NVC Reading notes #4

IMG_0199Klossowski – Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle – Reading notes for Ch.s 3-5

(These notes are partially exegetical for students and partially exploratory for myself).


The ‘Eternal Return’ is the thought experiment from Nietzsche, the central presentation of which is found in ‘The Gay Science’, S.341 and runs as follows:

The heaviest weight. – What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.’ If this thought gained power over you, as you are it would transform and possibly crush you; the question in each and every thing, ‘Do you want this again and innumerable times again?’ would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to long for nothing more fervently than for this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?’

In the ‘Will to Power’ #1066 Nietzsche makes a more argumentative presentation although it is still in the form of a hypothetical, a thought experiment (note the opening – ‘If the world may be thought…’ which is akin to saying ‘Just suppose for the sake of argument…’ and then setting up an argument of the If…then… format which I have inserted into the text in italics in this case.  If we pay attention to this way of arguing we can see that it is both very compressed and contains a chain of implications from a basic ontological model.  The paragraph could be unpacked by trying to reconstruct the line or argument – in other words by trying to make explicit all possible suppressed premises.):

If (If…) the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centres of force – and every other representation remains indefinite and therefore useless – it follows that, (then…) in the great dice game of existence, it must pass through a calculable number of combinations. (then…) In infinite time, every possible combination would at some time or another be realized; more: (then…) it would be realized an infinite number of times. (then…) And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have taken place, and each of these combinations conditions the entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum.’

In NVC Klossowski begins Ch3 by pointing out a peculiar fact about the ER – for it to occur I must have forgotten that it occurs (anamnesis = forgetting)

This assumes of course that the moment of the ER is experienced as new.  It happens as if for the first time.  (One cannot learn what we already know).

The ER is understood as a moment of the ‘sudden transformation of the identity of the person to whom it is revealed’ (NVC: 44).  How is identity changed by the ER?  Is it a knowledge that is ‘revealed’?

The problem of whether it is knowledge is implicit in the antinomy K. presents – the antinomy between:
(A) obtaining the ‘knowledge’ resultant on the ‘revelation’ (the ER)
(B) losing the ‘knowledge’ involved in the ER (because the condition of the revelation is that it is not already known, ie; it has been forgotten, the necessary forgetting of the ‘knowledge’)

The ER is described by K. as a ‘lived experience’ rather than as knowledge.

The claim that is then based on the antinomy as a ‘characterisation’ of the ER is that in the ER the transformation of identity is specifically a loss of identity (eg loss of the one who knew the ER in order to relearn it).

  • ER as a lived experience, revelation, that is always a particular degree of affect (Stimmung mood) – it is a transformational experience with regard personal identity.
  • Antinomy involved because of the necessary anamnesis involved.
  • The ER more specifically characterised as a loss of identity.

How to understand the ‘necessary anamnesis’?  Begin by ‘reading’ the ER as an ‘Eternal Memory’ that appears or arrives (is revealed as in a revelation) – the phrase ‘it returns to me now!’ might indicate the phenomenological character of this ER as EM (think of when you might exclaim such a thing, that moment of remembering something that was ‘on the tip of the tongue’ for example).

This way of ‘reading’ (interpreting) the ER allows us to see an epistemic or knowledge theme.

Combined with this memory/knowledge theme there is another theme, that of chance.  To bring this to the fore now read the ER and more importantly the result of the ER as the encounter with the fortuitousness of ‘my case’ – ER implies all possibilities, including the awareness of all possibilities; this implies all subjectivities, including a subjectivity of that awareness, that specific degree/stimmung that constitutes at this point the ‘necessary subjectivity’ (the essence) as a ‘degree of impulse’.  The subject aware of all possible subjectivities is a kind of omniscient, omnisensible (all knowing, all feeling) being, posited by the ER as a necessary moment of the Circle, the necessary moment that is the moment of the ER – ie; this necessary subjectivity is actual in so far as it is ‘experiencing’ the ER (the ER is identical with the necessary subjectivity not distinct from it).

Two themes then to orientate when thinking about the ER:

  • Memory / Knowledge (Eternal Memory)
  • Subjectivity / Chance / Will (Dissolved Self)

Now we can also ask at this point about how these two themes relate to the two fundamental ‘aspects’ of reason that have been identified in numerous forms, perhaps most clearly and radically by Kant –  the faculties of understanding and of intuitions.  I would suggest that the following is the mapping:

  • Understanding is the ‘fortuitousness of stability’ grounded in anamnesis.  In other words, the understanding exists outside the ER and the condition of ‘stable’ concepts is a stability of the self that occurs because we have forgotten the instability we encounter in ER.
  • Intuition or Sensibility is a durational past – which might be though of as the Proustian moment.  These ‘moments’ form an instant transport (metaphora) constituting the new ‘metempsychosis’ that Deleuze refers to.

(The following is an exegetical outline of pp47-49)
1.    The ‘soul’ = intensity (cf prop. 1, p47)
2.     All is intensity and fluctuation (‘chaos’) – a sign is a function of chaos (“Every signification is a function of Chaos out of which meaning is generated” NVC: 48)
3.     Thought is the fluctuation of the impulses, codified in the everyday signs that make up the ‘standard functions of chaos in its contingent particularity: froth of the waves on the sea (NVC:48).  The CES (code of everyday signs) constitutes a ‘whole’ (“a closed and apparently delimited whole” NVC:49).  This ‘whole’ might be analogous to (although not the same as) language games (Wittgenstein), conceptual schemes (Quine), vocabularies (Rorty), context (various), situation (De Beauvoir) or world (Heidegger).  Be wary of analogies however, since they can cover over differences that are more important than any similarities (after all they make ‘gregarious’ or ‘common’ that which is specific or ‘idiosyncratic’ and hence tend to go against the way in which the idiosyncratic is to the fore in NVC).  Note of course that if we simply adopt a ‘dualism’ of scheme and content then we are liable to the criticism of Davidson.
4.    There is a singular point from which knowledge of these ‘wholes’ is organised or orientated and that is the regularity (or habit) of the sign of the subject (Point Of View or POV: which gives us a model of a kind of indeterminate edge around a determinate nucleus, the POV).  This singular point is itself a function of chaos.
5.     The sign of the self is not fixed but fluctuates between a ‘highest degree’ and a ‘lowest degree’.  To this extent the concept of the self here is of a ‘shimmering self’.
6.     The reversal – “The thought of no one, this intensity in itself, without any determinable beginning or end, finds a necessity in the agent [suppot] that appropriates it for itself, and is assigned a destiny within the vicissitudes of memory and the forgetting of itself or the world.” (NVC:49)  The intensity that is this shimmering self finds a necessity in the intensity. But…this intensity that somehow becomes or produces a feeling (intensity) of necessity (think perhaps of the way in which the cogito is encountered) is undermined in the arbritrary or contingent ground of fluctuations that is derives from (point 2 above). “Nothing could be more arbitrary – once we admit that everything is on a single circuit of intensity.  For a designation to be produced, for a meaning to be constituted, my will must intervene – but again this is nothing more than this appropriated intensity.” (NVC:49). What we encounter here are the limits of intensity, of self, of agency, of will and of meaning. Much of the difficulty of NVC is that it is attempting to think these entwined limits with the core ontology of ‘chaos’ (a naming of the fluctuations of intensity, the forces, which as a naming is going to be questioned eg in Ch 6).
7.     At the limits (found in the reversal points, the “turning back on itself” in prop.s 2 and 5 on NVC:47-48) there occurs a problem – “I myself fall back into incoherence” (NVC:50) because of the antinomy of will and the ER which can be laid out as follows:
(a.) if I will successfully then it is ‘once and for all’ and if so then the ER is false
(b.) or the ER is true and willing is destined to repeat, hence could not be ‘once and for all’
So either the ER or the will?  But if the will is what appropriates an intensity and is itself an intensity (of appropriation, owning, possessing, gathering, connecting) and this is the ER (6. above) then both ER and will are needed.  The ER as meaningful needs the will (to ‘give it’ meaning, through yes-saying).

From here we can move to discuss the problem of meaningfulness as posed within the NVC.

MJL 10/02/09

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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  1. Deb Morris
    Deb Morris at |

    I am clear I don’t understand the majority of what is here and for that matter I haven’t even read all of it. Nonetheless, I am so grateful for having been brought to this blog. I feel awakened, in awe of you/the writer, appreciating the philosophy I have studied, recognizing I haven’t been in this area of study in so very long and need to re-invite it into my daily life now, etc….so many feelings!!
    Thank you for sharing the blog.

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