Nietzsche’s theory of the eternal recurrence

Gideon asked:

What do you think of Nietzsche’s theory of the eternal recurrence?

Answer by Martin Jenkins

As a Cosmological Doctrine, the Eternal Recurrence would entail a cyclical conception of time and ontology. Everything that is, will repeat and recur ad infinitum. There appears scant evidence for this in Nietzsche’s writings, only speculation. Further, if everything is to be as it is, this would detract from Nietzsche’s criticism of modernity and his prescriptions to change it. Namely, the overcoming of Christian and crypto Christian thinking and valuations by the New Philosopher creators – formally the Ubermensch. Activism would give way to fatalism. So the Cosmological reading of the Eternal Recurrence would appear too problematic to be sustained.

An alternative reading is that of the Eternal Recurrence being a type of Existential imperative. Life should be affirmed and lived as if it would be repeated ad infinitum. Thus the prescription of eternal recurrence would correspond to the ontological doctrine of Will to Power. Affirmative, creative, assertive activity is to be encouraged as if it were to be repeated over and over again. In so doing, one loves one’s fate – amor fati.

Another take on this doctrine is that promulgated by Gilles Deleuze in his Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962). Here, the Will to Power is continually configurating strong active and weak reactive forces into qualities of Noble (Active) and Slavish (Reactive) types. These are in a flux beneath existing structures of reality as it were. They are synthesised into existence by the Eternal Return. Either a replication of existing reality and its valuations is performed in which case, the slavish typology has not been overcome by the strong drives. Or, the strong drives triumph and the existing structures of valuation are subject to irruption. In Deleuze’s terminology, the Identity of existing reality with itself is irrupted by the strong drives of Difference.

‘In this synthesis – which relates to time – forces pass through the same differences again or, diversity is reproduced. The synthesis is one of the forces, of their difference and their reproduction: the eternal return is the synthesis which has as its principle, the Will to Power’. [P. 46 ibid]

Hence reality for Deleuze would not be replicating strict identity with itself – as with the Cosmological understanding of the Eternal Return. Instead, reality is subject to change on many levels due to the genesis of the Will to Power.


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