eternal return

  ---- by Lee Spinks
  The concept of 'eternal return', which Deleuze draws from Friedrich Nietzsche, is crucial to the radical extension of the philosophy of immanence and univocity. In Difference and Repetition Deleuze argues that Duns Scotus, Baruch Spinoza and Nietzsche affirmed univocal being. It is only with Nietzsche, according to Deleuze, that the joyful idea of univocity is thought adequately, and this is because Nietzsche imagines a world of 'pre-personal singularities'. That is, there is not a 'who' or 'what' that then has various properties; nor is there someone or something that is. Each difference is a power to differ, with no event of difference being the ground or cause of any other. By going through this affirmation of difference, and by abandoning any ground or being before or beyond difference, both Nietzsche and Deleuze arrive at the eternal return. If difference occurred in order to arrive at some proper end - if there were a purpose or proper end to life - then the process of becoming would have some ideal end point (even if this were only imagined or ideal). But difference is an event that is joyful in itself; it is not the difference of this being or for this end. With each event of difference life is transformed; life becomes other than itself because life is difference. Consequently, the only 'thing' that 'is' is difference, with each repetition of difference being different. Only difference returns, and it returns eternally. Time is what follows from difference (time is difference); difference cannot be located in time. Eternal return is therefore the ultimate idea.
  This difficult and enigmatic idea, developed most concertedly in Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, has proved controversial in philosophical circles where it has generally been interpreted as either an existential or inhuman vision of existence. According to the existential reading, the thought of eternal return compels us to consider how we ought properly to live. This thought can be expressed in the following way: were we suddenly to recognise that every aspect of our lives, both painful and joyous, was fated to return in the guise of a potentially infinite repetition, how would we need to live to justify the recurrence of even the most terrible and painful events? Conversely, the inhuman or cosmological reading understands Nietzsche's proposition as the fundamental axiom of a philosophy of forces in which active force separates itself from and supplants reactive force and ultimately locates itself as the motor principle of becoming.
  Deleuze's signal contribution to the post-war philosophical revision of Nietzsche was to establish this second reading of eternal return as the return and selection of forces at the heart of modern theories of power. He explicitly repudiates the naīve reading of Nietzsche that envisages eternal return as a doctrine proclaiming the infinite recurrence of every historical moment in exactly the same order throughout eternity. The perversity of this naīve reading, Deleuze argues, is that it converts Nietzsche's vision of being as the endless becoming of differential forces into a simple principle of identity. Yet we fail to understand the eternal return if we conceive of it as the ceaseless return of the same; instead, eternal return inscribes difference and becoming at the very heart of being. For it is not being that recurs in the eternal return; the principle of return constitutes the one thing shared by diversity and multiplicity. What is at stake is not the repetition of a universal sameness but the movement that produces everything that differs. Eternal return is therefore properly understood as a synthesis of becoming and the being that is affirmed in becoming. It appears as the fundamental ontological principle of the difference and repetition of forces that will bear the name of Will to Power.
  To think the eternal return is to think the becoming-active of forces. The return selects forces according to the quantity of Will to Power that they express. Deleuze characterises this process as a double selection by the activity of force and the affirmation of the will. In accordance with the principle that whatever we will, we must will it in such a way that we also will its eternal recurrence, the eternal return eliminates reactive states from the becoming of being. This first selection eliminates all but the most powerfully reactive forces - those which go to the active limit of what they can do and form the basis of the nihilistic impulse and the will to nothingness. These strong reactive forces are subsequently incorporated into the eternal return in order to effect the overcoming of negation and the transformation of reactive into active force. Such revaluation takes place because the eternal return brings the nihilistic will to completion: the absolute spirit of negation involves a negation of reactive forces themselves. Within this negation of negation reactive forces deny and suppress themselves in the name of a paradoxical affirmation: by destroying the reactive in themselves, the strongest spirits come to embody the becoming-active of reactive force. This movement of affirmation constitutes the second or doubled selection undertaken by the eternal return: the transvaluation of reactive forces by means of an affirmation of negation itself. This second selection transforms a selection of thought into a selection of being: something new is now brought into being which appears as the effect of the revaluation of forces. The eternal return 'is' this movement of transvaluation: according to its double selection only action and affirmation return while the negative is willed out of being. The return eliminates every reactive force that resists it; in so doing, it affirms both the being of becoming and the becoming-active of forces.
   § active / reactive
   § becoming
   § difference
   § multiplicity

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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