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  • Critical Inquiry and/or Art of Critique:Koopman's Genealogy as Critique
  • Lauri Siisiäinen (bio)
Colin Koopman , Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 2013. $30 (paper) 348 pp. ISBN-10: 025300621X ISBN-13: 978-0253006219


As we know, the amount of literature interpreting or commenting on Michel Foucault's thought is immense. To borrow Foucault's own terms, it easily happens that a new work on Foucault disappears into the continuous, anonymous "murmuring" of Foucault-literature. First of all, Colin Koopman's recently published book, Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity, is distinguished by its ambitious objective. It is to reconstruct and illuminate, in a rigorous as well as synaptic or synthetizing way, the coherent nucleus of Foucault's critical, genealogical method. Also, the goal is to illustrate how Foucault applied this method in practice in his more concrete, historical interventions.

One of the undeniable merits of Koopman's treatise, which makes it stand out, is erudition. Koopman is not content in going through the generally known and recognized "major works" of Foucault (this is all too commonly the case in Foucault literature). Koopman attentively examines and synthetizes, e.g., an array of Foucault's self-reflective meditations, scattered here and there in essays and interviews, ranging from the earliest to the very last ones. By exploring Foucault's numerous remarks on the orientations and aims of his thinking, Koopman obtains a rich body of evidence to back his methodological-synaptic view. It is much more convincing than, dare I say, what we find in the average Foucault commentary. In this material, Koopman's reading moves dexterously back and forth, perceptively tracing the cross-temporal references in Foucault's texts. To compare, certain studies on Friedrich Nietzsche's style, strategy, and art of writing have successfully utilized similar tactics.

The grand thesis in Koopman's volume, one that is cogently demonstrated, is that we can find in Foucault something we may legitimately call genealogical method. In the general understanding of "method," it is a coherent set of general-level, conceptual assertions, procedures, and rules of analysis. A method can be applied in the inquiry of particular cases, which is at the same time both enabled as well as oriented and delimited through its adherence to the method. To put it briefly, Koopman's methodological reading divides Foucault's textual corpus according to a two-level model of scientific inquiry: At one level, we have the method-developing Foucault (from archaeology to genealogy), and at the other level, we have the applicative or applied Foucault, who realizes and follows the basic, general insights of the methodological Foucault.

To summarize, what Koopman identifies as the core of Foucault's genealogical method is, first, the fundamental statement that our existence is conditioned (allowed and restrained) by conditions of possibility that are historically emergent and contingent, but also capable of becoming inert. Second, there is the even more important enunciation, concerning how it is that our existence is conditioned historically and contingently. The conditions of our present existence, and of any present existence in any possible present, are generated and composed by a dynamic complex of different sorts of vectors of practices, as these intersect (power, knowledge, etc.).

Albeit Koopman insists (correctly) that Foucault denied his having intended to construct a general theory of power, it is still the case that in Koopman's own exposition, the genealogical method is, first and foremost, a general-theoretical construction. The method of genealogy consists of general, if not universal, if not ontological assertions on the contingent, complex, historically emergent and conditioned nature of existence as such. Then, these general assertions orient our empirical, concrete genealogical studies and analyses (as they did with the ones conducted by Foucault's himself) of any particular cases, situations, contexts, and phenomena. To recapitulate: Even though Koopman (248) stresses that he does not mean by method an "aprioristic theory that can determine practice in advance," it still appears that we are left with a depiction of genealogy as a theoretical method, that is, as a general-level discourse to be applied, deployed, and followed in concrete empirical...

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