Frames /sing


The Unrare, Assemblage and Implicate Power: Kairos, Complexity and Ethical Greatness



Spinoza, Nietzsche, (Jesus and Satan) on the “Right Time”

 Therefore Jesus said to them, my kairos has not yet arrived, but your kairos always is ready.

John 7:6

Our investigation begins at a moment when Nietzsche seems to question, in a fully dialectical moment, the spearhead of his discourse, that is, an assumed rarity of genius (of which he seems to help make up a type). Could it be that genius after all is not so rare? I aim to use this occasion as decisive, a vital and possibly critical moment in his thought, a window which opens, but which he properly then closes, yet a window nonetheless, a kairos into what is possible. What is possible if genius is not so rare?


The Problem of Those Who Wait.–Happy chances are necessary, and many incalculable elements, in order that a higher man in whom the solution of a problem is dormant, may yet take action, or “break forth,” as one might say–at the right moment. On an average it does not happen; and in all corners of the earth there are waiting ones sitting who hardly know to what extent they are waiting, and still less that they wait in vain. Occasionally, too, the waking call comes too late–the chance which gives “permission” to take action–when their best youth, and strength for action have been used up in sitting still; and how many a one, just as he “sprang up,” has found with horror that his limbs are benumbed and his spirits are now too heavy! “It is too late,” he has said to himself–and has become self-distrustful and henceforth for ever useless.–In the domain of genius, may not the “Raphael without hands” (taking the expression in its widest sense) perhaps not be the exception, but the rule?–Perhaps genius is by no means so rare: but rather the five hundred hands which it requires in order to tyrannise over the “the right time”–in order to take chance by the forelock!

The passage in question lies near the end of his Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. It concerns the question of waiting. In section 273  Nietzsche has returned to one of his favorite themes, that of solitude, and he sketches out the dilemma that a man pursuing greatness faces. Such a one sees others as “means or as a delay” and his question becomes that of timing and of proximity. “This type of man knows solitude and what is most poisonous in it”. Nietzsche is examining the locus of a person, he is inspecting, as he is ever to do, the nature of this ideal type, a philosopher of the future. And such a man, a rarity, is caught between his own concept of himself and its employ. How to bring it forth?

It is here that Nietzsche teeters on the “problem of those who are waiting” (section 274). There is a bemoaning that “strokes of luck” and the “incalculable” seem to rule “action in time,” as if the seemingly rare man is simply tossed about, incapable of finding the right moment, the moment to apply his genius. And what is more, all over the earth there are others who are waiting, but unconsciously, yet it is likely that the “accident which gives permission to act—comes too late”. It is as if there is a precocious sea, threatening to over-ripen, waiting for its catalyst for change.

But then Nietzsche shifts his perspective. Perhaps, he wonders, genius is not so rare. Could it be that the esteemed brilliance of a soul, is something other than it seems?:

In the realm of the genius, could “Rafael without hands,” taking that phrase in the widest sense, perhaps not be the exception but the rule?  Genius is perhaps not really so rare, but the five hundred hands needed to tyrannize the kairos, “the right time,” to seize happenstance by the forelock! (translation modified)

– Sollte, im Reiche des Genie’s, der “Raffael ohne Hände”, das Wort im weitesten Sinn verstanden, vielleicht nicht die Ausnahme, sondern die Regel sein? – Das Genie ist vielleicht gar nicht so selten: aber die fünfhundert Hände, die es nöthig hat, um den kairós, “die rechte Zeit” – zu tyrannisiren, um den Zufall am Schopf zu fassen!

 Such a precious thought, of the kind that Nietzsche is so capable. I would like to look at it closely. First, it is necessary to understand the phrase, “Rafael without hands”. It is taken from Lessing’s play, “Emilia Galotti” (Act I, Scene 4). Notably this play is a classic example of enlightenment Bürgerliches Trauerspiel, wherein everyday people have taken the place of aristocratic protagonists. In such a dramatic form the long-standing assumption that only the upper classes were capable of feeling deeply enough to propel tragedy was being overtuned. “People” were suddenly “dramatic”. The “heroic” became more common, and this, in theme, is in keeping with Nietzsche’s momentary reflection on the nature and rarity of genius. 

Raphael With Hands

The Nature of Genius: “We cannot paint directly with our eyes”

The context of the quote is that of a painting of a beautiful woman, as it is being discussed by an enchanted viewer, Prince Gonzaga, and its artist. The Prince immediately recognizes the image of a woman he has fallen in love with, an image of remarkable accomplishment:“By God! As if stolen from a mirror!;” but the artist, Conti, replies that he is not at ease with his achievement, but also that this dis-ease has a comfort:

And yet, this piece still leaves me greatly dissatisfied with myself.—Although, on the other hand, I am also greatly satisfied with this dissatisfaction with myself.—Ah! Would that we were able to paint directly with our eyes! On that long path from the eye through the arm to the brush, how much is lost!—But, as I say, the fact that I know what was lost and how it was lost and why it had to be lost: of that I am as proud as I am of all that I did not allow to be lost. Prouder even. For in that knowledge, more than in this product of my art, I recognize that I am a truly great artist, athough my hand is not equally as great.—Or do you believe, Prince, that Raphael would not have been the greatest artistic genius if he had had the misfortune to have been born with out hands? (7)

So what is “Raphael without hands”? Nietzsche asks us to take such a phrase in the widest sense. Lessing’s Conti tells us of the transmission of an impulse, what we might call an affect of aesthetic experience, which travels down from the eyes, through the arm, to the hand and to the brush. And he speaks of his knowledge of the particular ways in which this aesthetic certainty is lost, the pleasure and pride of this knowledge. Raphael, an exemplar of human genius, is seen here to represent the possible incompleteness of genius, that as the man without hands, he might have lacked the very means by which his genius would come to be known.  We cannot “paint directly with our eyes” as Lessing puts it. This image of Raphael without hands invites us to think differently about the nature of genius. On one level of import it allows us to see genius as something that floats beneath the surface, something “in the eyes,” which according to historical contingency, Nietzsche’s “lucky stroke,” either makes its appearance or does not—for Raphael indeed might never have had hands, and we might never have known him—and even when it does make its appearance, its appearance is flawed, lost, broken, to some degree. One might wonder if there are thousands upon thousands of Raphaels around us, ephemeral and fractal un-becomings. But Lessing’s Conti allows us to see something more. Because he takes such pleasure in the knowing of the nature of his failing, the way the transmission is lost, the “how” and the “why” of its distortion, it calls attention precisely to the question of what are the “hands” of the genius?  It is this that Nietzsche has his eye on.

Titanomachy and The Titans of Completion

If we imagine that the hands of Raphael were not only his two physical hands, but in the “widest sense,” all of the events, minds and acts which conspired to bring him forth in history, the hands of Raphael suddenly become a perplexing involution of hands, all working together with remarkable perspicuity of effect. But something of them is monstrous, inordinate, beautiful. We are invited to not see Raphael in the traditional, and even Nietzschean image, of a great man who imposes his will upon the fresco wall, and then upon history, but rather as a collection of hands, hands that collude together.  Nietzsche tells us what genius possibly is, or rather what “rarity” is: “Genius is perhaps not really so rare, but the five hundred hands needed to tyrannize the kairos…” . He conflates genius, the rarity and the image of 500 hands into a single thing. Genius might be everywhere, but what is rare is the assemblage of hands which might bring it into appearance.

Here one is drawn, in the image of the five-hundred hands, to the association of the four Greek chthonic Hecatonchires (hundred-handed ones, sons of Uranus) which Zeus released from the underworld to help him overthrow the Titans; but also come to us thoughts of Typheus, the hundred-headed son of Gaia and Tartarus – Nietzsche marvelously conflating head and hand – the one who later warred against the Zeus and the Olympian gods. Read Hesiod’s informed description of the polycephalean effect:

Strength was with his hands in all that he did and the feet of the strong god were untiring. From his shoulders grew an hundred heads of a snake, a fearful dragon, with dark, flickering tongues, and from under the brows of his eyes in his marvellous heads flashed fire, and fire burned from his heads as he glared. And there were voices in all his dreadful heads which uttered every kind of sound unspeakable; for at one time they made sounds such that the gods understood, but at another, the noise of a bull bellowing aloud in proud ungovernable fury; and at another, the sound of a lion, relentless of heart; and at anothers, sounds like whelps, wonderful to hear; and again, at another, he would hiss, so that the high mountains re-echoed (820-835, Theogony)

The cacophonic assemblage of hands, voices, head, parts and pieces seems to be what Nietzsche is thinking of in terms of the rarity that makes up what we call the presentation of genius. It is a moment of revolution, one that makes sense to the gods a times, but then does not. The hands of coincidence are com- and im-plex, that is full of folds that threaten.

a circa 160 C.E,, representation of the allegoric statue made by Lysippos, in pentelic marble, Museum of Antiquities of Turin (Italy);

a circa 160 C.E,, representation of the allegoric statue made by Lysippos, in pentelic marble, Museum of Antiquities of Turin (Italy);

The duty of such a creature is to grasp the forelock of kairos. Kairos was the god of opportunity, depicted by a famed, lost statue by Lysippos as winged (above), having a long lock in the front, yet being bald in the back. The meaning of the visual trope is of course that one must seize the lock as it is coming, for it cannot be seized after it has passed. To understand the full meaning in Nietzsche’s use of kairos, so that it is not just conceived as a moment of any possible event, what can be called ‘plain opportunity,’ one should remember its meaning in Christianity. The kairos in the New Testament is closely associated with the “right moment” when Jesus as the Christ will reveal himself to the public. It is akin to our idea of mementousness. Jesus uses it in particular to tell his disciples why he will not go up to the Feast of the Tabernacles, just yet. His kairos is appointed, whereas theirs is somehow constant and immanent:

“Therefore Jesus said to them, my kairos has not yet arrived, but your kairos always is ready” (John 7:6), [and then], “You go up to the feast; I am not going to this feast, because my kairos has not yet been fulfilled (7:8).

Jesus indeed waits until the feast is half-way over before he arrives, and begins his ministry. The kairos is a moment of public appearance. Paul speaks of the return of Christ in just such terms: “I charge you to keep this commandment without spot or blame until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the best and only sovereign will show in his own kairoi “ (I Timothy, 6:14). As such the New Testament notion of kairos is entirely messianic. There is the unfolding of time, and then there is the exact moment when history is incised [interesting comments on the English word “intercession”]. The full-development of time works as a field wherein no particular act is important, that is, the kairos of disciples is always prepared/preparing. Christ’s is the flint moment.

Milton and Satan Speaks of Time

Of interest is that Milton, with whose work Nietzsche was familiar, takes up just this notion of the forelock of opportunity, and places it in the mouth of Satan, who is attempting to goad Jesus into acting too soon, before his kairos. An appeal to nationalism has failed to seduce, but Satan urges him on:

If Kingdom move thee not, let move thee Zeal,

And Duty; Zeal and Duty are not slow,

But on occasion’s forelock watchfully wait.

Paradise Lost. III 171-173

But Jesus has a sure conception of his Time, one which lies beyond common opportunity:

If my raign Prophetic writ hath told,

That it shall never end, so when begin

The father in his purpose hath decreed,

He in whose hand all times and seasons roul.*

III 184-187

 *[It is not for you to know the times (chronoi) and seasons/moments (kairoi) which the father placed in his own authority  – Acts 1:7]

Satan’s view of time is not of necessity, not of “must” but rather what appears to be best. In argument, he does not comprehend something more than that which brings advantage, one in which time is seen as a struggle of advantages, as each is conceived, for one’s own:

Each act is rightliest done,

Not when it must, but when it may be best.

 IV 475-476

How does Nietzsche aim to reconcile these views of time in a single conception of kairos? Against the Christ view of linear time, he has taken up the epistemological relativism of Milton’s Satan, a sense of time that waits and looks with Zeal for opportunity alone, such as can only be seen and argued for from a particular perspective. Yet like the Christ he has a dramatic sense of entrance and effect, that there is a moment that is appointed for him, not in terms of opportunity, but transformation. There is the sense that for others the right moment is everywhere, but for the man of greatness, it is precise. But what Nietzsche does in this small window of thought is upend his heroic conception of the man of greatness, of an isolated and rare genius, and make of him an infinite complexity. The singular becomes diffused across an entire field of action. What is rare is not genius, but the assemblage of hands which monstrously, cacophonously, produce its appearance. The forelock of kairos is slippery and fast. Only a five-hundred-handed-one could grasp it.

Five Hundred Hands and the Com-plex

To understand the nature of the five-hundred hands, I suggest what is needed is a perspective that accounts for the inside and the outside, for there is a sense for Nietzsche that a  person of greatness has a kind of inner perplexity, as if within him are five-hundred hands, a richness of experience and conflicting forces which makes of him (her) a greatness. Something of this is implied in Nietzsche analogy to the prodigious creature. In this regard, Raphael might be seen to hold many of the required five-hundred hands within himself. Yet, outside oneself, as is more to Nietzsche’s immediate point, the five-hundred hands that are able to grasp the kairos moment of appearance, are historic, and are composed of an assemblage that is intimately, or one might say, extimately beyond the person. I propose that a turn to Spinoza’s ontology of bodies and forces is exactly what is in order to reconcile this disparity of inside and outside, so as to make Nietzsche’s notion of the kairos more clear. The reason for this turn is that Spinoza’s conception seems to hold the necessary polyvalence of picture to circumscribe just what a five-hundred handed creature might compose.

Spinoza’s handling of the concept of a “body” is radical**. It is simply the preservation of a ratio of parts in a communication of speed:

When a number of bodies, whether of the same or different size, are so constrained by other bodies that they lie upon one another, or if they so move, whether with the same degree or different degrees of speed, that they communicate their motions to each other in a certain fixed manner, we shall say that those bodies are united with one another and that they all together compose one body or Individual, which is distinguished from the others by this union of bodies (Ethics, 2p13L3, def).

[***Philosopher Gilles Deleuze explicates the necessarily composite notion of a Spinozist “body” as an individual this way: “A individual is thus always composed of an infinity of extensive parts, insofar as they pertain to a singular essence of mode, under a characteristic relation (II, after 13). These parts (corpora simplicissma) are not themselves individuals; there is no essence to each one, they are defined solely by their exterior determinism, and they always exist as infinities; but they always constitute an existing individual to the extent that an infinity of them enters into this or that relation characterizing this or that essence of mode” (77). What Deleuze is pointing to is that Spinoza’s description of bodies as complex is recursive in that it assumes bodies to be in relation, and defined by each other. But this circularity of definition is grounded upon a notion of expression, re-defined at another level of description, that of a modal expression of Substance.]

The consequence of such a determination is that the line between inside and outside of any one things is only a matter of demarcation. Because Spinoza optimally views the entirety of existence as one enormous body. Or more strictly, it is that which can be seen as one body, when defined as the extentional expression of Substance as it is expressed in a infinity of attributes; only one of these attributes is extension which allows us to call it a body, EIp11. The notion of body here to be tracked is the sheer physicality of complex relations which cannot be reduced to any other kind of relation. Bodily complexity runs parallel to all other complexity, such that even a complexity of thought is necessarily a complexity of bodies (E2p7). In this sense, the idea that the Universe is one “thing,” which here we call a “body” for emphasis, bears resemblance in import to Tomasso Campanella’s “The world is an animal, huge and perfect.” (Il mundo è un animal grande e perfetto). –Del senso.

So for Spinoza any identification of something as an Individual is only the recognition of its parts being in a communication with each other, in a “fixed manner”. What this means of course is that the perspective of inside and outside, that which delineates where I begin and end, is a living and shifting line of force, and product of my localized perception of the world. My particular ratio of parts comes to be seen as the expression of my determined relations to the world as made distinct, the portions and parts kept in ratio. In other words, my being, any being, is such that my perceptions of the world are constituted by certain delineations and separations, and these delineations are as such that they express my own capacity to act, something which, as we will shortly address, necessarily produce the experience of joy, a parallel of power. Hence, in truth, a body is whatever can be done, a doing which is defined by its perceptions.

When seen in this way, Nietzsche five-hundred hands become more ascertainable. Because Everything is composed of five-hundred hands, that is, it is an inordinate complexification of forces in communication, one which an inherently passive mind cannot ever hold in its entirety of conception, parts moving in lines of force that are in communication, each expressing in manifested action, what would govern the “seizing of the forelock” would be the proper assemblages of such hands, the construction of such a Typheus, out of what it already is.

The Typheus of Spinoza: Multitude?

But what governs the assemblage of bodies for Spinoza? Spinoza tells us that it is the conatus, which most plainly translated from the Latin, means “striving”. The conatus is that which seeks to preserve any one ratio of parts in speed and communication: “Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives in its own being” (E3p6), and “The striving by which each thing strives to preserve in its being is nothing but the actual essence of the thing” (E3p7). Spinoza’s is a pantheistic view

– pantheism has many definitions, and there has been debate over the centuries whether Spinoza is a pantheist,or a panentheist, or a acosmist [Maimon]. I take the general position that there is in Spinoza a co-incidence of God and Nature, reading “deus sive natura” as an identity –

The preservation of thing is something all things take part in, even the inanimate strives for existence. In man this striving can be seen in the experience of desire, desire which expresses itself in the imagination: “The Mind, as far as it can, strives to imagine those things that increase or aid the Body’s power of acting”(E3p12); so it is here that we see that the perceptions of the world, the distinctions between this thing that that thing are a condition of its very expressional character.

What is One Thing is seen to be multiple things according to the striving of a particular and distinct ratio, a conatus of perception. In this way, the endeavor to persist, in human beings, expresses itself by and through the Mind actively imagining those things that aid it in its Body, not simply as things of fancy, but as the very pragmatic and phenomenal experiences of the organism as it acts in the world. The perception and the extensional existence are part of one constituent expression. Because the causal relationship of parts is the affective transitions within substance, what Spinoza calls “modes” (following E1def5), any determined shift in relations between parts, a shift in the power to be and therefore act, necessarily produces an affect which expresses that power-state as it already is. Any experience of Joy, is necessarily a real-world increase in power, even if that Joy is ephemeral and misconstrued. The Joy itself, the pleasure, is the ontological expression of power. That is, the causal rise and fall of relations, for Spinoza, is the affective experience of power itself, as a dimension of knowledge and conception, in the experience of the world itself. Persisting becomes imagining-the-world-as. This is made clear in Spinoza’s simplest of definitions, that of human Love. “Love is Joy, accompanied by the idea of an external cause” (E3, def of affects IV). When the mind loves, it imagines that there is a thing which is external to it, which will causally bring it closer to Joy. And Joy is defined as “[the] passage from a lesser to a greater perfection” (E3, def of affects II)[10]. What has happened in theory is that the fixed ratio of parts in communication of speed which compose bodies, in humans expresses itself through desire and then in love, in an affect, which not only reflects, but is power. Bodies seek to preserve themselves along the lines of experienced empowerment, and in humans this manifests itself in Joy. All increase in power is an increase in joy.

But before we leave the outline of Spinoza’s conception of feeling bodies in ratio and striving, one significant point should be made. The mental apparatus by which the mind (and body) strives is not a teleological one. That is, the mind does not compare its previous existence to a possible future one, and on the basis of that assessment chose what it understand to be best. Rather the mind itself, because it is only the idea of the body, and nothing more, is composed of this very moment of imagination-thought, that of seeing and experiencing the increase of its own power to act:

But it should be noted that, when I say a greater or lesser force of existing than before, I do not understand that the Mind compares its Body’s present constitution with a past constitution, but that the idea which constitutes the form of the affect affirms of the body something which really involves more or less reality than before (E3, General Definition of the Affects).

Remarkably, the mind as it perceives and experiences itself growing (or lessening) in power, it actually changes in degree of reality. It is not moving from one position of advantage to another, but literally is taking on or losing reality as it experiences Joy or Sadness. The reason for this is simple. There is only one thing that is the cause of itself, and therefore wholly active and not passive, and that is God/Nature, the entirety of existence. As any one thing comes closer to becoming its own cause, that is, becoming more like God/Nature, it will not only necessarily increase in power, and the experience of Joy, but also increase in “reality” it has become more of the whole in concept and deed. The mind as it passes from sadness to joy is actually acceding in real terms, into a more real state. Its growth in power, which actually constitutes its being, (it not the case that a thing exercises power, but rather its being is constituted by its very power to act), is what it literally is. In this way, the assemblage of parts which make up a thing always must be seen against the backdrop of the greatest assembly of all: Totality.

The Shifting of the “I”

In this view any composition of forces is to be read as an assemblage, an assemblage cut from the totality of the whole, along lines of force which are experienced as Joy. (From dust, to robots, to systems of justice, to ecosystems to grasshoppers.) The external causes by which we view the world are rather only nexi in affect which increase or descrease one’s capacity to act, and therefore one’s reality. What this does is de-center any conception of man as a solitary individual. And because the conatus of parts exists in an “indefinite time” (E3p8), the exercise of power is ever a construction of bodies put into communication, bodies of perception and action which ascend to and pass out of power/existence. A living line of affect governs the however momentary inscription of such an assemblage.

Take for instance, the primary example of tool-use, the lifting of a hammer, or more elaborately, the driving of a car. Properly understood, each is an occasion of a new conatus. One becomes a pen-hammar-nail assemblage (where you draw the line is a matter of force); one becomes an automobile-person assemblage  as events in the road are transmitted to the whole of the communication of the parts, and that communication acts in such a way to preserve itself, as long as it has existence. One “feels the road” inhabiting the suspension and the wheel. Further, when understood in this way, the composition of any act, me sitting at this desk and typing, becomes understood as a body in ratios of speeds and intensities: my desk, by house, the text, my body, the dog beside me, the land it all sits on, etc, are compiled, and put to their own specific gravity. The curious effect of this is that the greater my understanding of my conditions of use and power, the less localized I become. The “I” (insofar as it is expressed in a body and a mind) becomes a part in various im-plexities, in wildly diverging vectors. Bodies, under Spinoza’s definition, can be drawn disparately, but not randomly. Only along lines of force and desire. The more powerful I become, necessarily the less I become an “I”. It is not solely hierarchy, but complexity, and the capacity to be affected which governs force. 

Taken in this way, the possibilities of Nietzsche’s five-hundred hands become more clear to us. For a moment in his thinking he lets go of the rhetoric of individuals, and the aristocracy of their rarity, and turns to the notion of confluence. Raphael indeed had five-hundred hands. He had his two, which were the means of the application of the paint, and within himself he had all the hands of which we was composed, parts in ratio and force, and without, he (his appearance to us) was composed of hundreds of hands as well. The confluence of persons, texts, events, so many of which could have removed him from our view, but instead conspired for his, and his work’s existence, a Typheus of it, seems to have grabbed the forelock, and brought him to be.

But let us remember Lessing’s Conti, and the nature of his pleasure, in aspect of his knowledge:

…the fact that I know what was lost and how it was lost and why it had to be lost: of that I am as proud as I am of all that I did not allow to be lost. Prouder even. For in that knowledge, more than in this product of my art, I recognize that I am a truly great artist, athough my hand is not equally as great.

Instead of the pure joy of being able to “paint with the eyes,” the artist here has the joy of knowing the assemblage across which his vision had been diffused. His pleasure is not just in the contemplation of “what” was lost, but “how” and “why”. It is as if his very, and bodily, experience of the communication of parts (and he is quite specific to the nature of the transmission), composes in that knowledge of the expressive assemblage its own pleasure, one that surpasses even the result. The result being really the entire linkage, from eyes to canvas, forming a single and solitary affective whole.

Tyrany of Combination: the Higher Man

It should be noted that Nietzsche, after he proposes his new rare thing – that of the five-hundred hands – he maintains is rhetoric of violence, closing the window of sheer complexity and confluence. Such a creature is said to be one that can “tyranize” the kairos, and seize the time. The image is necessarily for Nietzsche, one of domination. The Typheus he raises is one of transmutation, much as the kairos of Christ, an entrance into a linear history that forces a radical change. But perhaps Nietzsche’s conception of transmutation is too dominated by his necessary values of high and low, rare and common, master and slave, for him to think outside of such binaries for long, like a cosmonaut leaving his space capsule. He may have too much a faith in opposite values, and lack the variability of a calculus of affection, which may be able to track the more sinewous lines of power which operate more along fissure of body compositions, parts put in ratio and assemblage, and less in terms of lower and higher, that nostalgia for power proper. Unlike Spinoza who sees such hands everywhere, transmutation everywhere, avenues for power, pleasure and increase, everywhere, bodies assembling in an infinity of expressions, all of which our nature calls us to become, like Lessing’s Conti, more aware, Nietzsche’s higher man, even if he is forced to let go of for a moment his solitary conception in order to embrace the necessary involution of inside complexity towards outside complexity, can only envision a greater and more monstrous form of himself, ascending. What is in question, afterall, is not whether Nietzsche was wrong, or right in any strict sense; but rather, in his glimpse of the nature of genius as a complexity of relations, and not a rare quality of a person, Is his conception of tyranny and domination are afterall the most potent, the most delinating way to see. For all his rhetoric and examination of power, is Nietzsche’s view of complexity necessarily the most powerful possible?

Outside this Typhean wave of hands, voices and heads, grasping at and holding down the fleet-footed god by the hair, what seems most absent is the living communication between parts, taken in their own affect. There is something amiss when one only sees movement in “greatness,” and does not see change in continual proximity, the awareness that one is always amid five-hundred hands, and that the forelock is always agrasp. Lessing’s bürgerliches Trauerspiel informs us not only of the affective capacities of the rising bourgeois, that they too are capable of suffering enough to bring forth the tragic, but also warns of the nature of tyranny itself, as it seeks to seize the moment. When the Prince, enthralled with love for Emile, grants his chamberlain the right to do anything to prevent her marriage, all is deemed rightful to be done. It is of course a granting that will lead to her own death:

Marinelli: …Will you allow me free reign, Prince? Will you agree to anything I do?

The Prince:  Anything, Marinelli, anything that can avert this blow.

Marinelli:  Then let us lose no time (17, Act One, Scene VI).

The capacity to tryannize, to assemble forces, is but the first of the kind of knowing that brings about power and capacity to act. The painter does not only tyrannize his canvas. It is rather the affective knowing of not only the “what” but the “how” and the “why” that composes that assemblage creating true liberty. The artful moment is one that always lies at hand, and never slips from view. The tyranny of it is grasped rather with the softest of hands, which means not of hands less sure.

What Spinoza’s view of bodies grants to Nietzsche’s conception of kairos is that there is a living, affective line of desire that traces itself out between what we often conceieve of an discontinuous parts. By understanding that bodies are formed ephemerally, by perspective, constituent of all the ratios of speed and communication involved, the world itself becomes animated with force and play. Each of us is understood to be in loop and satellite with others: not only other persons, all other things, the ratio of things becoming real cognitive centers of perception and action. What it does is place the finality of act everywhere, the kairos of a Christological incision everywhere, within an immanent field, and our direction of action always on a line of desire. Our stake fundamentally is in what surrounds us, so that knowing is assemblage.



Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. San Fransciso: City Lights Books, 1988.

Lessing, Gotthold. “Emila Galotti”. Trans. Anna Johanna Gode von Aesch. Great Neck: Barron’s Educational Series, 1959.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. Vintage Books Edition (1989). New York: Random House, Inc., 1966.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Collected Works of Spinoza, volume 1. Trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

3 responses to “The Unrare, Assemblage and Implicate Power: Kairos, Complexity and Ethical Greatness

  1. amy melson June 4, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Loosened limbs, grasping hands, receiving-knowing hands, and your offering hands…I’m really enjoying your exploration of hands as vehicles of acting and knowing, symbols of avid striving or extended being. Thank you!

    I’m wondering how Chuang Tzu’s “mind nourishment” relates to Conti’s “painting directly from the eyes” and your “softest of hands.” From his parable, “Well, then – mind-nourishment!” said Big Concealment. “You have only to rest in inaction and things will transform themselves. Smash your form and body, spit out hearing and eyesight, forget you are a thing among other things, and you may join in great unity with the deep and boundless. Undo the mind, slough off spirit, be blank and soulless, and the ten thousand things one by one will return to the root – return to the root and not know why. Dark and undifferentiated chaos – to the end of life none will depart from it. But if you try to know it, you have already departed from it. Do not ask what its name is, do not try to observe its form. Things will live naturally and of themselves.”

  2. Amarilla June 22, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I thought of this post recently when I came across this term: torschlusspanik, defined as “panic at the thought that a door between oneself and life’s opportunities has shut.” (Marion Woodman, The Pregnant Virgin.) It powerfully evokes the fear of privation for which we can only blame ourselves that so many of us have, do and will suffer from. This plays in with what Saul Bellows diagnoses as avidity.

    I appreciate your writings on Spinoza’s view of privation as an antidote to this nightmarish anxiety.
    The other day I saw a three legged dog, which I noted looked like the happiest dog I’ve ever seen, while my friend stopped to pity the “poor thing.” When I expressed my view of its wellness, she accused me of depravity. Which I enjoyed.

  3. kvond June 22, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Yes. I think that Spinoza’s work against privation (and negation) is brilliantly psychological. One is already perfect, but then moves almost in paradox towards a greater degree of perfection.

    And I agree three-legged dogs seem remarkably joyous as a whole. Even two-legged ones:

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