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Similarity of the Genealogies.

Nietzsche and Foucault’s Genealogies both aim to dispel certain misguided suppositions that we have, which fundamentally shape the point of view that we take upon the subjects of their interest. Nietzsche’s attack on slave morality not only denounces the consequences of our subjugation to Christian/slave morality, but more importantly, it sought to quell the conventional notions associated with morality, such as morality being universal, or its origin being utilitarian (Nietzsche’s refutation of the claim that our high regard for pity has stemmed from a utilitarian consideration). Instead, Nietzsche offers the all-encompassing concept of will to power, which penetrates through all moral phenomena. An example of this is his analysis of philosopher’s penchant for ascetic ideals, which, despite ostensibly having been developed by a selfless contemplation, in fact comes from the philosophers’ pursuit for power and security.  Thus he reveals what he conceives to be the true nature of morality and proceeds in his eradication of the misconceptions.

Similarly Foucault in History of Sexuality Volume 1 targets our belief in the repressive hypothesis. He states that people hold up the repressive hypothesis despite the fact that it does not have direct support from historical evidence. Foucault explains the ready acceptance it receives by pointing out that having placed the beginning of the era of sexual repression in the seventeenth century, which coincides with the beginning of the industrialization of the European economy, we fit the discourse easily into a larger, more broader discourse of economic revolution or Marxist discourse. However, he points out, this is after all a post-hoc interpretation, without support from historical evidence. He also notes that repressive hypothesis is readily accepted due to the fact that the conventional model of power (jurdico-discursive) we seem to rely on in our consideration of power also supports the repressive hypothesis that operates negatively and uniformly. However, Foucault points out the fact that the new mode of operation by power upon sexuality does not really fit the traditional model. Whereas the ancient prohibition (ex. prohibition on incest) operated in a negative and uniform manner, the modern operation of power upon sexuality saw to multiplication of both the power and its object, which can be seen in modern control of child sexuality that saw both on the one hand the dramatic increase in the tools of surveillance, control and correction, and on the other hand the increase in the outbreaks of child sexuality that remained hidden (thus non existent) up until that point.

And also, by going back to the confessionals of the 17th century Foucault demonstrates that modern history of sexuality is that of explosion of discourses, rather than that of sexuality being compelled to silence. Moreover, modern treatment of disparate sexualities that established heterogeneity of sexualities, and saw the incorporation of the disparate sexualities into the discourse, refutes repressive hypothesis of its claim that history of relationship between power and sex is that of repression.

Both misconceptions behind morality and power-sexuality relations dealt by Nietzsche and Foucault are seen by the two to be widely prevalent but rarely come up to surface to be examined. Neither of them, despite launching a wholesale attack against these misconceptions, attempts to demonstrate the truth of their claim that the misconceptions are there, and extremely prevalent. Both seem to be assured that popular contemporary discourses dealing with their subject (morality/sexuality)  sufficiently validate their claim, and they saw the need to eradicate them.

Still on Power

While doing research I came across this passage from Delueze’s Foucault.

Deleuze’s explication of Foucault’s power offers some insights into what Foucault saw power to be. Deleuze notes that for Foucault, “power is a relation between forces, or rather every relation between forces is a ‘power relation’. In the first place we must understand that power is not a form, such as the state-form; and that the power relation does not lie between two forms, as does knowledge. In the second place, force is never singular but essentially exists in relation with other forces, such that any force is already a relation, that is to say power; force has no other object or subject than force… Foucault is closer to Nietzsche (and to Marx), for whom the relation between forces greatly exceeds violence and cannot be defined by the latter. Violence acts on specific bodies, objects or beings whose form it destroys or changes, while force has no object other than that of other forces.”

According to Deleuze, Foucault’s conception of power is not a form or something that exists between two forms, as knowledge might between a subject and an object. Also for Foucault, force never exists in singular but only in relation with other forces, with relation constituting power. I found this explication really helpful for my research.  As I was reading the last chapter of History of Sexuality Volume 1 in preparation for my paper, reading this passage helped me get a clearer picture of how power works in the Foucault’s narrative.

Foucault talks about “ Power used to speak through blood: the honor of war, the fear of famine, the triumph of death, the sovereign with his sword, executions and tortures; blood was a reality with a symbolic function. We, on the other hand, are in a society of “sex,” or rather a society. “

Despite having discussed this dimension of Foucault’s power extensively in class, it becomes clearer now that this fixation with sexuality is a way to generate more relations, in other words, power. The emergence of new relation induced by sexuality, the in-between of patient-doctor, degenerate-normal relations are examples of power being generated. Foucault notes that, “through the themes of health, progeny, race, the future of the species, the vitality of the social body, power spoke of sexuality and to sexuality.”

This insidious presence of sexuality kept on multiplying the relation of forces in myriad phenomena created by our fixation with sexuality.

Thus, it is only natural that sexuality was “becoming the theme of political operations, economic interventions (through incitements to our curbs on procreation), and ideological campaigns for raising standards of morality and responsibility“ Foucault explains that sexuality in order to be utilized in this manner of creating force relation, was constantly being aroused, and as it had taken the role once belonged to symbol of blood, it became the chief proponent of norm, knowledge, life, meaning, the discipline and regulations.



Foucault and Neoliberalism


Foucault suggests in his discussion of the ‘care of the self’ that we might be able to counteract the totalising and oppressive techniques employed by modern governments by somehow formulating an authentic discourse about ourselves in order to reclaim our own identity. At the same time he argues that neoliberal and ordoliberal governments specifically make sure that we are able to exercise our subjective preferences and maximise individual autonomy as part of their strategy to make us competitive consumers or ‘sel(ves)as enterprise. I want to argue that Foucault cannot meaningfully claim that the way to resist is to exercise our individuality and subjectivity at the same time as claiming that governments base their methods of control in precisely this same subjectivity.

His claim concerning neoliberal and ordoliberal governments is that we are encouraged to become competitive consumers as well as adhering to the utility/docility model laid out in D&P. Neoliberal governments have a vested interest in having us believe that it is through the consumption of goods according to our personal preferences that we exercise our own freedom and autonomy as well as carving out our own identity.

Foucault wants to have us believe that by reclaiming public discourse and talking about ourselves in a more authentic and truthful way, we can resist the totalising effects of these neoliberal strategies that purport to give us maximum freedom, whilst making sure that the only avenues for us to make choices involve commodities and the commodification of experience. The problem is that Foucault’s strategy is deeply rooted in finding ways to express our individual subjective experience of the world in an authentic and genuine way, but it seems at least plausible that this is simply too close to the strategies employed by neoliberal and ordoliberal governments in order to control us. Even if we can reclaim a more authentic discourse about our own identities and values, the state and corporations may well still be able to limit our ability to exercise this newly reclaimed self within modes of existence that are still inherently tied to ongoing consumption and the buying of experiences.

I plan to explore the plausibility of Foucault’s suggested possible modes of resistance in my research essay in much greater detail, but any comments on what you think about the possibility of reclaiming control of our identities and forging authentic discourses would be really helpful!

Foucault’s conception of power


For my essay I am planning to highlight the difference between conception of power by Nietzsche and Foucault. While doing research for my paper, I found a passage in Knowledge and Power that I found useful in illuminating some insights as to what Foucault conceives as power.

In discussing power and its relations to bodies of individuals in societies, Foucault explicates the ongoing struggle between power and its revolt. When power invests into the body and produces effects such as we have seen throughout History of Sexuality,(one can think of treatment of disparate sexuality, “administering of life” through school and military) according to Foucault, there inevitably comes about revolt of the body against power in such forms as health against the economic system or pleasure against the moral dictums of sexuality of a society. He goes on to explain that power in these instances after producing effects in the body, is then exposed to a revolt from the same body.

He offers an example of child masturbation.“Suddenly panic theme appears: an appalling sickness develops in the Western world. Children masturbate. Via the medium of families, though not at their initiative, a system of control of sexuality, an objectivisation of sexuality allied to corporal persecution, is established over the bodies of children. But sexuality, through thus becoming an object of analysis and concern, surveillance and control, engenders at the same time an intensification of each individual’s desire, for, in and over his body.” (56-7)

“The body thus became the issue of a conflict between parents and children, the child and the instances of control. The revolt of the sexual body is the reverse effect of this encroachment. What is the response on the side of power? An economic (and perhaps ideological) exploitation of eroticization, from sun-tan products to prnographical films.” (57)

He explains that in response to this revolt of the body, power resorts to a new mode of investment into the body which takes a form not that of control by repression but that of control by stimulation. “Get undressed-but be slim, good-looking, tanned!” (57) Foucault claims that for each move by either side, there comes a countermove from the other.

I also found it interesting that for Foucault, this investment of power into the body is precisely what brings about a social body, as he explains that “the great fantasy is the idea of a social body constituted by the universality of wills. Now the phenomenon of the social body is the effect not of a consensus but of the materiality of power operating on the very bodies of individuals.” (55)

Furthermore, Foucault claims that this struggle between power and the revolt it generates is of such complexity that eludes or is not encapsulated by Hegelian dialectic. I wonder how he would justify the statement. Perhaps he considers the myriad ways in which power invests into the body is not properly reflected if one were to consider it in terms of strict dialectical opposition working off of each other coming to an awareness of a synthesis.

Polarity of Self – CONT’D

(CONT’D of : )

Indeed, I must get to the core of what it is that I mean by Intuitive Self.

Foucault alludes to the Greek and Roman’s shaping of the self by the self through philosophical precepts such as Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Now, I sense that today’s Ideal Self (that I’ve elaborated earlier) has grown into an equivalent for the Stoicism and Epicureanism of the time – except first; there isn’t a choice to be made (such as; which philosophies speaks to me the most), and second – the self ideal isn’t fortuitous for the human specie, in that it suppresses our nature and uses it to serve external purposes. Therefore, my argument comes in play, as perhaps optimistic – but questions how Stoicism and Epicureanism came to be in the first place.

Naturally, I must be seeing something in Foucault that does allude to the “Intuitive self,” and what eventually supported my intuition was on page p.136 of HS Vol.3: “… a sort of animalization […] that is, a subordination, as strict as possible, of the soul’s desire to the body’s needs…” Here Foucault aims at the precepts of Stoicism.

So perhaps there is a more accurate term for the “intuitive self” – at least one that doesn’t allude to the same light as the G & R one, because first: we aren’t Greek or Roman, second: we live in B.C. and third: 2000 years or so later. Along that line, there is an acceptance, a certain “facing of” that both F. and N. emphasize in regards to our current situation. They both support the idea that one, we can’t deny our history, nor what has happened, and where it has lead us. And two; everything that’s happen since the G & R isn’t all bad.

Thus, I clarify that the “Intuitive Self” could be, and is better contemporarily defined as a return to the individual. Indeed, Foucault’s ethics for instance, does not consists of a “Walden” adventure (Thoreau) – that is; we should not (nor can we) be independent from the cultural and social ideals inflicted upon the individual through discourses, but simply conscious of them. As he develops on page 142: “ He must address a discourse of Truth to himself.” These discourses of Truth I call Ideals, Nietzsche calls them Abstractions and Metaphors in “On Truth and Lies […]”.

Foucault elucidates how the mechanisms of power have learned to target our most vulnerable sensibilities with such discourses: Sex and morality are examples. And that’s all the more the case today; as the process of socialization occurs at an even earlier age. (Lacan’s Mirror stage)

As a consequence, the ideal self is intensified, and required to be held upon all the more. In this light, I sense that something is being hidden from us, and that could truly be: our intuitive nature. That is, I sense we are entering an age of consciousness in which we realize how far away we’ve been brought, or lead to believe, and a return to our nature is more than necessary, therefore all the more repressed by the authoritative agency. Occurrences of revolts against the ideal are such as the 60’s sexual liberation movement, or today’s mistrust in regards to governments with the whole Edward Snowden scenario.

So if Foucault claims that we are free insofar as there is the possibility of changing the power relations we find ourselves in; could it be that this possibility is this intuitive nature? By such I don’t mean that of animalistic nature, but rather of a human one; a “natural philosophy.”

The point is, Foucault goes on with his metaphor of the “night watchman” and stresses how we must constantly inspect what is, and what is of no value to me. This makes me think of Nietzsche’s “self-criticism” in the light of stripping ourselves down to our true self. So could it be, that without being normative, Foucault’s philosophy supports the qualities of the specie.

What those qualities might be: Subjectivity.

As for how Stoicism and Epicureanism came about? They did so through a single individual who, because what was available did not suffice his personal agenda, consequently had to rely on and trust his subjectivity. With time, certain philosophies became a collectively shared subjectivity; such as Stoicism and Epicureanism.

So without being explicit, could it be that Foucault asks for “a return to the individual.” Because as I’ve understood from N.’s GM – that’s what he seems to be targeting in his viewer, his or her individuality in the light of claiming it sovereign. Could that be the case in Foucault? A return to the individual, a need for a new philosophy, a new subjectivity – and a forsaking of the objective ideals?

The ethics of sexuality in Foucault and in our times

The ethics of sexuality, or what is meant by the ethics of sexuality is elaborated on furthermore in Part 2 of Foucault’s History of sexuality: the care of the self.


In this section Foucault asks how a “whole attitude of severity” in the form of “ a mistrust of the pleasures, an emphasis on the consequences of their abuse on the body and the soul, a valorization of marriage and  marital obligations, etc…” managed to arise historically. It was not because the public demanded more rigorous prohibitions that such values came to be embroidered into the fabric of society. According to Foucault, “demands for sexual austerity during imperial times” occurred as the result of the historical development of the cultivation of the self, a practice very much associated and influenced by thinkers of the era such as Marcus Aurelius, Plutarch, Seneca, etc… Foucault remarks how the philosophy that influenced that era concerned the ‘art of existence’ characterized by a special interest in the ‘cultivation of the self’. This cultivation, as is remarked, focuses not simply on the cultivation of the singular self, but on helping others cultivate themselves as well, a practice that emphasizes, as the stoics put it, man’s obligation to humankind. The focus of man’s relation to himself through a relation with others helped to create social forms of attitude, modes of behavior and practices that came to constitute a social practice. As Foucault puts it “Around the care of the self, there developed an entire activity of speaking and writing in which the work of oneself on oneself and communication with others were linked together”(51). In this sense the care of the self – and a focus on the care that others have to themselves – intensifies social relations by strengthening their preexisting relations. The social reality(political, ethical) that is produced from the ‘self practices’ belong to what Foucault calls ‘the ethics of control’. It is in this sense that I believe, as I think Foucault does, that sexuality belongs to the realm of social construction and for that reason to the realm of ethics. Ethics influence the way in which we socially interact and for that reason the way we interact sexually. It is in this ways that sexuality reflects an ‘ethics of control’. Sexuality and its acts reflect more about the political and ethical consciousness of the historical time than they do the nature of the self. So I ask, as Foucault does at the end of the chapter “For what reasons the cultivation of the self developed this way?” Only I ask to consider it in our contemporary times. I believe that sexuality as an ethics of control persists to this day, but in what form? I believe, as Foucault notes early on in Volume 1, that this ethics of control amalgamated into the repressive hypothesis. This repression only lead to a resistance, which helped to spur a sexual undercurrent that, to this day, has only flourished. In our current times, sexuality is at its most expressive, constantly searching for more ways in which to manifest. I would even go as far a labeling it a hyper age of sexuality. So why this development? In short, I believe that it had to do with social accommodations. I believe that the sexual austerity that characterized the imperial times, which Foucault focuses on, resulted from a growing social belief and demand in the particular attitudes that characterized the time. Perhaps it was instilled into the public through monarchic belief (belief that was to be revered) in order to protect what the nobles valued (an effort to maintain power). I believe that if such is true, than the same can be said of our times. The age of hyper sexuality is one that was born out of the repression. The resistance to the sexual norms that characterized the Victorian era could only be accommodated by heightened sense of acceptance to new forms of sexuality that emerged as a result. Without the allowance of a new sexual culture society may very well have dissipated under the rigidity of its own norms. After all, liberalism itself emerged historically from the need for the state to accommodate new ideologies. I believe the same could be said for sexuality and the way it’s developed since the repressive hypothesis. The emergence of a heightened sexual culture in our modern time, has its roots in the same ethics of control that Foucault mentions. In short, it is the need to maintain social control by accommodating people’s demands.

Problems With The Genetic Fallacy

I’ve been thinking about the Visker reading, which isn’t on the syllabus but was the piece I did my critical abstract assignment on.

Basically, Visker points out a number of criticisms of the genealogy approach, the most important one being Habermas’s idea that you cannot critique reason using reason. Visker’s solution is to limit genealogy to only a select few cases, where exposure of the origins of the social system in question would destroy the underpinnings of that social system – at least as it is currently conceived.

I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest. For some reason, when I read Visker’s piece, I felt like this whole debate about genealogy is something that would only stand up in a “philosophical” classroom, and not in the real world. Sure, there are good arguments for such a critique, but they seem to be missing the crucial point that in practice, the genetic fallacy is often not a fallacy at all. This makes genealogy a more widely applicable critical technique than Visker thinks.

Now I know that this stance isn’t one that is commonly accepted in philosophy, but doesn’t how something start affect how it develops? I mean, let us assume we buy the argument that the success of feminism in the West was due in large part to the need for cheap labour following a world war in which the male workforce was greatly reduced. In other words, feminism was a justification for introducing a source of cheap labour into the market.

Now I’m not a historian, so I don’t know how valid such a case would be, or if it’s even possible to determine what the “most important factor” for a given historical development is. But my point is that, if we were to assume that this were true, wouldn’t that change our view of the feminist movement? After all, we ourselves are creatures of historical circumstance. Us “moderns” might have no doubt that the results of the feminist movement were positive, but that’s an opinion that we have due to all these historical processes that were set in motion before we were even born, and set the stage for how we think about social issues today.

In other words, the “genetic fallacy” is largely bogus in practice because even our contemporary “logic” is not in any way universal or divorced from historical developments. There is no way to perform a historically-independent analysis of phenomena, and so there is always the possibility of challenging the existence of a “genetic fallacy” by pointing out that that fallacy only occurs if you analyse concepts through contemporary modes of reasoning, which are themselves not universal.

Going back to the feminism example, there are many arguments we could use to support the positive effects of the feminist movement, but those arguments will likely be based on modern notions of gender equality. And those notions were only developed as a result of feminism, which in turn (according to our hypothetical example) were inspired by corporate interests. How are we then to accuse a critic of feminism using the above argument, of committing the genetic fallacy, in a way that’s independent of those developments?

And it goes even deeper than that. If we can question the genetic fallacy, then what of all the other “fallacies” that we’ve been taught in philosophy? Why shouldn’t might equal right, for instance? Maybe at the end of the day, philosophy – though it tries to question issues at the most fundamental level – nevertheless falls prey to that universal limitation of academic disciplines: that they are at base a group of scholars who have agreed not to question certain fundamentally-held assumptions.

Capitalism in the Bedroom

There has been an enormous amount of literature devoted to examining how Capitalism’s values have effected various areas of culture. Marcuse, especially, addresses how our sexual and love relations have been deformed by an age of competition and violence.
In the second chapter of “Care of the Self,” by Foucault, he addresses a theme in Artemidorous’s work, subjugation and inferiority. The dream interpreter is guided to ask questions about the subject’s passivity or assertiveness when it comes to the sexual act in their subject’s dreams. It occurs to me that our own culture has also become obsessed with this dichotomy. It is a common question to ask “who wears the pants” in a relationship, or to discuss who is more influential in a romantic union.
I wanted to ask everyone whether they think that this emphasis on assertiveness in a relationship is a means of reproducing a juridical notion of power that Foucault mentions in Volume I? That is to say, the juridical notion of power focuses mainly on power’s ability to limit and impose, prohibit and censor. Similarly, the dream interpretation seems to focus on whether the subject is asserting commands or taking them.
Furthermore, by transforming sexuality into a more a more and more aggressive activity, as rape-culture and violent pornography do, could this be transforming our view of power into a very negative rather than positive force?
Are there other explanations for this emphasis in the dream interpretation history that Foucault mentions?

Drives & Desires

I found the first chapter of “The Care of the Self” very compelling. Specifically, the book began by speaking out our dreams and how they may relate to our desires.
In Lacanian analysis, desires are always “other” oriented since they only arise after we come to self-consciousness. On the contrary, drives are antecedents to desires, and represent compulsions we have before we become self-conscious.
Considering what Foucault says about confession’s, interpretation’s, and language’s relation to power, I doubt we could ever attribute our actions to drives. Frequently, people refer to having a “high” or “low” sexual drive, yet, even these conversations occur within a language and discourse that passes through the threshold of the “other.”
At first glance this realization seems self-evident and boring. Of course everything is a desire because we are, by our nature, self-conscious language users. However, this becomes extremely interesting when one considers how new desires arise.
I don’t think we can simply say that new desires are the result of some bodily function. That would suggest that our body, or our drives, was sufficient to direct our actions, which, Lacan would contest because we see our body through the lens of language now. Therefore, our desires must have their origin in some form of social interaction.
I wonder whether or not we can direct social action in culture enough to produce desires that are strategically opposed to those of a dominant power, or whether, because we are using a language they’ve produced, we are incapable of producing such desires.

Signal vs. Noise

The first two parts of The History of Sexuality are interesting in that they get into the mechanics of how an idea not part of the dominant discourse can get assimilated into it in exchange for having certain aspects of it “censored” or labelled as “deviant”. I was reminded of this quote from Jay-Z: “[In my music I adopt a] technique and style to make sure that it [reaches] as many people as possible without losing its basic integrity.” Nevertheless, some of that integrity does indeed get corrupted, as can be seen from some of Jay-Z’s more mainstream albums.

Music aside, I think this idea illustrates an aspect of Nietzsche and Foucault that I find particularly attractive: a keen awareness of power dynamics and how they affect social philosophy. In comparison, so many of the other philosophers we’ve read at UBC seem blind to the basic realities of a fundamentally political human world (this is even the case, most absurdly, for many political philosophers). To me, a concern with power is a key thread that runs through the relationship between Nietzsche and Foucault, one that seems just as important as the fact that they both employ genealogy as their mode of analysis.

Speaking to this idea particularly, Foucault points out that change does not happen as easily as we think. Sometimes, what seems like meaningful change is merely the dominant discourse digesting a new piece of information, and attempting to reinterpret it in a way that fits within the status quo. In other words, change is far from mono-directional; sometimes, it is merely a momentary deviation which will eventually lead to “regression to the mean”, to borrow a statistical term.

For all the talk of “rapid technological change” in the 21st century, for instance, all that has happened over the past two decades has been a lot of noise without much progress. The iPod Touch replaces the mp3 player, which replaced the portable CD player, which replaced the walkman. Facebook has replaced MySpace which itself had replaced Friendster. A constant hamster-wheel-cycling is taking place, but there is no fundamental shift here in the way we relate to our technological tools, just as our relationship towards sexuality has not so much changed as been transmuted into a different form.

The other corollary point here is that when a challenge to the dominant discourse is “given a seat at the table”, so to speak, that is itself an indication that that challenge has begun to become irrelevant as a potential agent of fundamental change. For major change only happens when a challenge is sufficiently radical as to not be able to fit at “the table” in the first place. Bringing sexuality out into the open only works because there are elements of sexuality that can be fit into polite discourse, while the truly radical parts of it get lopped off and kept outside the room precisely because those are the parts with the potential to upset the heternormative paradigm.