Deleuze, Nietzsche, and the Dice Throw

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One of the most difficult concepts that Deleuze discusses is his concept of the dice throw. He dedicates portions of both Difference and Repetition and Nietzsche and Philosophy to discussing this seemingly obtuse and difficult concept. Deleuze places a bizarre emphasis on it, and furthermore links it to what appears to be an extremely heterodox interpretation of the eternal return while acting like it is obvious. In order to understand it, we have to closely examine both Deleuze and Nietzsche.

Nietzsche’s Triad

Firstly, we need to understand how the concepts of power, truth, and being relate in Nietzsche’s philosophy. A famous section of The Will to Power reads:

“[D]o you want a name for this world? A solution for all of its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?— This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing besides!”

The will to power is twofold: it is the will to endure, to continue to be, and also a self-overcoming and striving towards increase. Power is exactly the ability to continue to be and to be more. Being is power. What cannot endure and self-sublimate will cease to be, whether by disease and decay, or even in a more radical denial of life in the form of suicide. What is at the moment is necessarily able to endure, and as soon as it can no longer endure, ceases to be. We can see how being and power link with truth now if we consider truth firstly in the sense of a true friend. We say that the true friend endures and reaffirms his friendship when hardship tests it, while the false friend falters. He cannot endure the test.

The ultimate test of this sense of truth is found in the eternal return:

“What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ . . . Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ (The Gay Science §341)

To affirm the eternal return is to truly affirm all actions that we take. The true friend, along with the true being, is able to affirm the eternal return (and thus, the eternal return of his friendship), the test of power, being and truth. To extend the concept of truth to the propositional sense, the true proposition is the one which proves to allow us to endure, and to expand our power. The link between Spinoza and Nietzsche becomes clear when one examines Spinoza’s idea of joy, the expansion of the powers of a body. The joy or cheerfulness identified in The Gay Science (also known as The Joyful Wisdom) similarly comes from the excess of powers. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche says:

“To stay cheerful when involved in a gloomy and exceedingly responsible business is no inconsiderable art: yet what could be more necessary than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds in which high spirits play no part. Only excess of strength is proof of strength” (§343).

Perhaps it is not wrong to further extend our chain of identifications, adding a fourth term of joy. We can continue on, and add creativity and life, and continue ad nauseum, but we have enough to understand the dice throw. It should also be noted that this does not necessarily lead to a ridiculous Hobbesian war of all against all, even if it can be argued Nietzsche desired that. It is perhaps useful to recall the distinction Deleuze draws with Spinoza between morality and ethics. A morality is something transcendent, given from beyond by God, the state, etc. An ethics on the other hand, is not transcendent, but it is not relative either. Rather, ethics is particular, dealing with the ways in which bodies can relate in ways that are healthy for them.

The Throw of the Dice

“The game two moments of the game are a dice throw: the throwing of the dice, and their return…”(Nietzsche et la Philosophie 39, translation mine).

This is how Deleuze begins his discussion of the dice throw. He is obtaining this metaphor from a passage of Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

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).

There are two tables which Nietzsche identifies: the sky and the earth. Deleuze identifies these with the two moments of the game, “The earth where one throws the dice, and the sky where they return” (ibid). Deleuze is careful to emphasize that these are not two different worlds, but only two different moments of the affirmation of the event, the affirmation of becoming and the being of becoming.

Furthermore, Deleuze makes another strange insistence. The player cannot be someone who throws the die over and over again to get the same combination. On the tables of life, the good gambler is the one who affirms chance (hasard) and places everything on the single throw (ibid 40). This is affirming the necessity of the chance.

“…[I]t suffices to play the affirmation of chance once, in order to produce whatever number the dice throw brings… Knowing how to affirm chance is knowing how to play” (ibid 41).

Perhaps the player who throws over and over again to obtain the result they desire is the nihilist, who has an idea about how the world should be and judges the world based on their image, rather than playing the game and affirming this world and life. The good gambler does not have hope for an expected result, but an amor fati.

“To abolish chance and to expunge from it its causality and finality, to count on the repetition of throws, and in place of affirming necessity, expecting a goal: There are all the actions of a bad player” (ibid 42).

Staking everything on the single throw of the dice opens us up to change and chance. The bad player throws the dice, discarding the change each one would bring until he gets his desired result. He subordinates the random to the same. Yet the good player does not only affirm chance and the necessity of the throw, but the necessity of the change brought by the contingent result of the throw. Pirates and revolutionaries provides an apt metaphor:

“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 [truly] 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.”

We affirm the throw (chance), and we affirm the fatal result of the throw (necessity), and will that result eternally. The true player, the powerful one, will eternally affirm both moments of the game, the throw on the earth, and the throw on the sky, no matter how many times it faces him, for the good player understands that this is the only way to endure and to be. That is the test of the true player. The player who affirms both moments endures and supersedes, both creating, and creating new ways of creating, spontaneous and innocent in their creativity. The bad player is cynical in the modern sense, not believing in the game, but seeing the game as a means to an end. Yet as Nietzsche tells us in The Will to Power there is nothing beyond the game of the world, the innocent game of becoming:

“And do you know what “the world” is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income; enclosed by “nothingness” as by a boundary; not something blurry or wasted, not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be “empty” here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing there; a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back, with tremendous years of recurrence, with an ebb and a flood of its forms; out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex, out of the stillest, most rigid, coldest forms striving toward the hottest, most turbulent, most self-contradictory, and then again returning home to the simple out of this abundance, out of the play of contradictions back to the joy of concord, still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self- creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my “beyond good and evil,” without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal; without will, unless a ring feels good will toward itself— do you want a name for this world? A solution for all of its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?— This world is the will to power—and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power—and nothing besides!”


Note: It is worth considering how this relates to instrumentalist worldviews. When this website was founded, it was originally the place for my delusional and half-psychotic ramblings of a vaguely transhumanist bent. To wash my hands of the affair (as undoubtedly those writings are still floating around somewhere out there), I renounce all of it. The bad player in Deleuze’s dice game is the instrumentalist as well as the nihilist, seeing the world as a means to an end. Technological and rationalist worldviews (Deleuze constantly talks about the “spider” of rationalism and compares it to the bad player) seem to desire to eliminate contingency and chance from the equation entirely. Many people who hold such worldviews, as I once did, are even determinists. The logical conclusion of such a views is a kind of nulliverse, in which there is no meaning or matter to any kind of happening, no law, no creativity and no certainly no dice rolls.