Deleuze & The Meaning of Life: Fichte!?

Deleuze’s search for a metaphysical grounding for his theory on the meaning of life as “becoming-?”, understood as becoming-different or queer vitalism, as Claire Colebrook explains in her article in New Formations no 68, ends with an unlikely philosopher: Fichte. The payoff is a form of Aufheben that, while still in the German Idealist tradition, looks different than that proposed by Hegel. Here is Keith Ansell-Pearson’s explanation:

In a short piece entitled ‘Immanence: A Life…’, written in 1993, Deleuze argue that the transcendental field needs to be mapped out as a ‘life’ the involves neither subject nor object but rather ‘an absolute immediate consciousness whose very activity no longer refers back to a being but ceaselessly posits itself in a life’ (4). This, says, Deleuze, is the immanence of the late Fichte (the text Deleuze [sic] of Fichte’s referred to is Die Anweisung zum seligen Leben, oder auch die Religionslehre 1806, appearing in French as Initiation a la vie beinheruese [(Eng trans of Fr: ‘Initiation Into the Life Well-Lived’), English trans of German The Way Towards the Blessed Life; or, the Doctrine of Religion]. It is the impersonal but singular life of the individuating haecceity [taken from Duns Scotus] (the ‘beatitude’ in the title of Fichte’s work). This is a germinal life since it is not positing life in a ‘simple moment’ confronting a ‘universal death’ but rather a life that is ‘everywhere’, contained ‘in all the moments’ that a ‘living subject passes through’, a life of virtualities, events, and singularities (5).

It is odd, however, that Deleuze should locate in the later Fichte a renaissance of ‘Spinozism’ given Fichte’s own declared hostility towards Spinoza and his influence (see Fichte 1994: 98-99, where he argues that Spinoza could not have believed in his own philosophy, but could only have ‘thought’ it). Nevertheless, in this series of popular lectures Fichte does present Being in terms akin to Spinoza’s immanent substance as that ‘which is absolutely through itself, by itself, and from itself…a self-comprehensive, self-sufficient, and absolutely unchangeable Unity (Einerleiheit)’ (1962: 53; 1848: 48-9). This is Being that ‘ex-ists’ outside of Time and outside of Becoming. The spiritual life of blessedness is the life filled with consciousness, love, and self-enjoyment. It is through the laws of reflection which govern its operations that consciousness creates a system of separate and independent individuals and so confronts itself with numerous paradoxes concerning the reality of time and change. It should be noted that Fichte’s text is bound up in the moves it makes with classical metaphysics, notably the distinction between a ‘true world’ (life/blessedness) and an ‘apparent world’ (death/unblessedness). This is a distinction that Fichte presents as one between the merely sensuous world and the higher suprasensuous world that is available to, and attainable only by, Thought. It is lecture VIII that is the most philosophically serious and which is [sic] would be the decisive one for staging and encounter between Fichte and Deleuze (ibid.: 122ff.; 144 ff.). See also Fichte 1987: 91ff., where beatitude is related to the achievement of supersensible death ‘in life and through life…’, which speaks of the praxis of a relational self as its peculiar ‘sublime vocation’. The self-expressive life of the spiritual is one in which the universe can no longer be thought in terms of the circle ‘returning to itself, that endlessly repeating game, that monster which devours itself so as to give birth to itself again as it already way’; rather, there is ‘constant progress to greater perfection in a straight line which goes on to infinity’. This is because ‘All death is nature is birth…in dying does the augmentation of life visibility appear…It is not death which kills, but rather a more living life which, hidden behind the old life, begins and develops’ (ibid.: 122). My death can only be a festive passing. it is not, therefore, for Fichte a question of living ‘according to nature’ simply because this is not even what nature does. The only ‘law of life’ is, in Nietzsche’s almost Fichtean language, ‘self-overcoming’. On the world as a ‘monster of energy’, ‘without beginning or end’ but as ceaseless transformation, a world of repetition and difference (the ‘joy of the circle’ as the only goal), compare Nietzsche 1968: 1067 (in German, Nietzsche 1987, volume 11, pp 610).

On beatitude see also Deleuze’s ‘big’ book on Spinoza (Deleuze 1968: 282ff.; 1990: 208ff.). Clement Rosset argued that beatitude constitutes the central and constant theme of Nietzsche’s thought – ‘I would willingly say the only theme’ (Rosset 1993: 26). Nietzsche’s expression of a beat-philosophy informs the entire endeavour of ‘gay science’ (Nietzsche 1974: sections 276-7), with its commitment, in the enternal engagement with/to life (especially its gloom and doom), to the ‘art of cheerfulness’ (Heiterkeit). It would be instructive to determine the difference between types and expressions of beatitude, whether Spinozist, Fischtean, Nietzschean, or Stoic. Clearly Nietzsche’s challenge resides in the attempt to think theodicy without God, a challenge most evident in his reading of Leibniz (see Nietzsche 1968: sections 411, 419, 1019) (this is a move which, according to Rosset, makes Nietzsche more Leibnizian – more cheerful – than Leibniz).

–“Living the Eternal Return as the Event: Nietzsche with Deleuze,” Keith Ansell Pearson, Journal of Nietzsche Studies, No. 14, Eternal Recurrence (Autumn 1997), pp. 64-97 Published by: Penn State University Press Article Stable URL:

The question of a Nietzsche-Fichte ‘self-overcoming’ is raised differently in Colebrook’s recent book Deleuze and the Meaning of Life, in terms of a sort of Hegelian ‘higher deterritorialization.’ For us, as political theorists, is to find the way to translate this argument, locked deep within the history of philosophy, into a weapon. Thoughts from the more philosophically inclined?


4 thoughts on “Deleuze & The Meaning of Life: Fichte!?

  1. This quote reads like the philosophical equivalent to a building a perpetual motion clock.

    How do you weaponize a theodicy without god? I’m not sure a Fichtean turn via Deleuze is the path to glory. I think there is something to this project, though. This probably requires a lot more explanation and criticism that I want to open up here, but I don’t think potential answers to this question are as esoteric, or philosophical, as they are made out to be above. I think answers to a question like this are more likely to be found in some prison diaries than in most philosophical tombs.


  2. reading notes:
    D’s version of Fitche’s aufhebung = self-overcoming.
    [[which emerges from the transcendental field as neither subject nor object but “absolute immediate consciousness,” whatever that is]]
    Colebrook’s version of Hegelian overcoming = ‘higher deterritorialization’
    [[not a mechanical back-and-forth, but a re-terr that allows greater de-terr?]]

    [[further note: perhaps de-terr offers language of the _positive_ existence of _negative movement_, which is describes as a _positive movement_ (not anti-terr or un-terr but de-terr)]]

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