My latest article, “Foucault, Genealogy, Counter-History,” was just published here in Theory & Event (click here for a pdf). It is the result of long years of wrestling with genealogy in Foucault and Nietzsche, discovering its enormous limitations, and attempting to elaborate a materialist counter-history that both overcomes them and allows for a more politically trenchant form of historical critique.
This article examines the force and limitations of genealogy in order to develop a practice of counter-history that is capable of both overcoming its inherent problems and providing a more trenchant mode of critico-historical engagement. Using Foucault’s well-known essay on Nietzsche as its methodological centerpiece, it begins by elucidating the latter’s powerful contribution to the historical analysis of values, while also foregrounding the quasi-naturalized morality of genealogy that structures it. Against this backdrop, it examines Foucault’s symptomatological distinction between two opposed and normativized conceptions of origin in Nietzsche—Herkunft and Ursprung—in order to both explicate Foucault’s unique appropriation of Nietzschean genealogy and demonstrate its limits through the striking fact that this originary textual symptom of “properly Nietzschean” genealogy does not actually exist in the text. The remainder of the article draws on certain genealogical resources while challenging the historical order undergirding them in order to propose an alternative logic of history that takes into account its constitutive multidimensionality and the multiplicity of agencies at work in any conjuncture. It dismantles, in this way, the very framework that renders historical origins possible, as well as streamlined moral narratives of genealogical inversion, thereby parting ways with the moralities of genealogy in favor of the politicization of values.
“Given the individualist, libertarian tenor of Foucault’s work, his genealogical anti-morality tales are more keyed to personal, local and partial modifications than to systemic political changes, particularly those that are revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Care of self, we might say, generally superseded care of society, at the risk of developing parasitic practices that could only work within given systems rather than radically reconfigure them. Indeed, he preferred the interstitial work of the ‘specific intellectual’ who intermittently drew on his particular areas of expertise to intercede in public debate (rather than being consistently dedicated to collective political organizing). In this sense, he follows Nietzsche in understanding genealogy as a moral project of historical introspection. Although it might, and often does, contain certain political elements in its diagnoses, it is generally opposed to—and normatively codes as ‘bad’—the systemic remedy of collective social action.”