Category:Esotericism Reading

Klossowski: delirium as a result of the Nietzschean thought
by A. D'Alonzo
© copyright 2007 by –

Pierre Klossowski, the elder brother of the famous painter Balthus, has always been one of the most elusive and suggestive figures of the French culture of the sixties and seventies. Klossowski's work escapes any disciplinary framing; the Jamesonian definition of ‘theory' can be used to define it, even more than Foucault's work. Klossowski studied literature, philosophy and painting; his Nietzschean reading is influenced by the atheological impulses of Bataille, but without the existential tension that fills the ideas of the latter. His theories influenced particularly Deleuze and Foucault; he introduced the notion, elaborated by Nietzsche, of the ‘simulacrum' as fiction in French culture. Since the times of Human, too human , Nietzsche said that knowledge lacks truth, since every form of representation is nothing but a necessary falsification of the flow of forces. According to Nietzsche representation is only a simulation of reality and this is the only possible knowledge for us. According to Klossowski in the simulacrum is accomplished the replacement of norms and parameters typical of modernity and metaphysics, with the simulation that characterizes the absence of fundament in the post-modern age. For Klossowski there isn't a real experience; it is dissolved in a virtual world of fakes, simulacra that annul the metaphysical instance of presence.

Klossowski mainly explores Nietzsche's thought in his book Nietzsche and the vicious circle (note 1). With the typical pathos of French thinkers, Klossowski takes care of completing the de-Nazification of Nietzsche and reversing the reading made by Lukács; with a grand act he pushes the subordination of the will to power and of the super-man to the eternal return. For Klossowski the true basic idea of Nietzschean thought is the eternal return, as well as of post-structuralism. The will to power and the super-man must be read inside the fundamental themes of the eternal return and they are less important than they are for Heidegger. According to Klossowski Nietzsche's central idea must be connected with the fundamental theme of disease and mental debilitation, which reach their acme in the hallucinated actions in Turin's squares. The ‘madness letters' are not signs of manifested insanity; they are the true starting point of the Nietzschean thought. The euphoria in Turin is not the dissolution of the German philosopher, but on the contrary his fulfillment, which casts a retrospective light on the whole course of his works and especially on his life. The apotheosis of the Nietzschean intellect is reached for Klossowski in the ‘scenes' in Turin's squares. This doesn't mean to agree with Nordau's hypothesis that Nietzsche has never been sane and therefore his work has been the result of the latent insanity that upset his mind from the start. For Klossowski Nietzsche's madness is fundamental in the historical evolution of the European ideas, because it accomplishes the principle of reality and its existential reference, the principle of identity. This double dissolution made by Nietzsche allows the start of parody, the end of tragedy and the start of life as a game, where playful lightness can complete the overcoming of metaphysics. For this reason Klossowski points out at the Nietzschean replacement of the dichotomy ‘true-false' with ‘insane-sane'. Klossowski reveals that for Nietzsche health and strength are the result of preliminary pathological states, where disease can be foreboding of energy, therefore wille zur macht (‘will to power') as ‘will-to-do'. In actual fact, the whole history of psychiatry teaches us that the boundary between madness and genius is very thin. Madness as ability to overcome the boundaries of logical-deductive thought, which is the fundament of our social being, must be creative on condition that it keeps glimpses of lucidity. For Klossowski it is not even a matter of highlighting the creativity of lucid madness, but rather of showing how in Nietzsche's delirium there is the accomplishment of the dissolution of identity and the opening of the game of simulacra. According to the French thinker, then, Nietzsche's thought replaces real with surreal. Nevertheless working in such a way the dissolution of the principle of reality-identity means to plot against existence; indeed Nietzsche's thought takes the shape of a plot straight away. It is not a matter of reversing the social order by following revolutionary instances, but rather of making visible the fact that the idea of the eternal return, the true benchmark of Nietzsche's thought, dissolves the same identity of the thinker, opening the space to self-affirmation of the psycho-pathological status of ‘multiplicity' as true reality. If identity is rooted in life and is articulated on the linear duration of existence, the return of the past in the future eradicates from memory, since the latter has become event of the future and not of the past. If my Self is such because I lived my past, my neo-Platonic journey through the course of life, if this past is not there any more and is re-projected as future time-to-come, then my identity has lost its support. There isn't a Self without memory. This is why the eternal return dissolves identity together with the Freudian principle of reality. Nietzsche's plot is not against the ‘flock', the Philistines, or Christianity, but unconsciously against the world as we know it, ruled by the principles of identity and reality. Likewise, according to Klossowski, the fight that Nietzsche starts against culture hides the unconscious purpose of the German philosopher: the analysis of the deployment of sublime forces that go through the body. The Hegelian dialectical relationship ‘slave/master' in Nietzsche must be brought back to the structure of a culture of affections, viz. forces. There isn't any social projection in Nietzsche, not even when he talks about Wagnerism or when he is ironic about Germans. His kulturkritik is only over-structural and sublimating towards the true interest for the behavior of the forces that determine the individual, who is slave or master according to the nature of the affections that ‘inhabit' him. During the period of highest suffering in Nietzsche's life, which precedes the definitive retirement from the didactic activity in Basel, the German thinker, according to Klossowski, associates suffering with thinking. The most awful sufferings are the psycho-somatic of a sub-conscious language that arises from repressed experiences, eluding the surveillance of the Super-Ego. Nietzsche himself is aware of this fact, according to Klossowski, and he is punctual in trying to transform pain into energy in order to carry out the correspondent decoding. The body, after all, is only a code of signs that is constantly overwhelmed by reason. The body is a fortuitous relation of forces that fight, meet, and elude each other until they build the precarious balance of conscience. Klossowski has well absorbed psycho-analysis and he reminds us that according to the famous Freudian metaphor, conscious life is only the tip of the iceberg. The French thinker applies his psycho-analytic knowledge to the reading of Nietzsche's thought and reveals that the genealogical practices of the German philosopher originate in the body. They are the symbolic transposition of the research for the precarious balance of the body's compulsions, which Nietzsche desperately practices to reveal the enigma of the origin of his torn being. Convalescence is nothing but the prelude to other relapses, which are articulations of the way unconsciousness, or rather the Other, tries and communicate its essence, its Hillmanian daimon. The conscious thought, for Klossowski, entirely dissolves in chaos:

‘The others, the neighbors, are nothing but projection of Self through
the inversions of the spirit <…> Finally the Self is in the body only
as a prolonged extremity of the Chaos (note2) '

In Klossowski the dissolution of conscience in favor of chaos tends to the search for an intellect alternative to the conscious one, rather than to a total opening to nothing. Apparently Klossowski seems more influenced by the Jungian theories on the ‘principle of individuation' of the Self as balance-conflict between ego and unconsciousness, rather than the Lacanian theories on the listening of the Es. Nevertheless for Klossowski there isn't true dichotomy between conscious and unconscious, but only flows of intensity that cause in the subject a periodic succession between silence and loquacity. Conscience, that Klossowski calls support, owns the act of thinking only because of the fluctuations of resistance that cross the ego, in relation with the code of signs. The waking state of the conscience depends on the relations of exchange between compulsions and signs of the daily code. The spur acts on the signs of the code, which have a certain charge of driving energy. The latter undergoes fluctuations when the signs try to structuralize themselves in the thought; if the primary drive that represents the initial spur is exhausted, it is totally canceled in the inertia of the signs. According to Klossowski this is conscience. On the contrary, unconsciousness is produced by the drives that exceed the fixity of signs and project beyond their moments of stall, when they are not busy structuring the thought. According to Klossowski then, there is a paradoxical stage in the thinking subject, where there isn't any relation between thoughts and formation of the act of thinking and this act must be hidden to any introspection. Klossowski annuls the distinctions Ego-Es, inside-outside; the subject is only the result of a progress of discontinuous stages in relation to the institutional code of signs. Language as well as thought is only an attempt to hypostatize the flow. According to Klossowski Nietzsche discovered that language is essentially fiction, an iniquitous attempt to immobilize chaos; therefore when he uses the concepts of the dianoethic reason he is well aware of their arbitrariness and conventional character. After all for Nietzsche the semiotic code is only a reduction of the compulsive movements of the body. The same Nietzschean will to power for Klossowski is nothing but a drive of the same order as the inorganic world, therefore impersonal and purely energetic. The wille zur macht must be thought of as energy that cannot-not-grow, Nietzsche himself refused language as fraud and hypostasis of the energetic and irrational flow. Every growth is a motion towards something; to define a direction for energy means to fall inside the discursive illusion, to try and capture once again the flow, to remain dazzled. To want something is a result of a stage of excitement bursting in the support; it is not the result of a choice of the humanistic conscience, but a mechanical and passive reaction to an external stimulation. Therefore it falls outside the moral subject. In the chemistry of the body signs work on drives by stopping them temporarily as a reply to stimulation. According to Klossowski, for Nietzsche this temporary stage is will:

‘Now for the support to ignore the fight where its thought originates
is a condition of existence; the ‘subject' is not a living unity,
but the ‘fight of impulsions that wants to preserve itself' (note 3).

Nietzsche's purpose is to genealogically rebuild the evolution of the unconscious forces of the body, although they can't be oriented towards a goal and they can't derive from an origin. According to Klossowski his goal is to structure a new semiotic of compulsions. The will to power is nothing but an attempt, only partially succeeded, to nominate and define the essence of the circle of eternal return. This is an anthropological projection (because it is still linked to the old humanism of will) of something that is not completely defined in Nietzsche's thought yet. The notion of will to power, which anticipates the discovery of the eternal return in 1881 in Sils-Maria, is only a first imperfect ‘focalization' of Nietzsche's capital idea. His energetic projection linked with the soul of the circle must only ensure the spreading of the multiple possible identities which, as we will see, is the result of the sinking of the ego inside the eternal circle. The will to power is not a solipsistic statement, then, but dissolution towards pluralism, the others and differences. Power is not powerfulness, but energy that inexorably leads to self-disintegration of the ego inside the circle. The exercise of the will to power in the Klossowskian version, it is wasting rather than concentrating. It is a deconstruction of the ego rather than its strengthening; it is a centrifugal and eccentric motion towards the multiple doubles that live in us. The will to power must be connected with the eternal return, because this vortex eradicates the Ego from its experiences and dissolves its memory in the oblivion of personal identity, which then appears without a history. The eternal return must make possible all the other possible identities, since the return of old experiences can trigger the actuation of the possibilities that the subject hasn't chosen yet and therefore it may lead to different results. But in the circle the loss of personal identity is not permanent; on the contrary, the subject can re-obtain his actual ego by scanning the whole series of other possible egos. The consciousness of eternal return leads to the need to re-run through the experiences and therefore to live other identities and other lives as a necessary condition to the restoration of the actual ego. According to Klossowski once the subject has realized the ineluctability of the circle, he knows that his identity will be taken by the whirl of time; he also knows that if he accepts to get rid of it, when the circle is closed he'll get it back. But according to Klossowski there is a condition for this return to self; it is oblivion. Only by forgetting the moment when he discovered the law of eternal return, the subject exits his ego and heads towards the meeting with his doubles. If I don't forget the eternal return, I start the journey towards my other egos, remembering all the time that once the journey is over I will have my ego back; this memory of what I was before being something else is a residue, almost an extension outside me, of my identity. In this case there is the re-affirmation of an ego more authentic than the others, because it has discovered the eternal return. But oblivion levels all the possible egos and makes the circle possible. In order to get my ego back as soon as possible I must abandon to oblivion; according to Klossowski, perhaps this is the decision that Nietzsche linked to eternal return. The meaning of the circle is its intensity in its existence. The meaning is that there isn't any meaning, the sense is in the non-sense.

‘Doesn't the Circulus vitiosus deus <…> mean <…> that the true essence of things is a tale of the being that represents things to himself and that without it couldn't represent anything? (note 4)

According to Klossowski Nietzsche turns upside down the Parmenidean sentence and by infringing the principle of reality makes all that can be thought appear unreal. All happens by chance; even the discovery of the eternal return is fortuitous, or rather in the enchanted moment where chance and need cross their paths under the shield of fatum . According to Klossowski every point of the circle includes its beginning and its end. Any eschatological tension is banned from the eternal round. We can see how the Volontas of the wille zur macht is annulled in the eternal return, because if the identity disappears in the circle, the will as well doesn't have its longing self any more. The will to power deprived of its anthropocentric support becomes a mere primordial impulse, purely physiological. According to Klossowski, with Nietzsche's discovery of the eternal return the concept of will disappeared as well; perhaps it can exist only as a wish for self-disintegration of the ego in the circle. Later Klossowski states that if power, not promethean any more, can be thought only as an impulse that causes a series of breaks in the balance of identity, than the eternal return can be interpreted as a metaphor of the wille zur macht. What really matters to the French thinker is not to annul the will to power, but rather to deprive it of its humanistic and ‘Germanic' substratum; to reduce the wille zur macht to energy.

‘This will had to have power as its unique object, energy lacking any sense or purpose. Energy doesn't like any balance because the motion of the Circle that designates it prevents it.' (note 5)

The lack of sense in the vicious circle reduces the same power to meaninglessness. In this perspective, the Nietzschean announcement of the death of God is not the announcement of the growth of the mud of nihilism, but an allegory with a double correlated meaning. On one hand it symbolizes the death of the principle of identity, of the ego, since God is only a Feuerbachian anthropocentric projection. But the announcement of the death of God also expresses the break of the highest point of balance that the name ‘God' seems to imply. Under the name of ‘God' there is a moment of inertia in the hypostatic balance of forces, which the power of energy can rapidly reverse. Indeed, no balance in the economy of forces can be kept steady inside the flow of chaos. Energy always overcomes the purpose, because the only purpose and aim is the tautological spinning of the circle of eternal return. This is why personal identity must be linked by a finite number of doubles inside the circle. If the possible individualities inside the eternal return were infinite, the energetic motion would be unlimited, but the circular motion of the return implies that they are finite, or the circle can't be closed.

Klossowski also manages to perfectly decode the tension of the late Nietzsche in Ecce homo , which is expressed in the now famous and enigmatic precept of ‘becoming what we are'. Inside the Nietzschean eternal return we can ‘become what we are' only through the consciousness, immediately forgotten according to the mechanism we have examined above, of the need to cross a series of different individualities and go back to the actual ego, which has discovered and immediately forgotten the circle as well as itself.

Under this profile, according to Klossowski, the Nietzschean idea of superman is irrelevant, nothing but a simulacrum of doctrine. The problem for Klossowski is that Nietzsche is not always lucid in focusing the thought, indeed, almost never. The German philosopher moves under the effect of unconscious compulsions that cause him to elaborate theories that represent as many movements, sublimations, projections of the original tensions. On the conscious level Nietzsche is positive that he is carrying out the project of a plot against the culture of the time, the philistines, the flock. In actual fact his impulses are leading him not towards the overcoming of passive nihilism, but towards the disintegration of his ego in the delirium of the eternal circle. The superman is elaborated by Nietzsche only at the moment of removal, when he is convinced of the need for a purpose, an overcoming of the platonic-Christian morale; he doesn't realize that if the übermensch (over-man) is the man who must live the eternal return, which is completely nonsense, in the perennial spinning of the circle, he becomes a ghost himself. The superman is for Klossowski a temporary digression in Nietzsche's thought, an artificial disguise, a simulacrum. If the vicious circle of the return completely annuls the principle of reality and identity, naturally there won't be room in Nietzsche's thought for a superman, viz. a supreme purpose and an anthropocentric super-identity.

According to Klossowski Nietzsche reaches the acme of his thought in the ‘madness letters' and in the scenes in Turin's squares. We can say that this is the moment when his whole existence becomes true. It is as if Nietzsche got rid of all the superstructures of his thought and landed to its essence: delirium, self-disintegration of the self in the circle. Once Nietzsche sank in the luminous abyss of the circle and dissolved the principle of identity of the ego and its ontological correlation, the principle of reality, his acme could be nothing but madness, where knowledge is only an unconfessed power of monstrosity. In Turin's streets Nietzsche gives reason up and becomes pure emotion, dissolves his intellect to give space to the return of removed experiences, chaos. Perhaps the opening of the ego to eternal return, its decision, its oblivion, don't lead to the return of the personal identity after going through all the possible doubles, where the double is in actual fact the other, the difference. Perhaps the law of return to be deeply impressed in Nietzsche's organism, for a mysterious form of expiation towards the cosmos, requires the disintegration of the same ‘vehicle' that first conceived it: Nietzsche's mind. Perhaps the law of the circle, to be announced to men, needed the insane language of a mad man, the insane; reason is not suitable to express its shadow, the nonsense, the absence.

In Nietzsche's last letters, in the ‘madness letters', the German philosopher takes other identities and identifies with them. It is the acme of eternal return, the start of the journey in the circle. Nietzsche starts identifying himself with Caesar, the crucifix, Dionysus. According to Klossowski, the crucifix becomes for Nietzsche the symbol of plot; the paranoid logic reverses the perspective of the victim in the perpetrator. The crucifix in the paranoid stage of Nietzsche's mind symbolizes the persecution which himself underwent when in Germany Wagnerians, anti-Semitists, masters of the imperial state started isolating him more and more. This is why Nietzsche identifies himself with the crucifix; the persecuted plots to destroy his persecutors with a message of love rather than with weapons. Dionysus represents for Nietzsche a defensive projection against the paranoid representation, an unconscious compensation to the perspective of the plot symbolized by the crucifix; Dionysus has always been the great antagonist in the various disguises in history, such as Satan, Lucifer and Urizen. Therefore for Klossowski Dionysus represents the defensive barricade of Nietzsche's ego in the last desperate attempt to resist its disintegration. In the last Nietzsche there is also an acute libidinal stage expressed in the last letter to Cosima Wagner: ‘Ariadne, I love you. Dionysus'. Cosima represents in Nietzsche's mind the image of prestige; she was a very educated and intelligent woman and the widower of his great rival Wagner. According to Klossowski this is perhaps a reference to the past, when he was a professor of philology in Basel and attended the milieu of the Wagners. The journey of Nietzsche towards otherness ends when he starts stopping passersby in the streets of Turin announcing that he is God. By eternalizing the movement of the circle with the name of ‘God', Nietzsche dissolves completely inside it; now he is all the possible identities in an infinite exchange. According to the masterly reading of the late Nietzsche given by Klossowski, this is perhaps the moment when for the first time the German philosopher catches a glimpse of the abyss, which he was not able to do in his initial period of artistic metaphysics, and he finally sees the primordial bottom, which is the absence of fundament. Or, more precisely, a discontinuity of intensities that intertwine in endless fluctuations.



(note 1) Cf. P. Klossowski , Nietzsche and the vicious circle.

(note 2) Cf. Id.

(note 3) Cf. Id.

(note 4) Cf. Id.

(note 5) Cf. Id.

This article comes from Esotericism Readings

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