The eternal return

«How does one explain that the eternal return is an ancient idea, dating from the pre-Socratics, and yet Nietzsche’s great innovation, or what he presents as his own discovery? And how does one explain that there is something new in the idea that nothing is new?

The eternal return is most certainly not the negation or suppression of time, an atemporal eternity. But how does one explain that it is both cycle and moment: on the one hand continuation; and on the other, iteration? On the one hand, a continuation of the process of becoming which is the World; and on the other, repetition, lightning flash, a mystical view on this process or this becoming? On the one hand, the continual rebeginning of what has been; and on the other, the instantaneous return to a kind of intense focal point, to a “zero” moment of the will?

And in the second place: How does one explain that the eternal return is the most devastating thought, eliciting the “Greatest Disgust,” and yet is the greatest consolation, the great thought of convalescence, which provokes the super-human?

All these problems were constantly present in our discussions; and little by little, divisions and distinctions made themselves felt.

At least one thing is clear: the eternal return, as the ancients understood it, does not have either the simplicity or the dogmatism often attributed to it».

– Deleuze, “Desert Islands…”

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«And do you know too what the ‘world’ is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world — an immensity of force, without beginning, without end, a firm, brazen magnitude of force, which does not increase, does not decrease, does not consume itself, but only transforms itself, unchangeable as a whole in its magnitude, a household without expenses and losses, but likewise without additions, without income, surrounded by “nothingness” as its limit, nothing dissolving or wasting away, nothing infinitely extensive, but, as a definite force, inlaid into a definite space, and not in a space which is in any way empty, much more as force everywhere, as a play of forces and waves of force simultaneously one and many, here accumulating and simultaneously diminishing somewhere else, a sea of forces raging and flowing into each other, eternally changing themselves, eternally running back, with immense years of recurrence, with an ebb and flow of its forms, moving from the simplest to the most complex, from the uttermost of calm, rigor, cold into the uttermost of heat, wildness, self-contradiction, and then returning home from plentitude to simplicity, from the play of contradictions to the delight of concord, affirming itself even in this similarity of its courses and years, blessing itself as that which must eternally return, as a becoming which knows no satiety, no surfeit, no fatigue — this my Dionysian world of eternal selfcreation, eternal self-destruction [. . . ]»

– Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bänden, 3: 916-17.

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