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Deleuze’s Nietzsche

Lecturer: Jon Roffe

Originally Taught: Summer School 2022

The aim of this course will be to understand the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche as it is construed by Gilles Deleuze. Our concern will not be to either criticise nor correct Deleuze’s reading, though we will touch on some of the major criticisms that others have raised with respect to this reading. The reason why such a critical-comparative approach is not fruitful lies with the very way that the issues of critique and evaluation themselves are formulated in this reading itself.

The central text will be Deleuze’s influential 1962 Nietzsche and Philosophy, but we will also draw upon the other significant reflections on Nietzsche’s work, particularly those found in Difference and Repetition (1968), and Anti-Oedipus (1972)

1. Introduction. Context. Orientation of Deleuze’s reading

After providing some general contextual information about Deleuze's relationship to Nietzsche's thought, we will turn to consider some introductory questions about his reading of Nietzsche. More specifically, we will consider two main questions: what is the core of Nietzsche's thought, according to Deleuze? And why does Deleuze hold onto the notion of the 'tragic' to think a philosopher who - in his view - abandons the main features of the argument of The Birth of Tragedy?

  • Reading: 'The Tragic', Chapter 1 of Nietzsche and Philosophy

2. Methodology. The transcendental framework

Deleuze repeatedly makes a pair of claims about Nietzsche's place in the history of philosophy. The first consists in a rejection of any rapprochment between Nietzsche and Hegel, a topic we will return to in the final lecture. But the second, perhaps more surprising, is that Nietzsche's philosophy is to be situated in the post-Kantian heritage, and that his philosophy is a transcendental philosophy. It is this perspective we will examine in the second lecture.

  • Reading: 'Critique', Chapter 3 of Nietzsche and Philosophy
  • Additional readings: 'The Image of Thought,' chapter 3 in Difference and Repetition; 'The Image of Thought,' conclusion to part one of Proust and Signs.

3. Force and repetition. The ontological framework

Alongside the transcendental, Deleuze wants to present the ontological dimension of Nietzsche's thought. Two of the features of this account are famous: the will to power and the eternal return. But Deleuze will base the discussion on a more mundane concept, that of force, and build the ontological picture up on this basis. We will see that, as a result, the will to power loses its personological characteristics - something that, he will later argue, the post-Hegelian tradition failed to do - and becomes an ontological principle. We will then turn to the challenging ontological account of the doctrine of the eternal return. We will consider in passing a fairly robust criticism levelled at Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche on this point

In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze will also lean on the proximity of Spinoza's account of the role of power in existing modes. As we will see, it is by taking this into account - alongside the Kantian investment discussed in the previous seminar - that the prima facie puzzling invocation of differential calculus can be understood.

  • Deleuze, 'Active and Reactive,' Chapter 2 of Nietzsche and Philosophy
  • Spinoza, extracts from books 2, 3 and 4 of the Ethics
  • (we will also touch on the significance of Solomon Maimon's Essay in Transcendental Philosophy; for those interested in digging a little deeper into Deleuze's heritage, this book will also be provided).

4. Consciousness and bad conscience. The historical framework

The previous seminar elaborated what we might call Nietzsche's ontological topology. In this seminar, we will turn to his historical typology. At the heart of the second half of Nietzsche and Philosophy is a conception of type as the basic organisational category of human being in its historical dimension. Our first concern in this seminar, then, will be to understand the relationship of type to other, component, categories (including race, nationality, religious belief). The second concern will be to show how the reactive quality of force lead, under the weight of certain historical developments, to the current human type, and to the apparent cul de sac of nihilism.

The work of Freud is of great significance here. As we will see in this seminar, Deleuze's Nietzsche is deeply Freudian in character - or, better perhaps, the way that Deleuze construes the key issue of the status of consciousness is found at the confluence of the two positions. Furthermore, we can see just how profound Deleuze takes this confluence to be by looking at Nietzsche's appearance in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, published a decade after his Nietzsche book.

  • Deleuze, 'From Ressentiment to Bad Conscience,' Chapter 4 of Nietzsche and Philosophy
  • Deleuze and Guattari, extract from 'Savages, Barbarians, Civilised Men,' chapter 3 of Anti-Oedipus
  • Freud, 'Two Principles of Mental Functioning,' 'The Unconscious,' and 'The Mystic Writing-Pad'

5. Nihilism, dialectics and politics. Conclusion.

The final lecture will consider three lingering questions. First, where might the long story of ressentiment in human history end? Here, Deleuze will take up the infamous theme of the übermench. The possibility of a new form of existence appears, according to Deleuze as we will see, out of the self-nihilating movement of nihilism. This leads to the second question: does Deleuze violate his own edict that there is no possible rapprochment between Hegel and Nietzsche? And finally, how should we understand Deleuze's critical series of rhetorical questions directed at Marx's use of the dialectic?

The issue of Nietzsche's politics has recently been foregrounded in Losurdo's Nietzsche: The Aristocratic Rebel. We will be in a position, by the end of this fifth class, to give a Deleuzean response to Losurdo's reading. But also, by concluding with a consideration of the status of politics in Nietzsche and Philosophy, we open onto the broader terrain of Deleuze's philosophy itself, and the nature of what is called politics in it.

  • Deleuze, 'The Overman,' Chapter 5, and the 'Conclusion' of Nietzsche and Philosophy