Foucault News

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

‘Nietzsche, genealogy, history’

Comment contributed by Clare O’Farrell, April 2003.
The accepted translation of ‘provenance’ when used in the context of Foucault’s discussion of genealogy is ‘descent’, which I personally don’t find very helpful in my understanding of the text.

French Original
‘Le corps: surface d’inscription des événements (alors que le langage les marque et les idées les dissolvent), lieu de dissociation du Moi (auquel il essaie de prêter le chimère d’une unité substantielle), volume en perpétuel effritement. La généalogie, comme analyse de la provenance, est donc à l’articulation du corps et de l’histoire. Elle doit montrer le corps tout imprimé de l’histoire, et l’histoire ruinant le corps.’
Michel Foucault. (1971.) ‘Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire’. In Dits et Ecrits vol II. Paris: Gallimard, p. 143.

Published English Translation
‘The body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a substantial unity), and a volume in perpetual disintegration. Genealogy, as an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body and history. Its task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body.’
Michel Foucault, (1991). ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’. In Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader, London: Penguin. p. 83.

Alternative Translation
The body: a surface on which events are inscribed (whereas language takes note of events and ideas dissolve them), a site where the I is dissociated (an I to which it tries to lend the illusion of a substantial unity), it is a mass perpetually crumbling away. Genealogy, as an analysis of where things come from is thus situated at the point of articulation of the body and history. Its task is to show a body totally imprinted with history, and history destroying the body.

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