Academic journal article Philosophy Today

On the Presence of Bergson in Deleuze's Nietzsche

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

On the Presence of Bergson in Deleuze's Nietzsche

Article excerpt

Gilles Deleuze's early years were occupied by a number of studies on individual figures belonging to the history of Western philosophy and literature, a move that he later interpreted as the attempt to give voice to a "minor tradition." This minor tradition included, in sequence, Hume, Nietzsche, Bergson, Spinoza, and Kafka. As any reader of Deleuze knows very well, the nature of Deleuze's relation with each of these authors is anything but critical neutrality and commitment to comprehensive explanation. Deleuze isolates a specific instance of each thinker and exposes it to a process of transvaluation, by which it becomes a crucial operator in his own conceptual system. Because each of these sources becomes integral part of Deleuze's philosophical apparatus, it is crucial to comprehend them not only separately but jointly, as they act upon one another.

My objective in this essay is to question the most commonly accepted interpretation of the Nietzsche-Bergson sequence within Deleuze's minor tradition. Deleuze's best known study on Bergson, Bergsonism,1 came out in 1966, which is four years later than his volume on Nietzsche and Philosophy, published in 1962. At least from a chronological point of view, it would then seem that Nietzsche's influence on Deleuze precedes that of Bergson, and not the reverse. I wish to question this point. Not only chronologically Deleuze encounters Bergson before Nietzsche, but in my reading, his interpretation of Nietzsche remains deeply influenced by Bergson. In the following pages, I am going to elaborate this position by focusing on a much earlier essay than Bergsonism, still unpublished in English, entitled "La conception de la difference chez Bergson,"2 of which Bergsonism is an expansion and more elegant presentation. My interest in this essay is precisely that of accessing Deleuze's not-yet-Nietzschean reading of Bergson, which will allow me to show how ontologically indebted to Bergson is his reading of Nietzsche.3

While working on the essay on Bergson in the mid-50s, Deleuze had already committed to his life-long crusade against what he came to see as the fundamental "negativity" permeating the dialectical branch of the rationalist tradition, codified by Hegel. Such a negativity brings philosophy to entertain, in Deleuze's terms, a generic or external relationship with things, instead of a positive, that is, concrete or internal relationship with them.4 Bergson's gift to philosophy is, in Deleuze's perspective, to have articulated the possibility of such a positive relationship thanks to the notion of"internal difference." I wish to suggest that this Bergsonian pair, external-internal, is at the core of the tension that Deleuze will later identify as Nietzsche's own gift to philosophy: the tension between reactive and active forces. And it is on this same basis that the Nietzschean notion of affirmation is interpreted by Deleuze through the lens of Bergsonian duration and virtuality.

Let me begin by explaining the external-internal pair in relation to the notion of difference. Dialectical thought, Deleuze suggests, has fundamentally misinterpreted identity. For Hegel specifically-but the claim extends to the Cartesian and even Platonic brand of rationalism at large-the difference between one entity and another, what allows us to identify it, is established in contrast to what it is not. Why is this difference "external" to the entity in question or the properties that make it up? Because difference is unnecessarily translated into negation. In Hegel's terms, it is only via the universal that the particular becomes accessible to knowledge, the universal being the negation of the particular. Subsuming difference under negation is, thus, the major mistake Deleuze imputes to the dialectical tradition. It is the detour through negation that keeps the dialectical conception of difference "external" to difference itself, or difference in kind. If we want to reach difference in kind, we cannot address the entities and their properties externally, by negatively comparing them to all others, but internally, that is, by asking what are the "things themselves" rather than what they are not. …

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