- ---- by Claire ColebrookAlthough the concept of power in French philosophy is usually associated with Michel Foucault, and although Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus are explicitly critical of Foucault's use of the word 'power' (rather than their own 'desire' which they see as creating relations through which power might operate), it makes a great deal of sense to locate Deleuze within a tradition of the philosophy of power. This is not power in the political sense - a power exercised by one body over another body - but is closer to the positive idea of power to. Deleuze's antecedents in this tradition are Baruch Spinoza and Friedrich Nietzsche. For Spinoza a being is defined by its power, its striving or its potential to maintain itself. Rather than seeing human life as having a proper form which it then ought to realise, so that potential would be properly oriented towards actualisation, Spinoza regards potentiality as creative and expressive; if all life is the striving to express substance in all its different potentials then the fulfilment or joy of human life is the expansion of power. Joy, as the realisation of power, is therefore different from the moral opposition of good and evil, an opposition that impedes power by constraining it within some already given norm.Nietzsche, whose 'Will to Power' for Deleuze is also an affirmation of life (and not the assertion or imposition of power), extended Spinoza's expressive philosophy. Instead of there being bodies or entities that have a certain power or potential, Nietzsche begins with powers or forces, from which beings are effected. A master does not have power because he is a master; rather, it is the exercise of a certain power which produces masters and slaves. Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche is concerned primarily with Nietzsche as a philosopher of power and forces, where force has a strict metaphysical function. There are powers (or quanta of force) that in their encounter or connection with other powers produce relations, but nothing in the power itself determines how it will be actualised, and any power has the potential to be actualised differently.Deleuze's repeated insistence that relations are external to terms has a twofold significance. First, in line with a philosophy of power, Deleuze does not begin from beings that then enter into relations; rather, there are powers to be, powers that are actualised only in their relation to other powers. So what a power is is secondary to its potential; the virtual precedes the actual. Second, if powers are, in this world, actualised in a certain way, through the particular relations that have been effected, it is also possible for different relations to produce different worlds; powers might be actualised through other relations.For Deleuze, power is positive; there are not beings who then have the power to act, or who then suffer from power (where power would be the corruption of, or fall from, some passive state). Rather, a being is its power or what it can do. For Deleuze, then, power poses a problem: How is it that beings can be separated from their power? Why does power appear to be something from which we suffer; why does power seem to be repressive? For Deleuze, this is because we rest too easily with the effects of power its manifestations, what we already are - without intuiting power's force - how points of power emerge, what we might be, and what we can do. More importantly, and following Nietzsche, Deleuze makes an ethical distinction between active and reactive powers. An active power maximises its potential, pushes itself to its limit and affirms the life of which it is but one expression. A reactive power, by contrast, turns back upon itself. The usual concept of political power is reactive. We imagine - from the image of individuals who exist together in a possible community - that we then need to form some form of political relation or system (so power in this sense is power between or among beings). But there can only be a polity or individual beings if there has already been an active power that has created such a community or assemblage of persons; once we realise this then we might think of politics as the recreation or reactivation of power, not as the redistribution or management of power.Connectives§ active / reactive§ force
The Deleuze dictionary. Revised Edition Edited by Adrian Parr . 2010.