8. Vitalism: Nietzsche-Bergson-Deleuze (a)
As you know, it is Alain Badiou’s self-proclaimed Platonism that works to put this course into relief. That is, it is against the construction of Platonism that anti-Platonism determines that Badiou’s own ‘Platonic gesture’ as he calls it – which is both ontological and polemical – positions itself and as something decidedly other.
For Badiou, the anti-Platonism of the figures we are concerned with these next two weeks – Nietzsche, Deleuze, a bit of Bergson (with some references to Spinoza); which is also of course to say all the 20th century fellow travellers of them and at least insofar as they adhere to, consciously or not, the ontological form-work of these thinkers – turns on a conception of Being as life. That is, as Badiou puts it, on ‘life as a name of being’. The importance of this name is that in itself, so to speak, it signifies change.
It’s not necessarily this name, life, that matters – in Spinoza it might be joy, in Nietzsche will, in Bergson elan vital and so on – but the ultimate ontological value is of some sort of force or drive or pulse or what have you by which or for which everything that exists carries its effect (or sometimes affect). For Deleuze, this force or elan is an immanence or is immanent of all beings and as such what is integral to any being is this vitality and as vitality, as some sort of incessant activity, all being is becoming, or precisely not being qua being, which would then be what is not changed. Or becoming is what being can only be insofar as being is said at all.
This structure – which of course is said to be the subversion of any such thing – is common across these figures and on the face of it upsets yet again and in yet another way the binary hold of a Platonist metaphysics, for which change is said to be ultimately if not impossible then subordinated always to a Being said to be beyond all change.
So if life is a name of being – Being, being the immanent force of whatever attests to it – thus the actual instance within and belonging to the totality of the virtual – then life as change is what Plato cannot do, so to speak, because in Plato, as Deleuze rightly recognises, division is the rule: there is at least three things in Plato – being, appearing and participation and a fourth if we add the Forms. That these are divisible suggests their categorisation and the means of their articulation requires a theory or procedure of negation, which is of course dialectic.
The dialectic is an abstract notion of contradiction and negation, rather than the affirmative idea of difference. The positive movement of the dialectic in Hegel, who Deleuze does not like at all and situates in a sort of alliance with Plato on one side and Heidegger on the other, is only achieved by means of a negation. And it tends, so the Kojevian reading, so fertile in France goes, toward its proper end, which is the Idea. So the movement Hegel injects is only for the occasion of its end. Deleuze, following Nietzsche, thinks this is plebian, slavish: The pleb or the slave accepts this hierarchical model and compensates for this situation by relying on the fact that the current contradiction will eventually be overcome. For Deleuze after Nietzsche, negation is always reactive. Against this, John Marks says, Nietzsche proposes a philosophy of forces which affirm only their difference (NP, 10-11).
These are things that Deleuze as Nietzschean eschews precisely in terms of what would insist as life – the real virtuality of all actuality – which is without or beyond or below categorisation, without negation or void, and anti-dialectical in terms of how all this might be thought. Certainly there is no Idea for which it all plays out, no telos, and in whose arrival we can rest assured. As we know, in Nietzsche the form of life and discourse appropriate to what there is, is finally the poem or the art of language we can say, precisely because unlike the rigours of a cold mathematics, it captures becoming on the wing as it were, remains in its becoming thought open to thought as becoming.
Deleuze remains faithful to the same impetus when he speaks of a transcendental empiricism, or even a nomadism – thus that in a being which is ever the impossibility of being Being as such, which would be also to say difference. Hence, not what is not the same, which would be to speak of difference as negation, but difference as the a priori impossibility of the same, which is to say, any ‘same’ is a production of thought and not life whose procedure qua change is one of infinite individuation. Hence we can say life was the matter of Deleuze: He said, “Everything I’ve written is vitalistic, at least I hope it is…” (N, 143). But as John Protevi and Dan Smith note, Deleuze used the term provocatively, precisely in some sense because of its discredited provenance, and he tweaked it accordingly: ‘There’s a profound link between signs, life, and vitalism: the power of nonorganic life that can be found in a line that’s drawn, a line of writing, a line of music. It’s organisms that die, not life. Any work of art points a way through for life, finds a way through the cracks’ (N 143).
So life in Deleuze is neither finally organic per se nor mechanist as such, hence the vitalism which in the 19th century was opposed to the mechanist materialism of the positivists. It's a curious thing to remark that for the existentialists negation was impossible for Plato given the concordance of being and thought; that for the phenomenologists the Idea – that by which being is thought – was the negative gesture against natural being par excellence; for the vitalists, the Platonic insistence on there being both what is being qua being and what it is not (and indeed what is beyond it) means that negation appears there as necessity, while in Deleuze, following Nietzsche, and due to the adherence of both to the univocity of being, it being said in a single sense, such a division is finally an imposition, against life so to speak, or anti-life in Nietzsche’s sense, insofar as life as change is denuded for the eternal sameness of the Idea. Hence, as Nietzsche says, this hatred of life, is a sickness or a disease, which Christianity has somewhat perfected as itself but whose cure he announces under this sign of vital life.
So, we’ll begin with Nietzsche, who really does announce to the world and not just to philosophers the venerability of the disease and the immanence of the cure. Then we’ll look to Deleuze’s re-affirmation of this Nietzschean desire. In Logics of Sense, he says, for example, ‘so to reverse Platonism means to make the simulacra rise and to affirm their rights among icons and copies’. Is the reverse the same as a cure? Maybe, but there are some things to note here before we come to Nietzsche alone: one, like Nietzsche, Deleuze marks the reversal at the place of art – or the question of representation.
So there is a lived or affective aestheticism – a joy in what is unfound. But he also does something different given that for him it’s never a matter of a negation or what would lead one into the dialectic. Rather the simulacra is what is neither model or copy – but what indiscerns them both as the formal arrangement within which we have to think the form of being. It's the introduction of the third place as positive subversion of the structure of the two; ’the twilight of the idols’, he says, neither model nor copy, nor high and low, no hierarchy, just divergent series resonating. ‘The triumph’, he says, 'of the false pretender’. Zarathustra is surely this character par excellence, both precursor and arrival at once and so not subject to or judged by the existing values of high/low good/evil, model/copy etc. but their universal breakdown. The simulacrum is the sign, the dream-work even, from manifest content to latent, of the ever becoming of being which in its Dionysian or chaotic form, Plato repressed. In Difference and Repetition, the inversion is quite simply moving from the same or identity, as assumed foundation of the Platonic structure, to difference.
Thus as befitting an inversion, basically keeping what he describes as fourfold structure in play but inverting what holds it together. So as with everyone else, Deleuze relies first on a Plato existing or a Plato found, who, as found, must be un-found given that what was found cannot be what it is for being to be thought. With Plato in plain sight, Nietzsche puts it this way: ‘A complex unity: one step for life, one step for thought. Ways of living inspire ways of thinking, modes of thinking create ways of thinking. Life activates thought, and thought in turn affirms life. We no longer have any notion of this presocratic unity.’ (Nietzsche, 18).
Let me just say something about vitalism because it has a history in the sciences and this history is antagonistic but also this history in the sciences, like all sciences, leaks into philosophy. We saw how Darwinism or at least a view of Darwin leaks into dialectical materialism through Engels and indeed Engels theories do leak back into science, having an effect on some biologists at Cambridge in the early 20th C. But what is note-worthy here is that vitalism is what these materialisms oppose. I say materialisms because early on vitalism is in antagonistic relation to mechanical materialism, which is the materialism Marx and Engels oppose, while not for all that siding with some vitalist conception of things.
I noted that Deleuze makes some fun with his affirmation of his vitalism by marking it non-organic and of course Nietzsche also makes it an aestheticism – to live is to live artistically or life only makes sense in aesthetic experience, as poesis, as making. And this is because vitalism, at least as it appears in Nietzsche and Deleuze, provides no telos. But it’s worth marking out some aspects of this dynamic vision of phusis, which clearly does have some Aristotelian genesis. Or should that be epigenesist?A useful short description of the distinction comes from a recent article in London Review of Books by Steven Rose, the neurobiologist:
Modern biology, at its conception in the 17th century, inherited one unshakeable belief, two mysteries and an unfortunate error of timing. The belief was in the immutability of species, that each species has essential, unalterable characteristics, which can be traced back at least as far as Aristotle. The mysteries were, first, over what it is about life that distinguishes it from death, and second, the process by which a fully developed organism, be it chicken or human, emerges from a fertilised egg. The first mystery was solved, tautologically, by answering that creatures were animate rather than inanimate because they were infused with the breath of life. The second mystery, the chicken and egg problem, was a matter for dispute: was the final adult form of the organism in some way present in miniature in the egg or sperm (preformationism), or did it develop by stages from an original formless mass (epigenesis)? These questions may have been reformulated over the centuries, but they are still at the heart of the life sciences.
The unfortunate error of timing, which made the questions harder to answer, was that biology developed as a science later than physics. Physics – above all Newtonian physics – had become established as the ideal modern science, and biologists sought to understand living processes through analogy with physical and mechanical systems: the heart as a pump; the brain and nerves first as hydraulic systems, later as telephone exchanges and these days as computers. The hydraulic metaphor was pioneered by Descartes, writing early in the 17th century. He regarded living organisms as mere machines, though humans, uniquely, possessed a soul, which communicated with the body by way of a mini-organ at the centre of the brain, the pineal gland. A hundred years later, the physician, philosopher and self-declared ‘mechanical materialist’ Julien Offray de la Mettrie dismissed Descartes’s dualistic waystation in his manifesto L’Homme machine. He argued that mental processes were no more than manifestations of the workings of the brain, a heretical view at the time but today shared by many neuroscientists.
The conflict between the mechanists and a diminishing group of vitalists rattled on through the 19th century. Darwin’s theory of natural selection put paid to any remaining belief in the immutability of species.’
So note a few things here: vitalism is opposed to several positions; Descartes – because apart from the dualist structure it relies on some mediating organ which not only transmits but differentiates – hence difference is an effect of mediation, the organ represents the soul in the body as it were; second it’s opposed to physicalist determinations of life – crudely explained with these mechanical metaphors but as Rose notes, this matter of timing is merely an historical accident because vitalism actually precedes its reduction to physics, going back to Aristotle at least, though with-out the teleo-logic. Life in principle we might say being immutable,which is curious because immutable means unchanging but it makes perfect sense that the power of infinite differentiaton be itself ever the same power, the same difference we might say. Life is the name of being, vital as in elan vital, vital spark etc., and essentially, then, something you can’t see, taste, feel, hear, or smell etc. So not experiential in that sense, nor is it substance either insofar as its capturable in some final way. Precisely the point is it escapes or exceeds all such categorical or empirical frameworks which at best would only further signify what it is not. The upshot is that life itself, that there is life, is the proof of life, living proves there is life and no final determination can do anything but gesture beyond itself to life or elan vital, as it must be alive as this very determination.
As Rose notes, ‘this argument also underpins the arguments over preformationism and epigenesis: is the final adult form of the organism in some way present in miniature in the egg or sperm, or did it develop by stages from an original formless mass? Rose says, and this is fairly uncontentious, that there are not any vitalists in science today. But this, for us, is the point in some ways because the question of science itself is not irrelevant in terms of how it conceives of itself and what it does and especially so if the dominant form of the sciences of life is somehow in some way mechanistic.
So philosophical vitalism. I’m taking most of the following summary from Michael Austin.
‘Vitalism is then first and foremost essentially anti-mechanistic, typically anti-dualistic, and anti-humanistic. The thing with mechanistic systems is the view that causality is purely external (matter impacting matter … ), whereas Vitalism, as I noted is ‘self-organisation’ (Lash 2006: 324): thus ‘life’ is irreducible to purely mechanistic properties and must be understood as the principle force of self-organizing material bodies and so the claim is that causality arises from within. As such, and to put it in my terms it’s unknowable or is elementally indeterminate because for Vitalism, life is not predictable in the way a mechanistic determinism is.’
Now this bit, which is a description taken from Scott Lash, is interesting because it should remind us of neo-platonism: thus, there are varying degrees of self-organisation. ‘Inorganic matter has the lowest level of self-organisation, though it also is partly self-organising. Organic matter in plants has higher levels of self-organisation; animals still higher; human beings still higher; and immortals the highest. . . . in vitalism, the power of self-organisation is extended from humans to all sorts of matter (Lash 2006: 324)’
Vitalism, Autsin goes on, following Lash, ‘attempts to solve this problem by proposing a form of Emergentism, that is, that form exists but emerges from the natural self-organisation of matter. This is what Bergson describes as life creating form for itself to fit different circumstances … ‘adapting’. All matter then possesses some sort of self-organisation, thus human beings are no longer to be thought of as unique or ‘special’; hence vitalism as an ‘anti-humanism’.’
Vitalism also claims that Being is not static, but that it’s proper name is Life or as we said being as life is only becoming and thus it is creative. What this means is that metaphysics is not a study of fixed forms or concepts, but that just like organisms, all is changing and adapting over time – but don't forget that life, at least for Deleuze, is not reducible to organics – organs and organisms die after all but life doesn't die. Bergson, puts it this way: ‘life is. . . a tendency to act on inert matter. The direction of this action is not predetermined; hence the unforeseeable variety of forms which life, in evolving, sows along its path.’ (Bergson 1913: 96).
Ok I think that will do for giving some crude and basic context, except to note that despite the leakage I talked about between science and philosophy there is also always the case that philosophy is never reducible to the sciences – or else we don't have philosophy – and so vitalism in philosophy is not simply the representation of vitalism as it is presented in the sciences. What we care about ultimately is that for Nietzsche and Deleuze, vitalism reconceptualised offers a way out against Platonism which for them is as prevalent in the sciences as it is in philosophy or that is to say classical metaphysics is in some real way the formal or conceptual basis of the sciences, that discourse which presumes to tell us the all of life; what it is and thus how to live.
But as always this anti-platonism comes with a twist. We saw in Strauss and in Heidegger before him the claims that there was something hidden or veiled about what Plato was up to. In Heidegger, that Plato writes this veiling of Being under the Idea which needs then to be reconstituted as presence. But in Strauss the notion is taken another step: that Plato deliberately dissembles as it were.
Under persecution he hides the ‘real’ of his discourse in order that philosophy continue. The price to pay – well for Strauss it’s not really a price – is that philosophy as such is withdrawn from the reach of most people, from the masses let’s say. It is open only to initiates of one sort or another – the rules for such, Plato provides as ‘education’. So Platonism, then, is Plato for the people whereas what is truly Platonic is what Plato subtracts from Platonism for the capable few. This notion of the subterranean Plato in Plato is both obvious and opaque. Obvious because as we have discussed, there is no Plato as such – Plato writes dialogues: which is to say, for every thing spoken of there are many speakers and moreover there is the fundamental disavowal of Plato himself that any of this is his philosophy. Of course this disavowal can be seen as grist to the mill of those who wish to see this as some sort of noble lie. Or it can be seen as a way of writing what is philosophy as method or even life – in short, participation in the question, over and again, of the truth of what is presently at stake.
In the preface to Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche sets the scene for all the above really and he does so by making the approach to truth critical to what he thinks is the problem of philosophy hitherto. Thus he delineates and will prosecute Platonism in terms of the genealogy of an error, thus setting the scene that has not itself been settled yet. It’s worth reading the whole thing which, note, begins precisely in analogy:
Suppose that truth is a woman – and why not? Aren’t there reasons for suspecting that all philosophers, to the extent that they have been dogmatists, have not really understood women? That the grotesque seriousness of their approach towards the truth and the clumsy advances they have made so far are unsuitable ways of pressing their suit with a woman? What is certain is that she has spurned them – leaving dogmatism of all types standing sad and discouraged. If it is even left standing! Because there are those who make fun of dogmatism, claiming that it has fallen over, that it is lying flat on its face, or more, that dogmatism is in its last gasps. But seriously, there are good reasons for hoping that all dogmatizing in philosophy was just noble (though childish) ambling and preambling, however solemn, settled and decisive it might have seemed. And perhaps the time is very near when we will realize again and again just what actually served as the cornerstone of those sublime and unconditional philosophical edifices that the dogmatists used to build – some piece of folk superstition from time immemorial (like the soul-superstition that still causes trouble as the superstition of the subject or I), some word-play perhaps, a seduction of grammar or an over-eager generalization from facts that are really very local, very personal, very human-all-too-human. Let us hope that the dogmatists’ philosophy was only a promise over the millennia, as was the case even earlier with astrology, in whose service perhaps more labor, money, ingenuity, and patience was expended than for any real science so far.We owe the great style of architecture in Asia and Egypt to astrology and its “supernatural” claims. It seems that all great things, in order to inscribe eternal demands in the heart of humanity, must first wander the earth under monstrous and terrifying masks; dogmatic philosophy this sort of a mask: the Vedanta doctrine in Asia, for example, or Platonism in Europe.
We should not be ungrateful towards dogmatism, but it must nonetheless be said that the worst, most prolonged, and most dangerous of all errors to this day was a dogmatist’s error, namely Plato’s invention of pure spirit and the Good in itself. But now that it has been overcome, and Europe breathes a sigh of relief after this nightmare, and at least can enjoy a healthier – well – sleep, we, whose task is wakefulness itself, are the heirs to all the force cultivated through the struggle against this error. Of course: talking about spirit and the Good like Plato did meant standing truth on its head and disowning even perspectivism, which is the fundamental condition of all life. In fact, as physicians we could ask: “How could such a disease infect Plato, the most beautiful outgrowth of antiquity? Did the evil Socrates corrupt him after all? was Socrates in fact the corrupter of youth? did he deserve his hemlock?” – But the struggle against Plato, or, to use a clear and “popular” idiom, the struggle against the Christian-ecclesiastical pressure of millennia – since Christianity is Platonism for the “people” – has created a magnificent tension of spirit in Europe, the likes of which the earth has never known: with such a tension in our bow we can now shoot at the furthest goals. Granted, the European experiences this tension as a crisis or state of need; and twice already there have been attempts, in a grand fashion, to unbend the bow, once through Jesuitism, and the second time through the democratic Enlightenment: – which, with the help of freedom of the press and circulation of newspapers, might really insure that spirit does not experience itself so readily as “need”! (Germans invented gunpowder – all donors due! But they made up for it – they invented the press.) But we, who are neither Jesuits nor democrats, nor even German enough, we good Europeans and free, very free spirits – we still have it, the whole need of spirit and the whole tension of its bow! And perhaps the arrow too, the task, and – who knows? the goal . . .
So we have several things to note in this, which convey also, I think, the beauty and brilliance of Nietzsche’s compact style, which is itself part of the attempt, I think, to rival Plato, especially insofar as the force of it is to make the reader take up for him or herself the task, to pursue the goal.
There is of course the humour. If we follow the analogy, we see the indecency of standing truth on its head, the bumbling fumbling of philosophers with regard to it and so on. Nietzsche himself was not much of ladies man. Anyway, hence the dogmatism with regard to it – that is, to treat it as somehow held fast, pinned down as it were, ever one thing, known. He notes the nobility here – which is to say the will to suppose that such an approach to truth is virtuous and so in the face of the reality of ‘woman’ rather bumbling. More concretely, he notes that what repeatedly underpins the systematic edifices built by dogmatists is a merely an immemorial superstition, a piece of language, a common belief or a local idiosyncrasy of some sort that is then generalised and reinvigorated as eternally ours. It is over us and essential to what is us. But as he continues, with further analogies to system – astrology, architecture etc., – this drives construction itself; we build edifices to these new Gods whatever they are, such that they rule over us. This fits within the strictures of will to power, even if it is the height of the power of resentment rather than affirmation. The edifices mask also the very genealogy or history which makes them up, Nietzsche is saying and hence we get the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism in Asia or in Europe, Platonism.
So Platonism ‘the worst, most prolonged, and most dangerous of all errors to this day’, is the edifice of the Ideal. As the Ideal it captivates the spirit, the name of this capture is the Good. As we can see, and have seen taken up in Heidegger and Derrida and really, continental philosophy as such, this dogmatists error is, in the first instance at least, turning truth on its head. It’s not unlike what Marx says about Hegel and indeed for Nietzsche, this inversion is the turn against life itself, which Nietzsche registers here as perspectivism: hence the opposite of truth as reducible to the one eternal Idea.
Clearly it’s also a term of art, again a revocation of a Platonic inversion. To live artistically is of course Nietzsche’s injunction, and so perspectivism means for him, precisely, the effort to multiply and not reduce the types of the relation to life as the way to realise what is true of it. To speak of life is to speak not of spirit and so not of idea but of physis, or nature, and so to be or speak as a physician – one of his constant refrains. Now, note here we get a sense of that division which has been so operative in the history of Platonism or anti-Platonism: that between Socrates and Plato.
In Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche was more a cynic in his approach to this division taking Socrates as interlocutor but here is a curious move, to see Socrates as corruptor of Plato himself: Plato, the beautiful product of antiquity, which is to say one of its great Artists, infected with the disease of the Ideal and this is given to him by Socrates. (Kierkegaard also said something like this.) Again, it inverts the usual claim. But then the crux of the matter: Christianity the dogmatism of the Ideal par excellence (‘Platonism for the people’) and thus the greatest edifice of the inversion yet built and capture of the spirit of millennia – the great willed project of ressentiment against life. But N’ietzsche’s point here, in fact the beginning of his project is that this holding back of the ‘real’ so to speak, this willing against life itself, has created a tension. Somehow this tension needs to find its way. That’s his project.
So the Plato disease is his infection by Socrates with the ideal of the good or the true as such and this disease finds its greatest avatar in Christianity, and hence, then, a conflation of all dogmatism centred around the original error – Plato’s ascension of the Ideal we might say. So here is the genealogy Nieztsche unfolds in order to undo the eternity of the idea – the genealogy undoes the same, showing that it began, thus that it will have ended, that the eternity it predicates itself on is only one more invention of the world itself.
For Nieztsche, this millennia long holding back of life is the possibility of leaping over ourselves as it were, to become what we are. It’s a leaping over insofar as it’s neither a negotiation with the knowledge of the world as it is – which philosophy has only realised as what it ‘doesn't know’, and hence the treating of the tension as crisis to be ameliorated – as with the Jesuits or the democrats – nor is it a dialectical procedure, a negation of it, which for Nieztsche would be to enter into the very terms of this very Kantian un-knowing.
For Nieztsche, life is itself the means to life. T he magnificent tension that spirit has made of life is what will make life anew out from under the spirit of the ideal. Hence life is the truth of the free spirit or life is only what is true; hence the true life is what the free spirit lives or makes out of life, and to be a free spirit is to be an artist because the artist deals in perspective necessarily, which is what life guarantees as differentiation as such.
What we can see is that the multiplication of perspectives is the subversion of the Idea and this then is not to say that there is or will be one perspective of all perspectives but that the profusion of perspectives will be the expression of life itself. Indeed, the most manifest of perspectives is the greatest affirmation and is the legitimation for Nietzsche of any rule.
Ok, so we see here Nietzsche is the author to a great degree of what follows in 20th C continental philosophy – in terms of its orientation and its task – even Heidegger, who will try to side step Nietzsche is of course still in debt to the orientation he marks out, which is essentially to open up the Idea to the actualities of its construction such that its ideality is made concrete so to speak, such that the ‘truth’ it puts before it as in question is put to the question itself, which requires another question entirely. Before moving on a bit lets hear from Nietzsche on this. He concretises it really beautifully:
The will to truth that still seduces us into taking so many risks, this famous truthfulness that all philosophers so far have talked about with veneration: what questions this will to truth has already laid before us! What strange, terrible, questionable questions! That is already a long story – and yet it seems to have hardly begun? Is it any wonder if we finally become suspicious, lose patience, turn impatiently away? That we ourselves are also learning from this Sphinx to pose questions? Who is it really that questions us here? What in us really wills the truth? In fact, we paused for a long time before the question of the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete standstill in front of an even more fundamental question. We asked about the value of this will. Granted, we will truth: why not untruth instead? And uncertainty? Even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth came before us, – or was it we who came before the problem? Which of us is Oedipus? Which one is the Sphinx? It seems we have a rendezvous of questions and question-marks. – And, believe it or not, it ultimately looks to us as if the problem has never been raised until now, – as if we were the first to ever see it, fix our gaze on it, risk it. Because this involves risk and perhaps no risk has ever been greater.
What Nietzsche is risking here, is metaphysics as such; the metaphysics that comes in opposites, in dualisms. To ask of the value of truth is precisely to put into question the framework which holds one thing over the other as distinct and higher. Nietzsche asks then why we value truth and more fundamentally too, why we believe in opposites, the very structure which supports the possibility of this valuation. Are there really opposites?
Perhaps they are merely provisional perspectives, perhaps they are not even viewed head-on; perhaps they are even viewed from below, like a frog-perspective, to borrow an expression that painters will recognise. Whatever value might be attributed to truth, truthfulness, and selflessness, it could be possible that appearance, the will to deception, and craven self-interest should be accorded a higher and more fundamental value for all life. It could even be possible that whatever gives value to those good and honourable things has an incriminating link, bond, or tie to the very things that look like their evil opposites; perhaps they are even essentially the same. Perhaps! – But who is willing to take charge of such a dangerous Perhaps!
So, Plato, truth, metaphysics: it’s genealogical rise and fall. But let’s recall that for Nietzsche, Platonism is essentially Plato diseased. Which is to say that there is what Plato thought and what Platonism says and what he says is effected in the plebeian mask of Socrates. Socrates is Plato dis-eased, finally. For N, really, even the theory of the ideas is not Plato’s but a noble lie told to effect some other aim – political, he thinks.
Of course here is the rub: we know that the theory of the ideas is not Plato’s insofar as it is Aristotle who gives the Idea qua Form any and all theoretical shape, the basis of all rejections of it, the basis of all anti-Platonist-Platonism, but Nietzsche sees it a bit differently. Thus the theory of Ideas is Plato’s and is Platonism as such but insofar as Plato speaks about the Ideas or the Good even, he lies or falsifies. Thus, as noted, Nietzsche prosecutes the genealogy of this error which begins in a lie.
What philosophy has taken for truth is a lie and Nietzsche wants to show the truth of this lie but not as what is opposite to the lie but insofar as the lie has functioned so well as truth that truth and lie are allies, as in Art. Hence early on ‘presenting Plato as the writer who had formed our vision of what it is to be a philosopher, full of desire for knowledge and wonder at the beauty of the cosmos’, N says: ‘Imagine that the writings of Plato had been lost, that philosophy began with Aristotle; we would not be at all able to imagine this ancient philosopher who is, at the same time, an artist.’
In this artistry of philosophy - thus that philosophy can ‘lie’ - Plato’s political convictions are announced, as it were. It’s very clever: we know Plato proposes his concerns about the power of art in just this way and privileges, through Socrates, philosophy as search for a truth art cannot or does not require. The rule of the non-truth of art produces a corrupt city, whose correction it would take a philosopher to make.
But for Nietzsche, this is all image so to speak. It is itself an artistry more profound than the very presentation of art it gives – which is where the truth of Plato’s position really lay. To deny the power of art with respect to its opposite is a political move of the greatest artistry. What was required, then, to effect this new politics, to have philosophy change the world if you like, was to educate a new ruling class. The academy taught this new art of the noble lie to the few: or at least this is how Nietzsche’s story goes.
Catherine H. Zuckert, Postmodern Plato’s
Jon Roffe, ‘Deleuze’, IEP
Ronald Bogue, Deleuze’s Way
John Marks, Deleuze, Vitalism and Multiplicity
Daniel Smith, Essays on Deleuze
Claire Colebrook, Deleuze and the Meaning of Life
Michael Austin, ‘Unthinking Nature: Transcendental Realism, Neo-Vitalism and the Metaphysical Unconscious in Outline, Thinking Nature 1 (2011)