Questions About Deleuze’s Nietzsche & Philosophy
by Levi R. Bryant
A short post as I attempt to get myself back into the habit of writing here. I would like to get back to the place where I’m writing here daily or at least a few times a week, though I confess that I’ve become a bit jaded by online writing and what it often brings and that, in terms of time and responsibilities, my life is quite different than when I was writing frequently here. Right now my New Centre seminar on Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is reading Deleuze’s magnificent study Nietzsche & Philosophy. The reason for this is two-fold: First, Nietzsche & Philosophy provides the groundwork for understanding Deleuze’s particular conception of critique and, in particular, his concept of “total” and “immanent” critique, both of which will be important for the project of Anti-Oedipus. Second, the dynamics of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic that Deleuze develops here provide an important backdrop for understanding the various paralogisms of subjectivity and desire that D&G develop in Anti-Oedipus.
It has been over 15 years since I’ve read this book and in many respects it reads like an entirely new work for me. However, one of the things that I find striking as I read it is the apparent absence of a causal account of how these types– the man of ressentiment, the man of bad conscience, and the ascetic –come to be. On the one hand, we get a symptomatology of these types; a description of their features, postures, attitudes, ways of reacting to the world, and behavior. On the other hand, we get what might be called a “metapsychology” of these types, or how the dynamics of active and reactive forces function to produce these types. In this regard– and while Deleuze would be careful to distinguish generative/genetic critical philosophies (his own) from transcendental (Kant’s) critical philosophies –Deleuze gives something of a “transcendental” account for the conditions for the possibility of the man of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic.
Just as Kant gives a “metaphysical” account of time and space in the Critique of Pure Reasonthat describes the salient features of time and space with respect to mathematics and then a “transcendental” account that outlines what must belong to time and space by right in order for synthetic a priori judgments of mathematics to be possible (that they are forms of pure intuition imposed by mind on the world), Deleuze gives a description of these types and then an account of the conditions under which they are possible in terms of both distributions of active and reactive forces and the dynamics of these forces. None of this is, of course, to suggest that Deleuze is a Kantian or a transcendental idealist. He’s not. The point is that the phenomena or “appearances” have a deep ground that gives rise to them. This is why Deleuze claims that Nietzschean critique and philosophy is a symptomatology and a semiology. A symptom is a sign of something deeper that gives rise to it.
What seems to be missing, however, is any discussion of causes presiding over the formation of these types. We might initially assume as a hypothesis that the man of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic arise from being on the painful receiving end of the active forces of the so-called masters. Here we can think of Nietzsche’s famous parable of the lamb in The Genealogy of Morals, where the lamb that is prey of the eagle takes to calling the powers or capacities of the eagle evil so as to call itself good. However, Deleuze is quite clear in rejecting this hypothesis.
It might be thought that the man of ressentiment comes into being by accident: having experienced too strong an excitation (a pain), he would have had to abandon the attempt to react, not being strong enough to form a riposte. He would therefore experience a desire for revenge and, by a process of generalisation, would want to take this out on the whole world. Such an interpretation is mistaken; it only takes quantities into account, the quantity of excitation received, ‘objectively’ compared to the quantity of force of a receptive subject. But, for Nietzsche, what counts is not the quantity of force considered abstractly but a determinate relation in the subject itself between the different forces of which it is made up this is what is meant by a type (sic.). (115)
An appeal to a type doesn’t give us much to go on with respect to both how the cultural, political, or social advent of these types came into being, but also how individuals are infected by this type. Compare this to a Freudo-Lacanian framework where we not only get a symptomatology of different types– neurosis (hysteria, obsession, phobia), psychosis, and perversion –and an account of the metapsychology of each of the subjective and social dynamics of these types, but also an etiology (causal account) of how these types are produced (repression, disavowal, and foreclosure) and the conditions that favor these events (though that’s always more fuzzy: what leads to hysteria versus obsession, for example?) at both the level of the individual and culture (at least in Lacan if we take the early work, The Family Complexes, seriously where a shift in kinship structures plays a key role). It seems as if– and I’m open to persuasion otherwise –that this is missing in Deleuze. Instead, what we seem to get is what might be called a theory of application where the contamination is something that results from the outside, from being imposed through a technique of application on the affirmative, desiring subject. However, taking a page from both Lacan and Derrida, ought we not say that if the origin can be contaminated by reactive forces (quid facti), it must, by right, always-already be contaminated a priori by right (quid juris). This seems to be a problem that repeats endlessly in Deleuze. Representation in Difference and Repetition, for example, seems to be treated as an accident of thought that comes from without, just as the Oedipus (which has a far broader meaning than the Oedipus complex) seems to be something that descends upon us accidentally or through an application. What seems to be uninterrogated, despite gestures to the contrary in both works, is why we come to desire these things, not as the result of an application, but as a sort of internal illusion of thought itself.