The Eternal Return of the Mack?

I’ve gone wrong somewhere with the Eternal Return idea in chapter 1 of Difference and Repetition:

The eternal return, according to Deleuze, effectively realises Being in the following way: “Being is said in a single and same sense, but this sense is that of eternal return as the return or repetition of that of which it is said.”

The test of something’s return is it’s excessivity, it’s becoming – different:

“When Nietzsche says that hubris is the real problem of every Heraclitean, or that hierarchy is the problem of free spirits, he means one – and only one – thing: that it is in hubris that everyone finds the being which makes him return…”

(Both quotations from Difference & Repetition, Continuum Press, 2004, p. 51)

Hubris is the repetition of difference, and this repetition is the expression of univocal being. The test of returning is concerned with the idea that production is only expressed in actualising new forms, where ‘hubris’ denotes forces that transgress the qualitative state of a subject such that it is destroyed (i.e. not an oppositional but a generical difference?) and a new process of individuation starts its becoming.

Since this becoming is preconceptual and is expressive of being (where a reflexive concept would subordinate production to its products and mute difference, making it dependent on the identical – the becoming-different would be contained and not exceed the limits of the concept), doesn’t this mean that hubris is productive of new larval subjects rather than being something undergone by a subject as such? Is it wrong to read hubris on the level of the subject (remembering that it’s a theological word it should place it quite far into our form of life) – the level of the negation of the great ideal and the revaluation of values?

If we say (and we might not) that:

1) the revaluation of values is something effected by a subject,

2) the revaluation is a mode of returning in hubris, and

3) hubris, on Deleuze’s reading, produces larval subjects – a regression of the subject into constituting forces of a new subject

We find that there’s a contradiction between 1 and 3. Hubris is the subject changing itself (which should, insofar as there is a continuity, mean a conceptual identity of this subject) or hubris destroys the subject into a preconceptual expression of univocal being. Obviously one or more of the sentences above are wrong, and I fully expect that on some level they all are. These thoughts interested me however and clarification would be great.

Just for fun, here’s the text of the eternal return thought experiment in the Gay Science (my questions might indeed be put – does it change us or crush us?):

The greatest weight. — What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you 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 more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to 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 upside down 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 possession of you, it would change, you as you are or perhaps crush you. (GS 341)

-Matt Astill

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

3 Responses

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  1. Matt Astill
    Matt Astill at |

    Thanks Matt, methought there was something fishy about what I was doing.

    Really connected with the example of torture. I reckon it’s also like kinds of love. I was explaining the Eternal Return at one point over the weekend and I’m glad you agree that it’s supposed to ‘break you down’ within the situation. I’ll think about the issues some more and see what I can present on Weds night.


  2. matt lee
    matt lee at |

    Yes, the relation to love is also somethng I’ve been thinking about as this seems to be a place in which we desire the breakdown, almost to the point at which the desire becomes a neurotic unhealthy repetition drive. In some ways I might even argue that torture is a more ‘healthy’ version of the eternal return than love, since it cannot be volountarily entered into (though there are attempts to do this), unlike love which brings with it a threat of ‘existentialist angst’. The ‘angst’ comes from failing to give up the subject I think, failing to give up the notion of ‘choice’ and fully embrace the idea of torque, tension, force, being placed under strain. In fact the very notion of love as a ‘breaking down’ only ever actually arrives, of course, in a ‘breakdown’ of the relationship, hence people who repetitively ‘breakdown’ in order to enact their love for each other and feel that force of intensity. Pathological I say… ;-)

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