Re: deconstruction v. genealogy

At 10:04 AM 8/9/95, John Ransom wrote:

A very interesting message. I'll focus on one point only (although I would
later like to get back to the use of the term "repression" in this

>First of all, it *cannot*
>be the case for a genealogist that exposing the existence and role of
>power is the heart of the critical effect of genealogy. Let me cite
>Judith Butler, whose *excellent* book _Gender Trouble_ makes this very
> To expose the foundational categories of sex, gender and
> desire as effects of a specific formation of power requires
> a form of critical inquiry that Foucault, reformulating
> Nietzsche, designates as "genealogy." ("Preface," p. x in
> _Gender Trouble_ (New York: Routledge, 1990).
>But it cannot be the *goal* of genealogy to expose something as a
>"specific formation of power." That's an assumption of genealogical
>activity, isn't it?

I haven't read Butler, but it seems to me on the basis of this quotation
that her claim isn't of the form "the goal of X is Y" but rather "to
accomplish Y, one must use method X". That doesn't necessarily mean
anything about goals, one way or the other: a methodology can have effects
that aren't goals.

But, leaving that aside, and taking your word for it that Butler elsewhere
makes clear that this kind of exposure is indeed a goal, the quoted
paragraph seems to to say this: if one wants to expose *specific* effects
of a *specific* formation of power, one must do genealogy, in the
Nietzschean/Foucauldian sense. This raises two questions:

1. Is genealogy really necessary, or might there be other ways to
accomplish the same thing?

2. Is genealogy sufficient, ie does it in fact lead to the satisfaction of
the goal in question?

(1) is too messy to get into here, and doesn't seem to be the point you're
addressing anyway. So we'll leave it alone for now.

You seem to be suggesting some kind of question-begging going on in (2),
that the goal is pre-assumed by the methodology. Here I think you're
There may indeed be a general assumption that categories like "desire" etc
are effects of "a [some] specific formation of power" but of course there's
no assumption about what that specific form *is* (or was), how it works,
from what other forms and historical circumstances it was derived etc. It
seems to me to be perfectly legitimate to say that what any particular
instance of genealogy provides is precisely an exposure of those details.
That some exposure is theoretically possible may be an assumption, but the
concrete exposure itself is not.

So I would conclude that there's no logical flaw here in Butler's
understanding of genealogy as a specific practice (rather than an abstract

>At the same
>time, such a reading reintroduces in a backhand way the notion that power
>is something that is "bad" and that to find in some cultural artifact
>(such as sexual identity, etc.) the workings of "power" is the same as to
>say that one has found something illegitimate or immoral at the heart of
>that cultural artifact.

There's an implicit undercurrent in Foucault's own works of the same sort,
even though he was clearly aware of the problem. This moral understanding
of power would seem to be very difficult to avoid. Are there any examples
of a purely amoral genealogy? Would such a genealogy be useful for

At bottom you seem to be suggesting that the most important difference
between genealogy and deconstruction is that the latter is a kind of moral
perspective ("repression" gives the game away) and the former is not. I'm
not sure that this is true -- "power" may be a moral term, whether we like
to admit it or not.

As a final question, I would ask this: would genealogy cease to be useful,
or cease to be genealogy, if it became clear that it was as much a moral
science as a historical/critical one?



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