Deleuze, Nietzsche, and the overcoming of nihilism

Continental Philosophy Review 46 (1):115-147 (2013)
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This paper critically examines Deleuze’s treatment of the Nietzschean problem of nihilism. Of all the major figures in contemporary continental thought, Deleuze is at once one of the most luminous, and practically a lone voice in suggesting that nihilism may successfully be overcome. Whether or not he is correct on this point is thus a commanding question in relation to our understanding of the issue. Many commentators on Nietzsche have argued that his project of overcoming nihilism is destined to failure because of the affinity between the problem of nihilism and the logic of negation. While Nietzsche wants an absolute affirmation of life, Spinoza’s principle that “all determination is negation,” as well as Hegel’s dialectical conception of negation, suggest that affirmation free of negation is not possible. However, some commentators indicate that Deleuze successfully shows how overcoming nihilism is possible because his “logic of difference” allows for an affirmation which is not dialectically reappropriated by negation. This paper argues that beyond such logical considerations, there are metaphysical and existential reasons why Deleuze’s interpretation of nihilism fails to show that it can be overcome. For Deleuze, the overcoming of nihilism hinges not just on a logic of difference, but on a radical interpretation of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal return as “selective being.” Drawing on recent scholarship and on Nietzsche’s own writings I argue that this is not a tenable interpretation, and also, more importantly, that the metaphysical and existential implications of this understanding of eternal return reinstate nihilism at the very point where it is supposedly overcome. Moreover, I argue that there are attendant ethical and political dangers to Deleuze’s position on nihilism



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