Friday, August 19, 2011

Foucault on Nietzsche

I finished Foucault's Nietzsche, Genealogy, History a bit ago. The text was written for a tribute to Hyppolite, which gives it a second valence; in the first it transforms Nietzsche into a Hyppolite's Hegel, but in another opposes them.  Nietzsche in his interpretation becomes an interpreter of "forces" which appropriate historical actuality and produce historical "events"; but at the same time he reads Nietzsche to show a new way for historicism, in that, if one follows the genealogical method, checks the content of an apparent historical event, one will find a chaotic a avaricious underside in contradiction with the apparent order of things.  Nietzsche is both other than Hegel, as for Foucault forces are necessarily multiple and moreover, truth is always subordinated to forces. But at the same time, Foucault's Nietzsche simply reverses Hegel's philosophical history. Instead of moving from an individual level, consisting of desires, interests and unconscious activity to a general image of Spirit in laws, institutions, art and religion; the process is reversed, where the genealogist begins with a continuous historical event and derives from it the complex of factors which precipitate it.

Foucault focuses on Nietzsche's critique of the historical origin, a notion against which he counterposes the method of genealogy. The two primary concepts wherein genealogy is actualized, according to Foucault, are descent, which he defines as the actual embedded qualities of a social assemblage that may be traced through history--an actuality  opposed to the notion of heritage--and emergence, which he classifies as the singular event through which forces (social institutions, governments, revolutions, etc.) engage one another, and therein determine alterations in the a social body, through conflict.  These two terms, descent and emergence are effectively the same as becoming or event, and to analyze them out of history, allows for the historian to create a sense of the past that is non-metaphysical and dynamic.

The genealogical method generates three historical positions, related to the Nietzsche's own historical categories (that I mentioned in my last post), which undermine the historicist's sense of Absolute History. The first is parodic history which plays on monumental history--the genealogist is to manipulate the monumental figures of the past, donning their masks and revealing in them the finite drama's which they mask. The second is dissociative history, which relates to Nietzsche's antiquarian history.  For Nietzsche, the antiquarian sense of history is one in which a person or group of people codifies a lineage or an identity through a notion of state or a heritage in contradiction to their space.  This process is one which slows creativity and change, as a means of giving stability to a people in transition, alienated form their history.  Dissociative history is a means of turning this force against itself, by showing that what is perceived as a stable history is actually a complex of factors and interactions which can only modify and complicate a group identity.  The third genealogical transformation is of critical history. It searches for moments in which history is turned against itself, and where it sacrifices its own identity as a means of a knowledge that is independent of human self-interest.  This is the most interesting aspect of the essay, as for Foucault, knowledge is clearly something outside of humanity, and whose interests realize forces which precede humanity and transform it unconsciously.  Knowledge is an indifferent and destructive force and in many ways is a movement that cannot not be separated from its subject.  In other words, the aspects of things that are understood as independent of humanity or our image of what humanity is are as much a part of knowledge as the knowing subject that participates in them.

Knowledge acts as an a priori in two senses, both as a transcendental category virtually and as an actual object, simultaneously; this is much different than the popular realist interpretation of Foucault would have you believe.  Knowledge is a real occurrence in the world, which does. A book is an event of knowledge, a machine is an event of a particular axiom of knowledge, which is then appropriated by a subject into a function, or conversely a subject may be appropriated by knowledge into a particular function.  Wall Streeters come to mind as subjects appropriated into action by the knowledge of a superior or by a system erected by external entities of knowledge. They remain objects pushed by forces external to them, they act as minor components within a mathematical continuum of abstract objects, to which they are simply cogs; that is if we project a consciousness onto the market. Without this metaphor it is difficult to describe this type of appropriation, because we reason out of the particular translation of our relation within a field of objects. The objects aren't the idea, rather, our knowledge is in objects which means that as it is thought it must necessarily exist.  There is no thought which does not relate the human as object to another object, though there are objects, or a potential knowledge which remain unthought and may never be thought.

Through out it is apparent the shared sense that body, event, singularity and force takes on for Foucault and Deleuze.  One difference however, and I recently read an interview with Vattimo in which he makes a similar claim, is that for Foucault, the appropriation of a force for a different end (for instance, the reversal of a system of laws under a revolutionary regime), effectively transforms the "truth" of a genealogical history. By identifying force with truth, one effectively negates the possibility of truth as ever being opposed to an appropriated force in the present.  I agree with Vattimo's assertion that this is an essentially conservative proposition. I have always found Deleuze's tendency to avoid these sorts of proclamations, to be a reason why he so effectively avoids the reactionary tendencies of his more post-Heideggerian peers, Derrida and Foucault, though this may simply be bias. Nonetheless, as a point of argumentation, I found Foucault, like Deleuze, to often fall into a repetitive tendency in which each point is the same description of how whatever categorical and absolute notion is really a dynamic and violent singularity.  This is the argumentative fallacy of their work; that in each case of a historical transformation is a violent overthrow, and that each scientific advancement includes some coercion of a happy ignorance.  I wonder how many times there is new knowledge that both generates large scale societal effects, while also remaining relatively unknown to the populace.

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