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Family History and Racial Purity

Timothy Brennan, ‘Postcolonial Studies Between the European Wars:  An Intellectual History’:

We might recall that Michel Foucault, for example, translated Nietzsche’s original concept of genealogy in the specific context of being a member of a repressed sexual minority and a devoted (one might even say obsessive) anti-Hegelian.  The germ, however, of  the original concept in Nietzsche remains at the core of his fundamentally duplicitous operation of practicing history while not practicing it.  Nietzsche’s intention had been to claim rights for aristocratic privilege and the frankly recidivist and and racialist principle of Rangordnung.  Genealogy was a decisive methodological invention because it was about family.  It connoted not agency or transformation but the genetic inevitabilities of paternity.  At the same time, it apotheosized etymology and therefore neatly fit itself into the larger principles  of postwar theory’s linguistic turn, which Nietzsche had been among the first to forecast.  At the same time, it was about the creation of a truth-by-design method embedded in a linguistic trace.  The genealogical method so valuable to the Foucauldian lineage in postcolonial studies conceals a source-specific elitism and racialist filiation that it wants very much to supersede, and feels utterly uncompelled to explain or distance itself from.

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From Herbert Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory:

‘The concept that definitely connects Marx’s dialectic with the history of class society is the concept of necessity. The dialectical laws are necessary laws; the various forms of class society necessarily perish from their inner contradictions. The laws of capitalism work with ‘iron necessity towards inevitable results,’ Marx says. This necessity does not, however, apply to the positive transformation of capitalist society. It is true, Marx assumed that the same mechanisms that bring about the concentration and centralization of capital also produce ‘the socialization of labor’. ‘Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation,’ namely, property based ‘on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production’. Nevertheless, it would be a distortion of the entire significance of Marxian theory to argue from the inexorable necessity that governs the development of capitalism to a similar necessity in the matter of transformation to socialism. When capitalism is negated, social processes no longer stand under the rule of blind natural laws. This is precisely what distinguishes the nature of the new from the old. The transition from capitalism’s inevitable death to socialism is necessary, but only in the sense that the full development of the individual is necessary. The new social union of individuals, again, is necessary, but only in the sense that it is necessary to use available productive forces for the general satisfaction of all individuals. It is the realization of freedom and happiness that necessitates the establishment of an order wherein associated individuals will determine the organization of their life. We have already emphasized that the qualities of the future society are reflected in the current forces that are driving towards its realization. There can be no blind necessity in tendencies that terminate in a free and self-conscious society. The negation of capitalism begins within capitalism itself, but even in the phases that precede revolution there is active the rational spontaneity that will animate the post-revolutionary phases. The revolution depends indeed upon a totality of objective conditions: it requires a certain attained level of material and intellectual culture, a self-conscious and organized working class on an international scale, acute class struggle. These become revolutionary conditions, however, only if seized upon and directed by a conscious activity that has in mind the socialist goal. Not the slightest natural necessity or automatic inevitability guarantees the transition from capitalism to socialism.’

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To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist. Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.” – Walter Benjamin


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Why I do what I do:

Luhrmann (1989: 382 and 438n.) reports an anecdote of Ernest Gellner’s: the philosophers Peter Winch and Alsadair MacIntyre, arguing about the limits of cross-cultural understanding, confused Evans-Pritchard’s work on the Nuer, a pastoral people who live in Southern Sudan and Western Ethiopia, with that on the Azande of South-Western Sudan, who do not keep cattle.  They held a public debate on the meaning of cattle among the Azande, to which they invited Evans-Pritchard.  ‘At the debate’s conclusion, Evans-Pritchard apparently remarked that he had little to add to the philosophical subtlety of the exchange, but that he wished to point out that there were no cattle among the Azande.’

From Esther Eidinow, Oracles, Curses, and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks. pp. 241n.

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