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A Physiology of Encounters:

Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances

Tom Sparrow
Duquesne University

Abstract: The body is central to the philosophies of Spinoza and Nietzsche. Both think-
ers are concerned with the composition of the body, its potential relations with other
bodies, and the modifications which a body can undergo. Gilles Deleuze has contributed
significantly to the relatively sparse literature which draws out the affinities between
Spinoza and Nietzsche. Deleuze’s reconceptualization of the field of ethology enables
us to bring Spinoza and Nietzsche together as ethologists of the body and to elaborate
their common, physiological perspective on ethico-political composition. This is ac-
complished by reading the concepts of force, power, and affect as they are mobilized
in their discussions of corporeity and intercorporeity. What emerges is a metaphysics
of bodies that can simultaneously be regarded as a physiology of encounters, one
which renders the friend/enemy distinction indiscernible and opens the door for a
rethinking of the nature of political alliances. Both Spinoza and Nietzsche are shown
to be invaluable resources for helping us imagine the potential of the individual’s body
and the body politic.

What Nietzsche calls affect is exactly the same thing as what Spinoza
calls affect, it is on this point that Nietzsche is Spinozist.
—Deleuze, Course at Vincennes, January 20, 1981

W hen you the read the postcard to Overbeck dated July 30, 1881, it is clear
that Nietzsche is completely surprised by what he has come across. He can
hardly believe that he has found in Spinoza a precursor to his own philosophy,
even in light of all the differences which set their work in opposition. Despite
the “divergencies” identified by Nietzsche in Spinoza’s philosophy, they cannot
prevent the German from seeing the Jew as a powerful ally.“In summa,” Nietzsche

© 2010. Epoché, Volume 15, Issue 1 (Fall 2010). ISSN 1085-1968. 165–186
166 Tom Sparrow

writes to Overbeck, “my lonesomeness, which, as on very high mountains, often

made it hard for me to breathe and made my blood rush out, is now at least a
twosomeness. Strange.”1 The element of contingency in his discovery of Spinoza
does not go unremarked by Nietzsche; this long lost friend, of whom Nietzsche
was utterly ignorant, is returned to him by chance.2 Few have done more to expose
the hidden affinity between Spinoza and Nietzsche than Gilles Deleuze, whose
readings of the two thinkers are mobilized in this essay to help bring out their
strange attraction.3
Deleuze’s critical commentaries articulate a continuity between the materialist
ontology of Spinozan monism and Nietzsche’s metaphysics of force and power.
In both thinkers, Deleuze locates a decisive critique of morality and a profound
meditation on the unrealized power of bodies to organize themselves into power-
ful composites. He gathers this line of thinking into an ethical vision of the world
which he characterizes as an ethology. As a scientific field, ethology is a branch
of zoology and the “comparative study of [human and animal] behavior;” it is
often associated with Jakob von Uexküll, as well as Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas
Tinbergen.4 But for Deleuze, ethology becomes a critical ethos which assesses
the symptomatic effects of corporeal encounters and determines the respec-
tive health and/or sickness of the bodies involved. Or, put differently, ethology
draws up a chart of the affects (affectus)5 a particular body, society, or culture is
capable of.6 This method allows Deleuze to classify Spinoza and Nietzsche under
the same genre.
Deleuzian ethology studies three factors: 1) relations of speed and slowness,
by which is meant the proportions of motion and rest, acceleration and decelera-
tion which compose a particular body and delimit its integrity at the level of its
particles; 2) affective thresholds and empirical circumstances that determine
whether a specific relation is “poison or food;” and 3) “compositions of relations
or capacities between different things.”7 The tripartite method of Deleuzian
ethology is fundamental to both Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s dynamic metaphys-
ics and their analyses of fluid intercorporeity, thus we can see how Spinoza and
Nietzsche unite as ethologists—although Nietzsche’s method can also be called
a symptomatology8—whose task it is to expose the embittered resentment of
moral philosophy and celebrate the passion induced by joyous bodies in contact
with one another.
In Spinoza’s dynamic (meta)physics of bodies, speed and slowness are criteria
which determine a mode of substance, or a singular composition of particles.
We might say that relations of speed and slowness constitute the plasticity of
a body insofar as that body is an assemblage of multiple bodies. Plasticity here
denotes the capacity for a body to maintain its integrity in the face of external
pressure or to impose its form on the body exerting said pressure; it also denotes
the capacity to yield—even to the point of irreparable decomposition—to the
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 167

force of another body. This is not a weakness or deficiency, but a positive aspect
of composite bodies as such. Indeed, it is that characteristic of life itself which
is seized and compromised by the reactionary evaluations of Good and Evil, as
Pierre Zaoui has noted.9 Nietzsche, of course, does not rejoice in the capacity to
yield, but to impose form. Spinoza is somewhat less partisan in his “brief preface
concerning the nature of bodies,” where he explains that,“Bodies are distinguished
from one another in respect of motion and rest, quickness and slowness, and not
in respect of substance.” Moreover, his definition of composite bodies indicates
that when a multiplicity of bodies come into contact by virtue of some external
pressure, or when they are “moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to
preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves,” this multiplicity
will function indefinitely as a unit or individual body.10 These multiplicities—in
particular their duration, behavior, resistances, and evolution—represent the basic
object of Deleuzian ethology and the political ontology it engenders.
Considered alongside their respective treatments of friendship and political
alliance, the philosophical ethology of Spinoza and Nietzsche can be read as a
political physiology of bodies, which asks “whether relations (and which ones?)
can compound directly to form a new, more ‘extensive’ relation, or whether ca-
pacities can compound directly to constitute a more ‘intense’ capacity or power.”
With ethology, Deleuze writes,
It is no longer a matter of utilizations or captures, but of sociabilities and
communities. How do individuals enter into composition with one another
in order to form a higher individual, ad infinitum? How can a being take
another being into its world, but while preserving or respecting the other’s
own relations and world?11
Looking at The Will to Power, Nietzsche is more ambiguous in his stance toward as-
similation: “Appropriation and assimilation are above all a desire to overwhelm, a
forming, shaping and reshaping, until at length that which has been overwhelmed
has entirely gone over into the power domain of the aggressor and has increased
the same.”12 At first glance it seems that while Spinoza is anxious about stronger
bodies overtaking their weaker counterparts, Nietzsche sees this process as the
natural order of things, and thus something to be embraced. The matter is more
complex, however. We can begin to untangle this complexity by turning to the
concepts of affect, force, power, nobility, and friendship in Spinoza and Nietzsche.
But first it is necessary to thicken our understanding of what a body is.
According to Spinoza, a single body is, in fact, a composite body constituted by
a great number of parts, each of which is “extremely complex.”13 The body is simul-
taneously a singular and a multiple entity, an intensity made up of a confluence of
forces, affects, and relations. Indeed, its singularity is its multiplicity. An intensity
represents a determinate modification of being, an expression of the body of God,
i.e. Nature, a finite mode of infinite substance and a degree of power.14 Bodies
168 Tom Sparrow

distinguish themselves by virtue of their motion and rest, speed and slowness,
and always agree with one another “in certain respects.”15 This means that taken
together all bodies are essentially, and a fortiori potentially, one body—this fact
is the cause of Spinoza’s optimism about the power of reason to unite individuals
into a harmonious state.16 Since all bodies agree to a certain degree, their respective
qualitative determinations—affirmative or negative, reactive or active, resentful
or joyous—contribute significantly to the determination of their alliances, as we
will see. As Deleuze puts the matter, “The speed and slowness of metabolisms,
perceptions, actions, and reactions link together to constitute a particular indi-
vidual in the world.”17 A human body, as a mode of substance, for instance, is a
singular thing, but a thing whose threshold of power, or intensity, is constituted
by its relations with other singular bodies. A composite body such as a political
state is nothing more than a singular thing of a more expansive sort, comprised
of its own complex extensive and intensive relations, a certain mixture of singular
bodies and thresholds of power. Bodies, then, whether “individual” or “composite,”
are always already composed singularities which do not exist, pre-formed, prior
to the immanent genesis of their composition.18 Whether these bodies affect, or
infect, one another with joy or resentment will make the difference between a
healthy citizen and a sick citizen, a healthy body politic and a sick body politic.19
Politics, for Nietzsche and Spinoza, is entirely a physiological affair.
Nietzsche’s view of the body is that of a physiologist, a “doctor-philosopher.”20
He is always concerned with the power of the body, the forces at play within it,
its health or sickness. For him, any individual human body is an expression of a
quantity of force, the locus of a physical antagonism, and the interface of material
relations. Any signs of consciousness are, as we all know, simply residual effects
of physical antagonisms. There is no “doer” behind the will—the will just is a
“quantum of force.”21 The body is a dynamic multiplicity, a desirous and pas-
sionate organism.22 Above all, Nietzsche always reminds us that the body (of the
subject) is not a unity, but “constantly growing or decreasing, the center of a system
constantly shifting.”23 The body is an intensity, a variable unit whose integrity is
threatened by increases and decreases in power. Nietzsche’s philosophy diagnoses
the symptoms of the body, traces its extremities and breaking points, as well as its
nihilistic and antagonistic tendencies. Does it fear encounters or does it reach out
for more contact? Does it love or despise its enemies? Does it resist or embrace?
Or, is its resistance a form of love, perhaps a nobler form?
The central question in all of this is: What can bodies do? We have no idea,
Spinoza says, because “nobody as yet has determined the limits of the body’s
capabilities; that is, nobody as yet has learned from experience what the body can
and cannot do, without being determined by the mind, solely from the laws of its
nature and in so far as it is considered as corporeal.”24 The power of the body is
for the most part unthought, hence the physical project of the Ethics—to think
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 169

the power of the body in its various relations and modes of expression. A body’s
power is its virtue.25 It is easy to see how the physics of the Ethics can be read
as a politics and an ethics, insofar as it articulates a (meta)physics of the power
of composite bodies. Now, the indeterminacy of a body’s potential implies that
a certain degree of experimentation is necessary in order to realize the power it
possesses. Deleuze points out that, for Spinoza, we cannot know our own power
without the affects produced in us by other bodies.26 This power is principally
the power to exist, to preserve oneself and persevere in one’s capacity to exist.
There is one thing that we do know about bodies: they are guided by a principle
of self-preservation that Spinoza calls conatus, which “is nothing but the actual
essence of the thing itself.”27 What bodies can become, however, over and above
their principle of self-preservation, is largely unknown. This also means that we
do not really know what bodies look like, what they are, in their perfection.
Spinoza postulates that a human body cannot preserve itself without the aid of
other bodies.28 This point orders his critique of Hobbes’s social atomism. Hobbes
not only failed to realize the essential connection—conatus, for Spinoza—which
obtains between the bodies which make up the multitude, he also failed to see
that the power of thought attainable by the many “is necessarily greater than that
of the few,” as Warren Montag has written. Citing Spinoza’s Ethics, Montag puts
the point well:
[J]ust as an individual is nearly powerless in body, so such an individual is
powerless in mind. This fact cuts off any retreat from the society of others,
any withdrawal from the vulgar in pursuit of wisdom. It is thus not a matter
of moral obligation or duty that demands that we concern ourselves with
the condition of the multitude; it is rather a matter of necessity, we are con-
demned to do so. Their power is the condition of our power, their weakness
only weakens us, their fear and hatred are as contagious as the plague that
ravaged Amsterdam in the 1660s, and just as deadly (to reason).29
Spinoza’s critique of liberal individualism, which is essential to an agonistic poli-
tics, is developed by Nietzsche.30 Nietzsche’s physiology of friendship and enmity
shows that bodies are incapable of overcoming themselves without confronting
other powerful bodies. (The image of a hermetic Zarathustra is put out of play
here.) The possible compositions in which a body might find itself cannot be
determined before it undergoes an affection (affectio) caused by an external
body. An affection is the “trace” left on one body by another it has encountered.31
Encounters can be good or bad, active or passive; the latter are to be avoided
because they compromise the integrity of a body, that is, they “[cause] it to be
destroyed, and consequently quite incapable of being affected in many ways.”32
An individual’s aim—which is evident for Nietzsche no less than for Spinoza—is
to become capable of affecting and being affected in as many ways possible. This
is what is “advantageous to man,” or good.33 This is why there is no unconditional
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affirmation of the Other, as we find in Levinas, in either Spinoza or Nietzsche.

Responsibility for Spinoza and Nietzsche is either strategic or symptomatic, never
infinite. Only a posteriori can it be determined whether a given aggregate of bod-
ies will, in their relation, increase or decrease their individual power to exist; nor
can we know beforehand which of its parts will repulse or attract the others, or
allow them to become what they are.34 This is the evaluative task of ethology. I
do not mean to suggest that ethology in the present context makes any appeal to
transcendent ethical principles. Indeed, the only ethics involved here aspires to
be of a purely immanent type, which describes and diagnoses the modalities of
bodies in terms of what they can accomplish or become.35
Ethology, for Deleuze, studies empirically the role of affectivity and power
in the encounters between individual bodies; that is, it diagnoses the power of
singular composite bodies. As we have seen, a composite body is created through
the organic relation of two or more bodies which “are moving at the same or
different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement
among themselves.”36 There is a virtue to be gleaned from this mobile relation.
A composite can undergo a number of mutations without losing its integrity, so
long as the individual bodies involved maintain the proportionate motion and
rest which united them in the first place. But the singularity of the composite will
be modified according to the types of affects produced by individual encounters.
The capacity of a body to increase its power to exist or, contrariwise, have its
power diminished, will depend on its capacity to affect and be affected by bodies
external to it. Spinoza writes:
All the ways in which a body is affected by another body follow from the
nature of the affected body together with the nature of the body affecting
it, so that one and the same body may move in various ways in accordance
with the various natures of the bodies causing its motion; and, on the other
hand, different bodies may be caused to move in different ways by one and
the same body.37
This is a guiding principle which informs the whole of what Deleuze calls the
“logic of the encounter” in Spinoza. Encounters are what compose and decompose
bodies, depending on whether the encounter is of the nourishing or “poisonous”
type. The affections involved in an encounter will test whether a given composite
body is capable of persisting in its composition, or if it will be weakened and/or
obliterated. In the former case, the body will experience a joyful passion, whereas
in the latter the passion will be sad. Power will be increased when a passion is joy-
ful, but decreased when a passion is sad. This is because power—or, the capacity
for action—is determined by the kinds of encounters a body undergoes.
Power, for Spinoza, is in constant flux, or what Deleuze calls “continuous
variation.” When I am affected by an external body, I undergo a certain affection
(affectio) which produces in me a non-representational idea of the body causing
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 171

a modification of my body: this modification is what Spinoza calls an affect (af-

fectus). A given affection can either increase or decrease my power, depending
on whether the trace of the affecting body is congruent or incongruent with my
own, and if the affect produced is joyous or sad. My action or response, in the
present and future encounters, will be determined accordingly.38 The point, Spi-
noza seems to suggest, is to actively order our encounters so as to minimize their
contingent effects and maximize our joyful passions, in order to experience the
highest degree of perfection possible.39 This is the good life. This is the project of
the strong, reasonable, and free human being. Deleuze summarizes this project by
saying,“The description of the reasonable and free man in Part Four of the Ethics
identifies the striving of reason with this art of organizing encounters, or forming
a totality of compatible relations.”40 As already noted, none of this can be figured
out ahead of time. The affections effectuated through encounters between bodies
will remain indeterminate until the encounter has taken place. And encounters
are always taking place—they are necessary for the preservation of bodies, even
though this necessity is not without its element of chance. As Louis Althusser has
shown, there is a tradition of materialism—to which Spinoza belongs—which
harbors an essential aleatory component, namely, the encounter. In “The Under-
ground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter,” Althusser writes:
Every encounter is aleatory, not only in its origins (nothing ever guarantees
an encounter), but also in its effects. In other words, every encounter might
not have taken place, although it did take place; but its possible nonexistence
sheds light on the meaning of its aleatory being. And every encounter is alea-
tory in it effects, in that nothing in the elements of the encounter prefigures,
before the actual encounter, the contours and determinations of the being
that will emerge from it.41
Compare Deleuze’s remarks on the encounter in Nietzsche and Philosophy: “The
encounters of force of various quantities are therefore the concrete parts of chance,
the affirmative parts of chance and, as such, alien to every law; the limbs of Dio-
nysus.”42 We cannot know what a body can, and will, do when it meets another
body. The physics of the encounter obeys certain “laws of nature,” but these laws
give rise to unforeseeable and unimaginable effects. This is why neither Spinoza
nor Nietzsche can strictly be called determinists.
An understanding of the power relations which obtain between bodies is es-
sential to the preservation of a free body, whether individual or composite. The
free body will affirm the power of external bodies because it knows that bodies
united in concerted action will be stronger than bodies divided by hatred and
other vicious emotions. As Spinoza says,
[N]othing is more advantageous to man than man. Men, I repeat, can wish for
nothing more excellent for preserving their own being than that they should
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all be in such harmony in all respects that their minds and bodies should
compose, as it were, one mind and one body, and that all together should
endeavor as best they can to preserve their own being, and that all together
they should aim at the common advantage of all.43
A common desire for preservation will thrive in a civil society grounded in rela-
tions analogous to those identified in Spinoza’s conception of friendship. The
desire for friendship is the mark of the honorable human being and offers a point
of contact with Nietzsche.44 Honor is a virtue which is guided by reason alone and,
as a desire, derives from the essence of human being. It nourishes itself on the
pleasure of coexisting harmoniously with other human beings. It gives a pathos
of power which generates an ethos of power. The force of the desire for friendship
exceeds the desire which is checked by a painful coexistence, thus a pleasurable
(harmonious) coexistence is stronger than a painful (discordant) one.45 To desire
this harmony and strive to join together and persevere with other human beings,
this is what Spinoza understands the noble life to be. And nobility, along with love,
is the virtuous passion which truly conquers the hearts of human beings and binds
them together into one unified body,46 the most powerful—and precarious!—of
which is that of the multitude in an absolute democracy. As Negri has argued,
In part IV of the Ethics this conviction of the usefulness of man for man and
of the ontological multiplication of virtue in the human community is cease-
lessly repeated. .  .  . The multitudo is thus nothing but the interconnection
of subjects having become an ontological project of collective power. But at
the same time, the concept of the multitudo is linked to the ambiguity of the
imagination and translated into the theory of political action. This is then the
theoretical genesis of Spinozan democracy.47
Nietzsche’s attitude toward the masses, honor, and democracy is more “aristocrat-
ic” than Spinoza’s. It is not mere elitism, however, which characterizes Nietzsche’s
position. It would be necessary to consider the consequences of conceiving
aristocracy at the physiological level in order to comprehend Nietzschean aristo-
cratism vis-à-vis Spinozan democracy. Consider, for instance, The Will to Power,
§490: “[P]erhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects,
whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought and our conscious-
ness in general. A kind of aristocracy of ‘cells’ in which dominion resides? To be
sure, an aristocracy of equals, used to ruling jointly and understanding how to
command?”48 I suspect a physiological sympathy between Nietzsche’s cellular
aristocracy and Spinoza’s honorable community.
Nietzsche commonly understands his philosophy of power as fundamentally
critical of Spinoza’s. At the level of the most fundamental principle regarding the
nature of bodies, Nietzsche sets up the will to power against Spinoza’s conatus. Bod-
ies are, basically, driven by the will to power and the desire command. A subject,
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 173

Nietzsche writes, “can transform a weaker subject into its functionary without
destroying it, and to a certain degree form a new unity with it.”49 To claim, as
Spinoza does, that bodies are naturally self-preservative is to fail to see that nature
strives always to surpass itself, precisely because it is always already preserving
itself, while at the same time overflowing with an excess of force and energy. This
excess desires to shape the world in its image, not merely to persist in existing. It
is as though Nietzsche has interpreted Spinozan conatus as a superfluous telos.
“[Spinoza’s] law is false,” Nietzsche says, “the opposite is true. It can be shown
most clearly that every living thing does everything it can not to preserve itself
but to become more—.”50 Nietzsche can only believe this if he fails to recognize
the deep affinity between his account of the will to power and Spinoza’s analysis
of composite bodies. He can only believe this if he fails to recognize that both the
will to power and conatus are virtues­—self-generating powers which drive the
body—that are essentially appetitive in nature and constitute the forces which
give rise to more powerful bodies. These forces are determined, for good or ill,
by affections (affectio) enacted on a body through its contact with other bodies.
These are inseparable “from a movement by which they [affections] cause us to
go to a greater or lesser perfection (joy and sadness), depending on whether the
thing encountered enters into composition with us, or on the contrary tends to
decompose us.”51 Put otherwise, both conatus and will to power are active forces
which wage a struggle for life and sustain the integrity of the organism, whether
individual or social, and are linked essentially to a pathos (of honor, distance,
respect, etc.) that qualifies the ethos of a singular body.
One way to develop this affinity between Nietzsche and Spinoza on the relation
between passion and action, pathos and ethos, or affectivity and power, is to look
at Nietzsche’s account of friendship in the light of Spinoza’s theory of corporeal
An affect (affectus) is an intensive modification arising from an encounter; it
is the generation of a qualitative bodily state effected by the actualization of an
idea (recalled, imagined, perceived). The affect depends on the idea as that which
sets it in motion or triggers it as a response. This all leads back to a previous af-
fection. As Deleuze says in the “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect:” “There
is a primacy of the idea over the affect for the very simple reason that in order to
love it’s necessary to have an idea, however confused it may be, however indeter-
minate it may be, of what is loved.”52 This idea corresponds to an affection caused
by contact with a body encountered and will determine the diagnosis of that
encounter as either healthy or poisonous. Affects describe the genesis or passage
of a body, what Deleuze calls a “becoming.” This passage often goes by the name
of “consciousness” in Nietzsche, as in the case of an individual whose “outward
discharge”53 is inhibited and suddenly becomes aware of their relative weakness
vis-à-vis a powerful opponent. This person has ceased to act instinctively, has
174 Tom Sparrow

become afflicted by the awareness of their body’s vulnerability to other bodies.

“Consciousness is the passage, or rather the awareness of the passage from these
less potent totalities to more potent ones, and vice versa,” explains Deleuze.54
What then happens with an affect? Affects are the increase or decrease of a
body’s power to exist; they determine the quality of a body’s action by qualifying
that action as either active or reactive, joyous or sad. For Nietzsche, all natural—
i.e. life-affirming—affects are useful, some more directly than others. The more
powerful these affects, the more useful they potentially are. Beyond the natural
affects, “there are no greater sources of strength.”55 We can only assume that, for
Nietzsche, a dangerous affect is an unnatural one to the extent that it neither
preserves nor advances the life of the body. Presumably, the feeling of guilt and
the bad conscience are such affects. In Spinoza, an active body is a more perfect
and natural body. The active body is a more rational body because its encounters
have been given some order, ordered according to their nature, that is, according
to their (striving for) perfection. In Nietzsche, an active body is a more powerful,
healthier body, but it is not necessarily more rational. The body may obey a logic
of its own, but in Nietzsche the body is a preconscious, “irrational” force.56
This apparent contrast between Spinoza and Nietzsche over the role of
rationality in the ordering of the body is mitigated when we remember that
Spinoza conceives the mind as the idea of the body and that Nietzsche considers
rationality to be a passion of the body.57 It is difficult, if not impossible, to speak
of clean dualities like mind/body, reason/instinct, feeling/thought in Spinoza
and Nietzsche, which means that it is very difficult to locate the “agency” which
orders the body’s encounters. Agency, it seems to me, is a concept whose classical
formulation is foreign to both Spinozism and Nietzscheanism. The near indis-
cernibility of corporeal power and virtue in both modes of thought only serves
to bolster the view that familiar notions of agency and ethics have been purged
from Spinoza/Nietzsche’s philosophy. The Spinozan or Nietzschean ethicist must
content herself or himself with showing that the active body is the body which
is capable of welcoming encounters and suffering the chance of the encounter,
a body which lives on the threshold of its capacity for action—thus it affirms
its own power along with the power of others. In Nietzsche’s words: “The task is
not simply to master what happens to resist, but what requires us to stake all our
strength, suppleness, and fighting skills—opponents that are our equals.”58 This
seems to be the meaning of virtue in materialist ethics. It is a “youthful” virtue,
Deleuze says.59 It is also a decidedly anti-superstitious virtue.60 Spinoza shows
that this is not the “natural” order of our everyday interactions with other bodies;
he shows that to affirm life in all its manifestations is an extremely demanding
endeavor. This requires the impossible feat of comprehending all the causes that
converge to create the world we call our own. More often than not, we just tally the
negative, summarize our bad fortune, and seek refuge in superstition.61 This can
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 175

only plunge us into hatred and resentment instead of opening the common ground
which obtains between bodies. Our inadequate knowledge of the inequalities of
life itself can take the life right out of us. “Nothing burns one up faster than the
affects of ressentiment,” Nietzsche says.62
The affirmative will opens the body up to the power of other bodies in an
attempt to increase its own power and to give form to the body of nature. Of
course, a healthy will can affirm other bodies more readily than a diseased body,
which naturally feels threatened by the presence of powerful bodies. What makes
a body healthy is the strength to engage spontaneously with other bodies, above
all stronger bodies, and expel some of its excessive strength on those bodies, while
reciprocally sustaining an affection from a stronger body. “A living thing seeks
above all to discharge its strength—life itself is will to power; self-preservation
is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.”63 The affirmative and
healthy body is the body strong enough to experiment with the chance of the
encounter and stave off the ressentiment which can result from poisonous and
painful contact with oppositional bodies. A resentful body is one whose integ-
rity is decomposed by contact with stronger bodies. The power of affirmation is
achieved only by truly free spirits. As Nietzsche writes in The Anti-Christ: “The
most spiritual human beings, as the strongest, find their happiness where others
would find their destruction: in the labyrinth, in severity towards themselves and
others, in experimenting.”64
Nietzsche does not advocate the indiscriminate exercise of the will; rather,
he “affirms all that appears, ‘even the most bitter suffering.’”65 He does not blind
himself to the reality of cruelty and deliberate oppression, but he refuses to de-
nounce it morally. He diagnoses it as a tragic fact of life as such—as one possible
manifestation of the will to power—and gives some hypothesis as to why it occurs.
For Nietzsche, the destruction of another body is not the mark of a strong will
or a healthy body; indiscriminate abuse signifies the presence of a poison in the
abusive body. A violent act against a vulnerable body is actually an indication of
a decadent and weak will.66 This diagnosis becomes clearer when we consider
what Nietzsche has to say about friendship and enmity, both of which represent
typical composite bodies and affective encounters. It does not make sense to ask
how Nietzsche identifies the friend, nor is it worthwhile to pursue the question
of the “elitism” of Nietzsche’s conception of friendship. As they stand, Nietzsche’s
writings contain no univocal definition of the friend. Instead, when he invokes
the friend and the enemy, Nietzsche is wont to discuss various alliances and their
potential effects. Take this passage from The Gay Science, which comes closer to
a definition of friendship than anything else in Nietzsche’s corpus:
Here and there on earth we may encounter a kind of continuation of love
in which this possessive craving of two people for each other gives way to a
new desire and lust for possession—a shared higher thirst for an ideal above
176 Tom Sparrow

them. But who knows such love? Who has experienced it? Its right name is
The concepts organizing these invocations are that of affection and affect, under-
stood in terms of the increase and decrease of the power of composites. Nietzsche
takes up this motif directly from Spinoza.
Neither Spinoza nor Nietzsche claims to know what the friend’s or the enemy’s
body can do, and they diverge over how to confront this indeterminacy. From
an ethological standpoint, Nietzsche can only prescribe experimentation where
Spinoza champions the power of reason to bring order to our encounters. This
is because friends and enemies, strictly speaking, cannot be said to exist: they
are nothing more than unstable and mobile compositions of affects, energies,
and powers. This conception of friendship and enmity is emblematic of the
non-essentialism of ethics as ethology. For example, a friend can turn out to be
a deceitful toxin, as when Nietzsche indicates the prevalence of a certain measure
of polite dishonesty at the heart of most of our friendships. Nietzsche writes in
Human, All Too Human that,
yes, there are friends, but it is error and deception regarding yourself that led
them to you; and they must have learned how to keep silent in order to remain
your friend; for such human relationships almost always depend upon the fact
that two or three things are never said or even so much as touched upon.68
Certainly, the enemy would not care about such niceties, and thus poses less of a
threat to the health of the body than the friend. He or she, that is to say, can offer
the most desirable kind of nourishment—honest resistance. But for this kind
of relation a noble will is needed. To truly engage the enemy in all of his or her
positivity, a person must be strong enough to affirm the power of the enemy and
welcome what affections he or she might offer. Only among healthy, noble wills is
“genuine ‘love of one’s enemies’” a real possibility.“How much reverence,” Nietzsche
writes,“has a noble man for his enemies!—and such reverence is a bridge to love.
—For he desires his enemy for himself, as his mark of distinction; he can endure
no other enemy than one in whom there is nothing to despise and very much to
honor!”69 The value of friendship and enmity must be decided experimentally,
that is, through affective encounters with those who are considered to be our
friends as well as those who are designated enemies. Nietzsche is not in the habit
of condemning anyone as evil a priori—this is the business of the Church, the
slave, and the superstitious.70 Only affects can decide who is with us and who is
against us, who will compose and decompose our bodies.71
Joyous passions can come from any individual or any part of another body.
To believe otherwise is a symptom of nihilism. How a body will hold up in an
encounter depends on the nature of the bodies involved and their constitution
at the time of the encounter, whether they are affirmative of chance or resentful
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 177

of it (Nietzsche), whether they are ruled by the imagination or ordered by reason

(Spinoza). This renders the friend and the enemy indiscernible from the body’s
perspective, and only capable of being truly judged ethologically, in piecemeal
fashion, by the body and its ideas. A friend or an enemy is not defined by their
respective forms. This is because friendship and enmity are determined accord-
ing to affects and the capacities they enable or disable. This corporeal principle
of individuation is captured by Deleuze when he says that
there are greater differences between a plow horse or draft horse and a race-
horse than between an ox and a plow horse. This is because the racehorse and
the plow horse do not have the same affects nor the same capacity for being
affected; the plow horse has affects in common rather with the ox.72
For a materialist or physiological ethics, commonality is a question of affective
relations and proportionality; abstract forms, essences, and transcendent obliga-
tions are not part of the evaluative picture. It is not impossible to conceive of a
friend affecting my body as an enemy would affect my body: friends and enemies
can produce identical affects, and thus are a priori unclassifiable creatures. Ethol-
ogy requires a “lasting prudence, a Spinozan wisdom” that demarcates friendships
not with reference to some transcendental standard of the friend (and therefore
the enemy), but immanently, always from within a particular encounter and from
the vantage point of the bodies affected.73 A moralizing consciousness wants to
essentialize the friend/enemy distinction, and this is precisely what Spinoza and
Nietzsche find objectionable about morality and consciousness, both of which
betray the knowledge of the body and, from an ethical point of view, its evalua-
tive subtlety.
For Nietzsche, the relations in which bodies are always caught up are never
relations of absolute equality. This fundamental fact organizes his entire critique
of liberal democracy. There is always a power differential coloring each relation,
a body that commands and a body that obeys. The body in fact is nothing other
than this differential, as Deleuze makes clear.“What defines a body is this relation
between dominant and dominated forces. Every relationship of forces constitutes
a body—whether it is chemical, biological, social or political. Any two forces,
being unequal, constitute a body as soon as they enter into a relationship.”74 The
asymmetry of corporeal relations informs Nietzsche’s interpretation of human
relations and motivates his rejection of an ideal human nature of which each
individual would uniformly participate in and depart from. As Jonathan Philippe
has put it, “Individuals, considered in terms of their Nietzschean genealogy, ap-
pear more as the termini of encountering forces, compositions of power, than as
subjects for whom what befalls them could be called their action. The identity
of the subject is produced, it is ‘residual.’”75 A human individual must always be
regarded in terms of his or her position relative to other human (and non-human)
178 Tom Sparrow

bodies, and according to the perspective she or he embodies, which is necessarily

constituted by the bodies and perspectives which stand against it.
Given the sheer quantity of other bodies, the force of any body will always
be in a given position of weakness until it is united with others in a composite.
Force is a matter of quantity, which is variable by relation and measured vis-à-vis
opposing forces. “Difference in quantity,” writes Deleuze, “is the essence of force
and of the relation of force to force. To dream of two equal forces, even if they
are said to be of opposite senses is a coarse and approximate dream, a statistical
dream in which the living is submerged but which chemistry dispels.”76 The true
inequality of an encounter, which is not always visible at the phenomenal level,
will manifest its unmistakable differential value at the microphysical level. As
Nietzsche says in The Will to Power: “In the chemical world the sharpest perception
of the difference between forces reigns. But a protoplasm, which is a multiplicity
of chemical forces, has only a vague and uncertain perception of a strange real-
ity.”77 It is this non-cognitive quantitative differential which is inescapable, and
therefore capable of qualifying a body’s power and pathos. It is precisely analogous
to what we have been calling an affect. The body’s attitude regarding other bodies
will be contingent upon its (mostly reactive) perception of other bodies and the
quality of its will, which can be either active or reactive.78 “Active” and “reactive”
describe states of the body, qualities arising out of physical clashes, not inten-
tions of a subject. Nietzsche’s famous “pathos of distance” is a feeling of activity
which obtains in a body that is not overwhelmed by the proximate forces acting
upon it. It is generated by the affections it has suffered. The qualities of activity
and reactivity correspond to the strength of reason and the weakness of passion,
respectively, in Spinoza.79 In a weakened and resentful body reactive forces prevail,
whereas in a strong body activity and affirmation prevail.80
From the perspective of corporeal health, a certain kind of struggle always
seems desirable, for it binds a composite together more tightly by testing its limits
and increasing its capacity to be affected. This is the struggle for perfect health,
or for the ideal intensity of power indicated by Spinoza when he speaks of perfec-
tion as completion in the Preface to Book 4 of the Ethics. A desire for nobility, that
is, a striving for a collective power, expresses itself in the healthy body. Nobility,
for Spinoza, is “the desire whereby every individual, according to the dictates of
reason alone, endeavors to assist others and make friends of them.”81 A body
must be courageous enough to risk unnatural or uncomfortable friendships—
to live at the limits of its capacity to be affected and to overcome superstitious
valuations—if it wishes to overcome itself and work toward its perfection. This
risk, and therefore its value, is abolished in a society where equality is affirmed
absolutely and the constituent members refrain, in the name of conservation, from
opening up to potentially bad encounters. For the total evasion of bad encounters
and the perfection of what Nietzsche calls the “great health” of free spirits is an
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 179

unlikely proposition, perhaps just a grand illusion that will always remain “a
strange, tempting, dangerous ideal.”82
As a singular composite body, individuals are nothing other than expressions
of a social body which has a singular threshold of power and a singular state of
health. When one body is affected, all bodies are affected. This is why a politics
founded on pity fundamentally misunderstands the ignobility of pity: pity is a
false form of compassion because it misrepresents the suffering body as weak
and isolated, and therefore deficient in “its own” personal strength. No such pro-
priety exists. This isolation is a liberalist myth which all of Nietzscheanism and
Spinozism seeks to dispel along with every one of the sad passions induced by
our superstitious value systems. Pity is a sad passion because it is precisely the
obverse of ressentiment. It is a pathology founded upon negative affects, affects
charged by a base moral consciousness; it threatens the health of the body poli-
tic. “Pity does not depend upon maxims but upon affects; it is pathological. The
suffering of others infects us, pity is an infection.”83 The suffering of the weak is
nothing more nor less than a modal expression of the (imperfect) body politic
or, more generally, the collective power of humanity. Thus Nietzsche can write:
“my humanity does not consist in feeling with men how they are, but in endur-
ing that I feel with them.”84 To feel for the other is to feel with and as the other, to
undergo a passion that is the other’s passions, that is, a single passion expressed
in various modes. Nietzsche substitutes this very Spinozan com-passion—a
pathos exemplified in the “lonesomeness” he endures together with Spinoza in
the July 30, 1881 postcard to Overbeck—for Christian pity. The purpose of this
kind of compassion is to heal the body of its toxic affects and cultivate the pas-
sions that bind bodies together. Above all, we must “guard ourselves, my friends,
against the two worst contagions that may be reserved just for us—against the
great nausea at man! against great pity for man!”85 It is in this light that the striv-
ing of both conatus and will to power must be read, the former as a striving for
the preservation of humanity as a collective power, the latter as a striving for the
purification of all that is base and reactive in humanity. Both of these mark the
struggles of the overman.
Nietzsche’s reading of democracy as decadent and nihilistic has the principles
of equality and pity as its target, but only insofar as these principles make isolation,
timidity, and agoraphobia—rather than power and affirmation—into virtues.
He writes, “as soon as this principle [of equality] is extended, and possibly even
accepted as the fundamental principle of society, it immediately proves to be what
it really is—a will to the denial of life, a principle of disintegration and decay.”86
This sentiment derives from Nietzsche’s belief in the fundamentally unequal
nature of forces and the “exploitative” essence of life, that is, the will to power. It
sounds harsh at first, but if we consider this in terms of Spinoza’s question—Of
what is a body capable?—then we see the precise object, and feel the tragic bite,
180 Tom Sparrow

of Nietzsche’s critique. The stakes of Nietzsche’s denunciation of the principle

of equality, as a grounding principle for democracy, become clearer when we
consider his remarks as aimed at a form of democracy predicated of pity, empty
notions of equality, a lust for retribution, and conservative alliances—each one
a tell-tale symptom of an enervated and anguished body politic.87

1. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Postcard to Overbeck,” in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans.
Walter Kaufmann (New York: Penguin, 1982), 92.
2. Note the stress in Nietzsche’s postcard when he writes that,“that I should have turned
to him now, was inspired by “instinct.” “Postcard to Overbeck,” 92.
3. This synthesis is not unprecedented. However, the literature on the Spinoza-Nietzsche
connection is still relatively thin. Notable contributions include: Pierre Zaoui, “La
‘grande identité’ Nietzsche-Spinoza, quelle identité?,” Philosophie 47 (September,
1995): 64-84; Jonathan Philippe, “Nietzsche and Spinoza: New Personae in a New
Plane of Thought,” in Jean Khalfa, ed., An Introduction to the Philosophy of Gilles
Deleuze (London: Continuum, 2003), 50-63; Wilhelm S. Wurzer, Nietzsche und Spinoza
(Meisenheim am Glan: Hain Verlag, 1975).
4. Konrad Lorenz, The Foundations of Ethology (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1981), 1. As
the study of behavior, ethology asks about the cause and adaptation of certain char-
acteristics, as well as their development and evolution. In Lorenz’s words, ethologists
are interested in behavior “in all its wealth of detail, variation, causation, and control”
(Foundations, vii). Deleuze’s conscription of ethology elevates it to an ethical plane
insofar as it describes Spinoza’s method for determining desirable and undesirable
corporeal arrangements, that is, for determining which bodies interact in ways that
are mutually empowering; which bodies interact in ways that are mutually enervating;
and which bodies interact in such a way that only some are strengthened while the
others are weakened. Deleuze also finds in ethology an alternative means of classifica-
tion, one which categorizes individuals according to their affective capacities, rather
than by their specific difference from a given genus.“For example,” Deleuze writes,“J.
von Uexküll will do this for the tick, an animal that sucks the blood of mammals. He
will define this animal by three affects.” Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy,
trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights, 1988), 124.
5. Affectus: this critical term denoting the qualitative passage of a body from one state
to another, to be distinguished from affectio (affection), is rendered as “emotion” by
Samuel Shirley’s translation of the Ethics (Hackett, 1992). Because of the psychological
baggage that comes with this translation, and following current convention, I have
employed “affect” instead of “emotion” throughout the essay.
6. See Deleuze’s “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978.” Available at: www
7. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 125-126.
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 181

8. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, in On the Genealogy of Morals and

Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), First Essay, §17.
9. The denunciation of Good and Evil as the invention of superstition, and as instru-
ments of negativity and death, is common to both Nietzsche and Spinoza. Both
philosophers inhabit a region beyond good and evil, and it is perhaps here that their
affinity is most pronounced. As Zaoui writes, “les critiques des deux philosophes se
rejoignent précisément sur ce point: le premier péché contre l’esprit que commet la
morale est de souder la plasticité de la vie (l’évaluation: le bon et le mauvais) à des
hypostases figées, mortes (le Bien et le Mal).“La ‘grande identité’ Nietzsche-Spinoza,”
76. Spinoza’s denunciation is found not only in the Ethics, but also the Tractatus
10. Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, in Ethics, Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect and Selected
Letters, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), Book 2, P13, Scholium 1,
Lemma 1 and Corollary 2, Axiom 2, Definition.
11. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 126. Compare a similar worry of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty: “How can we understand someone else without sacrificing him to
our logic or it to him?” Signs, trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston: Northwestern
University Press, 1964), 115.
12. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale
(New York: Vintage, 1967), §656.
13. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2, P13, Postulate 1.
14. Spinoza, Deleuze always reminds us, is concerned to express power as a “quantitative
15. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2, P12, Axioms 1 and 2, Lemma 2. What Spinoza calls “common
notions” are those ways that bodies and minds agree with one another, the latter
being derived from the former. Cf. Deleuze’s “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect,
24/01/1978”: “What is common to all bodies? For example, being in movement or
at rest. Movement and rest will be objects of notions said to be common to all bod-
16. By contrast, the instability of the emotions/affects vis-à-vis reason contributes to
Spinoza’s ambivalence toward the masses. His simultaneous fear and hope regarding
absolute democracy springs from the essential variability of our affects, and the ways
in which our imagination construes our encounters with others. Reading Spinoza’s
Political Treatise, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether he is an optimist or
a pessimist about the power of the masses, although one never gets the impression
that he disbelieves in the possibility of a completely reasonable body politic. On Spi-
noza’s ambivalence toward the masses, see Etienne Balibar,“Spinoza, the Anti-Orwell:
The Fear of the Masses,” in Masses, Classes, Ideas, trans. James Swenson (New York:
Routledge, 1994).
17. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 125.
18. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 123.
19. The criteria of health and sickness in Nietzsche is extremely complex and, unfortu-
nately, extend beyond the reach of this paper. It should at least be noted that these
criteria redefine the terrain of morality, as witnessed in the sustained critique of
182 Tom Sparrow

resentment, the ascetic priest, bad conscience, etc. in On the Genealogy of Morals
(cf., for example, Third Essay, §§13-17), and derive from Spinoza’s naturalization
of moral philosophy and ethical metaphysics in the Ethics. For more on the criteria
of health and sickness, see Pierre Klossowski, Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, trans.
Daniel W. Smith (London: Continuum, 1997), especially chapters 4 and 8.
20. Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books,
2001), 71.
21. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, §13.
22. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §490.
23. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §488.
24. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 3, P2, Scholium.
25. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 4, Definition 8.
26. Deleuze, “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978.” Cf. Spinoza, Ethics,
Book 2.
27. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 3, P7.
28. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2, P13, Postulate 3.
29. Montag, “The Body of the Multitude,” 82.
30. Cf. Keith Ansell-Pearson, An Introduction to Nietzsche as Political Thinker: The Perfect
Nihilist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
31. Deleuze, “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978:” “In other words an
effect, or the action that one body produces on another, once it’s noted that Spinoza,
on the basis of reasons from his Physics, does not believe in action at a distance, ac-
tion always implies a contact, and is even a mixture of bodies. Affectio is a mixture
of two bodies, one body which is said to act on another, and the other receives the
trace of the first.”
32. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 4, P39.
33. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 4, P38.
34. Deleuze indicates the a posteriori nature of our knowledge of particular relations
between bodies. We cannot know ahead of time whether a body will be energized
or decomposed by another body. This knowledge can only be ascertained after an
encounter has already taken place. See Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, chapter 3.
35. In a discussion of the Spinozan/Nietzschean roots of Deleuze’s “immanent ethics,” Dan
Smith (citing Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy?) has put it in these terms:
“Modes are no longer ‘judged’ in terms of their degree of proximity to or distance
from an external principle, but are ‘evaluated’ in terms of the manner in which they
‘occupy’ their existence: the intensity of their power, their ‘tenor’ of life.” Daniel W.
Smith,“Deleuze and the Question of Desire: Toward and Immanent Theory of Ethics,”
Parrhesia 2 (2007): 66-78. Available at:
36. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2, P13, Corollary 2, Axiom 2, Definition.
37. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2, P13, second Corollary, Axiom 1.
38. Deleuze, “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978.”
39. On the two kinds of encounter, see Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy:
Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone, 1990), 239–46. This point is admit-
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 183

tedly disputable, and perhaps bears more of Deleuze’s mark than it does Spinoza’s.
Dan Selcer has recently argued contra Deleuze that the ordering of encounters, and
ultimately the total emancipation of the body from bondage, should be seen as the
result of a “fortunate event” rather than the product of strategic planning. This is the
outcome of Spinoza’s identification of freedom and necessity, the basic undermining
of intention in the Ethics, as well as his insistence on the fact that we are both ignorant
of the causes of our actions and uncertain about what our bodies (and the bodies
of others) can do (cf. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 1, Appendix). Selcer’s argument, which
clearly explicates the meaning of “encounter” for Deleuze and discusses its Spinozan
roots, can be found in the paper,“The Order of Encounters: Deleuze, Spinoza, and the
Sensible/Imaginary,” delivered at the Deleuze and Rationalism Conference, Middlesex
University, March 15, 2007.
40. Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, 262. Cf. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy,
23: “That individual will be called good (or free, or rational, or strong) who strives,
insofar as he is capable, to organize his encounters, to join with whatever agrees with
his nature, to combine his relation with relations that are compatible with his, and
thereby to increase his power. For goodness is a matter of dynamism, power, and the
composition of powers.”
41. The aleatory component of encounters allows us to conclude that the affections un-
dergone by bodies are fully determined. Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter,
eds. Francois Matheron and Oliver Corpet (London: Verso, 2006), 193. From what has
been said above about the a posteriori nature of ethological studies, it is clear that
Althusser’s account of the encounter is borrowed from Deleuze’s analyses of corporeal
relations in Spinoza. See Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 239–42.
42. Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1983), 44.
43. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 4, P18, Scholium.
44. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 4, P37, Scholium 1.
45. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 4, P18.
46. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 3, P59, Scholium; Book 4, Appendix, 11, 12.
47. Antonio Negri, “Reliqua Desiderantur: A Conjecture for a Definition of the Concept
of Democracy in the Final Spinoza,” in The New Spinoza, eds. Warren Montag and
Ted Stolze (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 236.
48. Consider, for instance, this remark from The Will to Power, §490: “[P]erhaps it is just
as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects, whose interaction and struggle is
the basis of our thought and our consciousness in general. A kind of aristocracy of
‘cells’ in which dominion resides? To be sure, an aristocracy of equals, used to ruling
jointly and understanding how to command?”
49. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §488.
50. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §688. Cf. also, for instance, Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond
Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1966), §13.
51. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 21. The affections induced by encounters are
inseparable from the qualification of the will of an organism. Affections are basically
corporeal modifications induced by a “chance”/indeterminate mixture or composition.
184 Tom Sparrow

52. Deleuze, “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978.”

53. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay, §16.
54. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 21. Spinoza points out that consciousness often
mistakes effects for causes, and therefore misunderstands the nature of its encounters.
Due to the sheer complexity of the causal system and the convenience of imagination
as a source of knowledge (Spinoza’s “first kind” of knowledge), this ignorance eventu-
ally leads to the illusion that God is the grand organizer of encounters. “Perceiving
only effects,” Philippe writes, “consciousness surmounts its ignorance by reversing
the order of causes, turning the effect of its encounter with a body into its final cause,
and the idea of this effect into the final cause of its own actions; it then takes itself
for the first cause of actions of its body, and wherever it cannot consider itself a first
cause or an organizer of ends, it imagines a God operating through final causes and
free decrees.” Philippe, “Nietzsche and Spinoza,” 56.
55. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §931.
56. This discussion inevitably leads us into a consideration of the three kinds of knowl-
edge in Spinoza: imagination, reason, and intuition. For the most part, Deleuze moves
between the first and second kind, and is more concerned with “common notions”
than he is with the intuitive knowledge of God. I can do no more here than to refer
the reader to chapters 17 and 18 of Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy and Spinoza,
Ethics, Book 2, P40, Scholium 1 and 2.
57. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 2, P19; Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §387.
58. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Wise,” §7.
59. Deleuze, “Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978.”
60. It would be fascinating and fruitful to explore Nietzsche and Spinoza on superstition,
especially with a view to their critique of liberalism, considering that Nietzsche says
in The Gay Science (Book 1, §23) that “a superstitious society is one in which there
are many individuals and much delight in individuality.” Compare Spinoza’s remarks
on fear as the origin of superstition, which, in the Preface to the Theological-Political
Treatise, he likens to a “hallucination and frenzy” which “is bound to assume very
varied and unstable forms,” and “is only sustained by hope, hatred, anger and deceit.”
See Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 2nd edition, trans. Samuel Shirley
(Indianapolis: Hackett, 2001), 1-2.
61. Deleuze,“Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, 24/01/1978.” Cf. Spinoza, Theological-
Political Treatise, 2.
62. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Wise,” §6.
63. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §13.
64. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (New
York: Penguin, 1968), 190 (translation modified).
65. Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 17.
66. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage,
1974), Book 1, §13.
67. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book 1, §14.
A Physiology of Encounters: Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Strange Alliances 185

68. Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996), Volume 1, §376.
69. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, ed. Walter Kaufmann
(New York: Vintage, 1967), First Essay, §10.
70. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols/Anti-Christ, 53-54. On superstition, Cf. Deleuze, Ex-
pressionism in Philosophy, 270; on slave morality, cf. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of
71. On this point, Nietzsche’s agonistic politics is fundamentally at odds with Carl
Schmitt’s. For Schmitt, the political as such is founded upon the moment of decision
which marks an “us” against a “them.” But, as Chantal Mouffe has shown, Schmitt
thinks the us/them, friend/enemy distinction in terms of fixed identities. His univer-
salization of the friend/enemy relation is precisely his failure, according to Mouffe.
It seems to me that both Nietzsche and Spinoza could provide further support for
Mouffe’s critique of Schmitt’s agonistic politics, but she rarely draws on either of these
figures. See Chantal Mouffe,“Carl Schmitt and the Paradox of Liberal Democracy,” in
The Democratic Paradox (London: Verso, 2000), 36-59.
72. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 124.
73. Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 125.
74. Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 40.
75. Philippe, “Nietzsche and Spinoza,” 53.
76. Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 43.
77. Cited in Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 204, note 5.
78. Nietzsche prescribes certain strategies for welcoming contact with others and avoid-
ing the wasting of energy on reactive or “no-saying” actions. He implores us to “avoid
situations and relationships that would condemn one to suspend, as it were, one’s
‘freedom’ and initiative and to become a mere reagent.” This is conveyed through
recommendations for nutrition, recreation, climate, and diet in Ecce Homo, “Why I
am So Clever,” in Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo,
trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), §8, passim. The ethological value
of this essay cannot be underestimated, as it is emblematic of Nietzsche as doctor-
philosopher and is full of prescriptions for sustaining a healthy environment. It also
speaks of Wagner as “toxin” and “poison” (§6), which leads one to imagine a Spinozan
ethological analysis of Nietzsche’s tumultuous relationship with the composer. At first
a kind of food which gave Nietzsche strength, Wagner eventually became poisonous
to Nietzsche’s post-Wagnerian composition.
79. See Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, 268-269. Reason always commands, whereas
passion remains inactive. To overcome the passivity of affections, reason must strive
to think the essence of God, that is, to conceive the causal order of Nature and con-
stitute the mind with adequate ideas. As Spinoza writes in Book 5 of the Ethics, “that
mind is most passive whose greatest part is constituted by inadequate ideas, so that
it is characterized more by passivity than by activity. On the other hand, that mind
is most active whose greater part is constituted by adequate ideas, so that even if the
latter mind contains as many inadequate ideas as the former, it is characterized by
186 Tom Sparrow

those ideas which are attributed to human virtue than by those that point to human
weakness.” Spinoza, Ethics, Book 5, P20, Scholium.
80. Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 111. “Ressentiment designates a type in which
reactive forces prevail over active forces.”
81. Spinoza, Ethics, Book 3, P59, Scholium.
82. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book 5, §382. Cf. also On the Genealogy of Morals, Second
Essay, §24.
83. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §368.
84. Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Wise,” §8. Cf. also §4.
85. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, §14.
86. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §259.
87. I must thank Dan Selcer for giving me the tools to craft this paper, and especially for
inciting a love for Spinoza in each one of his students. Also, I must declare my debt
to an anonymous referee at Epoché whose suggestions helped clarify and strengthen
this essay.