Thinking Dance in Relation to Deleuze’s Nietzsche

Deleuze’s treatment of Nietzsche draws upon and elaborates a number of Nietzschean concepts that construe the activity of dancing as the work of bodies and forces. Deleuze’s reading of the body as a relation between active and reactive force makes possible a typological evaluation of the action of dancing, one that distinguishes between dancing (as a form of activity) and the dancer (as a reactive formation). Although Deleuze is pretty dismissive of the subject (dancer) as a metaphysical ground (as agent), this work paves the way for a strategic approach to subjectivity. From a practice-based point of  view,    this approach can be discerned within postmodern dance insofar as it calls forth a form  of movement beyond the self. Yvonne Rainer speaks of “recusing” the self, others of “voiding” the self, or creating a certain kind of absence within subjectivity. In the context of this paper, this might be seen as a form of “active destruction” on the part of the subject, a key element of the Nietzschean shift towards overcoming. Although dancers inevitably remain on the plane of the subject, there is a sense in which postmodern dance, and perhaps other practices further afield, tip the scales towards a more active interpretation of, and engagement with, force.

Duchamp’s Art Coefficient: The Dark Precursor at Work

The aim of this presentation is to introduce a definition of artistic research derived from the historical tradition of modern art. Further, it will show how Deleuze’s concept of the “dark precursor” is both a development and an affirmation of the metaphysics that underpins that tradition.

Modern art metaphysics, first outlined by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, conceives the artist as a medium that translates into concrete form the experiences gained during and after a supra-subjective and supra-historical state. In this condition, a non-personal force manifests itself to the artist during a breakdown of the principium individuationis. On the return from this breakdown, difference becomes present and shows the artists the process by which the World of beings emerges out of Oneness.

The artist is then free to engage difference and produce completely new entities as a way to differentiate the One. However, difference continues manifesting itself in the way the artist’s will cannot be translated identically into material form. Duchamp called this difference the “art coefficient” of a work of art (“The Creative Act,” 1957). He referred to it as the difference between what an artist intends to express with what the artist actually realises in a work of art—“an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed.”

Duchamp conceived the work to reduce the art coefficient as a struggle carried out by the artist guided by “pure intuition,” which he described as a mediumistic capacity that is beyond conscience. Following Deleuze, it is possible to think of Duchamp’s intuition as a dark precursor that by opening paths of potential communication attempts to break down the difference between a possible series and its actualisation in the external world. As an exploring flash that out of the darkness of “the labyrinth beyond space and time seeks a way out to a clearing”—as Duchamp described intuition—the dark precursor makes its final discharge in the concrete work of art. Conceived as part of the process of eternal recurrence, the struggle to actualise a possible series is in reality the struggle for the return—through the artist-medium—of a series of images that have existed before in the infinity of time. The Same returns but as it emerges into material form it can never be identical to what the artist has intuitively grasped beyond space and time.

Artistic research relies on Duchamp’s “art coefficient.” Artistic research is the struggle made by artists in the search for the formal solutions that will reduce the difference between what the artist has perceived through intuition as an explorative lightning, and what is finally actualised. Artistic research is the launching of an artist’s dark precursor that, struggling back and forth through knowledge fields and formal series, seeks to link an image from circular time with a series of multiple presents, forcing the image’s eternal return as the Same but totally different. The dark precursor seeks to link through the maximum of difference the two pre-existing series, that of circular time and that of its tangent, the straight line of pure time that creates the paradox of the present. Artistic research as the launching of the dark precursor amplifies the difference between an object, even between knowledge, with itself. “Nietzsche’s eternal Return, neurasthenic / form of a / repetition in succession to infinity” (Duchamp 1983). Finally, in the artist’s effort, the art coefficient is never reduced to zero because at one point the “invisible precursor conceals itself” and takes over the operation of transubstantiation of the in-itself, an operation in which the artist no longer plays a part.


Duchamp, Marcel. 1975. The Essential Writings of Marcel Duchamp. Edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.

—. 1983. Marcel Duchamp: Notes. Edited and translated by Paul Matisse. Boston: G. K. Hall.

Sisyphus and Deleuze

This paper will examine how my art practice applies ideas of classical reception theory in the production of a history of the myth of Sisyphus. As reception history reveals alterations and shifts of meaning through time and cultures, so the myth of Sisyphus can be seen as a metaphor of layers of repetition laid upon each other as each cycle of punishment begins, alluding to Deleuze’s concepts of difference and repetition. These are ideas born out of Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return, taken from the punishment of Sisyphus, first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

This Classical Reception history is realised as an illustrated journal. It is an assemblage of texts and images of Sisyphus as they have appeared chronologically and explores the evolution of myth and changes in meaning. My own drawings are included, in my guise as Sisyphus, as he attempts to articulate his own story. The decision to construct a visual diary, a common device employed both by artists and by those undergoing therapy as a tool to record and explore complex processes and to unpack thoughts, ideas, and emotions, is relevant because ideas of classical reception come out of Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis: a peeling away of layers to reveal core meanings. The conceit of this illustrated journal is to explore a single idea and how it has been expressed in a multiplicity of ways. It alludes to both the repetitions found in Sisyphus’s tale and in the reproductions and re-enactments of his narrative that have reoccurred through history.

Echoing the Greek Stoic philosophers, eternal return posits that the universe is recurring and will continue to recur an infinite number of times; that “This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence” (Nietzsche 2001, 194). Deleuze, however, believed that all repetition contained differences, “the only thing that returns or is repeated is the power of difference” (Colebrook 2002).

Sisyphus’s re-enactment can be seen, according to Deleuzian theory, as a way of perceiving the same act in different ways, although the actions remain the same: burden can become determination; eternity as constant purpose, futility as endeavour. The act of pushing the boulder up the mountain only to witness it tumbling down again without hope of ever reaching the summit becomes an act of becoming; a true becoming as it has no end. To strive without resolution is to learn to enjoy the journey and the attempt. Released from ambitions of outcome, the action becomes a metaphor for faith and trust and an awareness of the present. Deleuze insists that we value action and ideas of becoming in and of themselves.

This paper will look at how the Deleuzian theories of repetition and difference were born out of the stories of Sisyphus, and altered it in turn—how the original myth can be interpreted for new readers.


Colebrook, Claire. 2002. Gilles Deleuze. London: Routledge.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2001. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Edited by Bernard Williams. Translated by Josefine Nauckhoff. Poems translated by Adrian Del Caro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corpus Delicti #2 // Untimely Precursors

On 30 July 1881 Nietzsche sent a postcard to his friend Franz Overbeck, enthusiastically expressing his surprise at having discovered he had a famous precursor in the history of philosophy:

I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now, was inspired by “instinct.” Not only is his overtendency like mine—namely to make all knowledge the most powerful affect—but in five main points of his doctrine I recognise myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world-order, the unegoistic, and evil. (Postcard to Franz Overbeck, Sils-Maria, 30 July 1881)

In our fictional lecture-performance, Franz Overbeck (Arno Böhler) responds to Nietzsche’s postcard by recommending that he read two young French philosophers: Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. Overbeck is particularly enthusiastic about Deleuze’s book Nietzsche and Philosophy and Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. He claims that both authors have finally understood that his friend Nietzsche’s work, due to its untimeliness, is a foreign body to what has been called philosophy so far. Having started the “Prelude of a Philosophy of the Future,” Nietzsche’s thought is now at last recognised as being a precursor of thought events, still waiting to be discovered and called into being posthumously.

Such a futuristic mode of thinking and doing philosophy, says Deleuze, “has an essential relation to time.” It is fundamentally untimely, that is to say:

… essentially against its time, a critique of the present world. The philosopher creates concepts that are neither eternal nor historical but untimely and not of the present. The opposition in terms of which philosophy is realized is that of present and non-present, of our time and the untimely (UM II Use and Abuse of History, Preface). And in the untimely there are truths that are more durable than all historical and eternal truths put together: truths of times to come.
(Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy. London and New York: Continuum 2006, 100.)

Franz Overbeck’s reflections in response to Nietzsche’s postcard are interrupted by Susanne Valerie Granzer, who presents a selection of texts by philosophers whose philosophy has been interpreted as a disruption, or sometimes even as a crime against the classical canon of philosophy they inherited: Spinoza, who was cursed for his thoughts, the man in Kafka’s The Trial who was executed without reason, and the poets in Plato’s Republic who were expelled from the state.

The lecture-performance stages philosophy, rendering the words uttered in the performance as a sensual, bodily experience, to be shared with the audience.