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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.