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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 84, Issue 2, Spring 2010

Friedrich Nietzsche

James I. Porter
Pages 313-336

Theater of the Absurd
Nietzsche’s Genealogy as Cultural Critique

The paper seeks to demystify Nietzsche’s concept of genealogy. Genealogy tells the story of historical origins in the form of a myth that is betrayed from within, while readers have naively assumed it tells a story that Nietzsche endorses—whether of history or naturalized origins. Looked at more closely, genealogy, I claim, tells the story of human consciousness and its extraordinary fallibility. It relates the conditions and limits of consciousness and how these are actively avoided and forgotten, for the most part in vain. The lessons are these: there is no human time before consciousness; no unconscious activity that is uncontaminated by consciousness or culture; no period of prehistory that isn’t already historical or historicized, hence subject to dehistoricization (for prehistory, Urzeit, always comes after history, in the form of a myth); no primordial “innocence of becoming,” let alone any future condition free of these same constraints. Genealogy is the critique of the myth of knowing critique.

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