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Deleuze and Schopenhauer 2

Perspectives on Deleuze: Unity

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Desire as Lack

The starting point for a Deleuzian approach to Schopenhauer is to take a closer look at the striving or desire that is at the core of our inner nature, the Will.

Clearly Schopenhauer has adopted a view of desire that is based in lack. His vision of an insatiable force in the universe paints a picture of the universe as somehow being incomplete, inadequate, deficient, continually craving something more, without any vision of what that might be.

As we have seen, desire need not be characterized by lack, but instead by productivity.

Desire as the overflowing of life, as creativity, re-productivity does not result in suffering, in the negation of life.

On the contrary, desire as creativity is the source of affirmation of life, the active force within us that produces pure difference.

Transcendence as the Cause of Misery

So what causes Schopenhauer to have this pessimistic view of desire and life?

A Deleuzian response might be that Schopenhauer’s vision is sourced in transcendence and a representative image of thought.

Schopenhauer’s starting point is that representation as per Kant is more or less the truth of phenomenal reality. Human reason transcends phenomenal reality.

But it is from this same transcendent perspective that he provides us a glimpse of the thing-in-itself.

While he outlines an immanent approach to experiencing the noumenal, the Will, via the body, the vision of what we find when we have that experience is one that replicates a phenomenal world dominated by representative thought, imprisoned by knowledge that is sourced beyond life.

Schopenhauer puts the misery he experiences under the light of human reason as representation, and idealizes it as a monistic force of the universe.

Life as an Illusion

His imprisonment is representative thought itself, and his conclusion is that phenomenal life is an illusion.

Life is nothing more than the activation of a vicious circle in which representative transcendent thought contaminates all that there is, including its inner nature.

While Schopenhauer objected to Hegel’s absolutist idealism based in pure reason, his idealist vision, while recognizing the limits of reason, is infected by transcendent reason at the deepest levels, at the level of the Will itself, abstract and unified.

While the Will is chaos and change, it is deduced in reason, and reason creates the wall that prevents us from affirming it.

The subject, while having one foot in immanence via the body, never releases the transcendence of reason external to the body, above the body, beyond life itself.

Endorsing Kant

It is Schopenhauer’s endorsement of Kant that is the source of the problem.

The only illusion of life is the illusion sourced in transcendence.

The representative image of thought is the source of Schopenhauer’s suffering. While human suffering is by no means illusory, Schopenhauer’s suffering has its source in illusory thought.

Had Schopenhauer released his grip on transcendent reason fully, he might have envisioned a Will that is chaotic and real, but not based in lack.

Had he started from the standpoint that all cognition of the phenomenal and noumenal is sourced in the body, in a subject created in the field, on a plane of immanence, then he may have come to see the Will as chaos and its desire as something positive, affirming of life, creating life.

Affirming the Will

The inner aspect of things must affirm things, otherwise they wouldn’t exist.

The Will, posited as affirmation of all that there is, is the equivalent of Deleuze’s concept of difference, the virtual.

A real force overflows all of reality. It informs reality and drives it forward, albeit with no other purpose than its own immanence.

The unified force or engine of all that there is, in all of its multiplicity and diversity, is a process of pure difference and repetition. It is the eternal return of diversity, driven by desire overflowing in productivity and creativity. It is a real force of differentiation, not transcendent of the plane of immanence.

Schopenhauer’s inability to release transcendence and fully engage in immanence, his inability to release an ontological idealism based in the abstraction of desire as negativity, is the source of a vision of misery and renunciation.

Instead of a philosophy of the affirmation of and engagement in life, we are left with a vision that condemns all there is in life to meaninglessness.

Life governed and dominated by a harsh universe devours us; we, who are ruled over by reason.

At the limit, life dissolves into nothingness and nihilism.

The Immanence of Will

But we can know the Will through the body, we can experience the virtuality of a universe based in pure difference.

This Will is an immanent force that comes to us intuitively as affects and percepts.

When touched by the force of virtuality, our response is the activation of life, the inspiration to create and experiment, the active force within us to affirm all of life.

Concluding Remarks

Our brief examination of Hegel and Schopenhauer has shed some further light on Deleuze.

In Hegel, we have seen the dangers of fully embracing transcendence, and in Schopenhauer, the dangers of not completely letting it go.

Both are onto-theological, leading to the negation of life, whether it be absorbed and dissolved into the nothingness of absolute infinity, or denigrated and condemned to an underworld of misery. Both lead to a politic of organic totality, and the inferiority of the multiplicity of life of which the state is composed.

But Deleuze was by no means the first to recognize the problem with abstraction and universality. It is to Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s perspectivism that we will next turn.

I hope you enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading!


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Excerpt from my forthcoming book, Becoming: A Life of Pure Difference (Gilles Deleuze and the Philosophy of the New) Copyright © 2021 by Tomas Byrne. Learn more here.



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