NVC Reading notes #5 (Some Themes for Thought)

As a pedagogic device for working on NVC the suggestion I made to my students is that a series of ‘themes’ are identified which then provide a backbone for ‘indexing’ some of the content with a view to building up a ground for exegetical work.  The idea would be to take each theme – or at least a selection of them – and find relevant passages within the text in order to then have a focused selection from the text to think about.  Obviously these themes interlock but the need to ‘ignore’ some things to focus on others is a methodological tool, enabling us to gain some focus before perhaps expanding again. (This is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of the themes that might be extracted from NVC, nor even a list of the themes which might be thought to be the ‘most central’ or ‘most obvious’. It arises from a particular class and discussion and as such is located in that context is intended to be added to and improved through discussion).


1) the ‘parent’ theme – not in the sense of the transmission of genetic material (ie; not biological) – rather the way in which Nietzsche is thinking himself as his ‘father-mother’ – to give birth to yourself, how is you can become your own father-mother?  As a sovereign individual you are not dependent on anyone else.  Conceptually – how do you become the source of yourself, not a product or effect but rather a cause.  In particular, given an ontology of forces in which the individual looks like nothing more than an effect of these forces how do we become a cause and not an effect.

2) the ‘eternal return’ theme – connected to the vicious circle and the thought experiment of ‘living the moment over and over again’.  The VC is not the be-all-and-end-all of the book but the beginning of the thought that is being called for.  Look at the notes on the paradox of knowledge.  Ask, for example, what does the ER do to us?  Remember how the ER is posed, which is not simply ‘conceptually’ but rather as a thought experiment that challenges your capacity to live if the ER was the case.  The ER posed not as knowledge but as a test which will connect to the idea of selection.  Are you capable, do you have the capacity, to think this, to live this ER?  If we pose the question, why does the ER matter and respond by suggesting ‘knowledge’ then we encounter the paradox of knowledge – instead come back again to the question and look at its ‘transformative’ power, what it is you learn in the sense of learning to swim, or learning to be able to do something, learning a capacity – in this case the capacity to affirm life to the highest degree.

3) revaluation of values – implicit in the text but not explicit – the motivation for why you would want to revaluate is captured in the thought experiment of the ER.  What sort of value in particular is being addressed as having to be revalued?  Concretely, the sense of self, one of the central themes of the NVC.  The very value of the human, what it is to be human, is being thought through the NVC and that is one of the reasons why the book has such an emphasis on biography.  Any self is always a self, specific and singular, so the focus on Nietzsche’s biography is not without implications for ‘any self’ even though it is focused on ‘a self’.

4) the relation between the gregarious and the singular – this will be a central way in which we encounter the ‘revaluation’.  The social and the individual(human and self) and the relation between the two.  Note that revaluation is not simply the replacement of one value for another – Klossowski trying to show how Nietzsche’s attempt to revalue the self as ‘noble’ (autonomous) pushes Nietzsche into the destruction of the self (through the simulacrum model removing a ‘core self’ and turning all into the way in which an appearance occurs.

5) the impulses – what is it about the impulses that is important?  The ontology of forces, of impulses is central but how so?  When we develop an ontology we develop a concept of ‘what there is’, a ‘science of being’ or ‘the basic nature of absolutely everything that is’ – ie; a claim about the way things really are (be careful about all those words however, ‘things’, ‘reality’ and ‘are’ [being] will be not fixed in developing an ontology but rather they will derive from such a discussion.  In Klossowski the ontology is not fixed but rather something like a hypothetical – ‘what if being is like this’, ‘what if being is nothing but forces and impulses’?  Why think this?  Why experiment like this?  One suggestion is the explanatory power of an ontology – you must think of the power of a claim in relation to other claims in order to be able to compare the power of claims.  What explanatory power might the ontology of forces be suggested as possessing?  One answer might be the capacity to expel dualism and not posit any transcendent entities and this simplicity is taken to hold greater explanatory power (Ockhams Razor). The impulse ontologist doesn’t remove ‘dualisms’ but rather doesn’t need to posit them to begin with and explains them as a result of the single structure (‘variable forces’).

6) the code of everyday signs and the reality principle – the relation between language and thought.  Can you have a thought which is not in language?  What sort of answer would Klossowski give – it looks like he would affirm the thought without language.  How is this possible, how would this work – the CES as a ‘habitual’ expression of thoughts, cultured or trained to express thoughts in a particular way (think of the variation in the use of language over time and history).  What changes when languages change?  Thoughts or cultures in which the habits of expression change.  Here the connection to the GOM and the good/bad, good/evil distinction occurs.  The CES of the good/evil is established through slave culture and the good/bad was a different CES, of the noble.  The word ‘expression’ hides an ambiguity however depending on how the relation is conceived, translation or transition/transformation. Is language a ‘translation’ of our thoughts (in which case it can be more or less accurate) or is it a transformation (in which case in transforming it changes, suggesting there will always be a remainder, something left over).  One of the core ways in which this theme is articulated is through the concepts of ‘phantasms and simulacra’, though these particular concepts are perhaps central to most if not all the themes.

7) reversals (some notes on this on website with an exegetical example) – Klossowski tracks a dynamic or tendency in Nietzsche, a tendency to the ‘Turin Euphoria’ and dissolution.  In this sense we might understand the ER as a ‘Vicious Circle’ in the sense that ‘the moment in which I find myself but in doing so destroy myself’.  When tracking tendencies you ‘go as far as you can’, to extremes at which point we encounter the truth of the tendency.  Most of the time you will be trying to find ‘breaking points’ (paradox, reversals, collapse) in order to find the power of tendency. This is often one of the things we can find in Science Fiction, where encounters with limits of development are often crucial.

8) delirium and lucidity – one of the claims we want to encounter from Klossowski is that certainty is a delirium, to be certain is to be delirious it is not to be clear – this is obviously radically different from the Cartesian notion of ‘clarity and distinctness’.  Lucidity becomes the ‘indistinct, unclear, strange’. Nietzsche is read by Klossowski via this lucidity/delirium pairing – in particular the drive to the Turin Euphoria arises from a ‘delirium’ grounded in the certainty of the ER but a peculiarly mobile certainty, that is that Nietzsche conceives himself with certainty to be every name in history, a delirium of certainty which is no longer static but folds in on itself, twists back into a kind of ‘certainty of uncertainty’ of my name).

9) the physiological ground – the migraines, the body trying to interrupt the mind or the intellect. Klossowski wants to lead ‘intention back to intensity’.  Intention, of course, the core word of phenomenology, begins from intentions (intentionality, consciousness of…, meaning).  The phenomenologist doesn’t use meaning in a straight forwardly representational way but far more in terms of ‘goals’ or ‘directions’.  For phenomenologists what makes us the type of beings we are is that we are meaningful, meaning using or creating animals.  Again a kind of dualism – two types of animals, those that use meaning, those that don’t.  The phenomenologist must begin from this dualism, however, not explain it, something found in their method of positing a ‘fundamental realm of meaning’ as the core assumption the phenomenologist calls on us to make in trying to think the world or the human. Deleuze and Klossowski not going to dispute the existence of meaning but explain by leading back to a ground in intensity.

10) the will to power – in particular through the problem of the ‘spiritual automata’ – the automata is WTP as everything, the spiritual side is WTP that produces a singular will, a will that is conscious of itself.  One of the ways of thinking this is by asking the question – what would happen to a machine that knew it was a machine, what sort of transformation would occur in the encounter of a machine with its own ‘machinic’ nature.  We can thematise a kind of ‘awakening’ or ‘enlightenment’ in this question, and in that sense Deleuze and Klossowski can be thought of in entirely an enlightenment, rational tradition. The core conceptual issue is the idea of the will becoming singular, through some sort of self-awareness that occurs in knowing itself to be will, aware of itself as will (beware the problem of ‘knowledge’ that we encountered in the ‘paradox of knowledge’ regarding the ER).  Two options: – nihilism (I am nothing since I am only WTP, forces) or autonomy (I am divine, I am self-creating – produced by impulses as self-creating, or capable of self-creating, something encountered in GOM via the encounter with the creation of values, a creation that is a capacity for values to be created).  The way in which you really encounter the ‘spiritual automata’ is by encountering your capacities and the fact that you can train yourself (turn yourself into a machine) to do new things – no longer simply forced but now capable of forcing.

Article written by

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

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Leave a Reply