THE TRUTH OF EXTINCTION: NIETZSCHE’S FABLE II

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In this regard, although Nietzsche anticipated, as no one else did, the depth of the crisis of the manifest image, the scanty resources provided by nineteenth-century psychology prompted him to transpose what he correctly identified as the impasse in the folk-psychological conception of rationality into a metaphysical register which merely recapitulated the specious categories of the psychology it was supposed to supplant.

 

Thus while Nietzsche’s penetrating critiques of pseudo-psychological categories such as that of ‘intention prefigure the critique of FP, his antipathy towards ‘positivism’ (combined with his debt to Schopenhauer) encourages him to replace it with a metaphysical surrogate – the ‘will to  power’ – which exacerbates rather than palliates the poverty of the psychological register which it was called upon to supersede. As a result, the cognitive dilemma engendered by the collapse of the folk-psychological conception of truth is transcoded by Nietzsche into an axiological predicament necessitating a metaphysical transfiguration in the quality of the will whose symptom belief is supposed to be.

 

In willing eternal recurrence, the will casts off the yoke of truth, which bridled it to those transcendent values that depreciated becoming, and is transformed into a will capable of embracing illusion: ‘the lie – and not the truth – is divine!

 

Deleuze provides a particularly subtle account of this transformation in Nietzsche and Philosophy. In Deleuze’s reading, the thought of recurrence is the focal point for the transmutation of the will to power. Deleuze distinguishes that aspect of the will according to which it is knowable – its ratio cognoscendi – from that aspect through which the will exists as ‘the innermost essence of being’ (Nietzsche §693) – its ratio essendi. The negative will to power, which underlies the will to nothingness, whose symptom is the ascetic ideal, is simply the will’s ratio cognoscendi, the knowable aspect of the will from which all hitherto known values derive.

 

Nihilism – including Nietzsche’s own active nihilism, insofar as it proceeds by unmasking existing values the better to expose the will to power which produced them – renders the will to power knowable to us, but only in its negative aspect as will to nothingness. This is why for Deleuze’s

Nietzsche, the history of human consciousness (and a fortiori, of philosophy) is the history of nihilism understood as the triumph of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic ideal. But  the decisivejuncture in this history occurs when the negative will to nothingness, which is also the philosophical will to truth, turns against truth itself and forces thought to break its alliance with knowing, and afortiori with those reactive forces which enforced the rule of knowledge and the norm of truth.

 

In the thought of recurrence, the will which animates knowing is obliged to confront itself no longer according to its knowable aspect, but rather according to that aspect through which it is.

But since, for Nietzsche, ‘will to power’ is a synonym for the world interpreted as a chaotic multiplicity of conflicting forces – ‘This world is will to power – and nothing besides!’17 – which is to say, a synonym for ‘becoming’, then to think the will in its being is to think the being of becoming in its essentially dissimulatory, inherently self-differentiating ‘essence’ as a flux of perpetual transformation. Thus, the affirmation of recurrence marks the moment when the will comes to know that it cannot know itself in itself because its knowable aspect necessarily corresponds to nothing – since there is nothing, no aspect of the will ‘in-itself’, for it to correspond to or adequately represent.18 This is Deleuze’s dexterous resolution of a latent dichotomy that threatened to undermine the minimal conceptual coherence which even Nietzsche’s denunciation of rationality cannot do without – the dichotomy between the will’s phenomenal aspect, understood as the evaluable and interpretable dimension of becoming, and its noumenal aspect, understood as the chaos of becoming ‘in-itself’, beyond evaluation and interpretation, to which Nietzsche often, but incoherently, alludes.

 

This dichotomy can be avoided, Deleuze suggests, once it is understood that the will which affirms recurrence does not affirm becoming as something ‘in itself’, subsisting independently of that affirmation; rather, in affirming becoming without goal or aim, the will affirms itself.

 

For who else is capable of willing this annihilation of transcendent meaning and purposefulness and of endowing every vanishing instant with absolute worth as an end in itself if not the will to power as such?

 

The ‘overman’ whom Nietzsche proclaims as alone capable of affirming eternal recurrence would no longer be a species of the genus ‘man’ but rather a placeholder for that perpetual self-overcoming which characterizes the will to power. Thus – and contrary to what Nietzsche himself often seems to suggest – the selection effected by the test of eternal recurrence would not be between types of human individual – noble versus base, strong versus weak, etc. – but rather between the will subordinated to extrinsic ends, and the will whose only end is itself.

 

Only the will itself is devoid of all those interests and purposes whose satisfaction requires the utilitarian subordination of present means to future ends. Unconditional affirmation of the present is not only incommensurable with human consciousness, it is incompatible with organicfunctioning, which is indissociable from the utilitarian trade-off between pleasure andpain, gratification and survival.

 

Only the will to power, which wants nothing other than itself – which is to say, its own expansion, intensification, and self-overcoming – only this will which wants itself eternally is capable of willing the eternal recurrence of everything that is, without regard for the proportion of pleasure to pain:

 

Did you ever say Yes to one joy? O my friends, then you said Yes to

all woe as well. All things are chained and entwined together, all

things are in love; if ever you wanted one moment twice, if ever you

said ‘You please me happiness, instant, moment!’ then you wanted

everything to return! […] For all joy wants – eternity!

(Nietzsche 332)

 

 

Thus the scope of the transvaluation required by the affirmation of recurrence is as profound as it is uncompromising: it entails a will for which a moment of unadulterated joy, no matter how brief, is worth aeons of torment, no matter how excruciating. But two difficulties arise here.

 

First, it is far from clear whether it is possible to commensurate joy and woe in such a way that the former, no matter how fleeting, will always outweigh the latter, no matter how prolonged. Second, there seems to be a latent indeterminacy in the normative claim that the will capable of affirming ‘all woe’ is nobler than the will that is not.

 

With regard to the first difficulty, Nietzsche seems to disregard a basic asymmetry in the relationship between joy and woe. For however multifaceted our experience of joy may seem to us, hampered as we are by the rather meagre descriptive resources available within the manifest image, our possibilities for physical pleasure, as well as for psychological enjoyment, can be demarcated within boundaries determined by a set of physiological and psychological constraints which, however complex the interplay between neurophysiological and psychosocial dynamisms, cannot be assumed to be limitless.

 

Yet when compared with our relatively restricted capacity for experiencing physical and/or psychological ‘joy’, the sheer depth and breadth of our capacity for ‘woe’, both in terms of our vulnerability to physical pain and our susceptibility to psychological suffering, appears nigh-on unlimited. This discrepancy has been given a particularly striking formulation by the writer Jesús Ignacio Aldapuerta:

 

 Consider the capacity of the human body for pleasure. Sometimes it

is pleasant to eat, to drink, to see, to touch, to smell, to hear, to make

love. The mouth. The eyes. The fingertips. The nose. The ears. Thegenitals. Our voluptific capacities (if you will forgive me the coinage)

are not exclusively concentrated in these places, but it is undeniable

that they are concentrated here. The whole body is susceptible to

pleasure, but in places there are wells from which it may be drawn up

in greater quantity. But not inexhaustibly. How long is it possible to

know pleasure? Rich Romans ate to satiety and then purged their

overburdened bellies and ate again. But they could not eat for ever.

A rose is sweet, but the nose becomes habituated to its scent. And

what of the most intense pleasures, the personality-annihilating

ecstasies of sex? […] Even if I were a woman and could string orgasm

upon orgasm like beads upon a necklace, in time I should sicken of

it. […] Yet consider. Consider pain. Give me a cubic centimeter of

your flesh and I could give you pain that would swallow you as the

ocean swallows a grain of salt. And you would always be ripe for it,

from before the time of your birth to the moment of your death. We

are always in season for the embrace of pain. To experience pain

requires no intelligence, no maturity, no wisdom, no slow workings

of the hormones in the moist midnight of our innards. We are

always ripe for it. All life is ripe for it. Always. […] Consider the

ways in which we may gain pleasure. […] Consider the ways in

which we may be given pain. The one is to the other as the moon

is to the sun.

(Aldapuerta 52–3)

 

 

 

 

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