Friday, June 18, 2010

Foucault on Nietzsche (with or without Hegel)

For some time now I have wanted to sit down and read Nietzsche with an eye to forming an opinion about his work for myself. To do this properly is clearly a long term project. I have recently got a start on it. It comes on the heels of reading Hegel, and it has been suggested to me that Nietzsche should be read as reacting deeply against Hegel and Hegelianism generally. Further, that his long-term reception has been as an arch anti-Hegelian, an anti-dialectical war machine. Foucault, I have been told, is crucial here.

So what I want to do here is think through what I am prepared to say about The Genealogy of Morals, thinking of Nietzsche as at least a surface anti-Hegelian (whatever that may mean), but also contextually, in as much as I am able. Then I want to look at how Foucault presents Nietzsche in “Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire,” an essay that I had not read in some years. Foucault himself is generally regarded as antithetical to Marx, Marxism, and all the more so to Hegel. I have long been skeptical of this view. Calling Marx a ‘minor Ricardian’ in Paris in, I think, 1966, is it seems to me to protest too much. Given that I have been encouraged to think of Nietzsche, and in particular Foucault’s Nietzsche as anti-Hegelian, I was all the more surprised to see that Foucault’s essay was first published in a collective volume, Hommage à Jean Hyppolite. Hyppolite, after all, is the individual most responsible for re-introducing Hegel into France in the 1940s and 50s. Which is enough on its own to suggest that we’re dealing here with two distinct Hegels. There is the Kojevian, ‘existentialist’ Hegel, drawn from the Phenomenology, which had to be painfully excavated again in the early, and perhaps later Marx in the second half of the 20th century. Then there is the Hegel of the Philosophy of Right, a philosopher of history, of world history, and of modernity as a collective condition. Not that the two don’t fit together in various ways, but it is not hard to see that different lessons, different readings of Marx, fit together with different approaches to Hegel.

From the beginning, I am hesitant to say what Nietzsche is ‘up to’ in the Genealogy. To dive right in: Nietzsche wants to consider the way in which morals, moral evaluation, changes, and the consequences of this instability. I want to focus on Hegelian resonances and conflicts here, but it seems to me clear that Nietzsche’s 19th century was at least as post-Kantian as post-Hegelian. Morality is a major contender in this world for a stable point around which to orient human life. Over and against the idealist impulse (variously debased) is materialism (also, of course, variously debased). In a sense, this materialism is simply the continuation of 18th century materialism: there is only matter in motion. It has become more sophisticated, and has been applied more aggressively to biology and thence to society (a transformation that Foucault, as a student of Canguilhem, certainly spent a long time thinking about, by the by). 19th century racism, of the sort that at least seems to be everywhere rearing its head in Nietzsche, fits in here. The most intellectually interesting thing to happen here, however, is the renewal of attempts to draw philosophical lessons from the undeniable practical success of science. This is the tradition from which, ultimately, Foucault himself will come.

Nietzsche was by training a philologist. It has been pointed out that Renan makes a very interesting comparison to Nietzsche, and I think this is so. Philology was one of the great intellectual projects, whose massive promises (on plain display in Renan’s youthful confession, L’Avenir de la science) turned out to be nothing other than dust glued together with the blood of others. Philology as practical science has its origin in the search for textual originals. Its method is to compare languages across time and space. Language slides into society, society into the material being of the human—which is to say into race. This could only happen because science moved forward on the biological front as well. Objects had to be defined, slow changes and also continuities accounted for, physical inheritance presented itself as an obviously true hypothesis. Languages evolve together with the peoples to which they are attached. The two are tied together by a sort of essence, and this is what the philologist is ultimately after. Nietzsche reacted to this, and I think the slow-motion decomposition of Renan’s ‘faith in science’ is instructive here.

Given all this, I want to say that Nietzsche is manifestly arguing, in The Genealogy of Morals, that moral evaluations can be traced, through that great archive language itself, to social conflict. His argument is schematic and so simplified that its precise status and objective should be considered carefully. He is not, I think, exactly making an historical argument. But he does say that, historically, at one time the word ‘good,’ for instance, applied not to acts, but to people ($4-6). The conquering race, as individuals but also as a group, simply was the good, and those conquered the bad. The ‘revolt of the slaves’ was responsible for ‘transvaluing’ this situation, shifting first the ‘good’ not to the individuals who suffered domination themselves, but to their state, and therefore their actions ($10). Good became to turn the other cheek, as an abstract quality. What matters is what to do with this historico-philosophical observation. Nietzsche is always saying that he “has much to be silent about.” Indeed, ‘wovon Nietzsche nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.’

It has been suggested that Nietzsche’s ‘slave morality’ in its historical victory over nobility is somehow a refiguring of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. Although I suppose this is possible, it doesn’t seem likely to me. First, this is for all the same reasons that it is unlikely any particular person in the late 19th century would have been drawn to this particular ‘moment’ of the Hegelian dialectic when there are so many from which to choose. It simply didn’t occur to most people as the most important part of Hegel (although perhaps it seemed important to some: Royce? Et alia?) Further, Hegel’s pair is Herr and Knecht, while Nietzsche’s is Vornehmen and Sklave. The bundles of associations are quite different, and the shift from singular to plural should not be overlooked. Now, perhaps all this should just be taken as evidence that Nietzsche meant to radically re-stage Hegel’s drama. I am not so sure. Anyway, this would assimilate Nietzsche still more closely to the ‘existentialist’ Hegel(ian tradition) and so retain him as a terrible critic of the Marxist/world-historical tradition.

The fundamental objection to Nietzsche, it seems to me, is that he is basically a racist and elitist aesthete. Certainly he is an elitist. At many places, in particularly in the way he talks so scornfully about democratic leveling, he echoes what I take to be a capacious 19th century tradition of aristocratic liberalism associated most famously with Tocqueville, but also, it is my ill-informed understanding, with Jacob Burkhardt, a not-unimportant figure for Nietzsche. Although perhaps it would be better to assert that this sort of liberalism was a very broad and generalized orientation at this dawning moment of mass democracy—in the air, as it were, rather than passed from hand to hand.

Race is a major sticking point in any attempt to ‘revive’ Nietzsche or even to read him productively. Just as one must ask with Hegel how much of his system would unravel and collapse if one insisted that the nation-state—keystone of the archway to the world spirit—be removed from it, or if we prefer to keep it intact but properly interpreted, so we must ask with Nietzsche how much of his work implies or depends upon a notion of the self tied intimately to a collective biological destiny always articulate at the level of the individual, but essentially of a historical nature but. That is, is race essential to Nietzsche’s notion of the individual, and if so, can we accept, or find an acceptable version of, his notion of race?

It should be said clearly that ‘no’ seems like a plausible, although not a necessary, answer. Nietzsche, I understand, like many in the 19th century, was Lamarkian rather than Darwinian. The terms of the debate are confused by an ambiguous vitalism that penetrates 19th century thought at every level. No doubt much has been said about Nietzsche and vitalism, but from my own perspective it is obvious that he is negotiating between a Spencerian ‘struggle for life’ notion of vitalism and a subtly different and more idealist vitalism of the sort represented by Jean-Marie Guyau—that which is life is good, and therefore that which increases life is good. This is the principle of Esquisse d’une morale sans sanction ni obligation, published in1884, which I mention because Nietzsche read it and knew it. Henri Bergson fits, in a sense, into this line, which goes back to Ravaisson. The story is complicated because it involves a series of borrowings (perhaps mutual) between quite different French and German philosophical lines of thought. My sense is that it should be possible to tell a single story as a sort of oblique dialog that would include Cousin and Ravaisson, the German Idealists after Kant, and would run up through the Heideggerian exchange of the pre and post 1945 years—but this is the kind of nationalizing historiography that, even when practiced in its most deconstructive mode (Ethan Kleinberg) is, I think, always telling the same story again and again—in that way, maybe, we can say that history in a deconstructive mode is very like history in a Hegelian mode, the movement and the answer is always the same, but it seems always to take a long time to figure it out.

Nietzsche, it seems to me, is really pursuing a very different project than Bergson. Bergson is absolutely interested in the natural sciences, in the physiology of the human, but it seems to me that his whole way of proceeding through the physical, as much as it deposits there, is quite abstracted. One could talk a great deal about the way Bergson dealt with the issue, of which he was acutely aware, that he understands language to be conceptual, and the durée to non-conceptual and therefore non-linguistic (although it would be wrong, I think, to say that it is what escapes language), but that Bergson could only discuss durée in language. Nietzsche, on the other hand, I think is attempting in his discussion of ‘morals’ to work the ideal directly out of physical, tactile, reality. This is why race matters to him, but also why he brings up the ancients’ practice of reading out loud, the ideal determination of the sentence by the breath and so the body. The latter seems clear enough, and not too problematic. But race? The point, I think, is that there are bundles of characteristics, wills, that cannot be dissociated from their material foundation. This is race. It is exactly an incarnated concept, a Hegelian idea. To the degree that the European ‘nations’ are young and undefined, they are not yet races (I’m thinking of $251 in Beyond Good and Evil). There is no hint, so far as I can see, of the Hegelian teleology of freedom in Nietzsche. True, Nietzsche, like Hegel, like Spinoza, and many others, finds a way to identify freedom and necessity. This is not, however, transformed into an historical principle as it arguably is in Hegel. The reason is, it seems to me, that Nietzsche’s attitude to history is, for all his biologism, enormously voluntaristic.

This is where Foucault comes in. The vulgar version of Nietzsche, or racial thinking, is a sort of biologized Marxism. Indeed, the argument has explicitly been made that the intellectual roots of Nazism are to be found in a revisionist Marxism that, essentially, transformed classes into races (I’m getting this argument from James Gregor, but not endorsing it). Marxist historiography has often handled superstructural elements like morals through reference, with varying degrees of sophistication, to structural facts, including structural conflict. The Hegelian heritage in Marxism is supposed to mean that this conflict, the many generations of superstructural chaff, all fit into a total picture. The unfolding logic of productive forces in conflict with social relations comes to an impasse, there is not just a revolution, but the Revolution. Nietzsche may retain teleology, but it is not a pre-given teleology as in the vulgar version of Marx. Life, in its breadth and depth, is the teleological goal, but can itself be understood only genealogically, which is to say retroactively (how far from Hegel are we here, really?)

And this is the Nietzsche that Foucault gives us. He is above all an anti-Platonist. The ‘origin’ in which he is interested is in no way a philological essence, but rather a contingent and tainted thing recognized. Genealogy is a way of doing history against history, which is taken to be obsessed with origins in the Platonist sense of essence. Foucault says that the genealogists does not look for the Ursprung,

Parce que d’abord on s’efforce d’y recueillir l’essence de la chose, sa possibilité la plus pure, son identité soigneusement repliée sur elle-même, sa forme immobile et antérieure à tout ce qui est externe, accidentel et successif. Rechercher une telle origine, c’est essayer de retrouver ‘ce qui était déjà’, le ‘cela même’ d’une image exactement adéquate à soi…Si le généalogiste prend soin d’écouter l’histoire plutôt que d’ajouter foi à la métaphysique, qu’apprend-il ? Que derrière les choses il y a ‘tout autre chose’ …le secret qu’elles sont sans essence, ou que leur essence fut construit pièce à pièce à partir de figures qui lui étaient étrangères (148).

Genealogy is thus against both philology and Hegelian or other idealist ways of writing history. What emerges is a frankly materialist conception of history. For Nietszche, channels Foucault,

« La vérité et son règne originaire ont eu leur histoire dans l’histoire…L’histoire, avec ses intensités, ses défaillances, ses fureurs secrètes, ses grandes agitations fiévreuses comme ses syncopes, c’est le corps même du devenir.» (150-151). Rather than Ursprung, the genealogist is interested in Herkunf and Entstehung. The former Foucault renders as ‘provenance’ and the latter as ‘emergence.’ Of the first, he says, “La généalogie, comme analyse de la provenance, est doc à l’articulation du corps et de l’histoire. Elle doit montrer le corps tout imprimé d’histoire, et l’histoire ruinant le corps. » (154). This, I think, is how Foucault would want to say Nietzsche deals with race—race is history marking the body. Of the second,

L’émergence, c’est donc l’entrée en scène des forces; c’est leur irruption, le bond par lequel sautent de la coulisse sur le théâtre, chacune avec sa vigueur, la juvénilité qui est la sienne. Ce que Nietzsche appelle l’Entstehungsherd du concept de bon, ce n’est exactement ni l’énergie des forts, ni la réaction des faibles ; mais bien cette scène où ils se distribuent les uns en face des autres. (156)

This begins to sound to my ears a great deal like Badiou. Take for instance this, “Nul n’est doc responsable d’une émergence, nul ne peut s’en faire gloire ; elle se produit toujours dans l’interstice.” (156) Of course Badiou has an explicitly worked-out metaphysics to go with his notion of the event, while Foucault certainly does not—but still I would be surprised if it wasn’t, on investigation, very clear that Badiou is working on Foucault’s notion of history and historical change. Or perhaps Althusser and Spinozan Marxism are really the important things here? (The answer seems increasingly often to be ‘Althusser’ when the question is about the French 1960s and 70s).

Although I would resist the notion that we should read Foucault’s Nietzsche as simply endorsed by Foucault, there is clearly overlap. For instance, “L’humanité ne progresse pas lentement de combat en combat jusqu’à une réciprocité universelle, où les règles se substitueront, pour toujours, à la guerre; elle installe chacune de ces violences dans un système de règles, et va ainsi de domination en domination” (157). That is, as they say, a strong reading. Yet stronger and more clearly self-referential is the discussion of ‘interpretation,’

Si interpréter, c’était mettre lentement en lumière une signification enfouie dans l’origine seule la métaphysique pourrait interpréter le devenir de l’humanité. Mais si interpréter, c’est s’emparer, par violence ou subreption, d’un système de règles qui n’a pas en soi de signification essentielle, et lui imposer une direction, le ployer à une volonté nouvelle, le faire entrer dans un autre jeu et le soumettre à des règles secondes, alors le devenir de l‘humanité est une série d’interprétations. Et la généalogie doit en être l’histoire : histoire des morales, des idéaux, des concepts métaphysiques, histoire du concept de liberté ou de la vie ascétique, comme émergences d’interprétations différentes. Il s’agit de les faire apparaître comme des événements au théâtre des procédures. (158)

The broader point of Foucault’s reading of Nietzsche is that the past does not give us meaning in the form of history, but rather just the other way around, we put meaning into the past ourselves. We believe in general that " notre présent prend appui sur des intentions profondes, des nécessités stables; nous demandons aux historiens de nous en convaincre. Mais le vrai sens historique reconnaît que nous vivons, sans repères ni coordonnée originaires, dans des myriades d’événements perdus” (162). Foucault walks the reader through a genealogy of history itself and concludes that Nietzsche’s ‘true historical sense’ is a point by point rejection of Plato’s concept of history. In a nicely surrealist phrase, Foucault says, « La généalogie, c’est l’histoire comme carnaval concerté. » (168). All of this comes down to an analysis of the Will to Truth, closely related to the Will to Power. Historical analysis shows that, “il n’y a pas de connaissance qui ne repose sur l’injustice (qu’il n’y a donc pas, dans la connaissance même, un droit à la vérité ou un fondement du vrai) et que l’instinct de connaissance est mauvais…” (170). Truth, this is to say, does not set you free, it simply enslaves you yet the tighter. This is the anti-enlightenment turn everyone is always talking about in Foucault. There is no truth, because truth is slavery, there are only strong interpretations, which is to say autonomous self-creation. That is Foucault’s Nietzsche.

All of this is possible only in a world in which historical meaning is generated subjectively, in the moment. The material reality of the world must be scratched clean of the accretions of valuation that are history in order to make a different meaning. Meaning is not intersubjective. Nor is it present but unavailable as a sort of transcendentally necessary object. Essence has fled history, and given way entirely to existence. Sound familiar? It seems to me that Foucault is here basically getting from Nietzsche the propositions of Sartrean existentialism while avoiding Sartre, and the requisite encounter with Hegel’s Phenomenology. It was surely not as a matter of convenience that Foucault published the Nietzsche essay in a volume for the translator of the Phenomenology.

It would be wrong, I think, to assume that Foucault’s Nietzsche is the same as Foucault. Here there is a complication, a significant complication. Foucault’s fundamental rhetorical mode is that of world history. It is deeply marked by Marx and conceptual tools forged in the Marxist tradition. Althusser is obviously unavoidable here. How does this kind of ghostly Marxism (borrowing, perhaps unwisely, the idea) fit with the thrown, existentialist-Heideggerian Hegelianism I am arguing we see Foucault find (and that he must, in some sense, in some context, endorse) in Nietzsche? Without pushing the point too much, this is exactly Sartre’s problem in Search for a Method and then The Critique of Dialectical Reason.

Perhaps the conclusion here is that we might take Foucault’s essay on Nietzsche as evidence, or a starting point for arguing, that Foucault in particular and his generation in general were deeply engaged in playing out and refiguring the wars of their older brothers. It has been said that when Foucault and Barthes ceremoniously removed the head of the Author, they really were decapitating Sartre. The argument has again drifted into a kind of schematism that I don’t think can be sustained.

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