Gilles Deleuze: Nietzsche and Philosophy

04 October 2019

The use of philosophy is to sadden. A philosophy that saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a philosophy. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. Is there any discipline apart from philosophy that sets out to criticise all mystifications, whatever their source and aim, to expose all the fictions without which reactive forces would not prevail? Exposing as a mystification the mixture of baseness and stupidity that creates the astonishing complicity of both victims and perpetrators. Finally, turning thought into something aggressive, active and affirmative. Fighting the ressentiment and bad conscience which have replaced thought for us. Conquering the negative and its false glamour. Who has an interest in all this but philosophy? Philosophy is at its most positive as critique, as an enterprise of demystification. And we should not be too hasty in proclaiming philosophy’s failure in this respect. Great as they are, stupidity and baseness would be still greater if there did not remain some philosophy which always prevents them from going as far as they would wish, which forbids them — if only by yea-saying — from being as stupid and base as they would wish. They are forbidden certain excesses, but only by philosophy. There exists, of course, a properly philosophical mystification; the dogmatic image of thought and the caricature of critique illustrate this. Philosophy’s mystification begins, however, from the moment it renounces its role as demystifier and takes the established powers into consideration: when it gives up the harming of stupidity and the denunciation of baseness. It is true, Nietzsche says, that philosophers today have become comets. But, from Lucretius to the philosophers of the eighteenth century we must observe these comets, follow them if possible, rediscover their fantastic paths. The philosopher-comets knew how to make pluralism an art of thinking, a critical art. They knew how to tell men what their bad conscience and the ressentiment concealed. They knew how to oppose established powers and values, though with only the image of the free man. After Lucretius how is it still possible to ask: what use is philosophy? It is possible to ask this because the image of the philosopher is constantly obscured. He is turned into a sage, he who is only the friend of wisdom, friend in an ambiguous sense, that is to say, an anti-sage, he who must be masked with wisdom in order to survive. He is turned into a friend of truth he who makes truth submit to its hardest test, from which it emerges as dismembered as Dionysus: the test of sense and value. The image of the philosopher is obscured by all his necessary disguises, but also by all the betrayals that turn him into the philosopher of religion, the philosopher of the State, the collector of current values and the functionary of history. The authentic image of the philosopher does not survive the one who can embody it for a time, for his epoch. It must be taken up again, reanimated, it must find a new field of activity in the following epoch. If philosophy’s critical task is not actively taken up in every epoch philosophy dies.

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