Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Gordon Hull, Bakhtin’s Carnival, Genealogy, History, New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science, 25 September 2018

Foucault’s use of Nietzsche to make the distinction between history and genealogy in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” is well-known.  What is less well-known, I think (perhaps I am projecting again, but I had forgotten this passage until I saw a note I’d made to it the other day), is a very clear presentation of the distinction in Society must be Defended.  Here I want to tentatively suggest some connections between the language of SMD and some of Foucault’s other writings.  The SMD context is a discussion of state historiography and archiving in the 18th Century.  Foucault announces “another new excursus,” and writes:

“The difference between what might be called the history of the sciences and the genealogy of knowledges is that the history of sciences is essentially located on an axis that is, roughly speaking, the cognition-truth axis, or at least the axis that goes from the structure of cognition to the demand for truth. Unlike the history of the sciences, the genealogy of knowledges is located on a different axis, namely the discourse-power axis or, if you like, the discursive practice-clash of power axis” (SMD 178).

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One thought on “Bakhtin’s Carnival, Genealogy, History (2018)

  1. dmf says:
    “Although Michel Foucault quipped that he had never read the Dialectic of Enlightenment (published in 1944), his work replaced the creative subject that Horkheimer took from Hegel, Marx, and Lukács with a theory about how subjectivity is created. History is a not a record of the deeds of a collective or singular subject, he argued; rather, it is formed by a series of epistemes—configurations of power-knowledge—each giving shape to different conceptions of knowledge and action. In the essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault explains that whereas archaeology digs into the layers of what is manifest in the present, genealogy searches for the breaks and displacements between the source and the phenomena. Genealogy searches for emergence (Herkunft), but emergence does not mean a smooth evolution from a known original (Ursprung). Just as there is no continuous narrative that can be told of a unified collective subject unfolding in history, so too genealogy does not trace an uninterrupted line of development from the past to the present, providing a narrative of improved knowledge and moral progress. Instead, society is constituted by a discontinuous and fragmentary series of power-knowledge configurations, full of displacements and erasures. Knowledge is not just emancipatory but also disciplinary; power can only be confronted by power. “The ‘Enlightenment,’ which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines,” he writes in Discipline and Punish (1975).”

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