Insomnia | Essays

Against the Dialectic

By Gilles Deleuze / Translated by Hugh Tomlinson


Is Nietzsche a "dialectician"? Not all relations between "same" and "other" are sufficient to form a dialectic, even essential ones: everything depends on the role of the negative in this relation. Nietzsche emphasises the fact that force has another force as its object. But it is important to see that forces enter into relations with other forces. Life struggles with another kind of life. Pluralism sometimes appears to be dialectical — but it is its most ferocious enemy, its only profound enemy. This is why we must take seriously the resolutely anti-dialectical character of Nietzsche's philosophy. It has been said that Nietzsche did not know his Hegel. In the sense that one does not know one's opponent well. On the other hand we believe that the Hegelian movement, the different Hegelian factions were familiar to him. Like Marx he found his habitual targets there. If we do not discover its target the whole of Nietzsche's philosophy remains abstract and barely comprehensible. The question "against whom" itself calls for several replies. But a particularly important one is that the concept of the Overman is directed against the dialectical conception of man, and transvaluation is directed against the dialectic of appropriation or the suppression of alienation. Anti-Hegelianism runs through Nietzsche's work as its cutting edge. We can already feel it in the theory of forces.
   In Nietzsche the essential relation of one force to another is never conceived of as a negative element in the essence. In its relation with the other the force which makes itself obeyed does not deny the other or that which it is not, it affirms its own difference and enjoys this difference. The negative is not present in the essence as that from which force draws its activity: on the contrary it is a result of activity, of the existence of an active force and the affirmation of its difference. The negative is a product of existence itself: the aggression necessarily linked to an active existence, the aggression of an affirmation. As for the negative concept (that is to say, negation as a concept) "it is only a subsequently-invented pale contrasting image in relation to its positive basic concept — filled with life and passion through and through" (GM I 10 p. 37). For the speculative element of negation, opposition or contradiction Nietzsche substitutes the practical element of difference, the object of affirmation and enjoyment. It is in this sense that there is a Nietzschean empiricism. The question which Nietzsche constantly repeats, "what does a will want, what does this one or that one want?", must not be understood as the search for a goal, a motive or an object for this will. What a will wants is to affirm its difference. In its essential relation with the "other" a will makes its difference an object of affirmation. "The pleasure of knowing oneself different", the enjoyment of difference (BGE 260); this is the new, aggressive and elevated conceptual element that empiricism substitutes for the heavy notions of the dialectic and above all, as the dialectician puts it, for the labour of the negative. It is sufficient to say that dialectic is a labour and empiricism an enjoyment. And who says that there is more thought in labour than in enjoyment? Difference is the object of a practical affirmation inseperable from essence and constitutive of existence. Nietzsche's "yes" is opposed to the dialectical "no"; affirmation to dialectical negation, to dialectical labour; lightness, dance, to dialectical responsibilities. The empirical feeling of difference, in short hierarchy, is the essential motor of the concept, deeper and more effective than all thought about contradiction.
   Furthermore, we must ask what does the dialectician himself want? What does this will which wills the dialectic want? It is an exhausted force which does not have the strength to affirm its difference, a force which no longer acts but rather reacts to the forces which dominate it — only such a force brings to the foreground the negative element in its relation to the other. Such a force denies all that it is not and makes this negation its own essence and the principle of its existence. "While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is 'outside', what is 'different', what is 'not itself' and this No is its creative deed" (GM I 10 p. 36). This is why Nietzsche presents the dialectic as the speculation of the pleb, as the way of thinking of the slave: the abstract thought of contradiction then prevails over the concrete feeling of positive difference, reaction over action, revenge and ressentiment take the place of aggression. And, conversely, Nietzsche shows that what is negative in the master is always a secondary and derivative product of existence. Moreover the relation of master and slave is not, in itself, dialectical. Who is the dialectician, who dialecticises the relationship? It is the slave, the slave's perspective, the way of thinking belonging to the slave's perspective. The famous dialectical aspect of the master-slave relationship depends on the fact that power is conceived not as will to power but as representation of power, representation of superiority, recognition by "the one" of the superiority of "the other". What the wills in Hegel want is to have their power recognised, to represent their power. According to Nietzsche we have here a wholly erroneous conception of the will to power and its nature. This is the slave's conception, it is the image that the man of ressentiment has of power. The slave only conceives of power as the object of a recognition, the content of a representation, the stake in a competition, and therefore makes it depend, at the end of a fight, on a simple attribution of established values. If the master-slave relationship can easily take on the dialectical form, to the point where it has become an archetype or a school-exercise for every young Hegelian, it is because the portrait of the master that Hegel offers us is, from the start, a portrait which represents the slave, at least as he is in his dreams, as at best a successful slave. Underneath the Hegelian image of the master we always find the slave.


[Excerpt from Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962).]