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Revisiting Nietzsche et la Philosophie
Joseph Ward
a a

UCD School of Philosophy, Newman Building, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland Available online: 13 Oct 2010

To cite this article: Joseph Ward (2010): Revisiting Nietzsche et la Philosophie , Angelaki, 15:2, 101-114 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0969725X.2010.521396

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In this article I want to trace the way in which Deleuze’s formulations concerning eternal return are intimately linked with a concept which is central to his reading of Nietzsche.’’2 In subsequent continental readings of Nietzsche it is therefore unsurprising to find that Deleuze’s version of eternal return often I Downloaded by [64. in his Nietzsche et la philosophie. This interpretation seemed also to make sense of the great store Nietzsche placed in the concept of eternal return in terms of how it would come to transform the future of the West. is misguided. Finally I will explore Deleuze’s most directly textual argument for this interpretation and compare it with an alternative reading which has much to offer in the exegesis of the relevant passages: that of ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN1469-2899 online/10/020101^14 ß 2010 Taylor & Francis and the Editors of Angelaki DOI: 10.521396 101 . and which was also to be brought into question in Deleuze’s own writings on difference and identity. in coming to dominate the active forces to which they ought to be subordinate. The most striking example of this is that a few years later Jacques Derrida in discussing Nietzsche echoes Deleuze’s conception of eternal return. at the same time provocatively associating ‘‘repetition’’ not with Deleuzian ´ ‘‘difference’’ but with his own ‘‘differance. had reduced Western culture to a state of decadence. Gilles Deleuze elaborated an interpretation of Nietzsche’s writings on eternal return which provided this enigmatic thought with an appealing coherence and tractability: eternal return described the return of the same as different.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 joseph ward REVISITING NIETZSCHE ET LA PHILOSOPHIE gilles deleuze on force and eternal return appears to be hovering in the background. Nietzsche stood opposed in principle.1080/0969725X.196.’’ without any explicit resort to Nietzsche’s text: ‘‘on the basis of this unfolding of the same as ´ differance. an interpretation which. which seemed to possess a curious logic all of its own. assumed to be valid without any fresh attempt to engage with Nietzsche’s own exposition. that of force: the manner in which Deleuze conceives of the interrelation of forces in Nietzsche goes hand in hand with an interpretation of eternal return as return of the same as different.160.2010. Deleuze’s novel approach to Nietzsche possessed such an appeal for the book’s early readers that there was an initial tendency to buy into this interpretation of the eternal return. without much testing of Deleuze’s position against the Nietzschean text. we see announced the sameness of ´ differance and repetition in the eternal return. I will argue.ANGEL AK I journal of the theoretical humanities volume 15 number 2 august 2010 n 1962.1 eternal return evoked a process of transformation in which ‘‘reactive’’ forces were eliminated: those forces which. instead of affirming a repetition of the identical to which. according to Deleuze.

. In a key example of this. There is in Nietzsche’s account of punishment no privileging of one interpretation or meaning of punishment above Downloaded by [64. can be reinterpreted in the service of new intentions. which takes possession of it or is expressed in it. This is an important point since for Deleuze Nietzschean ‘‘genealogy’’ is concerned not just with tracing such histories but with an assessment and evaluation of acts of appropriation. . come into being.160. a quality which gives it a particular affinity with one of the forces which take hold of it. philosophy only discovers its ‘‘essence’’ (its appropriation by the force which has the greatest affinity with it. ] there is a world of difference between the reason for something coming into existence in the first place and the ultimate use to which it is put. But the legitimacy of drawing together these points from two different sections. and bear the signs of these different appropriations. (GM II 12)4 deleuze on force in nietzsche Deleuze’s reading of eternal return is bound up intimately with his interpretation of the way Nietzsche thinks about forces. which is as much as to say that they have been appropriated by different forces at different times.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 102 .force and eternal return Martin Heidegger. the fable of the lambs and the birds of prey from the first essay (NP IV 2. [ . . in the course of which the previous ‘‘meaning’’ and ‘‘aim’’ must necessarily be obscured or completely effaced. repossessed. which gives it a certain form and constitutes it as a phenomenon as such. once it has somehow Deleuze goes on to state that the phenomena themselves are not neutral. GM I 13). One of Deleuze’s first and most decisive moves is to insist that for Nietzsche all phenomena must be traced back to and explained in terms of the forces which take possession of them. . and in fact two different essays in the Genealogy. its actual application and integration into a system of goals. and which therefore enables it to express its full potential) when it has shaken off its initial association with a force which is. and this last point provides the genealogist with a criterion for deciding which interpretations of phenomena are to be preferred and affirmed.196. This anticipates Deleuze’s later claim that decadence is what occurs where forces are separated from what they can do. ] everything which happens in the organic world is part of a process of overpowering. mastering [ . Besides tracing what it is in Deleuze’s account which has seemed and continues to seem so compelling to many readers of Nietzsche. . that of religion and the ascetic ideal (NP I 2).’’ their ‘‘sense. according to Deleuze. . foreign to it.3 Deleuze pursues this line of thought by adding that for Nietzsche all phenomena have a history. ‘‘ce qu’il peut. this is what will give us their ‘‘sens. . so that phenomena are always overlaid with multiple meanings. ] anything which exists. since they are themselves forces.’’ a claim which has its principal source in another section of the Genealogy. a biological or even a physical phenomenon) if we do not know the force which appropriates the thing. Nietzsche sets up an initial contrast between some kind of origination of a thing. Deleuze’s analysis here draws heavily on a famous and much-discussed section of On the Genealogy of Morals in which Nietzsche discusses the various uses and meanings which punishment has been assigned in the history of Europe. [ . this process will also give us pointers to viable routes on which to set out in the interpretation of one of Nietzsche’s most mysterious conceptions.’’ ‘‘direction’’ or ‘‘meaning’’: We will never find the sense (‘‘sens’’) of something (of a human. that is. and thus are more fitted to certain applications than others. all overpowering and mastering is a reinterpretation. For it is difficult to apprehend in what sense punishment has what Deleuze calls an ‘‘essence’’ (NP I 2). . is challenged by the fact that it is hard to see how this development of Deleuze’s thought applies to the passage from which the original conception of force and phenomenon is derived. ] in turn. and its subsequent insertion into very different systems of use which give it quite diverse meanings and applications: [ . which exploits it. a manipulation. repeatedly modified to a new use by a power superior to it.

For example. devoid of any normative structure. . rather. a military force. The Deleuzian account of force in Nietzsche requires one other crucial component. creating a nexus of forces which is supposed to represent interaction within human history just as successfully as it does physical phenomena at the most basic level. and reactive forces assume their proper subordinate role.160.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 So precisely what punishment seems to lack for Nietzsche is an ‘‘essence’’. They do not cease to be forces simply by virtue of obeying.5 Of course Nietzsche himself was greatly interested in the connection and correlation between such conceptions as ‘‘force’’ at a physical. but this surely shouldn’t license the straightforward assimilation of descriptions of certain historical phenomena with Nietzsche’s tentative thoughts on fundamental physics. In order to demonstrate how this creates difficulties one can pose certain questions.196. Yet it is imperative for the health of any organism – whether it be a state. punishment as the isolation of something which disturbs equilibrium [ . . for example. they have their own role to play in an organic system: that of obedient forces in the service of those which command (NP II 2). It is Deleuze’s tendency to evoke this closed system of forces which has far-reaching consequences for his interpretation of Nietzsche in general and of the eternal return in particular. The problem for Nietzsche. In this way the reactive is privileged over the active. Active and reactive are precisely the original qualities which express the relation of force with force. [etc. such that in fact it is often only the functioning of reactive forces which is acknowledged. and this point is reinforced by the great list of uses of punishment. . of preventing further damage. in particular some of those in which Nietzsche explores certain conceptions of fundamental physics in very abstract terms. but do all phenomena function like this. one of Deleuze’s generalized principles proposed as a key for the interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy immediately faces difficulties. life as a whole is defined in terms of ‘‘adaptation’’ (NP II 2). Citing Spinoza.] Downloaded by [64. is that there is a modern prejudice in favour of reactive forces. a human body – that active forces take their proper place as superior and commanding. . Deleuze introduces this distinction by way of a discussion of the body. or even only a handful of such phenomena in human history? Deleuze’s approach tends to blur all such distinctions. Deleuze’s tendency. punishment as compensation in any form to the victim for the harm done [ . Deleuze indiscriminately juxtaposes these with passages in the Genealogy in order to evolve his interpretation of force in general in Nietzsche. a distinction between ‘‘active’’ and ‘‘reactive’’ forces which will become for Deleuze the most important way of distinguishing between forces per se. is to abstract general principles from various non-contiguous passages in the Genealogy and other published texts of Nietzsche’s and to juxtapose them in order to create a systematic account of force in Nietzsche. as will already be apparent. and that such forces are then generalized so that. ]. we may grant that many phenomena have a history of different uses and cannot be defined by any one of these. the active in fact hardly recognized as such at all. It is no objection to this characterization that reactive forces sometimes triumph over active forces and come to dominate in their turn (this is overwhelmingly the story of On the Genealogy of 103 . or only human cultural phenomena such as punishment. punishment as a means of instilling fear of those who determine and exact punishment. or only ‘‘organic’’ phenomena. ‘‘atomic’’ level and the operations of force in human history. Deleuze also refers to a certain number of passages from the Nachlass. in which the forces which dominate (or should dominate) are active and those which submit to them (or should do so) are reactive: In a body the superior or dominant forces are known as active and the inferior or dominated forces are known as reactive. with which Nietzsche concludes section 13 of the Genealogy’s second essay: Punishment as a way of rendering harmless. simply the observation that its meaning is fluid and ever changing. ]. (NP II 1) Deleuze adds that reactive forces are nonetheless forces. according to Deleuze.ward any other.

Deleuze goes on to suggest that whether science provides support for the eternal return (as may appear to be the case in mechanistic theory) or denies it (through thermodynamic theory) makes no difference since both kinds of science participate in this ‘‘adiaphoria’’ and therefore conceive of the 104 . I will not take direct issue with these latter claims.160. Deleuze comments astutely that Nietzsche’s stance towards science is not determined solely by whether or not science will support the eternal return. In fact Nietzsche is markedly inconsistent on this point. But why should we concede that there should be any initial and final states in a mechanistic system. since while it does not appear that he was indifferent to what mechanistic theory might make of eternal return. and its ‘‘selective’’ consequences (which I will discuss shortly) would therefore be accelerated. But one reason why mechanistic theory seemed promising to Nietzsche was that it is not clear that it does require any kind of final state. in contradiction to Nietzsche’s apparent insistence that forces cannot be equalized or levelled out. he does insist in at least one place that if mechanistic theory required the conception of a final state then it would be that theory and not.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 the concomitants of genealogy as system of forces: the eternal return Deleuze first introduces eternal return in Nietzsche et la philosophie by way of a commentary on Nietzsche’s relationship to science.6 Perhaps we have to be satisfied here with saying that for Nietzsche it would have been expedient for eternal return to be shown to be a consequence of some physical theory. Instead. Forces cannot be assessed either by simply quantitative means nor according to any quality other than that which expresses their relationship with one another (NP II 3). by implication. and thus tends towards an ‘‘adiaphoria’’ (this is Nietzsche’s own word). so the distinction of active and reactive becomes absolutely decisive in determining and evaluating forces. Deleuze claims that ‘‘[t]he mechanist idea affirms the eternal return but only by assuming that differences in quantity balance or cancel each other out between the initial and final states of a reversible system’’ (NP II 4).196. that of a final or terminal state. I will now move on to what happens when this conception of Nietzschean force is carried over into the interpretation of the eternal return. as the break where repetition starts? On this score at least mechanistic theory seems to satisfy Nietzsche’s requirements. In one respect at least. but the status of this thought is in no way dependent on any kind of physics: rather the other way round. a terminal state of becoming’’ (NP II 4). a state which. This leaves the question of Nietzsche’s apparent interest in physics and the way in which it might provide some kind of proof of eternal return open and ambiguous. certainly there are at the least strains of thinking in Nietzsche which support them. however. eternal return in the wrong way. Deleuze misconstrues this independence. Science tends to equalize out differences which for Nietzsche cannot be so equalized. Yet in order for eternal Downloaded by [64. Here. the utilitarianism and egalitarianism proper to science’’ (NP II 4).force and eternal return Morals) since they remain essentially reactive even when they do so (NP II 8–9). since we would then be compelled to think the thought of eternal return. rather than an ongoing recurrence within which no single moment could be singled out as initial or final. which would be refuted. but is concerned more generally with questions of how science conceives of force and its implication in the modern tendency to egalitarianism: ‘‘[t]he scientific mania for seeking balances. the eternal return. To diagnose this in terms of forces amounts to saying that science conceives of the world from the perspective of reactive forces. He insists that both physical theory and mechanistic theory must be rejected because they demand a final state: ‘‘The two conceptions agree on one hypothesis. but crucial questions remain about the extent to which these strains of thought come to permeate Nietzsche’s thinking as a whole. is identical to a prior state. since it is reactive forces which aim at levelling out differences. Mechanistic theory does indeed seem to imply an undifferentiated state. This fills out Deleuze’s basic picture of how forces are to be thought of in Nietzsche.

The moment only acquires being by way of an eternal return about which we can theorize but that we can never experience as such. so that only active forces return.160. It is hard to think that Deleuze is completely wrong to insist that we must not think of the return of a fixed.) But Deleuze has other arguments to support his contention. The highest state a philosopher can attain: to stand in a Dionysian relationship to existence – my formula for this is amor fati. without subtraction. because according to Nietzsche it is only the eternal return which confers the status of being on becoming. exception. the equilibrium state or the resting place of the identical’’ (NP II 4). Perhaps a more consistent way of thinking about this apparent tension or paradox in Nietzsche’s conception of the eternal return is to say that the return of a given moment never allows us to experience that moment in terms of stability or being but only ever in terms of becoming.7 Nevertheless. but this does not mean that it must halt at a negation. I do not find this argument compelling.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 105 . This is what is strange and paradoxical about the thought. predetermined state of being. This first description of the eternal return in relation to the question of science Deleuze calls its ‘‘premier aspect. since it flies in the face of what Nietzsche himself says about eternal return.ward return to hold sway in the way in which Nietzsche conceives of it. for example: My philosophy brings the triumphant idea of which all other modes of thought will Downloaded by [64. Deleuze’s reasons for believing this are. and the texts which elaborate the impossibility of equal forces in Nietzsche are sketchy and tentative.196. It wants rather to cross over to the opposite of this – to a Dionysian affirmation of the world as it is. can be considered equal to one another. a No. and that in a sense we must therefore conceive of some kind of ‘‘adiaphoria’’ between a moment and its recurrence. that is. in which Nietzsche talks about the eternal return as a ‘‘selective’’ doctrine. In effect it functions as an introduction to Deleuze’s conception of the eternal return as the return of the same as different. And yet. the return of the identical: since according to Nietzsche’s own physics no two forces are identical. this is precisely what we are required to think: that while within a system of forces no two forces are identical and none can be said to be equivalent to any other. and as an independent argument to show that the eternal return cannot imply the return of the same as same. but this same does not return to us. or selection – it wants the eternal circulation: – the same things. the system as a whole does repeat.9 (If the paradoxes I have elaborated above seem unsustainable. the above citation surely tells against Deleuze’s insistence that ‘‘[i]t is not the ‘same’ or the ‘one’ which comes back in the eternal return but return itself is the one which ought to belong to diversity and to that which differs’’8 (NP II 4). a will to negation. mostly from the Nachlass. as the return of the same: Such an experimental life as I live anticipates experimentally even the possibilities of the most fundamental nihilism. and the most important of these emerges when he comes to what he calls the ‘‘second aspect of the eternal return: as ethical and selective thought’’ (NP II 14). then we may have simply to conclude that it is Nietzsche’s incompletely elaborated physics which is inconsistent and contradictory. solidly based on certain texts. how could we reach a state where the entirety of forces exactly reproduces a prior state? As I have suggested above. but there seems little doubt that Nietzsche does demand that we think of it precisely in this way.’’ as ‘‘cosmological and physical doctrine’’ (NP II 5). the same logic and illogic of entanglements. The eternal return therefore is the return of the same.10 where he makes a famous claim: that the eternal return eliminates reactive forces. Nietzsche wants us to think of return as something to which the will has a certain relation. as the above extract and nearly all of Nietzsche’s comments on eternal return in the published books make clear. Deleuze sweeps these difficulties to one side by drawing a picture of eternal return as the return of the same as different. as he sees it. (WP 1041) And yet we might also like to agree with Deleuze when he says that the eternal return ‘‘is not the permanence of the same. because we have no experiential access to its infinite previous and future occurrences.

and Deleuze interprets this to mean that ‘‘[o]nly the eternal return makes the nihilistic will whole and complete. This is the mode of selection which will eradicate those reactive forces which ‘‘go to the limit of what they can do in their own way. and which thereby either transforms us or destroys us. both descriptions of how the thought of return selects.12 Deleuze’s justification for this claim is bound up with the whole of his conception of Nietzschean force and genealogy. reactive man will not return’’ (NP II 14) which also implies.196.force and eternal return ultimately perish. that ‘‘The small.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 106 . reactive man does return which makes the thought so terrible for Nietzsche and causes the disgust which crawls into the throat of the shepherd in Downloaded by [64. that the eternal return is the return of the same as different. But Deleuze wants to make his second kind of selection into something more than this. I am in complete concurrence with both of Deleuze’s notions of selection. But I do not think it is then legitimate for Deleuze to claim that because of this selection ‘‘reactive forces do not return’’ (NP II 14. ‘‘the only way in which reactive forces become active’’ (NP II 14). this ‘‘negation active’’ is. to my mind there are two possible ways in which the eternal return might be thought to be selective. as something which forces us to think about existence in a particular way. Firstly. the eternal return is selective in two ways: firstly by giving the will a practical rule by which to live.’’ Leaving aside for the moment Deleuze’s own splitting of selection into two. purely as a thought. the latter something which occurs only by virtue of the return of that entire history. turn ` against itself and eliminate itself.’’ But in this completed form nihilism no longer preserves reactive forces but instead must. as discussed above. Now it is clear to me that Nietzsche only ever thought of the eternal return as selective in the first sense. yet recurring inevitably without any finale of nothingness: the eternal recurrence’’ (WP 55). Surely this is not the sense of the passage in the Nachlass from which Deleuze has already quoted: ‘‘Let us think this thought [the thought of nihilism] in its most terrible form: existence as it is. of course.’’ Nietzsche claims that the eternal return is itself ‘‘the most extreme form of nihilism’’ (WP 55). but only because I think these are both aspects of selection in the first sense. Deleuze goes on to specify this rule in Nietzsche’s own words. so a second mode of selection is required. translation modified). is discussing the effects which this thought will have when it comes to pervade the consciousness of European culture. by virtue of its completion. as if it were the elimination of reactive forces from the universe for all time. But it seems to me that there are at least two reasons why this cannot be so. which he described as ‘‘the greatest weight. in Deleuze’s terminology.’’11 But this selection is inadequate in itself for the elimination of reactive forces. the way in which Nietzsche anticipates that the eternal return will operate as a selective doctrine. petty. cosmological process which ‘‘selects’’ through the very process of return. and which find a powerful motor in the nihilistic will. There is almost nothing in this account I would disagree with: it seems to me to capture perfectly. and never in the second. as both practical rule for the affirmative will and completion of the nihilistic will. if the eternal return actually assures us that reactive forces will not return then Nietzsche’s great thought. without meaning or aim.’’13 becomes something blandly cheering and optimistic. in all that you will you begin by asking yourself: is it certain that I will to do it an infinite number of times? This should be your most solid centre of gravity. The particular problem at this point in Nietzsche et la philosophie is that Deleuze is conflating two different notions of ‘‘selection. Firstly. The former would be something which happens ‘‘within’’ the history of the universe. quoting from the collection of late notes ´ published in French as La Volonte de puissance: ‘‘If. Every passage in which Nietzsche intimates anything about how the eternal return is selective. such as that quoted above (WP 1053). (WP 1053) According to Deleuze. for Deleuze. and he can therefore claim that reactive forces do not return. as a universal. It is the great cultivating idea: the races that cannot bear it stand condemned. secondly. It is precisely the thought that the petty. ‘‘[a] rule as rigorous as the Kantian one’’ (NP II 14). those who find it the greatest benefit are chosen to rule.160.

even though Deleuze has insisted that there can be no initial or original state. . but it is surely not overcome because he realizes that the reactive man does not in fact return but because he learns to affirm existence in spite of the fact that everything petty and mean will return. And it is an index both of this difficulty and of the centrality of Deleuze’s take on eternal return in his reading of Nietzsche that elsewhere Deleuze becomes somewhat shrill and even doctrinaire in discussing this matter. But even outside of Nietzsche and Philosophy this ‘‘controversy’’ over the eternal return is often prominent when Deleuze discusses Nietzsche. and I will discuss a little further Deleuze’s claim here that there are two moments in Thus Spoke Zarathustra where Zarathustra rejects the wrong conception of eternal return.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 The tone here is of something close to exasperation. the disclaimer of the idea that this return brings back the ‘‘same’’: ‘‘Zarathustra [ .’’15 There seems to be always an awareness on Deleuze’s part that this erroneous interpretation (which seems to me quite natural and in fact correct) is going to precede him and take a lot of shifting. the Identical. in the little essay ‘‘Nietzsche’’ originally published in 1965 Deleuze insists that ‘‘we must not make of the eternal return a return of the same. in fact. ] does not cause the same and the similar to return. This happens in the text which was the next to be published by Deleuze following Nietzsche and Philosophy: Difference and Repetition. ] denies that time is a circle’’. Here. active and reactive forces and eternal return are bound up together in Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche.196. this must already have happened? And given the infinity of past time this would be so whether one considered this elimination a gradual process (a few more reactive forces eliminated each time they return) or something that would happen as soon as return takes place even once. Secondly. For example. becoming would have attained its final state if it had one’’ (II 5). Before exploring this further. which reveal the extent to which Deleuze seems to feel that a great deal is at stake in getting the interpretation of eternal return right. and it is here that genealogy. when he opposed ‘‘his’’ hypothesis to every cyclical hypothesis? (DR 372) Downloaded by [64. the I and the Self in the eternal return? How could it be believed that he understood the eternal return as a cycle. And Deleuze’s desire to secure the right interpretation of eternal return also results in a 107 . the Same.14 This disgust is overcome when the shepherd bites the head off the snake and spits it out. . Otherwise eternal return simply would not be the heavy. there is Nietzsche’s argument from the infinity of past time. I will make a brief digression to explore some of Deleuze’s comments on eternal return elsewhere in his writings. then two things follow: the fact that we do experience reactive forces must mean that we would be in an originary phase prior to return. we find the now familiar polemic on eternal return. the ‘‘eternal’’ of eternal return would become meaningless: there would just be one return in which reactive forces were obliterated and active forces came to hold sway. in one of the text’s concluding sections.160. . which seems closer to what Deleuze thinks. however. This theme is very much to the fore in the preface that Deleuze wrote for the English translation of Nietzsche and Philosophy. And. precisely on the basis of the infinity of past time. the Similar. implicated Everything. secondly. to which Deleuze has already referred to demonstrate why there can be no final or equilibrium state: ‘‘past time being infinite. the more one thinks about Deleuze’s conception.’’16 A little further on Deleuze works himself up into a real indignance concerning the fact that eternal return could be so interpreted: How could the reader believe that Nietzsche. he ‘‘knows that the eternal return [ . terrible thought that Nietzsche wants it to be. the more it seems to unravel: for if this latter is the case.ward Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But isn’t it just as valid to argue that if the eternal return was going to eliminate reactive forces from the universe then. who was the greatest critic of these categories. the Equal. . this would flatly contradict the thesis of the infinity of past time. But in fact the way Deleuze has conceived of forces in the first place compels him to believe that the selective character of the eternal return means that reactive forces do not return.

does not constitute their elimination from the universe. . ‘‘in directions confirmed by Nietzsche’s published works. . since these notes are reserved material. Downloaded by [64. Secondly. We know only that Thus Spoke Zarathustra is unfinished [ . Firstly. . there is no reason to suppose that the existence of the human race is anything other than transient: who knows what else might spring up in its stead? In terms of eternal return. the elimination of reactive forces from such a system precludes their ever recurring within that system: for how would they ever get back into it? There are no different levels at which things can happen in Deleuze’s picture. as it were. according to Nietzsche’s conception. That Deleuze felt the need to clarify himself further in the first book of his to take the form not of a monograph but of an original philosophical discourse indicates the importance of this take on eternal return. it is even certain. cosmological picture of forces does it come to appear that were the European culture of the late nineteenth century to overcome its reactive traits then the reactive per se could never return. that the universe must once again assume the shape it once took prior to the existence of the human race. except in directions confirmed by Nietzsche’s published works. which is in effect what Deleuze does. because he is of course one of the great proponents of a mode of interpretation which is conceived much less as a ‘‘reconstruction’’ of a great thinker’s thought than of a utilization of that thought in whatever way is required and putting it to work. Because Deleuze conceives of a closed system of forces on the basis of his reading of the Genealogy (and the universe as a whole would be such a system on Deleuze’s view). For he argues for it here not just because he has his eye on novel ideas concerning difference and repetition but because it is quite justifiable and even natural on the basis of Deleuze’s reading of ‘‘force’’ in Nietzsche.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 the dwarf. in Deleuze’s admittedly vague phrase. so that the reactive man comes into being once more. . then we are left with the perpetual triumph of active forces. and perhaps even more of the recruiting of Nietzsche for a conception of difference and repetition that prefigures Deleuze’s own. But if we concede instead that the Genealogy deals with a particular period of European history and is not a picture of the cosmos as a whole then there is no difficulty in seeing that to posit a triumph of active forces in Western culture. this statement is particularly unexpected when we consider that almost the entirety of Deleuze’s conception of force in the second chapter of Nietzsche and Philosophy is drawn from notes from the Nachlass with no real attempt to demonstrate that this is done.196. ] (DR 371) . and more importantly.17 Let us now return to Nietzsche and Philosophy to see why this interpretation of eternal return seems so compelling to Deleuze. and there is no reason why those cultures should not become powerful enough to overwhelm contemporary Western culture. only for that race to arise again in precisely the same way. as Nietzsche repeatedly stresses.’’ It could be hypothesized that Deleuze was driven into such exasperation and such doctrinaire positions by an initial reluctance in the reception of Nietzsche and Philosophy to accept Deleuze’s new formulation of the eternal return. whether or not this is something which Nietzsche prophesies. This prohibition sounds odd coming from Deleuze for at least two reasons.force and eternal return rather surprising decree concerning the legitimate use of the Nachlass: We cannot make use of the posthumous notes. the above decree seems much more in keeping with the former conception. the animals and the hurdy-gurdy song: deleuze and heidegger on getting the eternal return wrong There is one other argument Deleuze can marshal against the notion of eternal return as the return 108 .160. and therefore stands in need of Deleuze’s completion of the thought of eternal return. Only if one abstracts from the Genealogy a general. For there may be other cultures in which reactive forces predominate. put aside for further elaboration. so if we add a conclusion to the story of On the Genealogy of Morals in which the eternal return roots out reactive forces.

. the wheel of existence rolls for ever. and this. . ‘‘do not treat this too lightly! Or I shall leave you squatting where you are. unlike Deleuze’s other arguments concerning eternal return. Two paths come together here: no one has ever reached their end. everything meets again. murmured the dwarf disdainfully. ‘‘This long lane behind us: it goes on for an eternity. ‘‘All truth is crooked. . ‘‘But if one were to follow them further and ever further and further: do you think. is very definitely based on Nietzsche’s own text. (NP xi) To this the dwarf replies with apparent complicity: ‘‘Everything straight lies’’. ‘‘Existence begins in every instance. but his remarks elsewhere in Nietzsche and Philosophy (see.’’ (TSZ III. 109 . ‘‘how well you know what had to be fulfilled in seven days . everything returns. The path of eternity is crooked. Everything departs. Lamefoot – and I have carried you high!’’ Downloaded by [64.196. to his animals. On two occasions in Zarathustra Nietzsche explicitly denies that the eternal return is a circle which makes the same return. Everything dies. as Zarathustra climbs the mountain accompanied by his dwarf and reaches a gateway. ‘‘all things themselves dance for such as think as we: they come and offer their hand and laugh and flee – and return.’’ But Zarathustra exposition: reacts violently to this ‘‘Spirit of Gravity!’’ I said angrily. . The name of the gateway is written above it: ‘Moment’. the ring of existence is true to itself for ever. ‘‘Everything goes. although he reacts this time.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 Deleuze does not specify here what these two occasions are.160. they abut on one another: and it is here at this gateway that they come together. the ball There rolls around every Here. the year of existence runs on for ever.ward of the same. with affection rather than anger: ‘‘O you buffoons and barrel organs!’’ answered Zarathustra and smiled again. Zarathustra now introduces the eternal return for the first time in the book: ‘‘Behold this gateway. every time we interpret the eternal return as the return of the identical or the same. ‘‘They are in opposition to one another. ‘‘On the Vision and the Riddle’’ 2) It is to be assumed that Deleuze takes this angry response to show that we must not think of eternal return as ‘‘a circle which makes the same return’’ (see above). ‘‘Everything breaks. that these paths would be in eternal opposition?’’ (TSZ III. the conclusion to NP II 15) and also in the discussion of eternal return in Difference and Repetition18 lead us to the only possible candidates in Nietzsche’s text. In the preface which Deleuze provided for the publication of the English translation of Nietzsche et la philosophie he writes: Every time we understand the eternal return as the return of a particular arrangement of things after all the other arrangements have been realised. we replace Nietzsche’s thought with childish hypotheses . And that long lane ahead of us – that is another eternity. the same house of existence builds itself for ever. dwarf. ‘‘The Convalescent’’ 2) Once again Zarathustra derides this way of describing the eternal return. said the animals then. dwarf!’’ I went on: ‘‘it has two aspects. time itself is a circle. these paths. The middle is everywhere. everything is joined anew. everything blossoms anew. for example. The other passage to which we must conclude that Deleuze is referring similarly takes the form of the rejection of an exposition of the eternal return which is found to be somehow inadequate or defective: ‘‘O Zarathustra’’. The first of these comes when the eternal return makes its first explicit appearance in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 Once again. which. . This is how Heidegger interprets Nietzsche at this point. Perhaps the animals’ talk is only more effervescent. pays much closer attention to the letter of Nietzsche’s text than does Deleuze in this instance. and I and you at this gateway whispering together. These new conditions derive from the realization that the second question is based on the ‘‘Moment’’. a repetitive ditty. It seems so. one might only appreciate the full significance of eternal return if one can really conceive of what it means to exist within that And when Heidegger goes on to discuss the erroneous description of eternal return given by Zarathustra’s animals. eternal lane runs back: an eternity lies behind us ‘‘Must not all things that can run have already run along this lane? Must not all things that can happen have already happened. But such questioning requires that one adopt a stance of his own within the ‘‘Moment’’ itself. in spite of what is generally held to be the case concerning Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche. conditions the dwarf cannot satisfy – because he is a dwarf. when discussing the disagreement with the dwarf in ‘‘On the Vision and the Riddle. . The superiority consists in the fact that certain conditions of understanding have been brought into play. The very question is posed in such a superior fashion that Zarathustra can no longer expect an answer from the dwarf. been done.19 And might it not also be that the problem with the ‘‘hurdy-gurdy song’’ into which the animals have transformed the eternal return is that it makes the return too easy. . ’’ Downloaded by [64. Yet the dwarf fails to reply to the second question. down that long terrible lane – must we not return eternally?’’ (TSZ III.160. the elucidation of what is wrong with the dwarf’s account deepens and intensifies. They are 1 10 . nothing suggests that we should now be thinking of return in terms of the return of the same as different: ‘‘Behold this moment!’’ I went on. what Zarathustra rails against is the fact that the dwarf takes the idea of return ‘‘too lightly’’ (‘‘mache dir es nicht zu leicht’’). ‘‘Of the Vision and the Riddle’’ 2) circle and to know that one exists within it. in time and its temporality. too light and too trivial. And when he goes on to counter the dwarf’s version by expounding his own. and specifically. suggests that we must not think of the eternal return as something which just goes round and round without variation. that it must instead be conceived of as the return of the same as different. Firstly. and there can be no better way of demonstrating that Zarathustra’s two objections need not be interpreted along Deleuze’s lines than by quoting Heidegger’s impressive exegesis of these passages. ‘‘And this slow spider that creeps along in the moonlight. it appears that for Deleuze this rejection of the ‘‘hurdy-gurdy song’’ (‘‘LeierLied’’). since he too believes that it must be fundamentally the same thing which marks out both what the dwarf says and what the animals say as erroneous. . Heidegger brings these two episodes together. not as such that it represents a return of the same? Then the issue would be instead that to really think the eternal return it is just not enough to say ‘‘everything turns in a circle’’. But how clear is it that the reason why these descriptions are rejected is because they represent return as return of the same? In the case of the dwarf. . more buoyant and playful than – yet at bottom identical with – the talk of the dwarf. whispering of eternal things – must we not all have been here before? ‘‘– and must we not return and run down that other lane out before us. and this moonlight itself.force and eternal return ‘‘And you – have already made a hurdygurdy song of it? . to whom Zarathustra objects that he makes things too easy for himself . .’’ Heidegger comments: It seems as though Zarathustra’s second question [‘‘must we not recur eternally?’’ quoted above as ‘‘must we not return eternally?’’] repeats exactly what was contained in the dwarf’s answer to the first question: Everything moves in a circle. not that he has misconceived it as such. as must be assumed to be the case also for Deleuze. run past? . ‘‘From this gateway Moment [Augenblick] a long.196. that is.

’’ and the fact that the way Deleuze derives a self-consistent system of forces from Nietzsche’s texts. that such thinking is a cry of distress. mysterious and perhaps even unthinkable about Nietzsche’s thought. not aware of what must be thought in the true thinking of being as a whole. they crank it out. operating as they do at quite different levels.’’21 But because this interpolation is inserted into a close reading of Nietzsche’s text. a story in which the whole history of self-conscious beings appears as in a certain sense a matter of indifference.22 I am not primarily concerned here with determining precisely what one should make of the eternal return. One story is that of Western civilization. Heidegger thinks that there is a way of understanding eternal return which trivializes it. For the dwarf vanishes when things take a serious turn and all becomes foreboding. namely. This is the story which is told in On the Genealogy of Morals.23 Even in Heidegger’s exposition there remains something highly enigmatic. from the outside. as this would alter the content of what returns. epistemological and ontological presuppositions that are to be derived from its history. Like the dwarf they run away. knowing what is essential about it as little as the dwarf does. In spite of their marvelous talk about the Ring of Being.ward barrel organs: they turn his words concerning the eternal return of the same. results in an interpretation of the eternal return which I think is untenable. telling what results if everything revolves. ‘‘what is dark and horrid in the teaching as it is expressed’’ is ‘‘the fact that if everything recurs all decision and effort and will to make things better is a matter of indifference. so that the result of the teaching is disgust and ultimately the negation of life. arising from a calamity. Or they too act as mere spectators. This gives Nietzsche an optimism Downloaded by [64. And on the other hand there is the story of the universe as a whole. words obtained only after the hardest struggle. Heidegger’s interpretation of eternal return in terms of will and the ‘‘Moment. the story of repetition and return for which Nietzsche argues. when the shepherd has to bite off the head of the black snake.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 11 1 . makes the thought all too easy. Zarathustra’s animals too seem to dance over and beyond what is essential. into a mere ditty.’’ the ‘‘Augenblick. Perhaps eternal return is the kind of thought which one can only really think of in the wrong way. There are two different stories in Nietzsche.’’ is far more persuasive than that of Deleuze which. They are not aware of what is going on there. runs against the grain of Nietzsche’s own exposition and creates a number of internal difficulties. in particular from On the Genealogy of Morals (‘‘genealogy’’ is for Deleuze nothing other than the mapping of these forces). concerned with the particular moral. His animals too seem to want to treat the matter as men do. the story of our culture. as Heidegger puts it. and that the purpose of the two passages cited is to reject this simplification of return. The dwarf experiences nothing of the fact that really to know the ring of rings means precisely this: to overcome from the outset and perpetually what is dark and horrid in the teaching as it is expressed.160.20 Like Deleuze. namely the fact that if everything recurs all decision and every effort and will to make things better is a matter of indifference. What I am just as much concerned with here is Deleuze’s entire interpretation of Nietzschean ‘‘genealogy. The primary way in which these two stories are related is that the advent of a proper conception of the latter will bring about a radical change in the former. that if everything turns in a circle nothing is worth the trouble. They perch before beings and ‘‘have a look at’’ their eternal displacement. in an important respect Nietzsche keeps them quite separate from one another. and while they bear on one another in a number of ways. as the dwarf and the animals think it. and of which it is uncertain to what extent we can free ourselves. We might note that some of what Heidegger expounds as being the content of this thought is in its turn speculative and interpolative: for Nietzsche certainly does not say in so many words that.196. Perhaps it is not even possible to consistently think the thought of eternal return from ‘‘within’’ the Augenblick: to do so would be to become embroiled in a kind of living paradox since even if one was convinced that the ‘‘moment’’ repeats one could nevertheless never experience the eternal return as return. as I have suggested. then describe it in the most resplendent images.

196. If a strangely decentred circle should form. the ‘‘petty man. Hereafter WP. The Will to Power. at most. . 6 Nietzsche.’ ’ ¤ 12 ‘‘les forces reactives ne reviennent pas. Arabic numerals to the subdivisions within these sections. 17 Deleuze’s avowed closeness to Nietzsche. In citations from this text Roman numerals refer to the three essays which comprise the main text. ]’’ (371). Nietzsche. the nihilism of Western culture and the self-overcoming of that nihilism by means of the thought of eternal return. 8 ‘‘[d]ans l’eternel retour. When Nietzsche entitles the first exposition of eternal return in The Gay Science ‘‘Das grosste Schwergewicht. ¤ 3 Deleuze. 4 Nietzsche. ‘‘the closest approximation of a world of becoming to a world of being’’ (WP 617).’ ' ’ 16 Deleuze.’ ’ ¤ 13 ‘‘Das grosste Schwergewicht. 5 For a good example of this procedure see NP II 2.Hereafter DR. part 3. ce n’est pas le meme ou ¤ “ l’un qui reviennent. Difference and Repetition 371. 18 In Difference and Repetition Deleuze clearly links his rejection of the wrong conception of eternal return with the first of the passages I am about to quote from Zarathustra: ‘‘Zarathustra denies that time is a circle [ . ’ Hereafter TSZ. 20 Ibid.160. 7 ‘‘That everything recurs’’ is. with section number. 15 Deleuze. ‘‘Of the vision and the Riddle. subsection 2.’ one of the possible translations of ’ the German ‘‘Schwergewicht’’ is ‘‘emphasis’’ 1 12 .’ ‘‘The greatest ’ « weight. In further citations from this text Roman numerals refer to the five main sections into which the text is divided and are followed by the titles of the subdivisions and Arabic numerals for any further subdivisions. Hereafter NP. 14. Nietzsche et la philosophie.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 notes ¤ ¤ ¤ 1 Above all in Difference et Repetition. Downloaded by [64. . so that a more affirmative phase of human history will be ushered in. 11 ‘‘Si.force and eternal return for the future and might enable us to say. ] By contrast he holds that time is a straight line in two opposing directions. section 1. is seen by at least one commentator as weakening Deleuze’s philosophy by tying it to the failure of the Nietzschean project: see Conway. On the Genealogy of Morals. 19 Heidegger 43^ 44. 2 ‘‘Differance’’ in Margins of Philosophy 17 . although I would prefer to be more cautious and say that Nietzsche believes the idea of eternal return will undo the particular malaise of post-Christian civilization. 21 In fact there are grounds for believing the opposite. ’ « The Gay Science. that reactive forces could be eliminated from our culture. Everything returns. .’ Nietzsche. mais le retour est lui-meme l’un “ qui se dit seulement du divers et de ce qui differe. Pure Immanence 87 . Thus Spoke Zarathustra. 9 And derive entirely from the Nachlass. see my discussion of this a little further on in the text. ce sera pour toi le centre de gravite le plus solide. tu commences par demander: est-il sur que je veuille le “ faire un nombre infini de fois. dans tout ce que tu veux faire. Arabic numerals to the sections into which these are subdivided.’’ decadence. 54 ^55. In citations from this text Roman numerals refer to the five large sections into which the book is divided. including Christianity. section 1066. section 341. nor that anything which transforms that relationship in the context of the Genealogy would transform it once and for all in all contexts.’ section 2. the situation where reactive forces predominate over active forces. and the nihilism that results. this will only be ‘at the end’ of the straight line [ . according to Nietzsche. which probably motivates the rhetoric of his appropriation of eternal return. 10 I have decapitalized the section heading in Tomlinson’s translation to better parallel the original. . What I cannot countenance is the claim that the description of forces in the Genealogy is the description of the only kinds of relationship of forces that obtain in the universe for Nietzsche.

W.1982. New Y ork: Harper. D. G. Trans.1994.’ Deleuze and Philosophy: ’ The Difference Engineer.1974.171^ 88. G. it is just that the ‘‘cry of distress’’ may arise for different reasons and the consequences of thinking oneself within the eternal return may be different from those Heidegger adduces. Berlin: de Gruyter. Ansell-Pearson. ‘‘Identity and Eternal Recurrence. Paris: PUF. MA: Harvard UP. D. 1 13 . Nietzsche writes so little about the eternal return that there must necessarily be quite a number of interpretations of it which would count as reasonable. Brighton: Harvester. thus it provides an alternative account to the Heideggerian one I have evoked here. K. G. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. II: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same.160. Nietzsche: Life as Cambridge.’ If Nietzsche even partially has this ’ connotation in mind then it seems that what is horrifying about the eternal return is not that it makes every act of will a matter of indifference but rather that it makes it so overwhelmingly significant. . Loeb. also seems to me consonant with these passages in Zarathustra and with what Nietzsche says about eternal return elsewhere. 23 There is a trend in analytic readings of Nietzsche from the past twenty years or so to emphasize the aspect of ‘‘eternal return’’ as a test for one’s attitude to one’s own life. A. Trans. F. bibliography Clark. G.1997 . Deleuze. Kaufmann. too.1996. A. Nietzsche and Philosophy. Downloaded by [64. ‘‘Tumbling Dice: Gilles Deleuze and ¤ ¤ the Economy of Repetition. Colli and M. Hatab. London: Faber. Trans. Derrida. A.’ ’ A Companion to Nietzsche. emphasizes the aspect of eternal return which gives to the will a rule which prevents it from any half-hearted willing: everything you do must be willed for all time. Difference and Repetition. P. Trans. ¤ ¤ ¤ Deleuze. Heim. Trans. Paris: PUF. D. 2005. Trans. which is highly complex but which revolves principally around a kind of rupture in identity which the eternal return implies. Smith. and Janaway. Patton. The Gay Science. F. H. Heidegger. Ed. L. London: Athlone. Janaway. Difference et repetition.1990. Tomlinson.S. But it will be recalled that Deleuze. F. Literature.1984.W. Deleuze is right to bring out this point. Montinari.For a more‘‘existential’’ reading of Nietzsche sharing this same basic orientation. 2006. 1962. London: Athlone.F.1985. New York: Vintage. London: Routledge. as conferring a requisite weight and heaviness on being in order to counter its tendency to lightness and insignificance. Nietzsche on T ruth and Philosophy. Nehamas. G.1997 73^90. 1968. Deleuze. J.1983. M. Conway. London: Athlone. See Nehamas. But to reiterate: I just do not think that Deleuze’s reading is one of these interpretations. Trans. M.ward or ‘‘stress. Such readings have much to recommend them but this emphasis tends to obscure an aspect of eternal return with which Nietzsche became more and more preoccupied and of which Deleuze reminds us: the possible historical impact of this thought on Western culture as a whole. Deleuze. Nietzsche and theVicious Circle. Trans. Clarke. Kritische « Studienausgabe. Nietzsche. 2001. Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche’s Genealogy.196. Oxford: Blackwell. This is approximately the interpretation of the eternal return proposed by Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Krell. Ed.1980. On the Genealogy of Morals. Ansell Pearson. M. 2007 . Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Loeb. London: Routledge. New York: Zone. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Nietzsche et la philosophie. Ed.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 Nietzsche. Boyman. 22 The interpretation of eternal return given by Pierre Klossowski in Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle. P. D. 2000. Smith.Trans. Nietzsche’s Life Sentence: Coming to Terms with Eternal Recurrence. Nietzsche.H. Oxford: Oxford UP. Samtliche Werke. P. Klossowski. M. Deleuze. but Heidegger’s unwarranted interpolation here does not count against the general thrust of his interpretation of the passages in question. Kundera. Oxford: Oxford UP. Bass. Margins of Philosophy. K. Nietzsche: Vol. G. since it will be repeated for all time. see Hatab. C. W.

Nietzsche. Downloaded by [64. Thus Spoke Zarathustra.J. New York: Vintage. Trans. Kaufmann and R. Trans.force and eternal return Nietzsche.254] at 12:04 12 January 2012 Joseph Ward UCD School of Philosophy Newman Building University College Dublin Belfield.160. Hollingdale.d.com .1967 . The Will to Power. Dublin 4 Ireland E-mail: joe. London: Penguin.1974.J. W. F. Hollingdale.ward217@gmail. F. R.196.

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