The Power to Will: Nietzsche and Becoming Free

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culture / difference / God / grammar / human / labor / literature / Nietzsche / Politics / power / text / theory / will to power

Reaching Out

The will to power is not essentially political; it aims beyond politics towards a more subtle possession. The will to power is articulated as a higher expression of the will to live, as opposed to the will to survive. It is the will to exercise power. Its primary function is to be functional, that is: dynamic, active and creative. This kind of willing indicates not a static ideal will rather an energetic, even libidinal force to overcome, to dominate one’s environment as well as to exploit and control others. Importantly, the will to power does not function as some kind of pure essence of vitality, even less an aesthetic ‘taste’ or ethical harmony.

Rather, it is struggle itself, the will to raise oneself up, out joyfully from nothingness, into higher and more rarefied regions of becoming. It is not a duty, but a desire to feel energy being actively employed; it is the surging of this power itself. It aims to transcend but is not itself therefore transcendent; rather, the will to power is material, and always more concrete, more real than we are comfortable admitting. The will to power is our desire to possess, to exploit, to dominate, to control. Hence the primary articulation of the will to power is as a singular thrust rather than a multiplicity of drives. Though clearly each will struggles against every other, ultimately every will struggles against itself, operates upon itself, upon its own form or nature in order to improve itself, to overcome.

Every will wrestles its own fate. Multiplicity is a cosmic idea, yet it must itself be distinguished from the pre-differentiated flux. The will to power is the secret principle of multiplicity, the underlying force behind morphogensis. The will to power is the deepest space of expression, whether lexical, genetic or artistic. The dream of the highest reaches of power is fluid without superfluity, the will to power is declination, it is precisely an infinitesimal. It is not the origin of subjectivity, but the origin of flux, of radical differences: a singular, “indicative,” spontaneous passion. The will to power does not hypostasize many separate forces into an ideal, as we find over and over again in countless descriptions of the world: the State, God, the Earth, the soul, the body, meaning, truth, the good, etc. Theory must critique the world; it must seek to change it, to change how we see our environments, our abilities, our potential, our power. How do we feel about our mastery? The question cannot be answered with reference to just any world; it must be actively realized within this world. Nietzsche of course reminds us that philosophers have not yet even discovered the world; they are still bound by God and grammar into describing a world, a historically-specific constellation of events which are woven inextricably into myths about an underlying metaphysical reality. While there is indeed something flow beyond and beneath this sick animal man: it is the same repressed desire, the will to power. It is what has been sacrificed in the rank and file in the name of civilization, civility and consciousness.

Is consciousness an expression of the will to power? But we find much clearer expressions of this will precisely in myths and dreams and tragedies. The unconscious is a spectacle-factory. Our dreams, our lies, our ideas, our work — all tell our unique story without a single error, but ironically this is achieved only through malice, injustice, blindness and cruelty. This is the revenge of Plato, perhaps: our educated distaste for formlessness, for the obscure, for immanence, for the concrete — precisely for pain and for submission. Consciousness is not a special crystal, it is merely specialization. We humanize the universe and ourselves; we tell lies, but thereby create a reality. How long until a world becomes the world? We have to await the birth of the Gods, of heroes, of singular arrangements and parabolic narration. Storytelling is only effective to the degree it resists humanizing reality. Literature is great to the degree it is inhuman, even anti-humanistic. Literature is great to the degree that it affects a never-ending separation from all that inspires shame and guilt and resentment. Literature is like mythology: it is stronger than mere humanity, it is older and wiser and more powerful, more conscious of the exercise of its power.

But what power? Words — that is, symbols, phantoms, hijacked signals? Theory is the furthest evolution of the literary; it marks the point where labor becomes conscious of its segmentation, of its hierarchy and its rigidity. The work has becomes aware of the creator, and so becomes alienated from the creator, separate, opaque, transfigured, no longer identical to itself. It is at the mercy of history, exposed to the elemental forces of differentiation and dissemination. Yet words know when they are misused. The text slowly unbinds itself from the author. It becomes an organless body, infested by differences, by bloodless figurations leading onto the void. The truth of the work is not the work but within the work; as by calculation we may transmit an error-free signal between distant satellites, theory is the work-become-algebra, a self-referential calculus of indications. Finally, labor implodes: total production, total consciousness creates total alienation, total isolation. Theory is radical because it is the point where labor becomes play, where the potential for a scientific management of the ‘labor problem’ becomes realizable.

At the moment when humanity itself is realizable, it is already too late for us to realize it. But yet we refuse to renounce play; we owe this to the impact of art, to the enduring cultural logic of the gift as opposed to exchange. We want to experiment, we want to become more than human. Being human means being made calculable; we want to be more than a social text — we want full lives, we want to be total human beings. We desire this so much we unthinkingly accept a simple image of humanity as the absolute truth: ‘man’ as a pure essence, an organless body, becomes the subject, metaphysical anchor for an entire reality.

Whereas, without ever becoming subject, the will to power is the very production of subjectivity. The locus of the creative is not the sovereignty of power but its absence, that is, its necessity and the conditions for its institution. The elevation of consciousness, inspiring awareness of psychic and collective power over the world, over the state, over capital — these are the post-civic goal of any radical political project. It is not that we are powerless but that we have not yet realized our power, not yet chosen to exercise it. Society transcends the state, the church, the corporation: it is the performative foundation of public space. Awareness of power is the condition for the creation of a smooth space for discourse, the dual basis of theory and ideology. Difference and repetition. But neither are enough to rescue us from the dangers which lurk just beyond the edges of the state. Chaos, turbulence, void. We must bring the war machine within our hearts, we must embrace discipline, paradoxically in order to become free. We must regain the power to will in order to realize the will to power.

The Author

mostly noise and glare

1 Comment

  1. Ryan/Aless says

    This kind of writing is dizzying, vertiginous, which is to say: Borgesian. Perhaps symptomatic of what is being written about. I quite like this post, although I get lost in some parts (or perhaps a better way of putting it is: I don’t fully understand it; I only have an intuition of what you mean). Good point to make that the will to power is not merely political, that it puts the subject in a more subtle position. Although when you talk about conquest, overcoming, perhaps it would be helpful if you mention what is to be conquered, overcome: i.e. slavish values. Excellent last paragraph where you discuss the juncture of power as the production of subjectivity itself.

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