This is an excerpt from “The Will to Power,” an essay by one of my teachers, Alphonso Lingis, which offers, I think, some excellent preliminary insight into Nietzsche’s extraordinary term “The Will to Power”:
The Will to Power
by Alphonso Lingis
Source: David B. Allison (ed.), The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, MIT Press, 1985, pp. 37-63
We would like to ask Nietzsche; what is meant by the will to power? What is meant by saying that life is will to power? What are the powers of life? What does it mean to say that the will to power is the basis of all that is?
Thus we would put to Nietzsche the familiar form of the philosophical question. It asks after the essence of the Will to Power. The philosophical question ‘what is … ?’ is answered by supplying the quiddity, the essence. Philosophical thought is a questioning of appearances, an investigation of their essence, their organizing structure, their telos, their meaning.
This questioning assumes that the sequences of appearances mean something, indicate, refer to an underlying something, a hypokeimenon. It is metaphysical; it takes the appearances to be signs. Philosophical interrogation of the world is a reading of the world, an assumption of the succession of sensorial images as signs of intelligible essences.
Nietzsche refuses this reading of the world; he declares that the essences that the philosophical intelligence arrives at are in fact only the senses of the things — their meanings. The metaphysical reading of the world is a world-hermeneutics — an interpretation, an estimation, a valuation. ‘Insofar as the word “knowledge” has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meanings — “Perspectivism.” ’
It is possible to interpret this as Nietzsche’s virulent and extremist statement of the central thesis of modern idealism: the essences found through philosophical interrogation do not reveal the things themselves productive of their appearances, issuing signs of themselves, but reveal the acts and laws of the subject that interprets. In this sense Heidegger has called Nietzsche the most coherent subjectivist and the last Cartesian.
But there are Nietzschean reasons behind his statement, not Kantian ones. First, if the philosophical reading finds behind the flow of appearances an order of essences that account for them, Nietzsche finds behind those very essences, those senses, those interpretations, the Will to Power that accounts for them. But the Will to Power is not an essence, a quiddity behind the essences. It is, Nietzsche says, just ‘the last instance which we could go back to … !’ It is an instance rather than a substance or a substrate; it is the force behind all the forms. Heidegger says that it is the Being in all the beings — that is, the productivity that pro-duces, that brings forth to their stance and their constancy, and brings out in the open, into the light, the forms of being that scintillate in the theater of the world.
The will to power is not just power or force, but Will to Power: always will for more power. It is not an essence; it is neither structure, telos, nor meaning, but continual sublation of all telos, transgression of all ends, production of all concordant and contradictory meanings, interpretations, valuations. It is the chaos, the primal fund of the unformed — not matter, but force beneath the cosmos, which precedes the forms and makes them possible as well as transitory.
Will to Power can function neither as the reason that accounts for the order of essences, nor as the foundation that sustains them in being. What could function as ground — as ratio and as foundation — for the order of essences is the stability of ultimate unity, is God or the transcendental ego, both of which Nietzsche declares to be dead. The Will to Power is an abyss (Abgrund), the groundless chaos beneath all the grounds, all the foundations, and it leaves the whole order of essences groundless. ‘Indeed, he will doubt whether a philosopher could possibly have “ultimate and real” opinions, whether behind ever one of his caves there is not, must not be, another, deeper cave —a more comprehensive, stranger, richer world beyond the surface, an abysmally deep ground behind every ground, under every attempt to furnish “grounds.” ’
If Being, then, is not a ground, but an abyss, chaos, there is consequently in Nietzsche a quite new, nonmetaphysical or transmetaphysical understanding of beings, of things.