9.Vitalism: Nietzsche-Bergson-Deleuze (c)
We finished last time by noting that Nietzsche’s anti-platonism, as complex as anyone’s after him, is really a rivalry. A rivalry which does two key things: invert the order of knowledge – the Idea has genealogy or the Idea is life in order; it is not the cause or model of life even as that is how it comes to be presented. For Nietzsche, this is evident in Plato even if he doesn't acknowledge it as such. Plato dissimulates the will to power in the idea, we might say. Second, Nietzsche is in fact more philosophical than Plato because he affirms this discovery as within philosophy itself, as the act of philosophy, as its right, even. Thus he turns a not-knowing into an affirmation beyond all knowledge itself. His ‘Socrates’ –Zarathustra – will affirm his overflowing wisdom as will to power – the drive to life in thought – rather than his non-knowledge, like Socrates; the better to interrogate on the sly, as it were. Zarathustra, trips the light fantastic, coming in and out of the sun, going up and down the mountain paths, in and out of the cave; unlike Socrates who gets a glimpse of the sun only to go back down and stay among the shadows.
To put it in simple terms, Nietzsche wants the philosopher to come out of the closet and become what they are, artists on a grand scale insofar as they invent the true life of life. Not just in words, as in the Republic, that cautionary tale, but in the world, as so. This means of course the philosopher is the true statesman, which is also to say, the true warrior for Nietzsche because once upon a time these were not divided as they are in our democracies. We can’t forget in all this that Nietzsche is absolutely scathing about contemporary society and its mores – especially insofar as it has realised the complete inversion of an aristocratic morality into that of the slave, and thus it perpetrates the fiction and metaphysical comfort of the good or just world being over and above us and this world, being the horrid world of hazard, arbitrariness and contingency, must be brought into line with the determinations of this other world for the perpetuation of the species.
But for Nietzsche, such a species, passive and self-pacifying, duped and self-duping, scared and resentful, is not worth very much and hence it’s overcoming is what Nietzsche announces – it’s an over coming in the direction of the past and the future, note – the past of a certain aristocratic virtue, in the present that will have become. For Nietzsche, the world must be split in two. Not as in the idealist configuration between the world and its ideal other but immanently. The ressentiment morality of the past 2500 years must be broken with here and now such that the true life, which is to say the truth of life – a truth that requires no knowledge to be so – will out.
Let’s take a short walk with Zarathustra. If you haven't read it, it is a wonderful book, truly a remarkable piece of writing. Nietzsche was certainly up to the task he set himself or as he says in the wonderful essay, ‘Schopenhauer as Educator’, published in the collection Untimely Meditations, the task he set over and above himself – which is the goal of any true education: to be raised above ones current insufficiencies such that these are the products of ones epoch; to be, he says, ‘made simple and honest and hence untimely’ given that today people have become ‘so complex, so many-sided that they are bound to become dishonest whenever they speak at all, make assertions and try to act in accordance with them.’ How Platonic, really! And indeed for Nietzsche, ultimately, what this teaching realises if it is to be an education for the future is a new subject as such – thus he/she who can and must take leave of this very teaching lest he/she become merely a calculating machine, hanging on to life, he later says, madly and blindly, with no higher aim than to hang onto it. For Nietzsche, basically, man must become man – it is not self-evident.
So the relation of Nietzsche to Plato is one of rivalry and the aim of this rivalry is an overcoming but for Nietzsche it can only be a true overcoming if it is a rivalry of equals. After all, what can be gained really from besting those weaker (which is to say, lacking the will to weaponry and exploitation) than you? Well, I suppose you get the West, as Rimbaud said, and as Nietzsche certainly concurs, a desolate and declining culture self-satisfied in its interminable haste and sociality, the better to forget that its weakness is forged over and again in the reproduction of desire without hope.
Speaking of the individual and the culture at once, as they do in the Republic, Nietzsche says: ‘To know oneself a fruit on the tree which can never become ripe because one is too much in the shadow, and at the same time to see close at hand the sunshine one lacks’. He is speaking here – in the Untimely Meditations – I should stress, about the lack of philosophy in us – individually and culturally – a lack we produce precisely insofar as the courage to become what we are is what is truly lacking. Hence to be educated, for Nietzsche is inseparable from the will to take courage. Again, these are absolutely Platonic themes.
So Zarathustra is the philosopher rival to the Platonic philosopher. Traversing the same territory in another orientation. Whereas Socrates pleads ignorance and suffers for it, Zarathustra overflows with wisdom, such is his suffering. Hence: ‘This is my poverty; that my hand never rests from giving; this is my envy, that I see waiting eyes and the lit-up nights of longing. Oh, wretchedness of all givers! ... Oh, ravenous hunger in satiation! They receive from me, but do I touch their souls? There is a cleft between giving and receiving.’
And where we see Socrates always in the market place, perpetrating this ignorance for everyone, disturbing them, annoying them, bugging them with his insistence – almost, we might say, persecuting them with his ‘love of truth’, Zarathustra retreats from the market place out of this same love of the people
But there is a difference. Why does Socrates hang around and bug everyone, which is to say, what is the character of his love? Socrates, it seems to me, cannot break with the idea that a truth is true for all or rather, that this being the case, anyone at all can come to participate in this truth: in making true. It’s this that constitutes his love, this is why he must – and it is really an imperative for him – go back down into the cave. But for Nietzsche’s Zarathustra this is a persecution of the people. Hence Zarathustra travels up and back to the mountain.
Note that Zarathustra goes from the market to the mountain, not up out of a cave to the surface. These motifs and metaphors serve Nietzsche as argument and purpose and thus the use of them for this should be noted. The rational use of metaphor, if I can put it that way, contra Plato’s ascent from metaphor to rationality. Nietzsche is truly an artist but don’t be fooled: he is not a relativist, for the goal of this art is truth, the greatest or rather highest perspective.
But like Socrates, Zarathustra recognises that the people don’t understand the philosopher. Hence the persecution of Socrates as reward for his strange persecutions but Zarathustra expects nothing of them. He recognises the same distinction as Plato, between philosopher and actor or showmen or what Plato called sophists. H says: ‘Little do the people comprehend the great-that is the creating,’ … ‘around the inventors of new values the world revolves: invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve the people and fame: that is 'the way of the world'.’
These actors or showmen persuade people to view shadows, Nietzsche says, as unconditional truths. For Zarathustra, basically, it is not through the ‘Fleas of the Market Place’ that the world changes and so his going back from the market place to the mountain is not a fleeing from the people who might kill him per se – he marks this possibility – but is rather a response to the need to save himself from the market-place of corruption, basically. For as the philosopher, it is from him that new values will come, so to preserve in him what makes this possible is the priority, not persuading the flies toward truth. The philosopher, Zarathustra says, must not forget himself … not forget his humanity, which is really the over-humanity that he carries. He is the bridge to the future after all: Zarathustra says: ‘The danger of those who always give is that they lose their sense of shame; and the heart and hand of those who always mete out become callous from always meting out. My eye no longer wells over at the shame of those who beg.’
We need to keep in mind that what Zarathustra says is aimed at what Socrates said and did in the same or similar context. So Zarathustra’s withdrawal is out of love; he doesn’t talk with anyone to persuade them so much as to disavow in what they say the lessons they carry of other sages, priests and politicians etc. He doesn’t want to win them over as such, as to empty them of a loss. As Zuckart puts it: ‘He does not try to persuade people to accept any claim or doctrine; to persuade them would necessarily be to delude them, to convince them of a proposition the grounds of which they do not understand. Zarathustra does not preach or argue, therefore, so much as he sings. Even then, he is ashamed that he must still speak as a poet because, as he observes, poets always lie.’
Here is another aspect of Nietzsche. This capacity to hold contradictions without negation. The ‘flies of the market place’ cannot understand the propositions of the philosopher because they cannot share or be made to see the grounds of them. The flies are caught up in the shadows as their only true reality. This cannot be broken by reason, rather reason will be crushed by it. Thus to love the flies is to not impose reason upon them but to sing its truth to them, to tell the truth – which for N is the revaluation of all values – in the form of a lie.
The poetic form is a lie, always a lie, as Plato knew. But for Nietzsche this is the language of the people and thus it is in their language that the philosopher must speak. In the song, the philosopher brings the revaluation that will change the orientation of all to life or world but in such a way that they don’t even really know it. This is really Nietzsche’s configuration of the philosopher as legislator.
Thus the people will still treat with shadows but these shadows will have another orientation, another meaning, which will be extant, as it were, in the lives of all. This is why Zarathustra must protect himself and especially so when he is amongst the people giving his wisdom in this way, he must not forget himself which is to say, forget that he is lying. If he forgets he is lying he becomes just another fly in the market place of ideas.
At one point, in Ecce Homo’s ‘Why I am a Destiny’, Nietzsche speaks about his Zarathustra, and this form of a discourse of dissimulation as truth, which is to say, the discourse of the philosopher to his hearers, as Nietzsche would say. He says:
‘I have not been asked, as I should have been asked, what the name of Zarathustra means in my mouth, the mouth of the first immoralist: for what constitutes the tremendous historical uniqueness of that Persian is just the opposite of this. Zarathustra was the first to consider the fight of good and evil the very wheel in the machinery of things: the transposition of morality into the metaphysical realm, as a force, cause, and end in itself, is his work. But this question at bottom is its own answer. Zarathustra created this most calamitous error, morality; consequently, he must also be the first to recognise it. Not only has he more experience in this matter, for a longer time, than any other thinker – after all the whole of history is the refutation by experiment of the principle of the so-called moral ‘world order’ – what is more important is that Zarathustra is more truthful than any other thinker. His doctrine, and his alone, posits truthfulness as the highest virtue; this means the opposite of the cowardice of the idealist who fleas from reality; Zarathustra has more intestinal fortitude than all other thinkers taken together. To speak the truth and to shoot well with arrows, that is Persian virtue. Am I understood? The self-overcoming of morality, out of truthfulness; the self-overcoming of the moralist, into his opposite – into me – that is what the name Zarathustra means in my mouth.’
How fantastic! He really is a great seducer, a dynamite, as he says and as he also notes, it is very easy to find him but so much harder to leave him. And as you can see here, the impossibility of convincing by reason is something Zarathustra takes into himself as part of what he does and how he goes about it and moreover this demands that Zarathustra has to show himself as what is this truth that cannot be intelligibly transmitted to the people. The people live in revelation after all (a Straussian motif). Zarathustra and Nietzsche always announce themselves as this breaking of the world in two. They are what is to be done and what it is to overcome the banal and decadent morality that passes as culture and knowledge in our age. Philosopher (not philosophy) as a way of life.
Thus for Nietzsche, then, all previous philosophy, pursued in this way since Plato, has been decadent in this way, which is to say, by cleaving to this impossibility, it has been a lie. The lie being that this way to knowledge is the truth of it. And further, that this has itself become nothing more than a morality or been put to the service of it such that it goes about, paradoxically, as the un-thought of knowledge itself. So Nietzsche sets about exposing this decadence, thus exposing Plato’s lie but not in order to side with the people of course (the necessity of deceiving them is obvious) but with Zarathustra’s need to protect himself. Nietzsche knows that the philosopher has had to advance masked as Descartes said (and perhaps with a nod to Aristotle’s similar warning) to appear in various costumes such that these would shield him from persecution.
For Nietzsche, the problem is that this appearing has been forgotten, and Nietzsche wants to reinstate the gap between truth and lie here; to remember that you lie, which is to say, finally, that the Philosopher must become what he truly is and not hide any more in the old appearances. This is only possible, though, in the world the philosopher creates in his trans-valuation of all values. In a certain sense Nietzsche recognises in the individual alone what Marx recognised as what the collective was capable.
Moreover, Nietzsche recognises in Plato the same impetus to rule as he supposes for his philosopher and laments only that he didn’t go far enough in this. That he didn’t really admit it, I suppose we can say. Basically, he reckons that Plato, as philosopher, does not really believe in another or ideal world or teach it, rather, Nietzsche reckons, he affirmed his own existence. ‘The true world-attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it.’ In Twighlight of the Idols he says that really, Plato is saying or beginning with ‘I, Plato, am the truth’. Thus you see the same as Zarathustra. But Plato retreats from this – from being the giver of values, the creator – to positing this value in the ideal. This ideal has traversed the history of philosophy hitherto. It’s the dogmatists error we spoke of. Nietzsche is never really sure if Plato believed this doctrine himself but he is sure his disciples, and, as we know, his detractors have.
The fight against Plato, which is as much the fight against the plebian Socrates within him, as it were – who Nietzsche variously describes as Plato’s mask, his corruption, his front, his employee etc. – is the fight against this retreat from the world that his disciples took as what was true of his discourse. This taking of this for the truth of Plato is the obscene history of philosophy for Nietzsche because it has, on the most vulgar ground, misunderstood Plato. So again we can see the separation of Plato from Socrates so critical to almost everyone, but here it’s in a totally unique sense. Plato tried to make Socrates noble but was ultimately brought down in the attempt. Insofar as Plato is Platonism, he became the worst of all things, a Christian, thus a world or life denier.
And it’s not surprising that Nietzsche finds in dialectics the very method of this life denying. It is the toil of the weak or the common, he says: ‘Is the irony of Socrates an expression … of plebeian ressentiment? Is dialectics only a form of revenge in Socrates?" Hence as he says in Beyond Good and Evil : ‘The ancient theological problem of "faith" and "knowledge" – or, more clearly, of instinct and reason is still the ancient moral problem that emerged in the person of Socrates and divided thinking people long before Christianity.’ And: ‘Socrates himself, to be sure, had initially sided with reason; what did he do his life-long but laugh at the awkward incapacity of noble Athenians who, like noble men, were men of instinct and never could give sufficient reasons for their actions?’
But N finds that it even turns back on its greatest adept: ‘In the end, however, privately and secretly, he laughed at himself, too … This was the real falseness of that great ironist ... ; he had seen through the irrational element in moral judgments.’ As Zuckart notes, ‘In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche had argued that Socrates embodied the optimistic illusion that human beings could come not only to comprehend but also to correct their existence by attaining knowledge. "Knowledge is virtue." But in The Twilight of the Idols he suggested that Socrates may have intentionally misled his noble young Athenian auditors. One fears death only so long as one is attached to life. Socrates represented not the first optimist but a more knowing pessimist who concealed the insight or knowledge he had obtained about himself through his own experience. His actions told more than his words. He died without visible regrets or qualms.’
Hence you see, he was not attached to life; life was nothing for him and this is the plebian error writ as prophecy because this is the very foundation of Christian morality, of dogmatic idealism … and so on.
But in Nietzsche, Plato remains finally once removed from all this, even if N never finally situates Plato one way or another. But let me just remark that as Nietzsche conceived Plato as a rival, a giver of values, a creator, a beautiful product of the antiquity he loved for its noble virtue, its immoralism, then Plato, as opposed to Platonism, must somehow stand or else Nietzsche too is a plebian, decadent at heart, despite what he professes. Nietzsche’s advance on Plato is to not hide the necessary immoralism of the philosopher, to, in other words, affirm this very will to power as crucial to any philosophy of the future, as the truth of philosophy. Thus one no longer opposes the lie to the truth, thus dialecticises; rather the very fact that any truth must become so, must be the force of a creation, means that truth comes already in the form of the lie. To embrace this is to embrace life itself which has no use for morality or ideals at all, and as such is the only possible grounds for whatever greatness is there is in lived life. But of course for Nietzsche, this advance on Plato came not at the price of his life, not at first, but of his capacity to think. In the end, Nietzsche bequeaths himself as event.
So if Nietzsche offers himself as event this means – in the Deleuzian sense anyway – that Nietzsche offers an immanent and actualised difference within thought that in a certain sense is the event in thought of all thought. To think, then, is to enter into the event which is the same event for all thought. In short, to think, and Deleuze, unlike a lot of his contemporaries is committed to thought distinct from opinion, is to think the event of Nietzsche, whose trace thought actualises each time.
Thus, can we say, Nietzsche is an event for the actuality that becomes Deleuze?… Certainly Deleuze is a great reader of many philosophers, famously, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Kant and Bergson but perhaps as event Nietzsche is the most influential on Deleuze because as event he makes Deleuze possible and doesn’t just offer to Deleuze a way to be the philosopher he is or ,after Spinoza, a ‘saint’ as Paul Patten opined.
So Deleuze, next time.
Catherine H. Zuckert, Postmodern Platos