow that the stakes are about a method of creation that cannot describe itself but only speak its limits. This would be, perhaps, the deepest correspondence between the revolution in thought of Nietzsche and that of Deleuze: that one should think the question of art as central to the question of politics.

This is what my own question was trying to point toward, yet I believe my phrasing escaped it. I departed from a section of The Gay Science on “The greatest advantage of polytheism”, which is, interestingly, where the übermensch first appeared; yet only in contrast with üntermenschen, fairies, dwarfs, among other “imaginary” creatures. Here, Nietzsche speaks twice of an “impulse”, which read as two different ones: “positing one’s own ideals”, and “the creation of gods”. This idea of polytheism, helps to bring us back to a space outside morality and of an absolute unity, a space central to Nietzsche’s thought (needless to mention the Apollo becoming-Ariadne, and the Dionysius becoming-crucified).

We find an analogous movement in Deleuze where the creation of gods corresponds to the creation of concepts. And such double impulse appears as a double “instinct”: that which “wills life” and that which “leads to knowledge”. Nietzsche’s impulse of positing one’s own ideals corresponds Deleuze’s instinct that wills life within the Nietzschean Apollonian drive or the Deleuzian territorialization (willing the flow of smooth space). The second impulse of creating gods corresponds to the second instinct that leads to knowledge within a Dionysian movement or a Deleuzian deterritorialization (leading to the metrics of striated space).

The play of these movements–which will and lead to each other–would merge in a map of immanence rather than one of transcendence. This would allow a “plurality of norms” as Nietzsche would phrase it or “an empirical and pluralistic art” as Deleuze would. Navigating such a “polytheistic” dynamic would be the framework through which an individual would construct an intuition specific to its concepts. And this is itself their shared definition of art. On the more explicitly political side, the militancy is against ideas of transcendence, that is, moral ideas embodied in centralizing organisms (the State and the law in case of Deleuze, the Church and religion in case of Nietzsche). The methodical specifications aren’t given by any of them, for they are left to the free polytheist to consider the specificity of their milieu. Any further precision would present itself as an imperative truth, and that, as we’ve seen, is the most dangerous thing.


[1] In repeated instances, Nietzsche speaks of the artist-philosopher as the “moulder of types”.

[2] Deleuze speaks of this affinity as the “essence of art” according to Nietzsche. Nietzsche and Philosophy. P 101.

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