active / reactive

active / reactive
  ---- by Lee Spinks
  The distinction between active and reactive forces was developed by Friedrich Nietzsche in his On the Genealogy of Morality and the notes posthumously collected as The Will to Power. In his seminal reading of Nietzsche, Deleuze seized upon this distinction (and what it made possible) and placed it at the very heart of the Nietzschean revaluation of values. For Nietzsche, the distinction between active and reactive force enabled him to present 'being' as a process rather than 'substance'. The world of substantial being, he argued, is produced by the recombination of multiple effects of force into discrete ideas, images and identities. There is no essential 'truth' of being; nor is there an independent 'reality' before and beyond the flux of appearances; every aspect of the real is already constituted by quantities and combinations of force. Within this economy of becoming, every force is related to other forces and is defined in its character by whether it obeys or commands. What we call a body (whether understood as political, social, chemical or biological) is determined by this relation between dominating and dominated forces. Meanwhile Deleuze maintains that any two forces constitute a body as soon as they enter into relationship. Within this body the superior or dominant forces are described as 'active'; the inferior or dominated forces are described as 'reactive'. These qualities of active and reactive force are the original qualities that define the relationship of force with force.
  If forces are defined by the relative difference in their quality or power, the notion of quality is itself determined by the difference in quantity between the two forces that come into relationship. The character of any relation, that is, is produced through forces. There are no intrinsic properties that determine how forces will relate: a master becomes a master through the act of over-powering. In the encounter between forces, each force receives the quality that corresponds to its quantity. Forces are dominant, or dominated, depending upon their relative difference in quantity; but they manifest themselves as active or reactive according to their difference in quality. Once the relation has been established the quality of forces - dominant or dominated - produces an active power (that commands the relation) and a reactive power (defined by the relation). The difference between forces defined according to their quantity as active or reactive is described in terms of a hierarchy. An active force is the stronger term and goes to the limit of what it can do. Its characteristics are dominating, possessing, subjugating and commanding. The expression of activity is the expression of what is necessarily unconscious; all consciousness does is express the relation of certain reactive forces to the active forces that dominate them. Active force affirms its difference from everything that is weaker than and inferior to itself; meanwhile reactive force seeks to limit active force, impose restrictions upon it, and to recast it in the spirit of the negative. Crucially, reactive force cannot transform itself into a fully active force; nor can a collection of reactive forces amalgamate themselves into something greater than active force. A slave who gains power, or who bonds with other slaves, will remain a slave and can only be freed from slavery by abandoning consciousness. Consciousness remains what it is, and is unlike the active force of difference. Consciousness represents and recognises active forces, thereby separating activity from what it can do. Such separation constitutes a subtraction or division of active force by making it work against the power of its own affirmation. The remarkable feature of the becoming-reactive of active force is that historically it has managed to form the basis of an entire vision of life. This vision embodies the principle of 'ressentiment': a movement in which a reactive and resentful denial of higher life begins to create its own moral system and account of human experience. The reactive triumph expressed in movements of consciousness like ressentiment, bad consciousness and the ascetic ideal depends upon a mystification and reversal of active force: at the core of these new interpretations of life reactive force simulates active force and turns it against itself. It is at precisely the historical moment when the slave begins to triumph over the master who has stopped being the spectre of law, virtue, morality and religion.
  An active force becomes reactive when a reactive force manages to separate it from what it can do. The historical development of reactive forces is itself predicated upon the affinity between reaction and negation, an affinity which is itself a weak form of the Will to Power in so far as it is an expression of nihilism or the will to nothingness. The will to asceticism or world-renunciation is, after all, still an expression of will. Thus, while reactive forces are weaker than active forces, they also possess a potentially sublime element in as much as they are able to advance a new interpretation of life (the world of moral ideas, for example) and they supply us with an original, although nihilistic, version of the Will to Power. By inventing a transcendent idea of life in order to judge life, reactive forces separate us from our power to create values; but they also teach us new feelings and new ways of being affected. What needs to be understood is that there is a variation or internal difference in the disposition of reactive forces; these forces change their character and their meaning according to the extent to which they develop their affinity for the will to nothingness. Consequently one of the great problems posed to interpretation is to determine the degree of development reactive forces have reached in relation to negation and the will to nothingness; similarly we need always to attend to the nuance or relative disposition of active force in terms of its development of the relation between action and affirmation.
   § genealogy
   § will to power

The Deleuze Dictionary. Revised Edition. . 2015.

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