Foucault’s 1971 “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”


According to Foucault, if classical culture was characterized by “an entire tradition in historical science (theological or rationalistic) that seeks to dissolve individual events in the ideal continuity of the teleological movement or natural interconnection,” then genealogy (or, according to Foucault, “real” history) evaluates predecessors as those who “were wrong in describing linear genesis.”

The unambiguity of the formulations and the content of the “genealogy” methodological guidelines suggest that, within the framework of this approach, Foucault consistently abandons virtually all traditional presumptions of a linear vision of the historical process. Fundamental methodological genealogy specificity, which distinguishes it from the classical methods of analysis of historical process performs its principal non-linearity.

First, genealogy based on a radical rejection of the presumption of continuity. According to Foucault, “the forces acting in history … do not show themselves in successive forms of initial intention, they do not matter the result.” According to Foucault’s programmatic formulation, “genealogy does not pretend to turn back time and establish an enormous continuity, despite scattered forgotten; it does not set itself the task of showing that the past is still here, lives safely in the present, animating it secretly, first giving all the hindrances to the path the shape destined from the very beginning. ” In this context, an event is defined as a phenomenon with a special status neither articulation as a cause, nor articulation, therefore, the status of the “effect.”

Secondly, “genealogy” is focused on clearly expressed antievolutionism. The latter is that, according to Foucault, the goal of the work of a genealogist, unlike the work of a historian in his traditional understanding, is by no means the reconstruction of the historical process as a kind of integrity, the evolution of which presupposes the realization of some initial outline. The genealogical approach not only assumes but also does not allow “nothing that would be like … the fate of the people.” The goal of genealogy is just the opposite, namely, “to keep what happened, in its inherent fragmentation … delusions, errors in assessment, poor calculation, which gave rise to what exists and is significant for us; to discover that in the root of what we know and of what we are, there is neither truth, nor being, but only the exteriority of the case.”

Thirdly, one of the most critical presumptions of “genealogy” is the rejection of the idea of ​​an external cause. It is precisely this refusal that Foucault sees as the main criterion for distinguishing “genealogy” from traditional disciplinary history: in his opinion, “the objectivity of history is … the necessary belief in Providence, in final causes and teleology.” Genealogy interprets subjectness in a fundamentally different way: namely as an eventful creative environment that is in the process of intrinsic self-organization. Similarly, the “story with its intensities, inconsistencies, hidden fury, great feverish revivals, as with its syncopations, is the very body of becoming. You need to be a metaphysician to search for a soul in a distant ideal of origin.”

Fourthly, in the “genealogy” reference system, the phenomenon of chance acquires the status of a fundamental mechanism for the implementation of the actual process. Moreover, if the extended version of history created a special “universe of rules, designed … to quench the thirst for violence” a kind of interpretive self-will regarding spontaneous eventfulness, then “genealogy comes, finally, to an understanding: “a grandiose game of history is to whom regulations.”

As the most critical moment of the constitution of a semantically significant event, Foucault fixes the phenomenon of the possibility of verification in the unfolding of events. As Foucault writes, “from the same sign, in which both the symptom of the disease and the embryo of a delightful flower can be seen, they came out at the same time, and only later they would be divided.” “Excessive strength” manifests itself in that it “allows it to separate” by asking various versions of the branching process. According to Foucault, “it also happens that strength fights against itself: … now of its weakening … reacts to its fatigue, drawing from it, not ceasing to increase, its power, and turning against it … it sets limits for him (order as the principle of limiting possible degrees of freedom), depicts him as the highest moral value and, thus, regains power.” In this context, Foucault gives an example from the history of the Reformation: “in XII century, Catholicism was still strong enough to rebel against itself, torture its own body and its history, and spiritualize into a pure religion of conscience.”

According to Foucault’s formulation, “the forces acting in history are not subject to the design, nor to the mechanism, but only the vicissitudes of the struggle … They always manifest themselves in a unique chance event.” Thus, a necessary alternative to linear genetism is, in Foucault’s opinion, “indispensable for genealogist restraint: snatch the singularity of events beyond any monotonous expediency, track them where they are least expected … not so much to draw a slow curve of their evolution, but to recover different the prices at which they played various roles; to determine even the point of their lacunae, the moment in which they did not take place.”

During overcoming the logocentrism of traditional metaphysics, Foucault argues that chance should not be understood as a break in the chain of necessary causes and effects that violates the continuity of the triumphal unfolding of the logic of history. On the contrary, the following random one after another of various deviations from the norm constitutes those threads that serve as the basis of the event fabric of history.

According to Foucault’s formulation, “the forces acting in history are not subject to the design, nor to the mechanism, but only the vicissitudes of the struggle … They always manifest themselves in the unique randomness of the event.”

We believe that our present rests on sincere intentions, on invariable necessity; we demand from historians to convince us of this. However, the real historical feeling suggests that we live without unique markings and original coordinates in the myriad of lost events.”

“The genealogy of power,” according to Foucault, should be unlike the “history of historians” supra-historical, timeless, apocalyptic. Genealogy, in his opinion, is intended to be “the history of morality, ideals, metaphysical concepts, history of the concept of freedom or ascetic life as foci of various interpretations” to allow “to reveal them as events in the theater of judicial procedures” Genealogy, in Foucault’s view, opposes “metaphysical deployment ideal significations of teleological infinities.”

As Foucault argued, after Nietzsche, only three ways of dealing with history are possible:

1. Extending the traditional global monumental history, practice parody, and farcical exaggeration, bringing everything “sacred” to the carnival limit of the heroic – up to the greatest ones imaginable, events and people.

2. Immediately become everything. The plural and intermittent I, incapable of synthesis and disinterested in finding roots, are capable and empowered to empathically get used to all forms of existence of the changing world of people and cultures.

3. Reject the “passion for truth” by refusing the “will-to-knowledge” Honor the “practice of stupidity” in the name of overcoming the sacrifice of life.

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