Insomnia | Commentary

On Action and Reaction

By Alex Kierkegaard / February 10, 2011

Critique is not a re-action of re-sentiment but the active expression of an active mode of existence; attack and not revenge, the natural aggression of a way of being, the divine wickedness without which perfection could not be imagined.

Gilles Deleuze, "Nietzsche and Philosophy" (1962)


The main reason I posted Plank's essay on Nehamas on the frontpage earlier today was to highlight the following quote from it:

"But the Overman is neither democrat nor bourgeois."

I did this because the next thing in line to be posted on the frontpage is the last part of the second essay of my Genealogy, and because, as I've made clear in that essay, the ultimate reason for the degeneration of the various artforms was the rise of democracy and bourgeois (i.e. middle-class) mentality. I realize how difficult it is for people to accept this, despite the fact that I have demonstrated it beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt. However most people, and especially uneducated people, function mostly on instinct and prejudice instead of on logic and reasoning, so when one makes a claim that's bound to offend everyone's instincts it's a good idea to also make an effort to provide as much (ultimately superfluous, but still useful for the less intelligent and less educated) ancillary support as one can. And with the above-quoted statement, coming from a very intelligent and distinguished scholar, I am aiming, and hoping, to do just that.

Unfortunately, as with many of the "third-party" essays posted on the frontpage of this site, it also contains a statement that is bound to mislead many who come across it. Usually I don't have the time to take apart all these essays sentence-for-sentence for the benefit of those who can't put two and two together, but this specific point is one that is bound to mislead even the most intelligent reader — which is why I decided to tackle it here. I am referring to Plank's statement that:

"The Overman is not reactive."

Having read this, one would be perfectly justified in logging in to the forum and starting a thread asking me why, despite the above, there is, or at least appears to be, so much "reaction" in all my essays. I mean stuff like Cocksucking Videogameland, or The Simulacrum is True, or even the "Emergence" essay could easily be labeled as pure reaction. And, if one went even further, one could basically label ALL my essays as more or less pure reaction, and then take one step further and also label all of Nietzsche's work as such (especially, and above all, his Genealogy of Morals and his project of the reevaluation of all values). So where does this leave us? If action is good and reaction is bad, what right do I and Nietzsche have of claiming for ourselves the higher moral ground (which we do indeed claim, by calling slave morality immoral and presenting master morality as the only genuine, the only real morality, in the sense that the concept of morality is commonly understood).

Short answer is: this is an extremely difficult question and to really grasp the answer you must have a profound understanding of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. But I will nevertheless try to offer as complete and concise an answer here as I can without presupposing prior knowledge of that text, or of any philosophical work whatsoever.

Attack is not reaction. If you reduce mine and Nietzsche's efforts to reaction you are effectively debasing the concept reaction, since in a universe of flux no action can ever be truly "original", since everything always comes from somewhere and flows towards something else. This "from somewhere" the subhuman readers will always interpret as the original action, and the subsequent action, the action that confronts this action and attacks it — that is to say mine and Nietzsche's action — they will always interpret as reaction. This is the simple, the easy way to view the situation, the easiest solution as Lichtenberg and Baudrillard would call it, which will always be wrong but which subhumans will always prefer because it's easier to conceptualize.

So what is the correct solution, then?

The correct solution lies in the understanding of the concept of genealogy. The genealogical method (which is essentially the scientific method, but that's a subject for another essay) is precisely the method whereby the history of a process or a group of processes is closely examined and unravelled in order precisely to separate action from reaction; in order to identify which sub-processes of a grand process are positive-active-fluxial and which negative-reactive-decadent. Once the identification has been made one simply shores up the former and declares war on the latter, and the process goes on. This is precisely what I've been doing in my Genealogy — but it's also what I've been doing from my very first essay and in all the rest of them. The Cocksucking article therefore is not reaction — it is the end product of a laboriously-acquired insight into the history of what calls itself "videogame journalism" which at length identified the modern hobag phenomenon as negative-reactive-decadent and declared war on it. And so on and so forth with all the essays. Otherwise, if every attack were construed as reaction (reaction to the activity of the entity being attacked), one would be unable to attack anything at all — i.e. ultimately to act at all (since every action is attack).

Try to grasp this in its detail: Leigh Alexander is reactive. She doesn't like videogames but entered the field because she found no better prospects of "earning a living" through any activity she actually enjoyed doing — FIRST reaction. From then on all her activity within the confines of her profession is pure reaction since, given a choice, SHE WOULDN'T BE DOING IT. But then reaction continues and builds up every step of the process. She scribbles tens of thousands of words on a monthly basis that, were she not paid to scribble them, she would not even imagine scribbling. And even then, she is not scribbling her honest feelings about the two or three games that she honestly cares for one way or another, but about countless games she doesn't give a fuck about. And even then, she doesn't scribble down her honest opinion (i.e. that she doesn't give a rat's ass about any of these games) — she scribbles all the pathetic random moralistic claptrap that she has seen successful journalists in other fields scribble, and is merely imitating them so as to advance her journalistic career (i.e. earn more money and fame — which goals have absolutely nothing to do with the enjoyment and promotion of videogames and videogame culture, but are in fact inimical to it). In other words, reaction, reaction, reaction the whole way. No wonder she never manages to scribble down a single sentence that will survive past the week in which she scribbled it!

In contrast to her, my own comportment is pure action. No one paid me to write that article — let alone to publish it. In fact I MYSELF PAID TO HAVE IT PUBLISHED, and would be willing to pay much more if internet hosting services weren't so cheap and I were obliged to. My comments and my criticisms of her and the entire movement she represents have nothing to do with anyone else's comments or criticisms. I derived the reasoning of all my arguments purely from myself. I love difficult, complicated games and therefore attack people who try to make them easier and simpler. I love expert, deep, insightful analysis and criticism and therefore attack people who make criticism casual, superficial and obscure. And so on and so forth. It is only someone with a false understanding of the difference between action and reaction that can label that essay, or any of my essays, as pure reaction. Not only are they not pure reaction — NONE OF THEM CONTAINS ANY REACTION AT ALL.

I realize that, even after the above explanation, the difference between the concepts of action and reaction will still be extremely difficult to grasp (again, especially for those who haven't read or understood Nietzsche's Genealogy). It took me a while to grasp it as well — Nietzsche never got around to properly explaining it, and scholars like Deleuze and Plank, while offering helpful hints here or there, often bungle and obscure some aspects of the explanation at the same time as they clear others up. The attentive reader will therefore have to wait a while longer until I am ready to offer a complete solution to the problem. But I hope that the above brief comments will help the more intelligent readers fend off for the time being the inevitable simplistic attempts to casually dismiss my work as pure reaction.