Historical Traces and Future Pathways of Poststructuralism
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Historical Traces and Future Pathways of Poststructuralism

Aesthetics, Ethics, Politics

Gavin Rae, Emma Ingala, Gavin Rae, Emma Ingala

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eBook - ePub

Historical Traces and Future Pathways of Poststructuralism

Aesthetics, Ethics, Politics

Gavin Rae, Emma Ingala, Gavin Rae, Emma Ingala

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This volume brings together an international array of scholars to reconsider the meaning and place of poststructuralism historically and demonstrate some of the ways in which it continues to be relevant, especially for debates in aesthetics, ethics, and politics.

The book's chapters focus on the works of Butler, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Irigaray, Kristeva, Lacan, and Lyotard—in combination with those of Agamben, Luhman, Nancy, and Nietzsche—and examine issues including biopolitics, culture, embodiment, epistemology, history, music, temporality, political resistance, psychoanalysis, revolt, and the visual arts. The contributors use poststructuralism as a hermeneutical strategy that rejects the traditional affirmation of unity, totality, transparency, and representation to instead focus on the foundational importance of open-ended becoming, difference, the unknowable, and expression. This approach allows for a more expansive definition of poststructuralism and helps demonstrate how it has contributed to debates across philosophy and other disciplines.

Historical Traces and Future Pathways of Poststructuralism will be of particular interest to researchers in philosophy, politics, political theory, critical theory, aesthetics, feminist theory, cultural studies, intellectual history, psychoanalysis, and sociology.

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Part I
Historical Traces

1 Nietzsche and the Emergence of Poststructuralism

Alan D. Schrift
In the 1960s, a philosophical revolution took place in France that would change the course of French philosophy for the remainder of the twentieth century: in 1966, Michel Foucault published The Order of Things1; in October of that same year, Jacques Derrida presented ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’2 at an important conference on structuralism at Johns Hopkins University that, for all practical purposes, marked the beginning of the end of structuralism’s reign as the dominant intellectual paradigm in France; the following year, Derrida published Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, and Voice and Phenomenon3; and the year after that, Gilles Deleuze published Difference and Repetition4 and Spinoza and the Problem of Expression5his two doctoral theses—followed in 1969 by his next major work, The Logic of Sense.6 What these events announce is, among other things, the French philosophical turn away from phenomenology’s three Hs—Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger—and toward what Paul Ricoeur first called the masters of suspicion—Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx.7 What these events also announce is a desire to move beyond the hegemony of structuralism in the late 1950s and early 1960s by means of the affirmation of a new style of philosophical thinking that would set the philosophical agenda in France and beyond for the remainder of the century in terms of what we, outside France, refer to as ‘French poststructuralism.’
Though perhaps not so obviously, these events also direct our attention to the centrality of Nietzsche’s thought in the emergence of poststructuralism. Returning to those foundational events in poststructuralist French philosophy mentioned above, Nietzsche’s philosophical importance for this emergence becomes apparent when one attends to the way Foucault situates Nietzsche in opposition to Kant in The Order of Things,8 Derrida situates Nietzsche in opposition to Lévi-Strauss in ‘Structure, Sign, and Play,’ and Deleuze situates Nietzsche in opposition to Hegel in any number of his works.9 Nietzsche was not, of course, first ‘discovered’ by the French in the 1960s, as there was considerable interest in his thought early in the twentieth century.10 But this earlier interest was located primarily outside the university, especially at the most prestigious of French universities—the Sorbonne/University of Paris—and, when in the university, outside the faculty in philosophy. To cite just one example, in the 1902–1903 academic year, Professor of German Literature Henri Lichtenberger taught the Sorbonne’s one full-year course in the German Department on Nietzsche; it would, however, not be for almost 60 years that a philosopher—Jean Wahl—would offer, in January–March 1959, an entire lecture course devoted exclusively to Nietzsche in the Sorbonne’s Department of Philosophy.11

Nietzsche in the Works of Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze

Although Nietzsche’s works had been almost completely ignored by the French philosophical establishment, this changed in the 1960s, as we can see by looking in more detail at the works by Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze mentioned above. Foucault’s interest in Nietzsche began long before his genealogical works of the 1970s.12 When asked in 1983 about his relationship to Nietzsche, he responded that like many others, he was drawn to Nietzsche because he ‘wanted a way out of phenomenology.’13 He read Nietzsche, ‘curious as it may seem, from the perspective of an inquiry into the history of knowledge—the history of reason.’14 Reading Nietzsche, he continues, was ‘the point of rupture’15 for him insofar as Nietzsche showed that ‘There is a history of the subject just as there is a history of reason; but we can never demand that the history of reason unfold as a first and founding act of the rationalist subject.’16 Nietzsche showed, in other words, the way beyond the phenomenological, transhistorical subject, a subject that, in his ‘Introduction to Kant’s Anthropology’ and The Order of Things, Foucault traces back to Kant. ‘The Order of Things asked the price of problematizing and analyzing the speaking subject, the working subject, the living subject.’17 And it was Nietzsche, according to Foucault, who was the first willing to pay this price:
Perhaps we should see the first attempt at this uprooting of Anthropology—to which, no doubt, contemporary thought is dedicated—in the Nietzschean experience: by means of a philological critique, by means of a certain form of biologism, Nietzsche rediscovered the point at which man and God belong to one another, at which the death of the second is synonymous with the disappearance of the first, and at which the promise of the superman signifies first and foremost the imminence of the death of man.18
This passage follows by one page a reference to Kant’s formulation in his Logic (first published in 1800) of anthropology—which asks the question ‘What is Man?’—as the foundation of philosophy. Remembering that for Foucault, it was Nietzsche who showed that there is a ‘history of the subject,’ when Foucault speaks of the ‘disappearance’19 or the ‘death of man,’20 he is not putting forward some kind of antihumanism. Instead ‘man’ names a certain conceptual determination of human being that comes to be the privileged object of Kantian philosophical anthropology.21 Only by understanding Foucault’s talk of ‘man’ as designating a foundational concept of Kantian anthropology can we make sense of his provocative claim that ‘man is a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old.’22 While ‘man’ has been privileged in the discourse of the human sciences since Kant, and continues to operate as the transcendental subject of phenomenology, Foucault locates the beginning of this end of man in Nietzsche’s doctrines of the Übermensch and eternal return, as we see in his final reference to Nietzsche in The Order of Things, where he couples Nietzsche’s death of God with the death of man:
Rather than the death of God—or, rather, in the wake of that death and in profound correlation with it—what Nietzsche’s thought heralds is the end of his murderer; … it is the identity of the Return of the Same with the absolute dispersion of man.23
Nietzsche’s importance in The Order of Things is not restricted to his showing the way beyond Kantian anthropology. In addition, it is ‘Nietzsche the philologist’ who is credited with being the first to connect ‘the philosophical task with a radical reflection upon language.’24 This is why, in The Order of Things, Nietzsche figures prominently as the precursor of the episteme of the twentieth century, the episteme that erupted with the question of language as ‘an enigmatic multiplicity that must be mastered.’25 For Foucault, it was Nietzsche, in other words, who recognized that a culture’s metaphysics could be traced back to the rules of its grammar, and who recognized that it is merely a linguistic prejudice that leads to the metaphysical error of adding a doer to the deed.26 Whether it be the structuralists, who all based their theories on the view of language as a system of differences, or Heidegger, who saw language as the house of being, we can understand why Foucault could regard the question of language as the single most important question confronting the contemporary episteme. And insofar as Nietzsche viewed our metaphysical assumptions to be a function of our linguistic rules (grammar was, as he wrote in The Gay Science, ‘the metaphysics of the people’27), we can understand why Foucault traces the roots of the contemporary episteme back to Nietzsche.
Turning to Derrida, in Of Grammatology he credits Nietzsche with radicalizing ‘the concepts of interpretation, perspective, evaluation, difference28 and, in so doing, contributing ‘a great deal to the liberation of the signifier from its dependence or derivation with respect to the logos and the related concept of truth or the primary signified, in whatever sense that is understood.’29 It is his radicalization of perspective, evaluation, difference, and especially interpretation that motivates Derrida to position Nietzsche as the alternative to Lévi-Strauss in ‘Structure, Sign, and Play.’ There Derrida shows several ways that Lévi-Strauss seeks to undermine and decenter a classical philosophical opposition—a structure—only to end up recentering that opposition/structure by appealing to the necessity of a center that he knows is not there. For example, Derrida examines Lévi-Strauss’s retention of the opposition between nature and culture as a conceptual tool whose use is methodologically necessary even as its truth value is negated. This opposition, which predates Plato in the form of the physis/nomos opposition, is not just one opposition among others. Instead, all anthropological theorizing and data acquisition turn on the opposition of nature/culture. According to Derrida, in Lévi-Strauss’s first book, The Elementary Structures of Kinship,30 he begins by defining nature as that which is universal, spontaneous, and independent of any particular culture, while culture is what depends on a system of norms that regulate society and can and does vary from one social structure to another.31 But shortly after affirming this opposition, Lévi-Strauss discovers a ‘scandal’32 within this framework: the incest prohibition, which is universal while being at the same time a norm, whi...

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