Sunday, May 06, 2007

Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche restores the philosophical power by excavating a coherent metaphysics

Life is Production: On Deleuze’s Vitalism II May 5th, 2007 (Part three will be coming tomorrow. It was simply too long to be split into just two parts.)
The virtual and the actual are both real and we must think them in order to understand the mechanism of difference and the mechanism of creation. Deleuze’s Bergsonian vitalism is an attempt to understand these two mechanisms, for he sees evolution as taking place from virtuals to actuals – ‘Evolution is actualization, actualization is creation.’ This is the thesis that he advances against two misconceptions in evolutionary theory: interpreting biological or living evolution in terms of the “possible” that is actualized or interpreting it in terms of pure actuals. The first misconception is found in traditional theories of vitalism, here named “preformism”, where the real is merely an image of a possible telos. Deleuze tell us that ‘contrary to preformism, evolutionism will always have the merit of reminding us that life is production, creation of differences.’ This insight, while valuable, comes against the problem of the nature and cause of these differences. Against the view that the vital differences or variations (the process of the élan vital) are purely accidental Deleuze offers three objections: 1) if these variations are due to chance they would remain external, or “indifferent”, to each other, 2) this externality would mean they could not logically be anything but associated or added to one another, and 3) their indifference would mean they would not even have the means to enter into these relations of association or addition. This all leads to the final conclusion that ‘The mistake of evolutionism is, thus, to conceive of vital variations as so many actual determination that should then combine on a single line.’
This is where Deleuze makes clear what a ‘philosophy of life’ would appear as. It should be noted that the German for philosophy of life [lebensphilosophie] is often translated as vitalism. When Deleuze gives us the three Bergsonian requirements for a ‘philosophy of life’ he is explicating the shape of his own vitalistic thought: 1) the vital difference is an internal difference, in accord with the way it is experienced and thought and only in this way are they not accidental, 2) these variations do not constitute an associate or additive relationship, but enter into relationships of dissociation or divistion, and 3) by virtue of the former two these variations involve a virtuality that is actualized according to the lines of divergence; ‘so that evolution does not move from one actual term to another actual term in a homogeneous unilinear series, but from a virtual term to the heterogeneous terms that actualize it along a ramified series.’ These three requirements are interconnected by their emphasis on difference, divergence, and heterogeneity. But this heterogeneity comes from the reality of the virtual or the way the divergent lines belong to a single Time, coexist in a Unity, are enclosed in a Simplicity, form parts of a Whole – in other words the actualization of these divergent lines are held together in the virtuality of a ‘gigantic memory, a universal cone in which everything coexists with itself, except for the differences of level.’ The actuals present differences in degree, or fundamental opposition between plant, animal, and man that leads one to see only deteriorations.
However when one experiences the movement that produces them one sees the virtuality actualized in the actuals, or the creative act of life itself. Life is not purely virtual; life as movement arrests itself in the material form that it creates. The living being turns on itself and closes itself as an actual. This isn’t a negation of the virtual, for life cannot be otherwise if the Whole or All-One [Tout] is only virtual it has to divide itself by being acted out as actual – ‘[The Whole] cannot assemble its atual parts that remains external to each other: The Whole is never “given.”’ Though this leads to individual closures, we must also be delighted, in the name of creativity, that the Whole is not given. For if the Whole were given, once and for all, the mistakes of mechanism and finalism would be true – life would be only determination. So against traditional vitalism Deleuze posits that there is no “goal” to life, even if there is finality due to the fact that life does operate without directions. The consequence of the élan vital is that these differences do not pre-exist ready-made, but are ‘created “along with” the act that runs through them.’ In this way life is in principle memory, consciousness, and freedom, but ‘in principle’ means virtually. Bergson argued that it is in humanity that life actually comes to power as memory, consciousness, and freedom. In the sense that the élan vital finally actualizes successfully the virtuality of life humanity can be said to be the “purpose” of evolution. ‘It could be said that in man, and only in man, the actual becomes adequate to the virtual.’ However, this conception of ‘man’ is complicated in Deleuze’s later work on Nietzsche and Foucault and his thinking of the Overman. Below I argue that this thinking of the Overman is the ethical and political import of Deleuze’s vitalistic philosophy.
Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche restores the philosophical power of Nietzsche’s thought by excavating a coherent metaphysics. Nietzsche’s philosophy is a challenge to the optimism in Bergson’s confidence that in humanity the actual becomes adequate to the virtual. Deleuze seems to accept in large part Nietzsche’s genealogy of marls and follows Nietzsche in thinking that life at one time was not in need of redemption and furthermore that life was ultimately just and innocent. However, through the “cunning of priests and slaves” the dual ideas of guilt and debt are introduced, causing ressentiment to arise and make life heavy. Life is then subjugated to the dialectic, or more clearly, subjugated to history as a line of past events that lead to the present and determine the future. This creates societies that do not want to be overcome, that see themselves and their laws as the final end of history and who can no longer imagine or think of anything superior than themselves. Nature, the site where life plays out, is striving to go beyond humanity as he who is guilty to past debts, to a person who make promises to the future, but humanity as becoming-reactive strives against such nature. This is essentially in line with Deleuze’s reading of Bergson, except at the level of society instead of species. Effectively, since humanity creates societies and is constituted as a society, humanity has, in its current condition, failed to make the actual adequate to the virtual. Posted by Anthony Paul Smith Filed in vitalism, Deleuze 2 Comments »

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