Re: deconstruction v. genealogy

Anonymous deconstructor/interogator:

I'm very interested in your musings. However, while you tell us what
is *not* the critical endeavor of genealogy, you don't tell us what
you think it is.


______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: deconstruction v. genealogy
Author: foucault@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx at INTERNET
Date: 8/9/95 10:55 AM

I wonder if list colleagues will agree with me when I say that it is
important to mark the difference between genealogy and deconstruction. A
text (in the broad sense of the term) is "deconstructed" when repressed
but influential forces are liberated through a close, careful, critical
interrogation of the text in front of us.

Thus, deconstruction has a tendency to view "power" as an enemy. That is,
to the extent that an historical entity of some kind or ruling group is
able to maintain its unity by repressing the memory of, role, origins,
subsequent transformations and contemporary importance of certain
subterranean forces, for that long and no longer will that entity survive.

Thus it is power's ruses and resistances that provide the target for
deconstructive action. When a deconstructive action is completed, those
power formations at the center of our society feel a bit decentered; those
power sources "Othered" by society feel somewhat more empowered. (I know
all this is a dream! But if we can't have dreams on the stupid Internet,
what good is it?)

Genealogy, it seems to me, has quite different purposes; certainly
different goals. And I may as well say that genalogy is, for me, the more
respectable science, the more useful set of assumptions to begin with;
all very loose, elastic, and in this way providing useful tools for a
situation that is all very loose, and elastic.

How is genealogy different from deconstruction? 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? Of course it's true that this assumption is also
demonstrated in the context of a specific genealogical critique, but to
say that *the purpose* of such critique is to expose the workings of
power is to take genealogy at its most superficial level. 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.

Judith Butler is *by no means* the only writer to make this mistake (if
it is a mistake). For instance, Arnold Davidson says much the same thing
in his article on genealogy:

Genealogy does not try to erect shining epistemological
foundations. As any reader of Foucault learns, it shows
rather that the origin of what we take to be rational,
the bearer of truth, is rooted in domination, subjugation,
the relationship of forces -- in a word, power.
(See Arnold Davidson's article in _Foucault: A Critical

But that conclusion, I would argue, is too gross to yield critical effects
for the genealogist. Any thoughts?


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