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  • Impulsive Forces in and Against Words
  • Alphonso Lingis (bio)

In his lecture "Nietzsche, le polythéisme et la parodie" given at the Collège de Philosophie in 1957 and published in 1963 in his Un si funeste désir, Pierre Klossowski explicated certain radical passages from Nietzsche's The Gay Science, a work he had newly translated into French (two prior translations existed). In the philosophical world of France where perception seemed to have found its definitive elucidation in the phenomenology of perception of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945), Nietzsche's exposition of sensory experience, as Klossowski laid it out, was so radically different from that phenomenology that it could not be assimilated. In his Nietzsche et le cercle vicieux, published in 1969, Klossowski worked on texts Nietzsche left unpublished and which date from the years of The Gay Science onward. Philosophers, Nietzsche had written, do not simply coordinate and justify the works and science of society; they break at least in part with the common language by formulating their own aggressivity, tolerance, intimidation, anxieties, need of solitude, or need to forget themselves. And Nietzsche too speaks not of what is common and communicable but of what he experienced inwardly. Now Klossowski presented Nietzsche's exposition of sensory experience as an exposition of the experience peculiar to Nietzsche, in the most troubled period of his life. This experience, moreover, Klossowski aimed to show, was wholly premonitory of Nietzsche's final state, in which he could no longer say what he was experiencing nor who he was.

The environment is not simply passively impressed upon our sensory surfaces; we have to awaken, move our eyes, and focus on things and circumscribe their contours with our look, and assume a posture that enables us to advance our look. When we are born, and when we awaken each day, that is, are born again to the world, we are needy and vulnerable, to be sure; the organism is porous and needs to replenish fluids and substance lost. But our organisms are material systems that generate excess energies; it is because excess energies have to be discharged that the organism moves into the environment and depletes its substance, and needs develop. Nietzsche calls these excess energies impulses, also multiple wills to power, that is, not conscious drives to acquire power, but positive forces that expand and exist only in expansion. They seek resistances on which to discharge themselves. They push against one another and become multiple.

For the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the movements of perception are intentional; they are from the first correlative with objects, or, for Merleau-Ponty, intersensory things, Gestalten agglomerated by an intrinsic intelligible essence or sensory meaning, arising against a background of potential objects or latent things. Yet every glance around us encompasses innumerable unnamed and unnameable shapes, hues, textures, slidings, illuminations. Do not in fact the excess energies of life open upon an environment of swarming sensory patterns, streamings, scintillations, and shadows which quicken life before or without acquiring meaningful identities? [End Page 60]

What in classical epistemology were called sensations were the information bits these forces impressed on our sensory surfaces, resulting also in sensory affects of pleasure or pain, according to the passive conception of our sensibility. For Nietzsche the multiple impulses that confront the forces of the environment are active and not reactive; confronting what is not from the first meaningful but resists or empowers, they laugh and weep, bless and curse. And it is these multiple and conflicting impulses, not a conceptual grasp of the essences of things, that know environmental events, know the forces exerted by the multiple hues, textures, glows, savors, reflections, halos, echos, projections, and shadows scattered about us.

The impulses do more than know all that; they exalt and consecrate events of the world, they put over each an azure bell of blessing, they give them a space to stand forth and to dance—"they come and offer their hands and laugh and flee—and come back."1 They give themselves form and multiple forms and dance with all things. They are Apollonian and Dionysian.

What is called conscious thought is elaborated in words of the common...


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