31 May 2009

The Dicethrow, §11, in Deleuze, Nietzsche & Philosophy

by Corry Shores
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Gilles Deleuze

Nietzsche et la philosophie
Nietzsche & Philosophy

Chapitre Premier: Le tragique
Chapter One: The Tragic

§11 Le coup de dés
§11 The Dicethrow

Our each living moment is change and becoming. Things alter unpredictably like a game a dice.

Even when we cross a busy street, we take a chance. We are active in two essential elements of our "dice-throw:"

1) our decision to cross, knowing there is a chance we might be struck by a car, and

2) our response to the outcome.

We are not, however, what decides the outcome. Whether or not a car strikes us is usually left-up to chance. If there is a speeding or inattentive driver, that has nothing to do with our choices.

When we cross, we do not leave it up to chance that we end up on Mars at the other side. For any given circumstance, there are only certain dice we roll. Others produce impossible outcomes, so we need not consider them.

And when we learn the outcome, it is as though fate makes that chance determination.

Deleuze writes that Nietzsche characterizes these two parts of life’s dice-throw as occurring on two game tables. When we take the chance, we throw the dice to the gods in the heavenly sky. This is the first game table.

O heaven over me, pure and high! That is what your purity is to me now, that there is no eternal spider or spider web of reason; that you are to me a dance floor for divine accidents, that you are to me a divine table for divine dice and dice players. (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Book III, 48, "Before Sunrise," Kaufmann transl, p.166cd, emphasis mine)

When we step foot into the busy street, we throw the dice to the gods so that they may decide our chance fate. The gods then cast the dice back down to the earth, the second game table of life.

If ever a breath hath come to me of the creative breath, and of the heavenly necessity which compelleth even chances to dance star-dances:

If ever I have laughed with the laughter of the creative lightning, to which the long thunder of the deed followeth, grumblingly, but obediently:

If ever I have played dice with the Gods at the divine table of the earth, so that the earth quaked and ruptured, and snorted forth fire-streams:—

—For a divine table is the earth, and trembling with new creative dictums and dice-casts of the Gods. (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Book III, "The Seven Seals," Common transl., emphasis mine)

Deleuze explains that the heavenly and the earthly game tables exist not in two different worlds. They are merely two moments or "hours" of one dice-game: "the hour when the dice are thrown, the hour when the dice fall back." (Deleuze, 25c)

Because things change according to chance, the dice throw is an affirmation of becoming's exclusive existence and supreme value. We realize that chance is the necessary law for the cosmos and our own personal life.

As we previously noted, change itself changes. Consider how as a child, things were a certain way. Now the world is almost completely different to us. There are new rules and regulations. New freedoms as well. We take on new roles. We understand things in a much different way. Consider specifically how we perceive the passage of time. When young, it seemed to move much slower. We experienced a very long period between infancy and maturity. But now we are often surprised by just how fast the young people in our lives grow up. So in a sense, change itself changed.

We also see this with new amazing artistic creations. They change society, individuals, the way we see the world, the way we interact with the world, and hence the artworks change reality itself. Things were already coming to be in a certain way. But the new art caused things to come to be in new ways. For, it inspired artists to create differently, minds to think differently, people to behave differently, culture to develop differently, society to interrelate differently, and so on.

We might say in a more abstract sense that becoming itself changes. Becoming becomes. Not only are things always coming and going from the world. But their manner of coming and going itself comes and goes from the world. Things are always becoming. But becoming itself was not always the same.

We want to play our favorite game, perhaps tennis. But our only available player is a child too young to learn all the rules at once. We play anyway. We know that the game we will end-up playing will not exactly be tennis, but it will probably be just as fun. We leave it up to the child's whims to make new rules. In this way, we throw him the dice. By the end, we are playing a siege game with cannons and barricades. Never had we that much fun since childhood. Tennis was its own reality. But it became siege war. The dynamics of one game changed to those of another, which itself was still evolving.

Without the child's influence, we would be playing a game. With him along, we were really playing a game. For, we played a game with the game. We submitted the rules of one game to the lawlessness of chance, which created the rules for another game, also vulnerable to new dice throws.

What we note here is that what kept us 'gaming' was the fact that by including the child, we rolled the dice in a way that placed us in a position where we could very easily roll again to create a new game. When we affirm that chance rules-over the rules, we affirm as well that we could easily keep rolling the dice over-and-over. We can live a perpetual childhood, of sorts. [For more on games whose rules change by chance, see this entry for Deleuze's interpretation of Lewis Carroll's games, and see section 8 of this entry for Gregory Bateson's rendition.]

So in a sense, we can roll certain combinations that give us back the dice, but this time we roll for a new game. This is the eternal return. It is not that we play tennis a second time. It is that we let the way things change itself change another time, by affirming the influence of chance in our lives and in reality.

We make this clarification, because Nietzsche also offers an alternative way to conceive of the eternal return in La Volonté de puissance, Livre II 324 and 329 [or Will to Power 1066]: there are a finite number of configurations for the distributions of forces. And chance decides the changes in the world, like rolls of a dice. This means that in an infinite amount of time, the way the world is at any one point will have to reappear again in exactly the same configuration some time later. But because time extends infinitely to the past and future, then every state the world has been in, has occurred already infinitely many times, and will continue recurring infinitely many more times.

Nietzsche offers this vision of the eternal recurrence in order to show that even if we take-up modern scientific principles, we will still conclude that there is an eternal recurrence [see the entry for Will to Power §55 for more explanation of this reducio argument.]

In footnote 23, Deleuze offers three specific reasons why these sections do not reflect Nietzsche's actual vision of the eternal return:

1) These passages give a "hypothetical" rendition of the eternal recurrence. Rogério Miranda de Almeida, in his Nietzsche & Paradox, emphasizes that these expositions begin with a tentative presupposition. He writes,

As is clearly demonstrated at the beginning of this text, Nietzsche starts off with a presupposition: "If the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity..." ( Rogério Miranda de Almeida, 94b)

Matt Lee aptly characterizes it as a thought experiment:

In the ‘Will to Power’ #1066 Nietzsche makes a more argumentative presentation although it is still in the form of a hypothetical, a thought experiment (note the opening - ‘If the world may be thought…’ which is akin to saying ‘Just suppose for the sake of argument…’ and then setting up an argument of the If…then… format ("NVC Reading notes #4." See his text for his expanded illustration.)

2) These sections mean to show that if we take-up mechanistic assumptions, we obtain a non-mechanistic conclusion. So in this way they are "apologetic" like Pascal's wager.

3) Nietzsche intends to defeat the bad player by infiltrating the enemy territory. So here Nietzsche is being polemical "in an aggressive way." (Deleuze, footnote 23, page 202)

Nonetheless, Nietzsche does seem to build from these presuppositions to make his more profound point. So when Nietzsche writes that the world is incapable of eternal novelty (Will to Power 1062), this is because there is not infinite force, and hence it will appear that the same things show themselves again. The hedgehog is the hedgehog when he is the croquet ball, and he is the hedgehog when he crawls away from Alice. But because the rules of the game changed, in that way, the hedgehog changed. So in a superficial sense, there is no eternal novelty in the world. But because the changing rules automatically change the game-components (players, pieces, terrain), there is eternal novelty of a deeper sort. But that can only be so if we affirm the fact that we can roll an outcome that changes the game of life. When we affirm chance in that way, we can make each new outcome radically creative, even if things appear to be the same.

So the sort of chance Deleuze here highlights is profoundly creative. Rolling a six in craps means something completely different than a six in Monopoly, so a perpetual repetition of the same can be radical novelty, so long as the rolls change the game as well.

There is eternal recurrence, because when we roll in a way that changes the game, we have affirmed that the game is changeable, and hence the dice may eternally roll changes into the game itself.

Il ne s'agit pas de plusieurs coups de dés qui, en raison de leur nombre, arriveraient à reproduire la même combinaison. Tout au contraire: il s'agit d'un seul coup de dés qui, en raison du nombre de la combinaison produite, arrive à se reproduire comme tel. Ce n'est pas un grand nombre de coups qui produit la répétition d'une combinaison, c'est le nombre de la combinaison qui produit la répétition du coup de dés. (Deleuze, 29d)

It is not a matter of several dicethrows which, because of their number, finally reproduce the same combination. On the contrary, it is a matter of a single dicethrow which, due to the number of the combination produced, comes to reproduce itself as such. It is not that a large number of throws produce the repetition of a combination but rather the number of the combination which produces the repetition of the dicethrow. (25-26)

When we throw the dice to the gods (or our child play-mate), we are affirming chance. We cannot know how the game will change as a result. When we accept the changes that the chance influence introduces, then we affirm necessity. We do not insist on playing tennis still. We affirm that the game could not at that moment be otherwise than battle siege.

Before we noted how we affirm that becoming is always a game, but always a different game each moment. So we affirm that becoming has being, but not the sort of being that would last more than an instant. We also said that the game is always different, but each time it is a game. Hence unity is affirmed of multiplicity.

We will now say that necessity is affirmed of chance. When the child turns tennis into siege war, we live like that is reality at that moment, as though nothing else is real. It happened by chance. But it could not be otherwise. Those are not tennis balls. They are cannon balls. That is not a tennis net. It is the only thing between you and a gruesome medieval death. What happens by chance we affirm as fate. Only that way can we say that everything must be freed by chance’s governance.

Things are multiple because chance allows the game to change every moment. And when the game changes, the things in the game change. Consider the Queen's Croquet Game in Wonderland.

The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo: she succeeded in getting its body tucked away, comfortably enough, under her arm, with its legs hanging down, but generally, just as she had got its neck nicely straightened out, and was going to give the hedgehog a blow with its head, it would twist itself round and look up in her face, with such a puzzled expression that she could not help bursting out laughing: and when she had got its head down, and was going to begin again, it was very provoking to find that the hedgehog had unrolled itself, and was in the act of crawling away: besides all this, there was generally a ridge or furrow in the way wherever she wanted to send the hedgehog to, and, as the doubled-up soldiers were always getting up and walking off to other parts of the ground, Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult game indeed. (Carroll)

At one point, the hedge-hog is a ball. At another, he is walking away as a little creature. The game is bewildering. Things are wild and wandering. To wander wild in bewildered wonderment is to affirm the necessity of chance, and it fills life with a endless multiplicity. The hedge-hog becomes a ball and then becomes a distraction. It did not need to change its body. We only needed to free it to be governed by chance. This allows it to be in a continually changing game which changes what it is. One hedge-hog is a vast multiplicity of things in just one Queen's croquet.

So one might say that to just leave things to chance does not change the game. I can shoot dice in craps, and still be playing craps no matter what I roll. The critical factor, however, is the way you affirm chance. If you roll the craps dice considering the probabilities and combinations for a win, then one is affirming that there is chance, but not the necessity of chance. For, one is saying that it could have been otherwise, because there are other outcomes that are more or less probable. But if instead one rolls not caring about the outcome, but rather just celebrating the fact that the outcome is unknown yet necessary, then the game goes from being a way to enjoyably make money, to a ritual or ceremony of sorts. It changed the game from craps to ritual celebration.

So there is multiplicity because there is chance and chaos:

Nietzsche identifie le hasard au multiple, aux fragments, aux membres, au chaos: chaos des dés qu'on choque et qu'on lance. (30a)

Nietzsche identifies chance with multiplicity, with fragments, with parts, with chaos: the chaos of the dice that are shaken and thrown. (26b)

Then chance itself becomes an affirmation. Zarathustra explains that our greatest blessing is Chance.

Over all things stand the heaven Accident, the heaven Innocence, the heaven Chance, the heaven Prankishness.

'By Chance' – that is the most ancient nobility of the world, and this I restored to all things: I delivered from their bondage under Purpose. (Zarathustra III, "Before Sunrise,"166a-b, emphasis mine)

Zarathustra's reign is like the kingdom of Khazaria. The French term for chance, hasard, is related to the Arabic word za zahr which means 'dice game' [jeu de dés] (Gandillac, Transl, Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra, p.425 ft.3). So when Zarathustra speaks of the Great Hazar, he is implying the great chance, or the great dice game. [Zarathustra IV "The Honey Offering"; see this entry where we suggest that Deleuze's interpretation is based on a possible translation error of hasard for Hazar.]

Zarathustra teaches that chance affirms that the past is innocent, and the future is entirely unpredictable.

As composer, riddle-reader, and redeemer of chance, did I teach them to create the future, and all that HATH BEEN—to redeem by creating. (Zarathustra III, "On Old and New Tablets," Common translation, emphasis mine)

As creator, guesser of riddles, and redeemer of accidents, I taught them to work on the future and to redeem with their creation all that has been. (Kaufmann translation 198bc)

als illustion Dichter, Räthselrather und Erlöser des Zufalls lehrte ich sie an der Zukunft schaffen, und Alles, das war -, schaffend zu erlösen. (untranslated)

en poète, en devineur d’énigmes, en rédempteur du hasard, je leur ai appris à être créateurs de l’avenir et à sauver, en créant, tout ce qui fut. (Albert translation)

Affirming chance liberates us from the idea that there is some end or purpose we must pursue. Instead of having such a certainty, we should dance chance.

'By Chance' – that is the most ancient nobility of the world, and this I restored to all things: I delivered from their bondage under Purpose. ...

this blessed certainty I found in all things: that they would rather dance on the feet of Chance. (Zarathustra III, "Before Sunrise,"166b-c, some emphasis mine)

If we affirm that chance decides, then the way things happen are not like moral actions that can be good or bad. All that happens is not guilty of any crime or shortcoming.

"Let accidents come to me, they are innocent as little children." (Zarathustra III, "Upon the Mount of Olives," Kaufmann, 174-175, emphasis mine.)

"Suffer the chance to come unto me: innocent is it as a little child!" (Common transl.)

"Let chance come to me: it is as innocent as a little child!" (Hugh Tomlinson transl in Deleuze, Nietzche & Philosophy, 26bc)

« Laissez venir à moi le hasard : il est innocent comme un petit enfant ! » (Albert translation)

When we affirm that chance decides, we are not thereby abolishing necessity, and vice versa. For necessarily there is one true chance combination: the game-changing roll. To affirm this roll as necessary is to affirm that all things come to be according to chance necessity. To let the child change tennis to fortress while affirming its reality at every twist and turn of the child's imaginative recreations,this is to roll a combination that says all such combinations in life, all events, are innocent chance necessities.

Il y a beaucoup de nombres suivant des probabilités croissants ou décroissantes, mais un seul nombre du hasard comme tel, un seul nombre fatal qui réunisse tous les fragments du hasard, comme midi rassemble tous les membres épars de minuit. C’est pourquoi il suffit au jouer d’affirmer le hasard une fois, pour produire le nombre qui ramène le coup de dés. (Deleuze 30c)

There are many numbers with increasing or decreasing probabilities, but only one number of chance as such, one fatal number which reunites all the fragments of chance, like midday gathers together the scattered parts of midnight. This is why it is sufficient for the player to affirm chance once in order to produce the number which brings back the dice-throw. (26d)

If we care about the outcome of the throw, then we are not affirming chance necessity. This makes us bad players.

Shy, ashamed, awkward, like a tiger whose leap has failed: thus I have often seen you slink aside, you higher men. A throw has failed you. But, you dice-throwers, what does it matter? You have not learned to gamble and jest as one must gamble and jest. Do we not always sit at a big jesting-and-gaming table? And if something great has failed you, does it follow that you yourselves are failures? And if you yourselves are failures, does it follow that man is a failure? (Zarathustra IV, "On the Higher Man,"section 14, Kaufmann 292d, emphasis mine)

If we calculate odds, and roll enough times to win, we are playing poorly. We are not affirming chance necessity. It is not some particular combination that is the purpose of casting.

But there is no end or purpose that we should want our throws to accomplish. We should not live according to a web of causes or reasons woven by a universal 'spider' or moral God.

Our whole attitude toward nature, the way we violate her with the aid of machines and the heedless inventiveness of our technicians and engineers, is hubris; our attitude toward God as some alleged spider of purpose and morality behind the great captious web of causality, is hubris – we might say, with Charles the Bold when he opposed Louis XI, "je combats l'universelle araignée" [I fight the universal spider.] (On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, 9, Kaufmann transl, 549b)

Those who believe in such a purpose are resentful towards their superiors. To deal with their inferiority, they posit some higher moral order that they themselves are a part of, and that constrains those ruling over them. Thus being a bad player who does not affirm chance-necessity means to carry the Tarantula's spiteful spirit of revenge.

But there are no ends or purposes, nor are there causes [Deleuze refers us to La Volonté de puissance, Livre III, 465]. So without there being any purpose to roll for, the outcomes cannot be more or less of a success. The only possible way to "win" is if we affirm that whatever we roll is chance-necessity, and hence it changes the game itself. For the only thing that holds all the rolls together is the fact that the dice decide not only the outcomes but also these outcomes decide the way outcomes are decided: when chance changes the game, it changes the chances in the game.

So the only way for the dicethrow to fail is if we did not affirm it enough, that is, if we did not affirm the fact that chance always chooses and hence it will forever continue to do so. If we do not let the child's whims change tennis to forts, then it will never change from tennis. We played badly. Surely the child will tell us so. But if we let chance change the game, then the game can keep changing. To affirm the chance of one throw is to bring back the dicethrow to be repeated eternally. And even though each throw creates new things or "fragments," the affirmed throw reunites them all as chance-necessities.

So the bad player couples together causality and finality, as well as probability and finality. In order to oppose and synthesize these terms, Nietzsche substitutes the Dionysian correlation between chance and necessity, and between chance and destiny. This is a remarkably important conclusion. If you play the lottery long enough, eventually you might win. That is probability spread over several trials. But it is not the coupling of chance and destiny. We are not to will some final desired outcome. Rather, we should love each outcome as fatal: amor fati. All of chance should be contracted into one throw, not distributed over many throws, by recognizing that the chance necessity of all the other throws comes about only if we affirm the fatal chance necessity of this one throw right now.

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Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. Transl Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Random House Vintage Books, 1967.

This and many other hard-to-find online texts also available at the Athenaeum Reading Room.

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