Insomnia | Essays

The Concept of Genealogy

By Gilles Deleuze / Translated by Hugh Tomlinson


Nietzsche's most general project is the introduction of the concepts of sense and value into philosophy. It is clear that modern philosophy has largely lived off Nietzsche. But not perhaps in the way in which he would have wished. Nietzsche made no secret of the fact that the philosophy of sense and values had to be a critique. One of the principal motifs of Nietzsche's work is that Kant had not carried out a true critique because he was not able to pose the problem of critique in terms of values. And what has happened in modern philosophy is that the theory of values has given rise to a new conformism and new forms of submission. Even the phenomenological apparatus has contributed to placing the Nietzschean inspiration, which is so often present in phenomenology, at the service of modern conformism. But, with Nietzsche, we must begin from the fact that the philosophy of values as envisaged and established by him is the true realisation of critique and the only way in which a total critique may be realised, the only way to "philosophise with a hammer". In fact, the notion of value implies a critical reversal. On the one hand, values appear or are given as principles: and evaluation presupposes values on the basis of which phenomena are appraised. But, on the other hand and more profoundly, it is values which presuppose evaluations, "perspectives of appraisal", from which their own value is derived. The problem of critique is that of the value of values, of their evaluation from which value arises, thus the problem of their creation. Evaluation is defined as the differential element of corresponding values, an element which is both critical and creative. Evaluations, in essence, are not values but ways of being, modes of existence of those who judge and evaluate, serving as principles for the values on the basis of which they judge. This is why we always have the beliefs, feelings and thoughts that we deserve given our way of being or our style of life.


There are things that can only be said, felt or conceived, values which can only be adhered to, on condition of "base" evaluation, "base" living and thinking. This is the crucial point; high and low, noble and base, are not values but represent the differential element from which the value of values themselves derives.
   Critical philosophy has two inseperable moments: the referring back of all things and any kind of origin to values, but also the referring back of these values to something which is, as it were, their origin and determines their value. This is Nietzsche's twofold struggle: against those who remove values from criticism, contenting themselves with producing inventories of existing values or with criticising things in the name of established values (the "philosophical labourers", Kant and Schopenhauer, BGE 211); but also against those who criticise, or respect, values by deriving them from simple facts, from so-called "objective facts" (the utilitarians, the "scholars", BGE Part 6). In both cases philosophy moves in the indifferent element of the valuable in itself or the valuable for all. Nietzsche attacks both the "high" idea of foundation which leaves values indifferent to their own origin and the idea of a simple causal derivation or smooth beginning which suggests an indifferent origin for values. Nietzsche creates the new concept of genealogy. The philosopher is a genealogist rather than a Kantian tribunal judge or a utilitarian mechanic. Hesiod is such a philosopher. Nietzsche substitutes the pathos of difference or distance (the differential element) for both the Kantian principle of universality and the principle of resemblance dear to the utilitarians. "It was from the height of this pathos of distance that they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for them; what did utility matter?" (GM I 2 p. 26).
    Genealogy means both the value of origin and the origin of values. Genealogy is as opposed to absolute values as it is to relative or utilitarian ones. Genealogy signifies the differential element of values from which their value itself derives. Genealogy thus means origin or birth, but also difference or distance in the origin. Genealogy means nobility and baseness, nobility and vulgarity, nobility and decadence in the origin. The noble and the vulgar, the high and the low — this is the truly genealogical and critical element. But, understood in this way, critique is also at its most positive. The differential element is both a critique of the value of values and the positive element of a creation. This is why critique is never conceived by Nietzsche as a reaction but as an action. Nietzsche contrasts the activity of critique with revenge, grudge or ressentiment. Zarathustra will be followed from one end of the book to the other by his ape, his "buffoon", his "demon"; but the ape is as different from Zarathustra as revenge and ressentiment are from critique itself. To be confused with his ape; this is what Zarathustra feels as one of the frightful temptations held out to him (Z III "Of Passing By"). Critique is not a re-action of re-sentiment but the active expression of an active mode of existence; attack and not revenge, the natural aggression of a way of being, the divine wickedness without which perfection could not be imagined (EH I 6-7). This way of being is that of the philosopher precisely because he intends to wield the differential element as critic and creator and therefore as a hammer. Nietzsche says that his adversaries think "basely". Nietzsche has high expectations of this conception of genealogy: a new organisation of the sciences, a new organisation of philosophy, a determination of the values of the future.

[Excerpt from Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962).]