Outcome of Genealogy

Foucault in Power/Knowledge, through his “Two Lectures” proposes the idea that individuals are not separate from power nor can they stand objectively in relation to it; instead they are the effects of power. The individual as an effect of power is to be seen as a symptom of a type of power that is power relations that that intersect and embed within the individual morally and bodily. Foucault essentially speaks of a form of power ontology which is to an extent distinct from the one presented by Nietzsche in “On The Genealogy of Morals”.
However, in Foucault’s “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”, genealogy creates an interesting outcome. In genealogy there are three uses of what Nietzsche refers to as the ‘historical sense’ that create what Foucault would categorize as an alternative-memory. The alternative-memory here would mean a division from any anthropological and metaphysical modals of history and hence break with traditional history or the dialectic. This divorce from dialectic then opens up a new conception of time that can account for what the dialectic can not account for concerning history and time and taking away pretend objectivities and the superstitions of truth which could hinder or pose a threat to humanity. In the last section of the essay, Foucault asserts that there are three uses that historical sense gives rise to , which all correlate with and opposes the modalities of history suggested by Platonism. The first use is what is called the parodic and refers to the use of history in which the historian offers people the prospect of changing their identities by presenting them individual historical figures as alternatives. This venerates past identities and past events but never gives a new interpretation or an honest sense of transformation concerning someone’s identity. In contrast to this, Foucault mentions that the genealogist will know that this method is only a disguise that points to our unreality as a symptom does to a disease. The genealogist’s response to the historian’s charade will be to push the masquerade of identities to the breaking point and “prepare the great carnival of time where masks are constantly reappearing” (Foucault 94). This push by the genealogist will supposedly create dissociation with the identities of the past in regards to our own fragile identity and create an ‘unrealization’ through the myriad choices of possible identities from the past.(94) By taking up these masks we are giving new life to the ridiculousness of history and possibly finding a new realm of originality by parodying history by a force interpreting an old mask. This is in contrast to veneration-this is parody. Foucault points out that Nietzsche in his Untimely Meditations called this parodying “monumental history” in which so called high points in historical development were to be reestablished (94). This reestablishing of historical high points was later criticized by Nietzsche as restricting access to the actual creation of life and its intensities. Thus we now have Nietzsche parodying the monumental.
The second use of historical sense is to systematically dissociate and destabilize identity. This second use opposes itself to any ideas of a stable identity or the rediscovery of a forgotten identity by analyzing history, and is against what Nietzsche would call “antiquarian history” which tries to create continuities with the past rooting our present to it or as Nietzsche says “it tries to conserve for posterity the conditions under which we are born” (95). Nietzsche criticizes this form of history for restricting creativity and instead supporting laws of loyalty to the continuity of the past and present. In response to this form of history, genealogy makes us question our so called native language, native land and what governs us , to expose the heterogeneous systems that intersect us and inhibit any formation of an identity, though all the while masked by what we phenomenologically experience as the self.
The third use of the historical sense is in regards to the sacrifice of the subject of knowledge. When Foucault looks at this particular part he mostly goes over Nietzsche’s warning of the will to knowledge which also wills a fuel to truth. The will to knowledge functions as historically and psychologically to require a sacrifice , a sacrifice that has mutated from a religious sacrifice of bodies to that of knowledge which requires the subject and humanity at large. Nietzsche’s warning of the will to knowledge and the will to truth are seen all over his texts, and indicate that this will to knowledge knows no limits and no sacrifice is too great, save for its own death. As we can already see the will to knowledge spawns a will to truth which indicates a point of end or limit, though in how it functions breaks apart all limits such as superstitions, and illusions. The way in which the will to knowledge functions then exposes a contradiction within its functionality and structure and re-installs new superstitions and illusions such as a truth or objectivity. I think that this could also reveal a self-deluding pathology within the seekers of knowledge and truth. We then have Foucault saying about the will to knowledge that “it creates a progressive enslavement to its instinctive violence” (96).

One thought on “Outcome of Genealogy

  1. Alina,

    I think you do a solid job of analyzing Foucault here. I like how you distinguish the two Foucault pieces. How they would fit together ultimately would be an interesting question; I have not read enough of Foucault’s other stuff to say with confidence.

    I think Nietzsche is aware of some of the problems that Foucault points to, particularly your claim at the end about the potential problems with a will to knowledge. Why will truth, Nietzsche asks–why not untruth? In a sense, the will to truth for him is really the will to power, and there is no getting around the perspectivalism of any seeker of truth. However, Nietzsche does not recognize (unlike Foucault? I don’t know) that there are better and worse perspectives. He also seems to suggest, e.g., in the Genealogy, that there are in fact truths–even bitter, dark, unchristian truths. This doesn’t sound like perspective alone.

    The other thing that has never been clear to me is Nietzsche’s debt to Schopenhauer and the degree to which he repudiates it. If you read Nietzsche after reading Schopenhauer, Nietzsche sounds like a Spinozist and doesn’t sound at all like he has the remotest relation to postmodern philosophers like Foucault. Whether this is substantive or merely an aesthetic reaction, I have never quite been able to figure out for myself. But surely it bears on this relationship that you explore in your paper.

    Re: the three types of history, I have a friend who works on Nietzsche’s history; I’ll see if I can dig up an essay of his for you to read.

    You do a good job of making clear some difficult material; Foucault, though his writing is very clear, is not easy to figure out (at least not for me). So nice work.


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