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Genealogical Thinking in Nietzsche's Wake (19th-21st Centuries)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Genealogical thought (Genealogical Thinking in Nietzsche's Wake (19th-21st Centuries))

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

• My research project aims to pave the way for a history of genealogical receptions of Nietzsche in the 20th and 21st centuries. The corpus of the project includes the readings of On the Genealogy of Morality and the specific genealogical practices of authors like Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Bernard Williams, who all invoked the word “genealogy” with explicit reference to Nietzsche. I use a Nietzschean methodology in the sense of § 12 of the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morality: in other words, I don’t presuppose the existence of o common conceptual kernel permeating the whole genealogical tradition, but I simply follow the thread of successive reinterpretations of an unchanged term ("genealogy"). The main objective is to obtain a synoptic view of the post-Nietzschean genealogical tradition.
• An important conclusion of this research is that Foucault’s major role as an interpreter and disseminator of the Nietzschean word “genealogy” needs to be recognized. Indeed, there are many signs that Foucault’s reception served as a decisive intermediary between On the Genealogy of Morality and the English-speaking world, especially in the context of American gender studies.
• This project has epistemological and cultural implications. From an epistemological standpoint, it focuses on genealogical thinkers who successfully avoided essentialism in their treatment of history, by questioning the operative value of supposedly universal concepts, such as “morals”, “state” or “gender”. Understanding this tradition is crucial to develop non-teleological historiographies in all areas, but especially in the fields of history of science, history of ideas and history of philosophy. From a cultural standpoint, the genealogical tradition opened new perspectives on our European and Western culture: it brought apparently well-known cultural phenomena, like Christianity or criminal law, under a new light. However, differences of interpretation did occur among genealogists as to the origin and/or value of these great phenomena. By highlighting such differences, I would like to contribute to problematizing our own culture, a task which appears to me as a crucial social function of philosophy.
• I undertook a detailed bibliographic survey based on the Weimarer Nietzsche-Bibliography online and on other electronic databases, to determine exactly when commentaries dedicated to Nietzsche’s genealogy began to be published. The surprising answer was that no single study about “Nietzschean genealogy” had been published before 1962, namely before Deleuze’s book on Nietzsche and philosophy.
• This important result opened two lines of research. The first consisted in rereading On the Genealogy of Morality without presupposing the existence of a philosophical notion of genealogy, in order to understand Nietzsche’s choice of the word “genealogy” in a more rigorous way. This is what I have tried to do in the first chapter of a new book entitled Études sur la Généalogie de la morale (Studies on the Genealogy of Morality), to be published by the Éditions de la Sorbonne in 2023.
• A second line of research consisted in transforming the French genealogical turn and its Anglophone posterities into a genealogical object per se, in order to trace the emergence and diversification of this new kind of appropriations of Nietzsche. My Belgian colleague Quentin Landenne and I have begun this work at the Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles, by organizing in April 2021 an international conference on "The Metamorphoses of “Genealogy” after Nietzsche". The proceedings will be published by the Presses de l’Université Saint-Louis before the end of 2021.
• The first consolidated finding of the project is that Deleuze invented Nietzsche’s so-called “concept of genealogy”. Nietzsche himself didn’t treat genealogy as a new concept and didn’t try to define it as something distinct from history.
• Another important outcome of the project has been a better understanding of Nietzsche’s choice of the word “genealogy”. Nietzsche did coin the phrase “genealogy of morality”, or at least he was the first prominent author to use it. But although Nietzsche invented this expression, he did his best to conceal it, by applying it to earlier authors he wanted to criticize. In my Studies on the Genealogy of Morality, I explain this paradox by Nietzsche’s will to reorient a pre-existing field of research, namely the history of morals. Renaming this field globally is a way of to bring it to a new methodological awareness. Thus, from a Nietzschean perspective, “genealogy” appears to be a metaphor with relevant methodological connotations, rather than as a new concept.
• A third result of the project has been to highlight a crucial difference between Deleuze’s and Foucault’ genealogical receptions of Nietzsche. Whereas Deleuze’s reading tends to dehistoricize “genealogy”, precisely because Deleuze interprets is as conceptually distinct from history, Foucault refuses to oppose his own Nietzschean genealogical practice to history: on the contrary, he affirms in a famous 1971 paper on “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” that a well conceived genealogy is nothing more than an effective history.
1. Progress beyond the state of the art

• The state of the art on the genealogical tradition is characterized by a predominant tendency to admit a transversal concept of genealogy. Many studies uncritically accept Deleuze’s contention that “Nietzsche [created] the new concept of genealogy” and then postulate that this new concept has been passed on to later genealogists. This is in fact a misinterpretation of what Nietzsche meant by “genealogy of morality”, since he actually associated the phrase to a recently emerged, mainly English-speaking and multidisciplinary field of inquiry on the history of morality. But this misconception gave rise to what I call the definitional approach to genealogy, according to which it is impossible to lead a genealogical inquiry without first defining in absolute terms what “genealogy” means.
• Against this approach, a significant part of my work has consisted in showing the non-definitional character of Nietzsche’s and Foucault’s genealogical practices, both regarding specific genealogical objects and with respect to genealogy itself. A striking commonality between both authors is precisely their distrust of definitional fetishisms: to put it in Nietzsche’s terms, “only something which has no history can be defined” (On the Genealogy of Morality, II, § 13).

2. The project has already come to an end, but the proceedings of the two international conferences and my Studies on the Genealogy of Morality will be published after the official end of the fellowship.

3. Potential impacts

• Throughout the fellowship, I have been struck by the quantity and diversity of social actors who wanted to know more about Nietzsche, the genealogy of morality and post-Nietzschean genealogical thoughts. Indeed, I have been contacted by 4 radio shows and 3 magazines, besides CORDIS. Examples of this dissemination activity are a participation in the "Chemins de la philosophie" on France Culture, the publication of an interview in the magazine Marianne and the publication of a genealogical analysis of the Covid-19 crisis in Savoir(s), the magazine of the University of Strasbourg.
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche and France, France and Nietzsche", p. 5
Programme of an international conference on Nietzsche and Europe, p. 2
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche and France, France and Nietzsche", p. 3
Programme of an international conference on Nietzsche and Europe, p. 1
p. 1 of a popularized paper on the Covid-19 crisis (full text available on my website)
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche and France, France and Nietzsche", p. 1
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche on Making Sense of Nietzsche", p. 1
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche and France, France and Nietzsche", p. 2
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche and France, France and Nietzsche", p. 4
Programme of an international conference on "Nietzsche on Making Sense of Nietzsche", p. 2
Programme of the international conference I organized in Strasbourg on February 21, p. 2
Programme of the international conference I organized in Strasbourg on February 21, p. 1