In reading for my qualifying exams I’ve come across the Nietzschean concept of active and reactive forces–which are expounded by Gilles Deleuze in his essay, “Active and Reactive”. Briefly stated, active forces are the affirmation that wills the eternal return–wherein the subject accepts all that has happened and will happen by wishing it to happen repeatedly ad infinitum. Reactive forces are negative, as they express ressentiment (the will to revenge) and refuse to accept the superior power of the active forces. Reactive, vengeful forces are a will to nothingness.
Critiquing Deleuze and the other French Nietzscheans’ reading of the will to power in a comparison of Girard and Nietzsche’s treatment of desire, Tobin Siebers’s calls Deleuze’s opposition of forces within the will to power dangerously reductive. Siebers elaborates on Heidegger’s discussion of Nietzsche’s refusal of the impulse to be revenged on the past in order to illuminate the inevitability of mimetic contagion and eventual ressentiment. Ultimately, the vision of the eternally unresentful over-man is a utopian dream and the reactive will to revenge (nothingness) must be countered by submitting ressentiment and the will to power to an ethical critique.
How can mimetic theory shed further light on this “dangerous opposition between active and reactive often associated with the will to power” (The Ethics of Criticism, Siebers, p. 137)? How might mimetic theory expand on Siebers’s critique to engage with Deleuze and interpolate his categories in terms that are recognizable to theorists of mimetic desire?
In The Puppet of Desire (chapters 3 and 4), Jean-Michel Oughourlian distinguishes between obsession and adorcism as two manifestations of mimetic influence.
Obsession occurs when the desire of the other infects a subject through mimesis, but the subject–in order to preserve an autonomous self–will not admit her desire to be derived from the other. Oughourlian provides an historical example of supposed demonic possession–the mimetic crisis of a nun in a fifteenth-century convent–to illustrate how the obsessed subject displaces responsibility for the disturbing symptoms of her frustrated mimetic desire onto the malevolent, mythic other: the devil. She locates the devil in a visiting priest (the object of her obsession), whom she accuses of witchcraft–an accusation that precipitates the surrogate victimage of the priest via his subsequent execution.
Oughourlian compares the nun’s mimetic obsession with the practice of adorcism (or willing possession). Oughourlian draws an example of this practice from the anthropological fieldwork of Michel Leiris, who studied practitioners of traditional religious rites of adorcism in Northern Ethiopia. In his studies of these rites, Leiris encounters a woman named Malkam Ayyahu, who is renowned for her ability to submit to possession by the various deities of her culture’s pantheon. Rather than engaging in an inimical conflict with the cultural others by which all believers are liable to be inhabited, Ayyahu knowingly and intentionally accommodates herself to these entity’s mimetic influence. (In his preceding analysis, Oughourlian interpolates all cultures’ spiritualities as expressions of an intuitive understanding the contagiousness of mimetic desire, which determines the desires of subjects and subgroups within a given social order.) Unlike the nun, who refused to acknowledge the fact of mimetic desire operating upon her, Ayyahu accepts that her subjectivity is repeatedly reshaped by the cultural other and demonstrates her acceptance semantically by consistently referring to herself in the third person. Oughourlian asserts that recognizing the mimetic awareness illustrated by her advanced practice of adorcism, coupled with her mode of self-reflexive discourse, illustrates the principles of mimetic desire. He goes on to suggest that Ayyahu’s self-reflexivity forms a new anthropology, which takes the otherness–the mimetic nature–of desire as its foundational principle. Within her cultural frame of reference, the possibility of mimetic antagonism is low, since Ayyahu is never devoted to a particular self-of-desire that must be defended as an autonomous entity against the encroachments of an alien desire. Her openness to all possible desiring entities means she need not oppose any one desiring entity to another in a conflictual mimetic symmetry.
Applying this anthropology to Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche, I’d suggest that we should understand Deleuze reductive categorization of the will to power and ressentiment–active and reactive–in the more practical, sociocultural terms outlined by Oughourlian: obsession and adorcism.
Obsession corresponds to the reactive force, since to refuse to acknowledge that the self is shaped by the cultural other–to ignore the mimetic nature of desire–positions the subject in an antagonistic relation to the other, which will lead to a mutual confounding of desire in the destructive reciprocity of violence– a will to nothingness.
Adorcism corresponds to the active force, since to stand open to the cultural other, as Ayyahu does–with no fear of losing an identity, which is recognized to be a provisional manifestation of mimetic desire’s movement–is to avoid the reciprocity of violence in the affirmation of the will to power.
Any criticism or feedback is much appreciated.