Genealogy and the problem of affirmation in Nietzsche, Foucault and Bakhtin

Philosophy and Social Criticism 27 (3):41-65 (2001)
Abstract
Genealogy is a critical method employed most notably by Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault. Although he does not explicitly acknowledge it, Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian linguist and philosopher of language, also uses this method. I examine the way these three thinkers construe both the critical and the affirmative roles of genealogy. The 'affirmative role' refers to what genealogy itself valorizes in exposing the limits of the universal claims it critiques. I identify three tasks of the critical role of genealogy and explore what I feel are two limitations of its affirmative side: the anonymity of Nietzsche's 'eternal return of the same' and the indeterminacy of Foucault's 'undefined work of freedom'. I argue that a judicious use of Bakhtin's notions of 'voice' and 'dialogized heteroglossia' can help genealogy to overcome these two limitations without resurrecting the totalizing systems of thought that all three thinkers repudiate. Key Words: Bakhtinian 'voice' • Friedrich Nietzsche • genealogy • 'heteroglossia' • Michel Foucault • Mikhail Bakhtin • multi-voiced body • power resistance • will-to-power.
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