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The Birth of Theory$

Andrew Cole

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226135397

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226135564.001.0001

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The Untimely Dialectic

The Untimely Dialectic

(p.3) 1 The Untimely Dialectic
The Birth of Theory

Andrew Cole

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

Nietzsche does not despise the dialectic, as so many of his readers assume. Rather, as this chapter shows, Nietzsche, in his Birth of Tragedy, goes to great lengths to avoid simplifying dialectical thinking by distinguishing between kinds of dialectic—Socratic and Hegelian. He shows that the former is non-dialectical and thus responsible for the death of tragedy and that the latter, in the guise of abstract identity/difference and abstract determination, generates the identity of the tragic artist. In this careful and energetic work, Nietzsche reveals a deep understanding of complex dialectical habits of thought. He also supplies an object lesson for us, and for the procedures in the subsequent chapters of The Birth of Theory: he shows us that even the mistiest of logical abstractions, such as identity/difference, can be historicized, assigned a time, a place, a point of origin (contra Foucault’s criticism of origins), and he demonstrates that not all dialectic is reducible to the expected ancient sources or to anti-dialectical, anti-Hegelian clichés, which readers like Deleuze project into Nietzsche’s work.

Keywords:   Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Hegel, Plotinus, Dialectic, Hegelian dialectic, Socratic dialectic, Identity and difference

The way the earliest single light in the evening sky, in spring, Creates a fresh universe out of nothingness by adding itself, The way a look or a touch reveals its unexpected magnitudes.


It’s easy to say that Nietzsche, not Hegel, marks the beginning of what can be called “theory” as a mode of thought distinct from philosophy. He critiques the subject as an a priori construction or Ego set over and against objects, and he vigorously questions systems of knowledge production and the value of values expressed in ethics, morality, theology, and indeed philosophy. That’s the Nietzsche we all know and love, whose stance on the institutions of criticism, history, and thought resembles the best of twentieth-century minds, like Foucault or Deleuze, who modeled their work after his. But we have, thanks in part to Foucault and especially Deleuze, lost Nietzsche, especially the Nietzsche who was deeply and imaginatively dialectical without ever worrying how Hegelian he may have sounded. We have lost the Nietzsche who while philosophizing with a hammer also wielded a keen pick and horsehair brush, excavating valuable ideas from the hardened philosophical clichés that have accumulated over the centuries around him. This is the Nietzsche I care to recover in this chapter, because he models a method by which to rethink the dialectic as an intense and complicated abstraction that is deeply historical—embedded in a past that is obscured by the (then) current philosophical fashions. He lays the groundwork for our discussion in chapter 2 of the Hegelian dialectic of identity/difference whose own history has yet to be acknowledged by theorists and philosophers today.

So who is this Nietzsche? Recall that Nietzsche believed that his erudition in classical studies could enhance the discipline of philosophy. In the Untimely Meditations, he writes: “The learned history of the past has never been the business of a true philosopher. … If a professor of philosophy involves himself in such work he must at best be content to have it said of him: he is a fine classical scholar, antiquary, linguist, historian—but never: he is a (p.4) philosopher. And that, as remarked, is only at best: for most of the learned work done by university philosophers seems to a classicist to be done badly.”1 For all the variety of Nietzsche’s body of writing—from its Wagnerian juvenilia to its later blistering aphoristic and self-aggrandizing style—these words, I believe, describe at least one consistent theme within his work: to combine his erudition in classical studies with his fervent critique of philosophical fashion, all in the effort to make philology and historical scholarship “philosophical” in his new sense of the term.2

Nary a philosophical cliché escapes Nietzsche’s careful attention to pollute his prose, so how could I claim, as I plan to do, that Nietzsche wishes to think deeply about dialectic—that “d” word we know (despite centuries of worry about it) to have most everything to do with Hegel, a man who himself desperately tried to work his way into academic philosophy, and who (according to almost everyone you ask) is Nietzsche’s personal punching bag? At least when talking about The Birth of Tragedy—the text I will discuss here— Deleuze was supposed to have settled the matter of Nietzsche’s Hegelianism a while ago, saying that “it is quite clear that Nietzsche wrote [this work] not as a dialectician.”3 Perhaps this claim is true from the point of view of Deleuze’s own clichés about Hegel in Nietzsche and Philosophy. This is a brilliant work, but too often Deleuze caricaturizes the Hegelian dialectic, citing the usual canard of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis: “It is not surprising that the dialectic proceeds by opposition, development of the opposition or contradiction and solution of the contradiction.”4 If this is the sort of dialectic we’re after in Nietzsche, then we will have a very hard time finding it, thus deciding with Deleuze that he so despises dialectic in The Birth of Tragedy as to construct an “absolute anti-dialectics” as an aggressive response to Hegel. One can extend the argument about Nietzsche’s dislike of Hegel and dialectics, just in the way Nietzsche seems to do in various places. But for every time one finds a critic citing that hilarious line in Ecce Homo about The Birth of Tragedy smelling “offensively Hegelian”—as if to say that the latter is not properly “Nietzschean”—one should counter with Nietzsche’s words from Twilight of the Idols, published in the same year as Ecce Homo. Here, Nietzsche expresses the need to “come back to the place that once served as my point of departure—the ‘Birth of Tragedy’ was my first revaluation of all values: and now I am back on that soil where my wants, my abilities grow—I, the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysius, —I, the teacher of eternal return.”5 My claim in this chapter is that what makes The Birth of Tragedy Nietzschean is what makes it dialectical—a view that should become clear once a more sophisticated notion of dialectics is brought to bear in our interpretation than hith (p.5) erto done.6 We’ll resume this conversation with Deleuze in chapter 6, asking whether—after all—Deleuzianism and dialectics can be reconciled.

Meanwhile, to acquire a sense of what it means to be Nietzschean and dialectical all at once, we must disentangle the critique of Hegel from the critique of Socratic, ancient dialectic—the two are so often confused today— and only then try to interpret The Birth of Tragedy anew. This disambiguation of dialectics (Hegelian, Platonic, Socratic) anticipates my effort in chapter 2, which shows how Hegel partitions his dialectic from the ancient kinds, favoring instead what I call “medieval dialectic.” Here, however, I wish to make a methodological exhibit of Nietzsche, who also distinguishes between kinds of dialectic and forms of dialectical abstraction. I begin by showing how Nietzsche in his Birth of Tragedy explores some rather abstruse dialectical problems—what now goes by the name of “abstract determination.” We recognize this phrase as Hegel’s. While Hegel was not the first to ponder “abstract determination,” not by a dozen centuries (as I will show here), he did label it in a way that allows us to observe this specialized process at work in Nietzsche: it is the logical and temporal step before the dialectic of real determination, determinate negation, or identity and difference. It is, in other words, the way in which difference enters into the heart of identity but lingers there as a distinction without difference. Nietzsche, I suggest, involves this kind of predialectical logic within his decidedly contemplative history of tragedy by, namely, imputing the process of abstract determination to the birth of tragedy itself—that is, to the emergence of Greek dramatic practice before Socratic dialectic appeared on the historical timeline and consequently, as the story goes, ruined tragedy.

Nietzsche, in sum, is doing things with the dialectic—chiefly, historical things. His placement of different kinds of dialectic at various moments in the history of art, drama, and philosophy is an argument about which sort of dialectical thinking is worth maintaining or reviving, such as identity/difference, and which kinds of dialectic sustain, in Nietzsche’s view, the “knowledge-lusting Socratism of today.”7 What Nietzsche gives us in The Birth of Tragedy, then, is an “untimely dialectic,” which (after his definition of untimely classical scholarship) acts “counter to our time and thereby acting on our time and, let us hope, for the benefit of a time to come.”8 What we ourselves discover, in turn, is the “untimely Nietzsche,” a philosopher who can be productively grouped not only with Hegel but with Plotinus, who (as I argue in this and the next chapter) stands at the beginning of a lasting premodern dialectical tradition with abstract determination and identity/difference operating at its very center. (p.6)

Predialectic as History

The content of the drama is a becoming or a passing away.


Nietzsche puts the question of the origins of Greek tragedy this way: “Where in the Hellenic world did that new germ first become evidenced which later evolved into tragedy and the dramatic dithyramb?”9 He offers two answers, the first, a rather concrete one, noting that in the “ancient world” there was a continuous “placing [of ] Homer and Archilochus side by side on brooches and other works of art as being the progenitors and torch-bearers of Greek poetry.”10 He surmises that these “two equally and entirely original natures deserve to be considered” in something like a dramatic encounter: “Homer … the archetypically Apolline, naive artist, now gazes with astonishment at the passionate head of Archilochus.” Nietzsche decides, however, that “this interpretation is of little help to us” and smacks of the conclusions of “recent aesthetics,” which are mesmerized by distinctions between “subjective” and “objective” art, passionate and dispassionate artistry.11

So Nietzsche hazards a second answer even more “aesthetic” and metaphysical than the first—an answer that seeks to explain the “mysterious unity” of the “Dionysiac-Apolline genius and its work in art”: “We are in a position to explain the lyric poet, on the basis of … aesthetic metaphysics.”12 Building on Schiller’s idea that lyrical composition is inspired by a “musical mood,” Nietzsche suggests that the lyric poet imagines the world in a way never imagined before, representing “the primal contradiction and pain” of the inner, musical landscape. By the lyric imagination, which envisions the pain and ecstasy of this inner world, tragedy is realized, lived, and felt for the first time. Born are Dionysian (dithyrambic) hymns sung by the chorus of this dramatic form.

To embellish this already complicated point, Nietzsche writes an even more complicated passage about “the most important phenomenon in the whole of ancient lyric poetry, the combination, indeed identity [Identität], of the lyric poet with the musician.”13 This combination, for Nietzsche, produces the tragic artist, so it is no small moment in his aesthetic history. I would say it is the moment. Here is how he explains the identity between these two different persons, lyric poet and musician:

In the first instance the lyric poet, a Dionysiac artist, has become entirely at one with primordial unity, with its pain and contradiction, and he produces a copy of this primordial unity as music, which has been described elsewhere, quite rightly, as a repetition of the world and a second copy of it [eine (p.7) Wiederholung der Welt und ein zweiter Abguss derselben]; now, however, under the influence of Apolline dream, this music in turn becomes visible to him as in a symbolic dream-image. The image-less and concept-less reflection [bildund begrifflose Wiederschein] of the original pain in music, with its release and redemption in semblance, now generates a second reflection, as a single symbolic likeness (Gleichnis) or exemplum [Exempel].14

To run through this one more time, by dint of paraphrase: the Dionysiac artist (not as yet a lyric poet) is identical with, “entirely at one with,” the “primordial unity.” First things first: unity. Then, through music, this artist offers a “repetition of the world” or a “second copy of it,” of that unity. This copy soon “becomes visible,” however. What was once unseen and only heard takes on form; the “image-less and concept-less reflection of the original pain in music … now generates a second reflection [zweite Spiegelung],” a third copy, which is here a “single symbolic likeness” that is lyric poetry. Nietzsche states the result of this process: “The Dionysiac-musical enchantment of the sleeper now pours forth sparks of imagery, as it were, lyric poems which … are called tragedies.”15

So what to make of this? I suggest we not read this process as the “eternal return” of Nietzsche’s later works, an idea (as I understand it) that expresses the horror of the same, shocking one to accept, nay love fate (amor fati ). If “you do not want anything to be different,” as the maxim goes, then there’s no use in talking about the difference between kinds of artist, is there?16 I also propose that we hold off on finding here only Schopenhauer’s scheme of the arts or desire in the World as Will and Representation to move from personality to the “subject of pure knowing,” that is, from difference to unity, which runs in a direction opposite to what Nietzsche describes here.17 Rather, I believe it is right to say that Nietzsche experiments with the idea that difference arises from successive attempts to produce the same—the repeated attempts to copy identity whereby the copy itself finally emerges as a “difference” that is eventually discernible and knowable. This passage, in short, is a dialectical explanation of the production of “likeness” and ultimately difference out of “unity.” As such, it partakes of the earliest, most lofty ambitions within premodern dialectic (above all) to think through seemingly insurmountable philosophical problems, such as, How do you get being from nothing? How do you get difference from identity, plurality from unity? And how do you narrate the transition from one to the other without projecting one term into the other?

Nietzsche, I suggest, patterns his narrative about the “birth” of tragedy after these long-standing dialectical questions, only here he seeks to explain (p.8) the emergence of the tragic artist from the “one-ness [Ur-Eine]” of the world. We can best appreciate Nietzsche’s dialectical narrative in this passage by comparing it to two examples named at the outset, Plotinus and Hegel, the former who improves the already ancient discipline of dialectic, the latter who practices dialectical philosophy in a curiously premodern fashion, as I will show later.

Yet now we leave Nietzsche for a bit to focus on Plotinus, who puts a twist on what we know as the dialectical image or, better, dialectical imaging when seeking to explain the transition from unity to plurality, from identity to difference.18 Plotinus’s explanation involves two mysterious deities or supremes, what is called the One, which is beyond being and quite close to nothing, and what is called the Intellectual Principle, which flows from the One as a cosmic consciousness and archetypal Being with a capital B. For Plotinus, the One stands for unity and identity; the Intellectual Principle, for difference and plurality, and he wants to know how the latter follows from the former, how from the One there can be many. Here’s his exposition, written from the point of view of the Intellectual Principle as it rubs its eyes to behold the One for the first time:

Thus the Intellectual-Principle, in the act of knowing the Transcendent [One], is a manifold. It knows the Transcendent [One] in very essence [sic] but, with all its effort to grasp that prior as a pure unity, it goes forth amassing successive impressions, so that, to it, the object becomes multiple: thus in its outgoing to its object it is not (fully realized) Intellectual-Principle; it is an eye that has not yet seen; in its return it is an eye possessed of multiplicity which it has itself conferred: it sought something of which it found the vague presentment within itself; it returned with something else, the manifold quality with which it has of its own act invested the simplex. If it had not possessed a previous impression of the Transcendent [One] it could never have grasped it, but this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity; and the Intellectual-Principle in taking cognizance of that multiplicity knows the Transcendent [One] and so is realized as an eye possessed of its vision.19

For Plotinus, the Intellectual Principle attempts to realize itself by “successive impressions” of the One, here named the Transcendent. The inchoate Intellectual Principle takes a first impression of the Transcendent, but because this impression cannot be visualized—for pure unity cannot be seen or thought, lacking (as it does), determination—the Intellectual Principle returns to take a second impression, and in this accumulation of impressions, it finally “sees the One.”20 In the “amassing successive impressions,” it moves from identity with the One to difference from it, from unity with the One to multiplicity: (p.9) “this impression, originally of unity, becomes an impression of multiplicity.”21 And by this, the Intellectual Principle becomes conscious.

Plotinus offers what I argue is the first example of a specific dialectical process, whereby difference emerges from the repetition of the same; in Plotinus’s “eye that has not yet seen” we hear Nietzsche’s formulation, centuries later, of “image-less and concept-less reflection”—a visuality that is not quite visual but through repetition resolves into images and likenesses. Indeed, when Plotinus in Ennead 5.1 states that the Intellectual Principle “stands as the image of the One … carrying onward much of its quality, in other words that there … [is] something in its likeness as the sun’s rays tell of the sun,” he uses “likeness” in a very specific way: for “likeness” itself specifies identity in difference.22 Simply put (and as Plato knew) likeness is not the same as the same; more on this below. Suffice it to suggest that these lines of thought draw Nietzsche to the term “likeness” (Gleichnis) for its distinctly dialectical capacities and demand that he think about abstract determinations, differences that at first make no difference.23

Nothing is dialectical simply because one says so, however. Here is where Hegel comes in, dialectical as ever. He knows just what these processes of repetition and abstraction are good for. He even recognized in Plotinus the importance of “how the One came to the decision to determine itself” by means of a “pure distinction that remains at the same time identical with itself.”24 But Hegel’s interest in these processes are by no means limited to his already limited discussion of Plotinus; and as chapter 2 suggests, it is not entirely clear that Hegel is willing or able in his lectures on the history of philosophy to recognize his deep methodological affinity with Plotinus, even if he sees in this late antique philosopher a “higher idealism.”25 And so we must turn to other works by Hegel for an appreciation of the dialectical richness of these processes, beginning with the Science of Logic, in which the section on “identity” (appropriately enough) exhibits what is now the familiar narrative pattern. There Hegel shows that when pure identity first attempts to express difference, it stalls in illusion and vanishing, terms that already evoke the oxymoronic images of the “eye that has not yet seen” (Plotinus) and “imageless and concept-less reflection” (Nietzsche). When, in other words, “simple, abstract identity”—a “pure movement of reflection”—posits an “other,” that other appears “only as reflective shine, as immediate disappearing.”26 Hegel illustrates the point by exploring that law of identity well known in philosophical circles, A=A, and tarrying with its own identity until there is negativity, until A=A becomes not a law of identity (or a night in which all cows are black)27 but rather a law of contradiction, A=not-A, or more forcefully, A=B. (p.10) Yet, as he shows, rendering the proposition, A=A, into something other than a law of identity is difficult:

“A is” is a beginning that envisages a something different before it to which the “A is” would proceed; but the “A is” never gets to it.28

Any account of Hegel will tell you what he says again and again: that any “proposition,” even this one, moves, and for that reason, propositions are never static and end up doing dialectical things like wending their way to their opposite.

But Hegel’s point about “A=A” is more historically significant than such logical abstractions admit. What’s key here is that Hegel adopts the narrative pattern we find in both Plotinus and Nietzsche, and he uses it to revamp the “laws of identity.” For him, you only get the law of identity out of the failure to produce difference on the first try. That is, there is a going out from itself, an “A is …” that “goes back into itself” as “A is—A.”29 But in the failed attempt to generate a “different something,” a proposition is nonetheless written, A=A, which can be understood in a very particular way, after tarrying with it. A is copied, there is repetition, and we start to look at that second A in a different way and ponder how its repetition makes it different, as, say, A1. This repetition—and this is the other key point—is the basis for the production of difference out of identity, premised on both the failure to achieve difference on the first try and on the reproduction of the same from which difference emerges.30 All the same, however, literally: A=A here becomes both a law of identity and a law of difference.31 I’ll return to this problem of identity and difference in a moment—the idea that the identity of one thing is bound up in its difference from another thing.

Meanwhile, let’s note here that what amounts to an abecedarian fail, with A collapsing back into itself like a stunt on a diving board gone wrong but inviting intense observation (or repeated viewings on YouTube), brings us to even stranger ideas about identity, being, and thought. For Hegel, the law of identity is also the principle of being and especially what he calls “pure being,” which, to conceptualize it, requires a special kind of thought, what he calls “pure thinking.” Pure what? It is just this nexus of issues— identity, being, and thought—on which is based almost the entire critique of Hegel from Marx to Adorno, from Derrida to Deleuze, and beyond. It’s this kind of abstraction and fantasies of a pure anything that gives idealism a bad name, but let’s grant for a moment that Hegel here isn’t meaning to tarnish idealism but rather advance it. Let’s also admit that verbalizing this old critique of Hegel is now uninteresting and will in the long run keep us from thinking (p.11) newly historically about dialectic, the ways in which abstractions, when posited or derived by the right kind of dialectical idealist like Hegel, immediately flip over into their opposite and point to material consequences and significances—in this case, to the very specific history out of which the abstraction arises and from which it can never distinguish itself. In other words, these propositions and odd abstractions—identities producing difference first as an abstract difference, then as a real one—admit the earliest of philosophical problems related to topics to which I have yet only alluded: the topics of being and nothing, which so fascinated the ancients and which absorbed Hegel’s attention as yet another instance, perhaps even the greatest test case, for dialectical method.

Hegel knows you cannot talk about being and nothing without thinking within and, as I wish to show, against the received history of philosophy. In his Encyclopaedia Logic, he states that the question of being and nothing was asked “for the first time” by Parmenides and is “the proper starting point for philosophy.”32 Here is Hegel’s description of this “starting point”:

Being and nothing are at first only supposed to be distinguished. … But being is precisely what strictly lacks determination, and nothing is this same lack of determination also. So the distinction between these two [terms] is only meant to be such, a completely abstract distinction, one that is at the same time no distinction at all.33

And so to think of being and nothing as at all different is to think of them as the same, as a distinction without a difference, “a completely abstract distinction.” Hegel is not joking when he states that this is “really one of the hardest propositions that thinking dares to formulate”—the idea that being and nothing are both the same and not the same—and he readily admits that “no great expense of wit is needed to ridicule the proposition.”34 And yet everyone piles on the guy for making the proposition? A lot of good disclaimers do!

Nonetheless, Hegel entertains this proposition about being and nothing because it allows him to show that the logical categories of identity and difference operate at the very start of the dialectic and function even at the highest level of abstraction at a moment when there is no determination, no distinction. We appreciate this point when Hegel elaborates on the aforementioned “abstract distinction … that is at the same time no distinction at all”:

In all other cases of distinguishing we are always dealing also with something common, which embraces the things that are distinguished. … By contrast, in the case of being and nothing, distinction has no basis and, precisely because of this, it is no distinction, since neither determination has no basis.35 (p.12)

Yet, we still think, we still say, that being and nothing are identical and different:

Correct as it is to affirm the unity of being and nothing, it is equally correct to say that they are absolutely diverse too —that the one is not what the other is. But because this distinction has here not yet determined itself, precisely because being and nothing are still the immediate—it is, as belonging to them, what cannot be said, what is merely meant.36

This last part seems murky, “what cannot be said, what is merely meant,” but I believe Hegel here is elaborating on a similar point in his earlier Science of Logic, where he says that this kind of abstract determination “belongs … to our reflection.”37 It’s what we think, what we contemplate.

How is Hegel’s extreme abstraction here an argument about the history of philosophy? To begin with, the very fact that Hegel is writing about being and nothing, and using the problem to assert the relevance of abstract determination at the very start of philosophy, has implications for our understanding of the history of philosophy that (for Hegel) doubles as a history of dialectic. And it will be this history of dialectic that is germane to understanding what’s dialectical about Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy (and, in chap. 2, what’s irretrievably historical about Hegel’s dialectic). Hegel, we recall, said that Parmenides asked the question of being and nothing for the first time but he does not tell us that Parmenides had the answer. This is a crucial point, because it is quite clear that Hegel does not mean to toe the ancient, much less, Parmenidian line about being and non-being, for in Parmenides’ great poem and in Plato’s commentary that goes by the name, Parmenides, you cannot find what Hegel treasures, abstract determination, much less real determination. Echoing Parmenides’ famous insight about all that Is, Hegel indicates as much: “When we consider the entire world, and say simply that everything is, and nothing further, we leave out everything determinate, and, in consequence have only absolute emptiness instead of absolute fullness.”38 Hegel is showing, though not at all stating it outright, that it was not always the case that philosophers grasped what is fundamental to any thought of abstract determination—that is, the dialectic of identity and difference, and the dialectic of abstract identity and difference.

This point has everything to do with how we think about the historicity of dialectical procedures, and so let’s linger a bit more to discuss what the dialectic of identity/difference is not before deciding what it is (as chap. 2 does), where it is not before where it is. Even a brief look at Plato’s Parmenides, the Athens to which all the roads of being and nothing lead, is instructive in this respect. To be sure, in that text, we do find some germane logical (p.13) operators named “likeness” and “unlikeness,” as mentioned by Socrates.39 Socrates proposes that a single thing can be both like and unlike: “If one could point to things which are simply ‘alike’ and ‘unlike’ proving to be unlike and alike, that no doubt would be a portent, but when things which have a share in both are shown to have both characters, I see nothing strange in that.”40 Parmenides, however, states that the proper approach is not to think in terms of what is “both like and unlike” within the “visible” field, ruling out immediately how modern phenomenologists usually think of these terms in the study of appearances. Rather, Parmenides presses the question of being instead of appearances, telling Socrates to think, first, more broadly about what “is” and what “is not,” and then, second, ask how likeness and unlikeness, sameness and difference tell us something new about the being (or archetype) in question.41 My point here is not to summarize the exhilarating, even if often bewildering, litany of possible likenesses, unlikeness, and so forth—which you can at any rate find in Aristotle’s brilliantly done Topics. It is only to say that Parmenides, and of course Plato, do not have an analogue to the categories of identity and difference, as we know them today, in their expositions on dialectic. And Socrates, for his part, is smacked down for offering a promising line of thinking on likeness and unlikeness that approaches identity/difference and is instead instructed to think otherwise. Dialectic, the ancient discipline, in other words, does not center itself on the question of identity/difference … not yet. One cannot speak of ancient dialectic as dialectical in the way we speak of Hegel’s dialectic as dialectical. And to the extent that Plato understood “relative being”—that ontological category that describes relations of identity/difference—he does not elevate it to the first of primary forms (Being, Motion, Rest, Identity, and Difference).42 As others have shown, Plato cannot define “relative being” without involving a so-called Platonic form in the definition.43 Which gets us right to the point: in Plato, difference is always a Form.44

Without the logical operators of identity and difference, even in their most abstract form, Plato cannot conceptualize mediation in his statements on how one thing becomes another. Here is his take on the “transition” or change from one thing to another:

There is no time during which a thing can be at once neither in motion nor at rest. On the other hand it does not change without making a transition. When does it make the transition, then? Not while it is at rest or while it is at motion, or while it is occupying time. Consequently, the time at which it will be when it makes the transition must be that strange thing, the instant. The word ‘instant’ appears to mean something such that from it a thing passes to one or other of the two conditions. There is no transition from a state of rest so (p.14) long as the thing is still at rest, nor from motion so long as it is still in motion, but this strange thing, this instant, is situated between motion and rest. … Accordingly, the one, since it is both at rest and is in motion, must pass from the one condition to the other—only so can it do both things—and when it passes, it makes the transition instantaneously. … The same holds good for its other transitions. When it passes from being in existence to ceasing to exist or from being non-existent to coming into existence, it is then between certain motions and states; it is neither existent nor non-existent.45

The “middle,” the “instant,” the “strange thing”—literally the thing out of place (ἄτοπον, atopon)46—is the farthest Plato could take the problem of transition without a viable notion of identity/difference. Aristotle was similarly stumped when it came to pondering this “middle” and so settled on the law of the “excluded middle,” which holds that “there cannot be an intermediate between contradictories.”47 Kant, to think very far ahead, cottoned onto just this problem deep in the Critique of Pure Reason and solved it, and its calculus of increasingly miniscule degrees of qualitative change—not by adopting identity/difference but by replacing the instant with time and burying it as an a priori intuition where phenomenological observation is moot.48 (Kant’s solution is, among other things, an answer to both Leibniz’s “law of continuity” and “Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles.”)49 My point here is to discern what missing, conceptually, right at the very moment it would come in handy. Only a conception of identity and difference, real and abstract, could help Plato with this logical, temporal, and narrative task of transition.50 Lacking such a conception, he simply says that a transition takes place in “no time.” And when you exclude time, you exclude becoming. You exclude narrative and especially the advantages it affords in inhabiting the syntax of unfolding, even a syntax as simple as the logical, tautological form of A=A.51

Now, Hegel says none of this, but he practices it everywhere in his dialectic of identity/difference. To say that the dialectic of identity/difference was not fully grasped by the ancients is, I’ll say it, a profound point: for tracing the emergence of this particular dialectical form, when it arose, will tell us, above all, which premodern kind of dialectic most closely approximates Hegel’s. That is the task of the next chapter, where I show that the dialectic of identity/difference, as we’ve come to know it in Hegel, is also a dialectic discovered in the Middle Ages as a way to improve the commentary tradition on the Parmenides and revive, and intensify, the problem of nothing and notbeing as something other than a “form” of difference, as we find in Plato. If you really want to “tarry with the negative,” then you have to get medieval. After all, what precisely is Hegel saying, what is he showing us, in his famous (p.15) passage from the Phenomenology of Spirit concerning the dialectical delectation of tarrying with the negative?

The life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative, as when we say of something that is nothing or is false, and then, having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. This power is identical with what we earlier called the subject.52

Much can be said of this passage. Adorno, for instance, in Negative Dialectics, says that Hegel “waits”—not thinks, not writes, not philosophizes, not imagines—but “waits until Being and Nothingness have been equated,” blurring into that third term, becoming; he goes on to say that Hegel is “following the model of the late Platonic dialogues.”53 But Adorno misses the mark in suggesting that Hegel is thinking in strictly Platonic terms, for to think of being and nothing as two immediacies in a face-to-face encounter with each other is to think in a distinctly post-Platonic fashion—otherwise, negativity would be nothing more than a form of difference. Examining Hegel’s words in the Plotinian frame—allowing Plotinus above to serve as just one of many examples to be detailed in chapter 2—we realize that both the tarrying and the looking convert the negative into being in that uniquely phenomenological way: there is delay so as to acquire vision, to see what is at first unseeable, to undergo a formative experience (Bildungs-Erfahrung) that, through repetition, sharpens perception and establishes the phenomenological investigation of appearances. This is the “eye that has not yet seen.” It is “image-less and concept-less reflection.”

Once the eye has seen, once image and concept, figuration and thinking, are conjoined, then a properly dialectical phenomenology is underway. But even here, the very operation of the dialectic, its bare-bones formality and basic process, reminds us of the original premodern procedure. This is to say, if after the problem of being and nothing is answered and we have becoming, which informs all subsequent dialectical scenarios, then we quickly realize that the “solution” to that initial problem is carried forward and expressed in subsequent iterations, shapes and forms, of the dialectic itself. What, in other words, logically mediates the moment of immediacy between being and nothing works, as well and quite easily, at subsequent, more mediated, less aporetic moments. That “what” is identity/difference. (p.16)

See, for instance, how Hegel talks about the emergence of selfconsciousness from consciousness in the final paragraphs of the first division of the Phenomenology of Spirit (“A. Consciousness”):

Accordingly, we do not need to ask the question, or even that it is a question philosophy cannot answer, the question, viz. ‘How, from this pure essence, how does difference or otherness issue forth from it?’ For the division into two moments has already taken place, difference is excluded from the selfidentical and set apart from it. What was supposed to be the self-identical is thus already one of these two moments instead of being the absolute essence. That the self-identical divides into two means, therefore, just as well that it supersedes itself as already divided, supersedes itself as an otherness.54

We do not need to ask the question about how difference and otherness issue forth from pure essence because the question has been asked and (as it is here) answered, not only by Hegel but by other philosophers before him like Plotinus, who asks: “From such a unity as we have declared The One to be, how does anything at all come into substantial existence, any multiplicity, dyad, number?”55 These are, again, the big questions of premodern first philosophy. And by raising the question in the effort to suggest that we need not answer it, Hegel draws attention to premodern dialectics for which no transition is too difficult or large, which in turn makes transitions lesser than that of nothing/being a walk in the park.56 His lectures on the history of philosophy only confirm this point.57

And so the seemingly impossible transition from negativity to positivity, from non-being to being that characterizes Plotinian dialectic is, Hegel must have known, the very possibility of dialectic itself as it courses over lesser transitions such as that from consciousness to self-consciousness (I call this a lesser transition, because Fichte, as Hegel surely knew, dispatched it with ease by just starting with self-consciousness as the product of the subject/object dichotomy).58 Throughout all of Hegel’s dialectical displays in his work, but especially in his Phenomenology and his Logics, anytime we find a discussion of indeterminate difference or abstract difference, at whatever moment of dialectical transition (or for that matter temporary stasis), he sets at the center of his dialectic a premodern formal procedure for mediating absolute difference. I will continue this story in the next chapter. For now, let’s just say that Hegel thinks historically about dialectic in ways more complex than his oft-cited, oft-derided pronouncement from the Phenomenology of Spirit that we must “comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth”59—his lectures on the history of philosophy standing (p.17) as the grand study of such unfolding, with the dialectic showing up any and everywhere.60

The Birth of Tragedy

Like Hegel, Nietzsche thinks equally deeply about the dialectic within history, the dialectic as an historical event. We now return to Nietzsche’s proposition about the birth of tragedy, which partakes of the processes requiring a first try, a dialectical attempt followed by a dialectical failure, a first impression, then a second impression, the repetition of unity to produce difference. In this, he offers us a model of “abstract determination” that is lost on Plato but consistent with Plotinus and Hegel, and he does so for historiographic as much as theoretical reasons. For “abstract determination” is, in logical terms, a predialectical process that, in historical terms, corresponds to the moment before Socrates and Socratic dialectic. It corresponds to the moment of tragedy and is available only at that time. When Socrates arrives, it goes away, and we get the death of tragedy. In just this point, Nietzsche offers a history lesson about dialectic and the dialectical, making distinctions (as Hegel does, without averring as much) between what the ancient, Socratic discipline of dialectic can and cannot do, and what genuinely abstract, even mysterious dialectical processes can do. In other words: consistent with Hegel’s latent critique of ancient or Platonic dialectic, Nietzsche shows that Socrates (as we have him only in Plato) cannot think dialectically, even as (ironically) he champions the discipline of dialectic.

This means, then, that as we read The Birth of Tragedy, we must bear in mind the distinction between the dialectical and dialectic, the former familiar to the Hegelian tradition, and the latter, the long-standing discipline. And Nietzsche’s historical narrative helps us with this cognitive task. For depending on where you are in historical time—that is, on what page you happen to be in The Birth of Tragedy—you will find either Socratic dialectic or something else approximating, through figuration, the dialectic of identity and difference as abstract determination.

Look, for example, at how Nietzsche discusses the “duality” of Dionysios and Apollo that was sustained until the advent of Socrates cum the death of tragedy. He insists that in the Greek world before Socratic dialectic, there was an “enormous opposition” between these two gods—“different drives exist side by side, mostly in open conflict, stimulating and provoking one another to give birth to ever-new, more vigorous offspring in whom they perpetuate the conflict inherent in the opposition between them.”61 He echoes this (p.18) sentiment later, stating that “the Dionysiac and the Apolline dominated the Hellenic world by a succession of ever-new births and by a process of reciprocal intensification,” a veritable “to-ing and fro-ing.”62 Tragedy gives expression to this “to-ing and fro-ing,” whereby the Dionysiac and the Apollonian “duality” becomes intertwined: the “essence of Greek tragedy” is the “expression of two interwoven artistic drives,” “their mutual interaction and intensification.”63 What we have here is the dialectical, not dialectic. Nietzsche asks us to contemplate with him and think of these oppositions, interactions, and reciprocities in abstract terms because, historically speaking, there are as yet no concepts, no thoughts wedged into syllogisms, no hankering for knowledge, no hard and fast determinations, only images of “mysterious” identities and experiences of “the primordial unity, with its pain and contradiction.”64

Now let’s observe the return of tragedy, the rebirth of tragedy when in modern times Socratic dialectic finally is pushed aside. The Dionysiac impulse returns to confront the Apollonian, and both enter once more into the same kind of mutual intensification we just reviewed: “Both of these artistic drives are required to unfold their energies in strict, reciprocal proportion.”65 Particularly intriguing is Nietzsche’s enthusiastic crescendo narration of the second coming of tragedy—a passage that concludes his chapters on Socratic dialectic (chaps. 14–21):

If drama, with the help of music, spreads out all its movements and figures before us with such inwardly illuminated clarity, as if we were seeing a tissue being woven on a rising and falling loom, it also produces, taken as a whole, an effect which goes beyond all the effects of Apolline art. In the total effect of tragedy the Dionysiac gains the upper hand once more; it closes with a sound which could never issue from the realm of Apolline art. Thereby Apolline deception is revealed for what it is: a persistent veiling, for the duration of tragedy, of the true Dionysiac effect, an effect so powerful, however, that it finally drives the Apolline drama into a sphere where it begins to speak with the Dionysiac wisdom and where it negates itself and its Apolline visibility. Thus the difficult relationship of the Apolline and the Dionysiac in tragedy truly could be symbolized by a bond of brotherhood between the two deities: Dionysios speaks the language of Apollo, but finally it is Apollo who speaks that of Dionysios. At which point the supreme goal of tragedy, and indeed of all art, is attained.66

Is not Apollo’s negation while speaking the language of Dionysios an intentionally distorted or, shall one say, abstract model of identity and difference? The question is worth asking, because it seems that Nietzsche is alluding to Hegel in his suggestion that we experience the “rising and falling loom” of tragedy’s many “movements and figures.” That is, Hegel himself states that (p.19) “reason is no more than a loom intertwining warp (say, identity) and woof (say, difference).”67 For Nietzsche, when tragedy is reborn and dialectic dies, the dialectical returns, along with identity and difference as abstract determinations. This vanishing dialectic, I believe, emblematizes a historical folding of pre- and post-Socratic phases and processes, but it is no less the logical complement to the allusive, illusory, and non-determinate operations of dialectic before (and after) Dialectic, the ancient discipline. This is Nietzsche’s “untimely dialectic”—motile, unwelcome, critical, and historical.

Archaeologies of the Dialectic

The Birth of Tragedy, I would say, is part of a specialized dialectical tradition that is not reducible to the hokum of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, against which Nietzsche is always said to be opposed (by Deleuze and others, including Nietzsche himself !).68 Even more, Nietzsche shows us the way towards a new approach to the history of dialectic, the tasks of thinking historically about logical terms that seem to transcend history and seem to have always been available, there from the very beginning. In one sense yes, when talking about the dialectic; in another sense, no, when talking about dialecticians across history looking for the appropriate logical terms by which to mediate absolute difference. Nietzsche, furthermore, shows us the advantage of disassociating dialectic and the dialectical from its Platonic, Aristotelian, and generally classical forms, as well as all else that goes by the antique arts of dialogue and definition. By positing the dialectic outside of these strong traditions (very much today seen, reflexively, to be the traditions informing the modern examples of dialectic), he at once clears a space for a renewed dialectic that is useful for a critique of the present, crazy for the older, wornout dialectic.69 This is not to say that what Nietzsche does with the dialectic is Hegelian but it is to say his task is dialectical in a manner possible only in a post-Plotinian universe (and I do mean universe). The historical significance of this claim will have to wait until chapter 2.

So why does Nietzsche even bother with dialectic, predialectic, and the histories of these forms? There have to be many answers to this question. I imagine, for example, that Nietzsche would feel a lingering dissatisfaction with Marx and Engels’s German Ideology, in which the dialectic very much remains “the matter of Hegel,” in the way one speaks of the matter of Rome as a singular obsession guiding a good deal of historical inquiry in the Middle Ages—only here the historical issue of the dialectic concerns contemporary German thought, Hegel, and his followers. Such a confined historical view explains why the dialectic in Germany came to be synonymous with (p.20) “Hegel”—apart from Hegel’s wide popularity among, to begin with, the Young Hegelians70—when in fact, as both Nietzsche and Hegel knew, dialectic was almost two millennia old by their time and deserves at least some historical treatment and some reflection within the histories of its unfolding. Compared to Marx, then, Nietzsche attempts to think differently historically about the dialectic, and Hegel, not surprisingly, emerges as the only figure to precede him in this effort. Nietzsche knows that a new history of the dialectic (not a new menu of slogans or aspersions) is necessary to deal with the modern limitations of and clichés about dialectic. His effort is recuperative, which is why he never speaks of Hegel in this work and why “dialectic,” whenever named, is the matter of Socrates and (again) not Hegel. If he named Hegel, just once, then thinking about the dialectical in The Birth of Tragedy would be a non-starter.

It would seem to me, then, that a new history of the dialectic can offer a perspective on the best of dialectical critical practices and observations within Marxism, which has its own way of thinking historically about the dialectic—from Adorno declaring that “dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things,” to Herbert Marcuse stating that “the very structure of capitalism is a dialectical one,” to Fredric Jameson noting what is by now a given, that “the dialectic does not become visible historically until capitalism’s emergence.”71 These all seem to me to be versions of Marx’s idea that history begins when class society ends—only here, of course, dialectic persists as long as capital is around—but the question of history can be posed in broader terms, because these aforementioned historical assessments of the dialectic seem to me to have limits.

This is to say that perhaps, after Nietzsche, some new sense of the term “philosophy” might be brought to bear on these matters in an “untimely” fashion, juxtaposing premodern problems with those of the present moment, as a contribution to a philosophical Marxism. Jameson, the consummate student of dialectic, offers material with which to think through such an untimely project, given his decades-long effort at translating a variety of cultural forms, past and present, into a “positive hermeneutic” for Marxism (which in one version, by the bye, adopts the allegorical protocols of medieval exegesis; see chap. 5).72 In his Valences of the Dialectic, he refers to the “metaphysical humiliation” of a grand (and presumably premodern?) dialectic that fails as a “theory of everything” and is relegated instead to a “local law of this or that corner of the universe, a set of regularities observable here or there.” But this humiliation can be “taken in stride,” Jameson continues, if one can “abstract a form of thinking sufficiently empty of content to persist throughout the multiple local dialectics” and “retain a recognizable and identifiable shape (p.21) through a variety of materials, from the economic to the aesthetic.”73 He goes on to say that “the identification of such an empty form will no doubt have to build on Hegelian groundwork, even though it need no longer struggle with the unrewarding starting point the latter had to navigate in its initial struggles with identity and with being as such.”74 I have, in the foregoing, been concerned precisely with such a “starting point,” “its initial struggles,” but is it really so “unrewarding”? It may be helpful, rather, to think about this “starting point” in a different way: in relation, again, to the thought experiments Jameson proposes in Valences of the Dialectic and to those entertained by premodern dialecticians.

If, for example, a premodern thinker would rightly initially consider the transition from nothing to being to be impossible and unthinkable, therefore requiring dialectical techniques that encourage the dialectician to change the valences on these terms and think of nothingness as being and being as nothingness until becoming comes into view, then not a few modern critical minds may find it equally impossible to conduct the particular dialectical thought experiment Jameson proposes—a dialectical union of opposites, whereby the American superstore Wal-Mart is viewed as Utopia.75 Jameson chooses Wal-Mart as the problematic example for dialectics precisely because it is hard to change the valences on it and conceptualize what good can come of this capitalist monstrosity which swallows up independent retailers in small communities, refuses to allow its employees to unionize, and consistently hires workers into part-time jobs so as not to provide any benefits, such as medical insurance. Yet, for Jameson, we are not to revile Wal-Mart or only moralize about it, but rather study it and contemplate its opposite, performing a utopian thought-experiment about what might replace it. By this dialectical method Jameson intends to put into motion a new kind of thinking about “possible and alternate futures,” a thinking that “revives long-dormant parts of the mind, organs of political and historical and social imagination which have virtually atrophied for lack of use, muscles of praxis we have long since ceased exercising, revolutionary gestures we have long lost the habit of performing, even subliminally.”76

It is a tantalizing suggestion to say that within the mind lie atavistic dialectical faculties, or that there are mental “muscles of praxis,” an unconscious or preconscious of concepts ready to be exercised when the moment is right. Yet what is more intriguing is this rejuvenated task of tarrying with the negative, which requires the positing in advance of a truly unthinkable or inconceivable content—a content that is at the outer limits of thought and being—as one of the poles in the dialectic of Wal-Mart as monopoly and Wal-Mart as Utopia, a starting point for rethinking the situation so as to (p.22) establish a new system. Granted, there is an intellectual risk in this activity that Marx long ago recognized in his prefaces and postfaces to Capital, worrying over the fine line between theoretical criticism and complicit description of conditions like a dyed-in-the-wool political economist (see chap. 5)—only here the newer dialectical enterprise, if not done right, can suddenly look “spontaneous,” uncritical, or downright frustrating, at which point thinking becomes ridiculous.

But sometimes even the ridiculous must have a place, whatever it takes to estrange a situation or way of thinking. For example, as both Jameson and Slavoj Žižek suggest—each crediting the other for the idea—it is easier to conceptualize the end of the world by dint of some cataclysmic destructive natural force than it is to conceive of the end of capitalism.77 The point is funny, but no less true. It’s also interesting because a supervolcano is already an impossible thing to perceive, let alone conceive. It would extend beyond the perceptual field; so enormous as to extend beyond the curvature of the earth (and as such probably qualify as The Sublime). And so one conceptual impossibility is easier to think than another? The dialectical problem of “nothing” and “being” begins to look strangely familiar because there are now equally unlikely pairings, supervolcanos and/or socialism, Wal-Mart and/or utopia on the table for critical thinking. My point is that when the demand is to think the unthinkable, then dialectical technique has not strayed very far from the initial set of unthinkable terms within premodern dialectic and that this formal procedure was there all along—maybe not where we expect it—and may serve as a useful starting point, after all.

The Birth of Dialectic

This book, itself about starting points, requires a dialectical thought experiment of the order we have just discussed—namely, to revalue the idea of “origins” and switch its valence from the negative to the positive, from a conceptual task roundly ridiculed once theorists absorbed Foucault’s critique of origins in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History” to a project whose aim is to open up, reorient, and rethink the history of theory and philosophy where it touches on the dialectic.78 In any event, after so many expositions of “Ends,” which now seem to have come to an end and have returned to the discipline of their emergence (ethics), the time has come for this new thought of origins, continuing the untimely thought experiment suggested by Nietzsche himself in the title to his great work, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik. (p.23)

Understand that I am not on a fool’s errand in thinking that “origin” will henceforth never be a dirty word in theory, and I’m loathe to use it again in this book, because I know how it sounds. But let us recall that the term itself was lyrically recuperated long before Foucault in the work of Walter Benjamin, who was obsessed with the Ursprung of Trauerspiel. In his Origins of German Tragic Drama, he says:

Origin (Ursprung), although an entirely historical category, has, nevertheless, nothing to do with genesis (Entstehung). The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance. Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming. … That which is original is never revealed in the naked and manifest existence of the factual. … On the one hand it needs to be recognized as a process of restoration and establishment, but, on the other hand, and precisely because of this, as something imperfect and incomplete. … The principles of philosophical contemplation are recorded in the dialectic which is inherent in origin. This dialectic shows singularity and repetition to be conditioned by one another in all essentials.79

Benjamin’s fluid and dynamic metaphor is rich in significance, because it identifies “origin” as “becoming” in a special way, a counter-current, an eddy swirling in reverse against the flow, emerging right where the obstructions lie. The eddy goes with the flow by turning against it. Benjamin means to say that we have a counter-origin at hand, not the usual old “genesis (Entstehung)” but a counter-memory that is thought against the current of opinion, against what’s taken for granted, and what stands in the way, the “existence of the factual.” I see nothing objectionable in this notion of origins, and it is one that inspires my proposed revision to our understanding of the origins and meanings of Hegel’s dialectic. It doubly inspires this work because even Benjamin falters in his view of the dialectic, suggesting that it was always there to begin with: “Dialectic … is inherent in origin.” He overlooks the possibility of thinking on the origin of the origin itself, the inception of the thought of “singularity and repetition” so crucial to the premodern thought experiment to generate difference out of identity, out of dialectical failures. And so we need to look again.


(1) . Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, ed. Daniel Breazeale and trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 186.

(2) . See James I. Porter, Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000).

(3) . Gilles Deleuze wrote: “If one looks at the Birth of Tragedy it is quite clear that Nietzsche wrote it not as a dialectician but as a disciple of Schopenhauer. We must also remember that Schopenhauer himself did not value the dialectic very highly. And yet, in his first book, the schema that Nietzsche offers us under Schopenhauer’s influence is only distinguishable from the dialectic by the way in which contradiction and its resolution are conceived” (Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson; fwd. by Michael Hardt [New York: Columbia University Press, 2006], 11). To which Nietzsche penned a response en avance: “Schopenhauer harshly accused Hegel and Schelling’s epoch of lacking integrity—harshly but also unfairly: that old pessimistic counterfeiter—he did not have any more ‘integrity’ than his famous contemporaries did. Let us keep morality out of this: Hegel is a taste. … And not just a German taste but a European one!” (“The Case of Wagner: A Musician’s Problem,” in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, and Other Writings, ed. Aaron Ridley and Judith Norman; trans. Norman [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 252). So much for discipleship.

(4) . Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, 157. See 197.

(5) . Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, 228–29. In his “Attempt at Self-Criticism,” written fourteen years after the initial publication of The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Nietzsche rails against his own dialectical mindset at the time, which affected his prose, what he calls “the ponderousness and dialectical disinclination of the Germans” (The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, ed. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs; trans. Ronald Speirs [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999], 6)—a view Deleuze rejects in Nietzsche and Philosophy (see 11). I would suggest, however, that Nietzsche’s proposal that The Birth of Tragedy is too dialectical and, as he says in Ecce Homo, “offensively Hegelian” (The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, 108) means that it was not anti-Hegelian enough. After all, nowhere does Nietzsche mention, much less critique, Hegel in The Birth of Tragedy. If anything, the older Nietzsche saw that his earlier revision of the dialectic is too much inside baseball and not enough cheering against the opposing team (retrospectively).

(6) . Raymond Williams was also tempted to read the clichéd dialectical form in The Birth of Tragedy, writing that “Tragedy, that is to say, in Nietzsche’s view, dramatises a tension which it resolves in a higher unity. There is a structural reminiscence of Hegel in this, but the terms are entirely altered” (Modern Tragedy, ed. Pamela McCallum [Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2006], 61; see 62).

(7) . Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 94. “Socrates’ influence has spread out across all posterity to this very day” (ibid., 71). Nietzsche also states that “the teachers in our institutions of higher education have learned better than most how to reach a quick and comfortable accommodation (p.170) with the Greeks, even to the extent of abandoning sceptically the Hellenic ideal and completely perverting the true aim of classical studies” (96). Nietzsche more strongly words this idea in Twilight of the Idols in the section “The Problem of Socrates”: “Perhaps wisdom appears on earth as a raven, inspired by a little scent of carrion?” (Twilight of the Idols, in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, 162).

(8) . Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, 60. Let’s remember that in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche said: “Viewed impartially, the Birth of Tragedy looks very untimely” (The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, 108).

(9) . Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 28.

(10) . Ibid., 29.

(11) . Ibid. Nietzsche’s reference to “disinterested contemplation” (ibid.) is, of course, a nod to Kant and Schopenhauer.

(12) . Ibid., 28, 30.

(13) . Ibid., 30/Die Geburt der Tragödie, in Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1967–), III-1.39.

(14) . Ibid. 30/Die Geburt der Tragödie, III-1.39–40; on Socrates and concepts, see 74. We could quickly dismiss this as a non-dialectical passage, if our interest is solely in tracing the status of dialectical clichés like “contradiction,” here on the side of the “primordial unity” where contradiction itself is contradicted by the very principle that issues it, unity: contradiction, that is, is just another term for “suffering,” a term for the “hidden primal contradiction” that Prometheus experiences in his attempt to resolve the “irresolvable conflict between god and man” (49), and not a generative condition that breaks the unity apart, or makes distinctions whereby unities are discerned. Likewise, we could follow Nietzsche’s conclusion about this passage and decide that the traditional dialectical matter of subjects and objects is moot because it’s never broached, nullified from the first without ever the promise of subjectivity emerging among a world of objects or nondescript qualities: “Thus, the ‘I’ of the lyric poet sounds out from the deepest abyss of being; his ‘subjectivity’, as this concept is used by modern aestheticians, is imaginary” (The Birth of Tragedy, 30).

(15) . Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 30.

(16) . “Why I Am So Clever,” Ecce Homo, in The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, 99. Too, we must not read “repetition with a difference,” codified by Deleuze, into this passage because this notion neither proceeds from identity or unity, as posed in this excerpt, and instead begins in difference, if not sheer unmediated multiplicity. See Deleuze’s formulation in Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), the “anti-Platonism” of which is the fundamental point of contention; 29, 127–28.

(17) . Nietzsche here is elaborating on ideas contained in that long quotation from Schopenhauer; see The Birth of Tragedy, 78–79. But he proceeds in the opposite direction. For Schopenhauer the desideratum is not to differentiate but to unify, to move from personality to the “subject of pure knowing.” Deleuze argues that Nietzsche’s Hegelianism is an absorption of Schopenhauer’s own partial break from Hegel, and Deleuze rationalizes this reading on account of the fact that Nietzsche nowhere refers to Hegel in this work (Nietzsche and Philosophy, 10, 162).

(18) . I intentionally reference Walter Benjamin here because his notion of the dialectical image seems to me to characterize a unique process of dialectical becoming, the “suddenly emergent” (The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin [Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003], 462)—a “dialectics at a standstill” (ibid.) that is not the end of the dialectic (as Hegel usually means the similar idea of “picture thinking” everywhere in the Phenomenology of Spirit) but rather the beginning. For more, see chap. 6. (p.171)

(19) . Plotinus, The Enneads, trans. Stephen MacKenna, abridged with an introduction and notes by John Dillon (New York: Penguin, 1991); cited by page number, followed by book and chapter number in brackets, here 377 [5.3]. This is from one of Plotinus’s latest tracts (see MacKenna, 364). Ennead 5.4 offers a different view of this process but is regarded as an early tract by Plotinus (see MacKenna, 387). Plotinus imputes “being” and intelligence to the One (see 389): “But if something arises from an entity which in no way looks outside itself, it must arise when that entity is in the fullness of its being: stable in its identity, it produces; but the product is that of an unchanged being: the producer is unchangeably the intellectual object, the product is produced as the Intellectual Act” —“that is to say, becoming another intellectual being, resembling its source, a reproduction and image of that” (389 [5.4]). What makes this earlier position different from the latter quoted in my main text is, quite simply, the clear borrowing of language from Plato’s Timaeus, 42e5–6 (borrowings noted by MacKenna, 389nn69–70) that we do not find in the later tract. Here, simply, Plotinus is too Platonic. Plotinus himself acknowledges this weakness in Plato’s thought, writing: “with all his affirmation of unity, his own writings lay him open to the reproach that his unity turns out to be a multiplicity” (Enneads, 357 [5.1]).

(20) . Plotinus, Enneads, 354 [5.1].

(21) . Ibid., 377 [5.3].

(22) . Ibid., 355 [5.1]. To complete the Benjaminian point: it is clear that here that movement happens by way of difference, not identity, and is a movement toward difference—a process that historical materialism could never accept insofar as what’s gone before is never fully absorbed to begin with. Indeed, what Plotinus outlines here is rather the opposite of sublation (delation?).

(23) . Nicholas of Cusa offers a similar demonstration in De Li Non Aliud; see chap. 2. In purely formal terms, at least, it would be useful to acknowledge that Plato in works evincing the powers of dialectic often restarts his discourse in the effort to approach problems from a different angle when matters get too difficult. One could call this a dialectical attempt in its own right, starting and stopping in the approach to difficulties. For an example, see Parmenides, 135a–e; Sophist, 236e–237c; 253d–257b, from The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989); I cite from this edition by page number and paragraph number.

(24) . Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3 vols., trans. E. S. Haldane and Francis H. Simson (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), 2.416.

(25) . Ibid., 2.412.

(26) . G. W. F. Hegel, The Science of Logic, trans. and ed. George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 360/§881; note that this edition does not delineate paragraph numbers, but I include them here, in brackets, for ease of reference and comparison; translation modified. All quotations in this paragraph are from this page.

(27) . For Hegel’s most famous point, if you don’t apprehend “abstract determination,” then you cannot grasp the Absolute and will “palm [it] off” as “the night in which … all cows are black,” a “cognition naively reduced to vacuity,” to “the A=A” (Phenomenology of Spirit, 9/§16).

(28) . Hegel, Science of Logic, 360/§881.

(29) . Ibid.; see also §99, §108 on the kind of “abstract[ion]” at stake here. I have added ellipses to the phrase, “A is,” in order to express something of the suspension inherent in the incomplete proposition Hegel is seeking eventually to complete in his analysis ending with the proposition, “A is – A.”

(30) . To address two other important (but different) discussions of identity: Schelling takes (p.172) the proposition, A=A, to speak of form and content: if this proposition is the form or logical expression of the identity of A with itself, then so too is the content of “A” expressed in the formulation. Within identity one can think the distinction of form and content. See Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, trans. Peter Heath (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993), 20–21. Heidegger uses A=A to reflect on Parmenides’ fragment: “for the same perceiving (thinking) as well as being” (Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002], 27). Parmenides, says Heidegger, draws together “different things” (Verschiedenes [90]), which are thinking and being, and regards them as “the Same” (27). Note that neither of these is written from the point of view of the phenomenological observer.

(31) . Of course, this law of identity is at once the law of contradiction: “A is enunciated, and a not-A which is the pure other of A; but this not-A only shows itself in order to disappear. In this proposition, therefore, identity is expressed as a negation of negation. A and not-A are distinct; the two terms are distinguished with reference to one and the same A. Here identity is displayed, therefore, as this differentiation of the terms in the one connection or as the simple difference in the terms themselves” (Hegel, Science of Logic, 360/§882).

(32) . Citing Parmenides’ assertion that “only being is, and nothing is not,” Hegel claims that “this must be taken as the proper starting point of philosophy, because philosophy as such is cognition by means of thinking, and here pure thinking was firmly adhered to for the first time” (The Encyclopaedia Logic, with the Zusätze: Part I of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences with the Zusätze, trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris [Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1991], 138/§86, addition 1).

(33) . Hegel, Encyclopaedia Logic, 140/§87, addition.

(34) . Ibid., 141/§88. Slavoj Žižek’s Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (New York: Verso, 2012) was published after I completed this book, and so I am unfortunately unable to account for it adequately here.

(35) . Encyclopaedia Logic, 140/§87, addition.

(36) . Ibid., 141/§88.

(37) . Hegel, Science of Logic, 84/§193.

(38) . Hegel, Encyclopaedia Logic, 140–41/§87, addition.

(39) . See Plato, Parmenides, 922–23/127e–129c. See M. Schofield, “Likeness and Likenesses in the Parmenides,” in Form and Argument in Late Plato, ed. C. Gill and M. M. McCabe (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), 49–77.

(40) . Plato, Parmenides, 923/129b.

(41) . Ibid., 930–31/135e–136c. Parmenides’ main exhibit on this topic is, as famously known, the one and the many, beginning first with the topic of what the one is not. He arrives at the conclusion, “the one in no sense is” (141e), by arguing that there can be no likeness or unlikeness within the one, or no other kind of distinction. From here, Parmenides restarts the investigation to explore the consequences of the proposition “If a one is” (935/142b), which in thrusting being” into the inquiry simultaneously introduces difference, number, and motion into the very conception of the one. Here difference itself emerges as being in the formulation, “being different or other” (936/143b); unlike things are “like” in the sense that they both have the “character” of “difference” (940/148a). At points this approach to difference violates the law of noncontradiction of identity—“If they [two things] were like and unlike or had likeness and unlikeness in them, they would then have in them two characters contrary to one another” (950/159e); at other times, we witness demonstrations that make perfect sense until their conclusions result (p.173) in howlers like “the one both is, and is becoming, older and younger than itself and than the others” (946/155c; see also 943/151b, 944/152a).

(42) . I would suggest this claim also applies to Sophist, 1002–1003/256a–257b. There, Plato does not mention “relative being,” but he does successfully demonstrate the reciprocity between the five primary forms. One, however, can quickly be reminded that what defines the identity in difference between the forms is, of course, a form. In chap. 2, I show how Plotinus and Proclus take this matter even further.

(43) . Plato, Phaedo, 58/75c–d; Republic, 715/476b, 720/480a. The following two papers derive “not-being” as a relative, but this too is a form—the form of difference: Stephen Ferg, “Plato on False Statement: Relative Being, a Part of Being, and Not-Being in the Sophist,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 14, no. 3 (1976): 336–42; Cordero Nestor-Luis, “Du non-être à l’autre: La découverte de l’altérité dans le Sophiste de Platon,” Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger 195 (2005): 175–89.

(44) . The same holds true for Plato’s conclusions in the Sophist on the crucial question of the meaning of “not-being” and “is not.” See G. E. L. Owen, “Plato on Not-Being,” in Plato: A Collection of Critical Essays, 2 vols., ed. Gregory Vlastos (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1970–71), 1: 223–67; John McDowell, “Falsehood and Not-being in Plato’s Sophist,” Language and Logos: Studies in Ancient Greek Philosophy presented to G. E. L. Owen, ed. Malcolm Schofield and Martha C. Nussbaum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 115–34; David Bostock, “Plato on ‘Is not,’” Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 2 (1984): 89–119.

(45) . Plato, Parmenides, 156c–157a; trans. modified; see 157b, 161d, 165a. The terms of identity and difference helped Hegel move beyond Aristotle, who in writing from the perspective of the dialectician would not entertain writing narratives from the point of view of this or that concept, as we see in Hegel and Plotinus. Rather, it is enough for Aristotle to declare in the Metaphysics that “becoming is between being and not being” (The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes, 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 2/1571 [994a28–29]). Aristotle offers very brief examples of how “the man comes from the boy,” “water comes from air” (ibid., 994a25,31). These are not narratives. For an extended discussion on becoming, see the fifth book of Aristotle’s Physics, 378–407 [224a–41b]).

(46) . Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903), 156b.

(47) . Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1597 [1011b].

(48) . For Kant, “Between the two instants, there is always a time” (Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], 315). For his explanation about time and the perception of transformation, which does away with the “instant,” much less any micro-calculation about the degrees of difference, see 315–16. Arthur Schopenhauer reinstates the instant in his description of “the transition” from “the common knowledge of particular things to the knowledge of the Idea,” which “takes place suddenly” (The World as Will and Representation, trans. E. F. J. Payne, vol. 1 [New York, Dover Publications, 1969], 178). In accounting for the “pure subject of knowing,” he intends to erase even abstract determination in what has “passed out of all relation” (179). “Plurality and difference exist only … in the phenomenon” (180), only in the appearances one must move beyond in the identity of pure knowing.

(49) . As Leibniz holds, “any change from small to large, or vice versa, passes through something which is … in between; and that no motion ever springs immediately from a state of rest, or passes into one except through a lesser motion; just as one could never traverse a certain line or distances without first traversing a shorter one. … Noticeable perceptions arise by degrees (p.174) from ones which are too minute to be noticed. To think otherwise is to be ignorant of the immeasurable fineness of things, which always and everywhere involves an actual infinity” (Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding, ed. Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], p. LIII/56; on “Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles,” see section 230 on “time and place” enabling one to distinguish between things, but “things are nevertheless distinguishable in themselves”).

(50) . One need only compare Plato’s account of the master and the slave (Parmenides, 133d–134a) with Hegel’s version to see that identity/difference is not available to Plato (more in chap. 2).

(51) . Also absent in this “middle,” strangely enough, is mediation, or any kind of mediating Third between the two opposing pairs. For these, he has not theorized the notion that copies of the same eventually produce difference (while also, of course, establishing and delineating the categories of identity and difference). Plato does, however, offer a more successful account of mediation in his demonstration that the five primary forms (being, motion, rest, sameness, difference) relate to one another, partaking of other primary forms: “Motion, then, is both the same and not the same” (Sophist, 1002/256a). What we have here is verification that dialectic, as a process within language, can nonetheless limn the relations between the primary forms in the intelligible, non-linguistic realm. This passage, in other words, is as much a proof of the power of Platonic dialectic as an anti-Sophist rejection of “appearances” and “shadow play.” It is to show that “what is not” is “difference” itself (and not non-existence, non-being) (see 1003/257b).

(52) . Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 19/§32.

(53) . Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1973), 157, 158. For Adorno’s take on the predialectical, see 159, 181, 202. This translation, which does not always recognize the proper philosophical (or even Hegelian) terminology in the German, should always be cross-checked with the translation by Dennis Redmond, available at http://members.efn.org/~dredmond/ndtrans.html. In this book, I cite from the older print version (in which, I admit, are all my reading notes).

(54) . Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 100/§162.

(55) . Plotinus, Enneads, 353 [5.1].

(56) . For a different point of view, relevant to my inquiry, see Robert B. Pippin, “You Can’t Get There from Here: Transition Problems in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit,” in The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 52–85; esp. 58. What seems to be the impossible leap from “pure essence” to “difference”—from consciousness and its object-obsessed inspection of “Forces” to self-consciousness and its subject-oriented reflections—is accomplished only through identity and difference or, better, a perspective on these categories at work even within a given unity. We quickly realize that, for Hegel, an indelibly “nineteenth-century” chapter on “Force and the Understanding” leads to problems that can be resolved only by a turn to the most tried and true dialectical operations and theses prevalent since Plotinus.

(57) . Hegel, in his lectures on the history of philosophy, discusses the relevance of medieval and postmedieval thought to the “questions of present philosophy” in his opening section on “Modern Philosophy.” Namely, medieval philosophy understood that “both sides must be comprehended through thought as absolute unity; the extremist opposition is apprehended as gathered into one unity” (Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3.164, my emphasis). From there, according to Hegel, later in the history of philosophy, various forms of (p.175) opposition follow and, I would say, descend; see 3.164–76. It is clear that for Hegel this thought of opposition and unity was not available in antiquity and that this medieval opposition (again, thought by dint of identity/difference) is fundamental to the founding of modern philosophy itself—and, as I will show more thoroughly in chap. 2—Hegel’s own dialectic.

(58) . “Self-consciousness is possible if the rational being can—in one and the same undivided moment—ascribe an efficacy to itself and posit something in opposition to that efficacy” (Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Foundations of Natural Right: According to the Principles of the Wissenschaftslehre, ed. Frederick Neuhouser, trans. Michael Baur [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000]), 30; see 31).

(59) . Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, §2/2.

(60) . See also Hegel, Encyclopaedia Logic, 138/§86, addition 2.

(61) . The Birth of Tragedy, 14 and 76; 14, for the second quotation.

(62) . Ibid., 28; see also 76 and 110.

(63) . Ibid., 59, 110.

(64) . Ibid., 28, 30. See 14, 18, 43, 79, 102 (on concepts); on syllogisms, 70; on knowledge, 62, 66–67.

(65) . Ibid., 116.

(66) . Ibid., 103–4; for a related motif, see Nietzsche’s comment on “the original phenomenon of drama—this experience of seeing oneself transformed before one’s eyes and acting as if one had really entered another body, another character” (43).

(67) . Hegel, Science of Logic, 357/§871. And as we saw, Nietzsche speaks of these “two interwoven [gewobenen] artistic drives” that are Dionysios and Apollo (59/Die Geburt der Tragödie, III-1.78).

(68) . Deleuze caricaturizes the Hegelian dialectic everywhere in his reading of Nietzsche, citing the usual canard of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis: “It is not surprising that the dialectic proceeds by opposition, development of the opposition or contradiction and solution of the contradiction” (Nietzsche and Philosophy, 157). And consequent with his clichés about the dialectic, Deleuze entirely brackets aufheben in his discussion, forgetting that whatever is canceled or opposed remain “preserved” (see, for example, 196).

(69) . As Nietzsche states: “Even the most sublime moral deeds, the stirrings of pity, sacrifice, heroism and that elusive placidity of the soul … were derived by Socrates and his like-minded successors (down to the present) from the dialectic of knowledge” (Birth of Tragedy, 74). For a reading of Nietzsche in relation to Pyrrhonic skepticism, see Jessica Berry, Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(70) . See Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. David E. Green (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964).

(71) . Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 11; Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, 100th Anniversary Edition (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), 311–12; Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic (New York: Verso, 2009), 15.

(72) . Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 285.

(73) . Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic, 15–16.

(74) . Ibid., 16.

(75) . See Jameson’s chapter “Utopia as Replication,” in Valences of the Dialectic, 410–34.

(76) . Ibid., 434; see 423.

(77) . Slavoj Žižek is always credited for this remark, but Žižek himself credits Jameson: (p.176) “Today, as Fredric Jameson perspicaciously remarked, nobody seriously considers possible alternative to capitalism any longer, whereas popular imagination is persecuted by the visions of the forthcoming ‘break down of nature’, of the stoppage of all life on earth—it seems easier to imagine the ‘end of the world’ than a far more modest change in the mode of production, as if liberal capitalism is the ‘real’ that will somehow survive even under conditions of a global ecological catastrophe” (“Introduction: The Spectre of Ideology,” in Mapping Ideology, ed. Slavoj Žižek [New York: Verso, 1994], 1). For his part, Jameson credits only a “someone” in “Future City,” New Left Review 21 (2003): 65–79; here, 76.

(78) . Remember, while Foucault famously states that genealogy “opposes itself to the search for ‘origins’,” or Ursprüngen, he never denied beginnings and rather believed that this same Nietzschean science should “cultivate the details and accidents that accompany every beginning” (Language, Counter-memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard; trans. Bouchard and Sherry Simon [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977], 140, 144).

(79) . Walter Benjamin, Origins of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: Verso, 1998), 45.