František Kupka, Mme Kupka among Verticals, 1910-11

Genealogy as Critique: Nietzsche and Foucault

Instructor: Gabriel Rockhill
620 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Friedrich Nietzsche, who vowed to “philosophize with a hammer,” pioneered the critical method of genealogy—the attempt to expose the forces at work behind the emergence of an idea, institution, or practice. Incredibly fruitful, Nietzsche’s work galvanized Western philosophical and social thinking.  The genealogical method was more recently taken up by Michel Foucault to interrogate modern notions of sexuality, health, society, and madness. In Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s hands, seemingly “timeless truths” are revealed to be products of history: things, in other words, could have been different—and still might be.

In this course, we’ll examine the genealogical method as practiced by Nietzsche and Foucault, paying close attention to what differentiates it from other approaches to history, and asking: How does one conduct a genealogy of common concepts and institutions, and in what ways does what we discover matter for the present and future? Is genealogy a tool of political critique or, as some have argued, a promoter of apathy? We’ll consider these questions though a close reading of several texts, including Foucault’s seminal essay, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” and key sections of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality. We will attend to the similarities in method, but also to Foucault’s unique attempt to develop a critical genealogy while simultaneously calling into question the notion of definitive origins. In later weeks, we will focus more explicitly on genealogy and its relationship to critique. Finally, we’ll turn to to some of Foucault’s political writings in order to raise a series of questions regarding the potential limitations of the genealogical form of analysis.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30PM
November 29 — December 20, 2017
4 weeks


Registration Open

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