Wendy Grace — We Nietzscheans: Foucault and Deleuze, Difference, and the Battle to Think Philosophically Otherwise.
France occupies a singular position in debates about Nietzsche, and Foucault and Deleuze are invariably singled out as French Nietzscheans par excellence. But what does this label “Nietzschean” really mean? Is it useful or misleading for understanding the respective trajectories of Foucault and Deleuze, not to mention the nebulous umbrella term “post-structuralism”? Many commentators have assumed that Foucault and Deleuze were propelled by the same Nietzsche, a man who lived during the 1870s and 1880s as a “philosopher.” I argue that this locks Nietzsche into the history of philosophy, overlooking his role inaugurating a history of Western culture, otherwise known in Foucauldian terms as the history of systems of thought. As Foucault argued during the Colloque de Royaumont in July 1964, “The history of philosophy should not be confused with an archaeology of thought.”
Moreover, the philosophical understanding more readily suits Deleuze’s appropriation of Nietzsche as philosophe maudit – even granting the difficulty of pinning down a Nietzschean system in the first place. But while Deleuze reads Nietzsche as a “counter philosopher”, Foucault admires and emulates Nietzsche in a role I would call “ethnographer of the present.”
Of all concepts associated with post-structuralism, “difference” has curiously evaded critical scrutiny. But difference has opposite if not contradictory meanings in Deleuze and Foucault. Essentially for Deleuze, difference is internal to the individual, immediate (non-representational), and elucidated through a strictly philosophical method. For Foucault, on the other hand, difference is external, dependent on representational truth regimes for its effects, and made manifest through various interpretative strategies broadly ethnographic and comparative.
Note from Wendy Grace to Foucault News
For those interested, this abstract refers to a draft of a paper that I subsequently developed for the Special Issue of Foucault Studies (April 2014) on the topic of Foucault and Deleuze, edited by Morar, Nail & Smith. My paper “Making a Difference with Nietzsche” is one of seven included in the issue.
Needless to say, this paper too only scratches the surface of a fascinating history of the concepts of force, will and power, Nietzsche’s take up of them, and the subsequent readings by Deleuze and Foucault. I’d like to say: “watch this space” but progress is glacial at this stage – climate change will probably get there faster.
Wendy Grace holds an Honorary Research position at both the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland. She completed her doctorate at UWA in 2010, with the thesis Michel Foucault’s Power: A History of Sexuality Beyond the Desires of French Psychoanalysis. She has published an article on Foucault and Deleuze in Critical Inquiry (2009), a chapter on “Foucault and the Freudians” in the Blackwell Companion to Foucault (2013), and is the author, with Alec McHoul of A Foucault Primer (1992). Wendy has taught on Foucault and 20th century French intellectual history at UWA, as well as the history of anthropological ideas at Murdoch University. Her research interests include 18th and 19th century French and German intellectual history. Her current research relates to Foucault’s account of the Malthusian Couple within the history of heterosexuality, with particular focus on the scientific uncoupling of pleasure and procreation in the 19th century.