Two cautions or warnings (at least) must be heeded in the attempt to do justice to Nietzsche's project of a genealogy of morals in the text that bears that name. While the Genealogy is often regarded as the most straightforward and continuous of Nietzsche's books, he tells us in Ecce Homo that its three essays are "perhaps uncannier than anything else written so far in regard to expression, intention, and the art of surprise.” If we should think ourselves successful in penetrating to these uncanny secrets and saying what Nietzsche's text means, once and for all, we would then have to read again its lapidary although parenthetical injunction that "only that which has no history can be defined." For since the work of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer, Jurgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze, genealogy has become a polemical word. When Nietzsche published the Genealogy in 1887, the main uses of the term arguably had to do with the ascertaining of actual family lineages to determine rights to titles, honors, and inheritances, as in the venerable Almanach of Gotha, and a careless librarian today might classify the book among those many middle-class popularizations which might all go under the title "Tracing Your Family Tree for Fun and Profit." But Foucault characterizes his History of Sexuality as a genealogy of the modern self, and Derrida describes a large part of his intellectual project as "repeating the genealogy of morals"; Nietzsche's practice and example are invoked in both cases.

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Copyright © 1990 SUNY Press. This book chapter first appeared in Nietzsche as Postmodernist: Essays Pro and Contra.

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