Chapter 2: Active and Reactive
Getting, finally, into Chapter 2 of the text we can begin to see Deleuze discuss some of the more controversial language in Nietzschian texts, specifically language around concepts like superiority and inferiority, and how the implications of that language are very much opposed to those often derived by fascist readers of Nietzsche. Within this discussion we can start to see how, rather than marking some sort of inherent concept of dominance or some inherent hierarchy, as people like Richard Spencer would have it, the concepts of inferiority is mapped onto the concept of reaction, which is then mapped onto a broader concept of power to act.
Consciousness is presented unpretentiously. By that, I mean that consciousness for Nietzsche is partial, limited, unable to grasp what is outside of consciousness. The Aristotelian paradigm is grounded in counsciousness that is separate from the world yet, from a position of non-knowledge, can somehow come to understand Truth of all things through conceptual thought alone. In rejecting this absurdity, Nietzsche enshrines this separation between consciousness and the world as central to the limits of consciousness. As such, consciousness can then re-enter the world as something formed by and impacted by the world.
As such, consciousness becomes inherently related to the body. Bodies in Nietzsche are not physical mediums. Rather, the body is typified by its insertion into the world, and, as a result, is directly a product of relations of forces, framed through the language of superior (more forceful) and inferior (less forceful) forces. In other words, consciousness is simultaneously limited to itself (it cannot think anything outside of itself, can't think the actual world), as well as formed through that which occurs outside of itself (in and of the world).
“What defines a body is this relation between dominant and dominmated forces. Every relationship of forces constitutes a body- whether it is chemical, biological, social, or political. Any two forces being unequal, constitute a body as soon as they enter into relationship” (40).
This constitutes the body, not as a solid singularity that persists across time, but as an arbitrary outcome of the shifting dynamics of plural forces coming into relation. The body here names this relation, that which is formed by the collision of the exteriorization of power or activity, its propelling into the world. Body here does not just name something like the human body, though the term does apply here. Rather, body is a term that marks a relation between multiple forces, with the body itself being the point of convergence, the relation. These relations of force with force are discussed as active (doiminant) and reactive (dominated) forces, with the difference in qualities (quantity here is a quality, an element of a thing) being referred to as hierarchy.
- These “inferior” forces are not subsumed into “superior” forces; namely a dynamic of activity does not get eliminated simply due to a differential of force, but remains within the moment, as an element. The quality of “inferiority” or “superiority” is not some sort of declaration of inherent domaination (as really bad readers of Nietzsche like Richard Spencer would have one think), but is, rather, a descriptive property relating to a relationship of force. The concept of some sort of inherent nature, as bad readers of Nietzsche claim he is asserting, are, sort of like the individual in Stirner, static categories which may name some sort of dynamic, but which can never define, subsume, or limit that dynamic in itself. Force is always a conflictual relationship, and as such, it is a dynamic that constructs contingency and the particilarity of force in a moment, and not something that exists independent of force due to its independence from time (all universal categories are “timeless, namely outside of the world, metaphysical).
“Inferior” forces are defined not by some inherent deficiency, but purely in relation to a more acute force or a force of greater magnitude, and does nothing but name that imbalance without any sort of pejorative or qualitative assertion about the categories themselves. “Inferior” forces are reactive forces and function based on operating within the bounds of regulation, or externally imposed limits that they cannot overcome. The constellation of regulation defines the “inferior” force as part of a body (defined as a collection defined by an organizing logic). The body, as an organizational logic and force, is both a product of collection and a force that shapes the relation of “inferior” forces within the body without defining what those forces are. It is this organization of a unified singular body that precedes all concepts of the “self” for example.
- Forces are traditionally discussed through a discourse on quantity, which is a quality of force (an element of the force but not the defining element). The framing of force through the concept of quality allows us to address a core conceptual issue, how we think relationality. For a relation to exist a commonality must be present to provide terms for that relation. In qualitative analysis comparison becomes impossible and commonality absent due to both the arbitrariness of qualitative analysis, as well as the positionality of qualitative analysis in the constantly shifting moment. This leads to two implications. Firstly, quantity becomes a point of convergence, but only to the degree that quantity becomes inseparable from the difference in quantity in relation; it is inconceivable without comparison. Even in simple quantities, like 2, we are positing an organizing logic that allows us to group things together through asserted commonality.
Secondly, if forces are within qualities and quantities are an element of quality, then quantity is taken into account as a property of quality and not independent from quality. This prevents the isolation of quantity from all other elements, and inserts it as an element of force among other elements. Quantities, as a result, never become simplified into some sort of equality of quantity; these quantities themselves are qualities of something else, and have their own qualities, rendering them particular and not common. As such, quantity and quality enter into a relation where neither is simply reducible to one another, but necessarily exist coimmanently.
Chance names the relation of all forces to one another. When forces come into collision the result is not confined to a calculus limited to the immediate forces in conflict. Rather, forces enter into conflict within a medium of action (the moment) that, in itself, is constructed of various forces in conflict, and both shape and are shaped by that medium. As such, some sort of definitive narrative on causation, some sort of understanding of “strategy” in the abstract, some discourse on political determinism (historical materialism), are impossible and rely on the reduction of conflict to such a degree as to cease speaking of dynamics in conflict, and retreat into speaking of abstract static objects. This dynamic foundation to force and conflict not only prevents any sort of singular definitive political narrative from emerging (especially in relation to some future utopian fiction) but it also grounds the world, occurrences, time itself, in chance and contingency reaulting from a collision of forces and bodies.
Force only exists in relation to other forces, and not independent of that conflict, and only to the degree that there is a differential of force, with the different quantities of force being qualitative differences; if force exists in relation to conflict, and force is equivalent between entities, then there is no conflict and thus no force. “This is what the will to power is; the genealogical element of force, both differential and genetic. The will to power is the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation. The will to power here reveals its nature as the principle of the synthesis of forces” (50)“.
So, far from the way that this concept is read when appropriated by authoritarians, the will to power names the differential quantity of force in relation to other forces; it is the basis of dynamic relationality. It does not exist separate from forces, and is bound up in the dynamics of conflict and flux that necessarily result from force, activity, life itself. If we allow for the will to power to be separated from the materiality of force (and thus the impossibility of unity, let alone something like a nation) then it is reduced to a metaphysical and moral object, which is what occurs in many forms of vitalism for example. In this reading force is always bound up with conflict, which is always something that occurs in moments that are, in themselves, defined by that dynamic of conflict. This return of the dynamics of conflict from past moments, which constructs the present, is what is referred to as the eternal return, a concept that Deleuze returns to at length later, and I would argue the most critical concept in the text.
- To then argue for a systematization of forces is to posit a unity across both time and space, eliminating force itself, and positing a static immobile world of peace (the absence of conflict). Within Nietzschian language the concept of active force corresponds to the concept of “superior” forces, but these are not qualities that can be posited in some general, universal sense, but are always within and in relation to force, and thus the moment. As such, the question of whether a force is active or reactive is not reducible to a comparison of forces within some sort of static system, which posits the temporal singularity of both force and “systems”. Rather, the determination of whether forces are active or reactive is fundamentally grounded in the moment of conflict itself.
It is even possible for reactive forces to triumph over active forces, and in fact this is what often occurs. Any time activity is mobilized to preserve some sort of systemic limitation, inherent prohibition, some sort of limitation not grounded in the moment, this force is operating reactively. What is law or policing except this? We can see this in Hobbes, where the state is not posited as an object in itself, with an independent existence, but is only framed as a reactionary response to the anarchic, which is what Hobbes refers to as the “state of nature”. “Indeed, everything which separates a force is reactive as is the state of a force separated from what it can do. Every force which goes to the limit of its power is, on the contrary, active” (58-59).
This reactionary triumph constructs the core of modern positivism (we can also refer to this as prefiguration or utopianism). Within this framework conceptual understandings are elevated to the position of existential conditions of possibility for existence. For example, in Aristotle the existence of universal truth is asserted, which then means that all thought exists only in relation to this universal truth which is, paradoxically, not known (how we go from not knowing to knowing is an irresolvable issue at the core of all truth narratives). The framework is removed from materiality, and exists independent form the world and in a completely static form across time, elevating it to a metaphysical position that is capable of being above action and judging action. All morality is structured this way.
The will to power functions as the differential element of the relation of force, and must manifest only within that relation. “The relationship between forces in each case is determined to the extent that each force is affected by the other, inferior or superior, forces. It follows that will to power is manifested as a capacity to be affected” (62). This affection, the change in an entity as a result of something outside, occurs in all relations of force, for all forces involved, which makes all forces fundamentally dynamic and all relations of force momentary. The will to power, therefore, is not about some ability to maintain some rigid form and use that to inscribe the totality of life to justify some relation of domination, as fascist “readers” of Nietzsche would baselessly assert. Rather, the will to power is the ability to operate within possibility, as a formlessness, and to resist efforts to concretize that possibility, limit it, or define it. It is this capacity to be affected, to be changed and modified dynamically, that typifies a type of power that is active, that destroys governmentality, that renders things ungovernable as a power to become or of a possibility unbounded.
The actualization of becoming, as opposed to the possibility of becoming, functions as a reactive power, as a concretization of boundless possibility in a specific form, as opposed to any other possible form. For example, in any moment one has an infinite ability to act, on a formal level, as long as the universe is not deterministic. Yet, when we act we choose one possibility in lieu of others, eliminating those possibilities, and binding activity to the act of becoming. This interplay between the imposition of concretization and the destruction of limits in the possibility of force in action, functions as the core of the dynamic of force. This reactiveness of becoming is a result of the ways that becoming has been tied to some concept of being; that becoming itself, at any given moment, is what defines an existence in its totality. At the same time, the becoming-reactive of forces, in itself, generates new possibilities, new active forces, simply by the ability of force to effect and affect.
In the structuring of active force the destruction of the limitations imposed on possibility is viewed as an affirming force, and all affirming forces are active. It affirms by asserting a space in which an entity exists in a particular way, with all of the possibilities in the moment, but only to the degree that necessary limits are destroyed to allow for that possibility to emerge. This is not an either/or calculation, either concretization or possibility, but is a necessary interplay at the core of the very construction of any act (we choose one of an infinite number of possibilities, while at the same time creating possibility through the contingent impacts of the act). The task is not to eliminate concretization, which would result in some sort of formless existence; Stirner points this out in his argument against using absolute freedom as a sort of conceptual ideal. Rather, the task becomes the prevention of the emergence of policing, or the attempt to inherently limit all acts based on conceptual definitions of life and a logistics of force; forces that would prevent possibilities from emerging.
- The point in which the reactive becomes the active is termed active nihilism, or the point where the will to nothingness (reactive force) becomes related to the eternal return. “Only the eternal return can complete nihilism because it makes a negation a negation of reactive forces themselves. By and in the eternal return nihilism no longer expresses itself as the conservation and victory of the weak but as their destruction; their self-destruction” (70)(weakness here is a term to identify the inability to overcome external limitation). This is an active destruction of the reactive, without then positing a new framework of limitation, as would occur in political modernism and all forms of positivism.
We will come back to the concept of the eternal return later, in future notes, but for now, it marks the return of the dynamics of the past in the construction of the present. For now, it is merely important as a source of tension. On one hand there is this return of the past, of the effects of the dynamics of the past, and the present exists as a highly particularized expression of the effects of everything that has ever happened ever. At the same time the moment of action is a moment of possibilities, where the past terminates in the present, and the present has its own effects which then contribute to the construction of other moments. There are a lot of implications to this, but the most relevant for this discussion is the discourse on the moment of imposition of limitation.
If limitations are only imposed in the moment in which the eternal return constructs the moment, then all limitations are in themselves that which operate within that moment as well. This means that any conceptual limitations are, in themselves, not able to function without the materiality of policing within the moment itself. As such, conflict is not able to be a theory of conflict in general, or, at its most absurd, some sort of theory of “revolution” or “history”; it is only relevant in its operationality in the present, making this act of destruction material in itself.