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Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 30.3 (2000) 449-462

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The Cut of Genealogy:
Pedagogy in the Blood

Kathleen Biddick
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana

Homo Historicus

Imagine it is 1870, the date polemically attributed by Michel Foucault to the birth of the "homosexual." 1 But the "homosexual" is not the only species to emerge from normalizing discourses of nineteenth-century imperial Europe. The institutional historian, homo historicus, also arrives around 1870 with such discourses in attendance as examination criteria for the colonial civil service, preservation of the national archive, politics of appointment to endowed professorships, curricular reform, and the cultural production of academic publishing. Consider the English case--the field of modern history was first legislated as an examination field for the Indian Civil Service in 1855 and subsequently inaugurated as an independent honors degree at Oxford in 1872. The doors of the search rooms of the Public Record Office opened to the public in 1866. In the same year, William Stubbs, a churchman and conservative, succeeded Goldwin Smith to the Regius Chair of Modern History at Oxford. The latter had resigned his chair in the wake of the bitter political controversy in England over the Jamaica Uprising of 1865. Academic history writing was also culturally transformed in 1886 when the editorial board of the newly founded English Historical Review decided not to remunerate authors, thus cloistering the journal from the lively literary marketplace. 2

The homosexual and the academic historian are metropolitan twins. Their historical coexistence can help us to understand some paradoxes constitutive of Foucault's genealogical method and his periodization of the history of sexuality. In his famous essay, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," Foucault imagined genealogical history, or "effective" history as he also termed it, as the "transformation of history into a totally different form of time." He [End Page 449] eschewed "traditional history" whose temporality is "closed upon itself" and one with itself. 3 Traditional historians divide their continuous time-lines with the arbitrary binary of "that was then" and "this is now." The "now" supersedes the "then."

Foucault held that genealogical history, by the sheer force of its opposition to "traditional history," could uproot "its traditional foundations and relentlessly disrupt its pretended continuity." He believed that his genealogical practice could disrupt, even stop, the return of "eunuchs of history" (traditional historians) whom he, like his muse Nietzsche, despised. 4 Foucault's genealogical method denatures traditional history, yet, paradoxically, the trope of castration--the fascination with eunuchs--inadvertently produces genealogical history as the always already coherent field. He subsequently repeated the image of the eunuch at a crucial moment in the History of Sexuality: "Let us not picture the bourgeoisie symbolically castrating itself the better to refuse others the right to have a sex and make use of it as they please. . . . The Bourgeoisie's 'blood' was its sex." 5

The question of castration and coherence at stake in Foucault's genealogy prompts me to question how genealogical history and traditional history are structured not by radical opposition in his work but rather by relations enabled by their unthought coexistence. Specifically, I wish to relate problems of periodization in volume one of the History of Sexuality--especially his model of the supersession of sex over blood--to the colonial space-off of Foucault's work. I shall then question Foucault's argument for the supersession of sex and its disciplines over blood through a discussion of the medieval "blood" laws enacted by the medieval English crown in Ireland. I am interested in how these blood laws seep into the debate over nobility intrinsic to Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. The divided and overlapping technologies of blood laws and pedagogy in this medieval example challenge us to rethink how the colonial space-off is disturbingly internal to Foucault's genealogy.

The Ethnological Form of Genealogy

In spite of his desire to "transform history into a totally different form of time," traditional history most haunted Foucault in his schemes of periodization, the normativity of which has come...


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pp. 449-462
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