Multiplicity is the affirmation of unity: On Gilles Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy, Part One

Posted: December 16, 2009 in Becoming, Deleuze, Ecology of Sensation, Nietzsche
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Nietzsche and Philosophy (hereafter N+P) is a fantastic work. It deserves all the praise it has received and more: Deleuze is at his most creative in his engagement with Frederich Nietzsche (FN). Both interpretation and concept creation, N+P introduces the reader to some of Deleuze’s lasting concerns: multiplicity, unity, force, sense, becoming, nondialectical difference.

These concepts have been addressed in these blogs. I am particularly interested in thinking through and elaborating on the concept of the body as a non-coinciding resonant unity. I will begin here with some passages from the chapter “The Tragic.” Deleuze gives an excellent interpretation (and yet how vague is this term for what he is doing here!) of the relation between innocence and the tragic. Tragedy is joy, says FN, says Deleuze. And Heraclitus!

Heraclitus is the tragic thinker. The problem of justice runs through his entire work. Heraclitus is the one for whom life is radically innocent and just. He understands existence on the basis of an instinct of play. He makes existence an aesthetic phenomenon rather than a moral or religious one. Thus Nietzsche opposes him point by point to Anaximander….Heraclitus denied the duality of worlds, ‘he denied being itself.’

This in itself is not shocking, to deny being, it could be a cliched nihilism. FN does not stop here and Deleuze shows that this denial was in the service of another aim. But in the service of what?

…he made an affirmation of becoming. We have to reflect for a long time to understand what it means to make an affirmation of becoming. In the first place it is doubtless to say that there is only becoming. No doubt it is also to affirm becoming. But we also affirm the being of becoming, we say that becoming affirms being or that being is affirmed in becoming. Heraclitus has tow thoughts which are like ciphers: according to one there is no being, everything is becoming; according to the other, being is the being of becoming as such. A working thought which affirms becoming and a contemplative thought which affirms the being of becoming. These two ways of thinking are inseparable, they are the thought of single element….For there is no being beyond becoming, nothing beyond multiplicity; neither multiplicity nor becoming are appearances or illusions. But neither are there multiple or eternal realities which would be in turn, like essences beyond appearance. Multiplicity is the inseparable manifestation, essential transformation and constant symptom of unity. Multiplicity is the affirmation of unity; becoming is the affirmation of being. The affirmation of becoming is itself being, the affirmation of multiplicity is itself one. Multiple affirmation is the way in which the one affirms itself.

We see here the key elements that allows the concept of a life as non-coinciding resonant unity to take on a certain force. To affirm becoming is first of all to practice philosophy as a practice of joyous life, a dance of chance. This affirmation is also an excellent place to bring forth a non-dialectical difference. Difference has largely been subsumed under negativity, negation, opposition, contradiction, and generally a bad conscience (slave mentality or representation, same thing). Affirmative difference suggests a continuous differentiation of intensive processes, gradients of functionality, rates of connectivity, and a multiplicious mutation. This is difference as self-differentiation, given an ecology of far-from-equilibrium states and processes. This is the truth of being: becoming. There is nothing but that, a constant becoming, that is what being is; a working and contemplative thought, the world is a unity of multiplicious processes.

[Heraclitus] saw no negativity in becoming, he saw precisely the opposite: the double affirmation of becoming and of the being of becoming–in short the justification of being. Heraclitus is obscure because he leads us to the threshold of the obscure: what is the being of becoming? What is the being inseparable from that which is becoming? Return is the being of that which becomes. Return is the being of becoming itself, the being which is affirmed in becoming. The eternal return as law of becoming, as justice and as being.

I marvel at the wondrousness of this passage. Isn’t there something so innocent in Deleuze? That innocence which should be philosophy itself? This is I think the great lesson as well of Difference and Repetition–that differentiation in life happens through repetitive processes that can be bundled and unbundled given a certain arrangement of forces, a given basin of attraction. Delanda and Massumi in their different ways affirm this in their work. The concept of a non-coinciding resonant unity (a continuous multiplicity) also affirms the double nature of being-in-becoming.

Indeed, Chapter two is magnificent. There is incredible and long-neglected insight on every page. I must say when I threw this book down in disgust five years ago my reaction was due in large part to my complete lack of understanding of Deleuzian science. Prigogine, Delanda, Bohm, Kaufmann, and Varela later (an engagement with whom would not have been possible for me without the work of Brian Massumi and Patricia Clough) the reference to chemistry makes good sense to me. Dissipative systems, asymptotically oscillating around a basin of attraction that is the field of its mutation and becoming (the plasticity of the will to power), repeat–and as pure repetition it is eternal–bundled patterns of interactions. Deleuze gives profound force to the notion of the body as a non-coinciding resonant unity.

How? There is the famous reference to Spinoza–we babble on about consciousness, but we don’t even know what a body is capable of. (I have written on this more recently; see Deleuze on Affect.) But there is the notion that any two forces form a body, and at the origin of this body is the coexistence of active and reactive forces, forces that could divide and subtract from the force of the active, or forces that could increase the capacities of the active. It is this body–suspended always between the virtual and the actual (and we might say that with consciousness, the actual is always reactive–we could extend this analysis to include representation, the inverted image, the betrayal of origins…)

But note well of origins: active and reactive coexist at the origin of things. And all of chance is affirmed in the mutation of things in this or that direction. These mutations return us to think to act to create becomings as risking the whole of chance in each throw of the die.

We only know reactive-becomings. Consciousness itself is reactive; more, all of human history has been the story of the victory of reactive forces. The reactive is like the vortex of the actual. “Thus reactive force is: 1) utilitarian force of adaptation and partial limitation; 2) force which separates active force from what it can do, which denies active force (triumph of the weak or the slaves); 3) force separated from what it can do, which denies or turns against itself (reign of the weak or of slaves). And analogously active force is: 1) plastic, dominant subjugating force; 2) force which goes to the limit of what it can do; 3) force which affirms its difference which makes its difference an object of enjoyment and affirmation” (61). Force separated from what it can do: affectivity blocked, attenuated, vitiated, becoming-nihilistic, “the disintegration or splitting of superior forces, the explosion of the energy which they have accumulated” (63). Deleuze will say more on the plasticity of the active forces, but it is tied to the unity-in-multiplicity that he insists on throughout his work. This unity-in-multiplicity is precisely what contemporary reactive poststructuralism–mired as it is in dialectical representations–cannot comprehend, and must reduce to a mere celebration of (anthropomorphic) difference. This is very different from an affirmation of difference as object of pleasure, an affirmation taken to the limits of what a force can do.

The active–affirmation of difference, insistence on the capacity to act–is a sensation, sensibility, an affectivity. The discussion of affect is stunning, and how resonant it is with Massumi’s work. This is the affective theory of power that will become so influential years later, that will revolutionize criticism as we know it (this is both happening now, and yet to come). Power is the differential element, the genealogical element determining and determined by the relation of force with force (repetitive processes in resonant populations). This is precisely why the will to power is plastic–it both determines and is determined by the unity-in-multiplicity that actualizes its capacities. This is not easy to think because it goes against what we see (product) in favor of a joyous engagement with an immaterial but immanent becoming (intensity).

The will to power (the virtual, active forces) manifests itself in capacities to affect and be affected. “This capacity is not an abstract possibility, it is necessarily fulfilled and actualised at each moment by the other forces to which a given force relates. We should not be surprised by the double aspect of the will to power: from the standpoint of the genesis or production of forces it determines the relation between forces but, from the standpoint of its own manifestation, it is determined by relating forces. This is why the will to power is always determined at the same tie as it determines, qualified at the same time as it qualifies” (62). This is the plasticity of the will to power, this is why it finds its life as it were in the eternal return, in the pure repetition of processes. Deleuze, going back to Spinoza, notes that for that outcast, untimely thinker the more ways a body could be affected the more force it had (62). The capacity to affect and be affectivity is strangely passive-active, capacity is an affectivity, a sensibility, a sensation. “That is to say: the will to power manifests itself as the sensibility of force; the differential element of forces manifests itself as their differential sensibility. [Quoting N from WtP II 89] ‘The fact is that the will to power rules even in the inorganic world, or rather that there is no inorganic world. Action at a distance cannot be eliminated, for one thing attracts another and a thing feels itself attracted. This is the fundamental fact…In order for the will to power to be able to manifest itself it needs to perceive the things it sees and feel the approach of what is assimilable to it’” (62-3).

There is no inorganic world, there is a “life” in everything, at every instance repetitive processes form populations of resonant multiplicities whose emergent capacities feel the ecologies of sensation in which they are embedded. In other words, a sensibility of force. The implications of this simple but consistent and differential (plastic) principle for media studies are direct and profound. Various scholars have furthered this vector, and it is my hope to add something creative to this conversation, a new practice of media assemblages perhaps.

The will to power manifests itself, in the first place, as the sensibility of forces and, in the second place, as the becoming sensible of forces: pathos is the most elementary fact from which a becoming arises. In general, the becoming of forces must not be confused with the qualities of force: it is the becoming of these qualities themselves, the quality of the will to power itself. The qualities of force can no more be abstracted from their becoming than force itself can be abstracted from the will to power. The concrete study of forces necessarily implies a dynamic. (63-4)

But all becoming till now has appeared to humans as a becoming reactive, a becoming nihilistic. “Another sensibility, another becoming—would they still be man’s?” (65)

  1. Bogdan S. says:

    A wonderful, wonderful book. Chapter 2, active/reactive is my favorite.

    • amitsrai says:

      Yes an excellent chapter. Am enjoying very much the way Deleuze thinks with Nietzsche, furthers him, takes him to a limit of thought. The section on thought and life in the third chapter is just stunning.

  2. I haven’t read Nietzsche and Philosophy and it’s been a while since I read Anti-Oedipus, but you do a wonderful job of explaining some of Deleuze’s key points. I was very interested in how Nietzsche opposes his view of existence as an aesthetic phenomenon rather than a moral or religious one.

    I just wrote a post about Nietzsche’s concept of Perspectivism and I look forward to finding more great content here.

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