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diacritics 35.1 (2005) 8-21

Klossowski's Reading of Nietzsche
Impulses, Phantasms, Simulacra, Stereotypes
Daniel W. Smith

In his writings on Nietzsche, Pierre Klossowski makes use of various concepts—such as intensities, phantasms, simulacra and stereotypes, resemblance and dissemblance, gregariousness and singularity—that have no place in Nietzsche's own oeuvre. These concepts are Klossowski's own creations, his own contributions to thought. Although Klossowski consistently refused to characterize himself as a philosopher ("Je suis une 'maniaque,'" he once said, "Un point, c'est tout!"),1 his work in its entirety was marked by an extraordinary conceptual creation. From this point of view, his Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle can be read as a work in philosophy—at least in the idiosyncratic sense given to this term by Gilles Deleuze, who defined philosophy as the creation or invention of concepts [Deleuze and Guattari 2]. No doubt, Klossowski remains an almost unclassifiable figure—philosopher, novelist, essayist, translator, artist—and attempting to analyze his work through the prism of philosophy may seem to be a reductive approach that belies the complexity of his exceptional oeuvre. Reading Klossowski as a conceptual innovator, however, at least has the advantage of allowing us to chart a consistent trajectory through his difficult and often labyrinthine text, without denying its other dimensions (affective, perceptive, literary, and so on). In what follows, then, I would like to examine three of Klossowski's most characteristic and important concepts—impulses and their intensities, phantasms, and simulacra and their stereotypes—as well as the precise interrelations he establishes among them. Taken together, these three concepts describe what Klossowski terms the tripartite economy of soul, which constitutes the implicit model through which he interprets Nietzsche's thought.

1

Impulses as Fluctuating Intensities

Klossowski describes his books on both Nietzsche and Sade as "essays devoted not to ideologies but to the physiognomies of problematic thinkers who differ greatly from each other" ["Postface" 137, emphasis added]. This emphasis on the "physiognomy" of thinkers reflects Nietzsche's insistence on taking the body rather than the mind as a guide for philosophy since the body is a more accessible phenomenon, less surrounded by myth and superstition. "The body and physiology as the starting point," Nietzsche wrote. "Why? . . . The phenomenon of the body is the richer, clearer, more tangible [End Page 8] phenomenon. . . . Belief in the body is more fundamental than belief in the soul" [WP §§492, 489, 491]. Klossowski himself, however, when writing of the intensive status of the impulses, frequently makes use of the term "soul" (âme), owing in part, no doubt, to his interest in the theological literature of the mystics, such as Meister Eckhardt and Teresa of Avila. For the mystics, the depth of the soul is something irreducible and uncreated: it eludes the exercise of the created intellect, and can only be grasped negatively.2 Nonetheless, if one can find a similar apophaticism (or "negative theology") in Klossowski, it is related exclusively to the immanent and chaotic movements of the soul's intensive affects, and not to the transcendence of God. What is incommunicable in the soul (or body) are its "impulses"—their fluctuations of intensity, their rises and falls, their manic elations and depressive descents, which are in constant variation.

Nietzsche himself had recourse to a highly varied vocabulary to describe what Klossowski summarizes in the term "impulse": "drive" (Triebe), "desire" (Begierden), "instinct" (Instinke), "power" (Mächte), "force" (Kräfte), "impulse" (Reize, Impulse), "passion" (Leidenschaften), "feeling" (Gefülen), "affect" (Affekte), "pathos" (Pathos), and so on.3 Klossowski frequently employs the musical term tonalité to describe these states of the soul's fluctuating intensities—their diverse tones, timbres, and changing amplitudes—which can take on various forms ("aggressiveness, tolerance, intimidation, anguish, the need for solitude, the forgetting of oneself" [NVC 6]). At bottom, what these impulses express are what Klossowski calls the "obstinate singularity" of the human soul, which is by nature noncommunicable; they constitute "the unexchangeable depth" (le fond inéchangeable) or "the unintelligible depth" (le fond unintelligible) of the soul. What makes every individual...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 8-21
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-06
Open Access
No
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