Notes on: Yancy G. (2001) A Foucauldian (Genealogical) Reading of Whiteness: The Production of the Black Body/Self and the Racial Pathology of Pecola Breedlove in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Radical Philosophy Review 4 (1/2): 1-29

Dave Harris

[An earlier version of the book which it anticipatorily plagiarises a bit eg Chapter 5 NB his PhD does much more!]

This claims to be 'a Foucauldian analysis of Whiteness as a philosophical, political, anthropological and epistemological regime, undergirded by a power/knowledge nexus' it explains the embodiment of Whiteness 'vis a vis the Black body/self' [so is it relational or not?] It is a historically constructed standpoint, but takes itself as universal. This article pursues 'a genealogical reading' [not an archaeological one?], where Whiteness emerges as 'a reactive value-creating power'. The Black body/self is disciplined and introjects this as a 'self denigrating episteme'. This [process?] Is 'fuelled by White ressentiment' [I still can't see how] and via disciplinary techniques, this is also internalised as 'a form of self ressentiment by Blacks. We can see this through Morrison's narrative, showing how the character Pecola Breedlove is racially distorted, racially self hating, but the product of various practices that can be radically dismantled [all this is just in the abstract!(1)].

Foucault has not specifically dealt with Whiteness, but he has provided a helpful framework in Discipline and in the first volume of Sexuality, and how knowledge is produced. Whiteness becomes a power/knowledge nexus within a framework that permits control of what people do and leads to more intrusive enquiry and disclosure. This is claimed to be genealogy as in Foucault, and Davison is cited as saying this is a wider method than archaeology, focusing on '"the mutual relations between systems of truth and modalities of power, the way in which there is a 'political regime 'of the production of truth" '(2). Whiteness can be seen as the production of specific truth claims linked to the production of regimes of truth and power.

The first stage is to provide a genealogical reading of Whiteness, to locate Whiteness as a 'specific historical "positionality" 'which claims to be universal but which is in fact an embodied set of practices. Whiteness does not exist as a simple element but it affirms itself in its 'many modes of instantiation '. Foucauldian genealogy separates out from contingencies possibilities of '"no longer being… What we are" '. Whiteness tries to hide from historicity and particularity and represent itself as universal, a master sign. It produces Black bodies and selves and disciplines them and claims to know itself adequately as truth.

Slavery can be understood as 'an expression, among other things, of White ressentiment or hatred '[but the two are not the same] (3). It is a technique of discipline that particularly involves 'destructive self conceptualisation 'for Black people, as in the analysis of sexuality, where a value laden understanding of the self is internalised. Power is understood as multiple force relations organised in a bloc.

Morrison's novel can be read as an example. Pecola is disciplined by Whiteness and comes to know herself as inferior. The notion of resistance might apply here, as in Foucault, and another character can also be assessed.

A genealogical analysis of Whiteness shows that Whiteness is a sort of emergence, a value code developed by a certain group of people to organise what seems to them to be intelligible, valuable, normal, beautiful and so on. It aims to transcend differences and become 'the transcendentally signified ', to manage difference, to become the site of universality, 'and epistemological and ontological anchorage ', which makes other identities in discourses marginal and other. There is a series of binary relationships between self and other, subject and object and so on, organised in a hierarchy. The originating status of Whiteness is concealed, '"usually unmarked and unnamed" '[citing Frankenberg]. (4) This status is maintained, because there is a risk in recognising the normality and history of Whiteness.

Genealogical analysis can expose it. One approach involves Nietzsche, showing how changes have escaped our notice and have been masked by specific interests, or the exposure of values that claim to be universal or true. [not racial though] .Instead, the 'value creating power 'of various practices is revealed to challenge hegemony.

Whiteness has produced self ressentiment among Blacks, even to their life before enslavement. The Middle Passage was particularly important [I think this ignores the previous effects of captivity and imprisonment in Africa]. This [role stripping] as shown in the character of Pecola, who 'sees herself through the lens of Whiteness '. (5).

Blacks are assumed to be naturally inferior, bestial, not entitled to any rights, subhuman, and this is similar to the process in Sexuality where members of society are trained to see themselves as having a particular sexual nature, and to take their sexuality as given [although one commentator notes that scientific study particularly helps here].

Whiteness constitutes Black people as objects, but White people are subjects. Blacks internalised these truths, and Foucault's Discipline provides a description of the methods of panopticism to explain how this works, even before the Middle Passage.

The term White was first used, apparently, to refer to a race of people in 1604, in the American colonies, where a great deal of othering and cleansing of nonWhites was underway, although Whiteness was already seen as connected with morality in paintings and literature, as early as the Crusades and the 11th century. Some historians have argued that racism did not exist before 1850, and so the first examples of African slavery did not involve some hierarchy of Whiteness — but Yancy argues that the practices of Whiteness were clearly indicated even if there was no explicit theory, that these practices were in effect rationalisations, historically concrete forms. [There is also discussion of the dynamic of the erasure of nonWhite others and self erasure, which turns on his term ressentiment — apparently, a certain Gordon implies that Whiteness need not have taken the form of hating others, a peculiar partial and concrete form, which adds to the possibilities of critique, 'revealing it as historically constructed and capable of being overcome' ()]

The Middle Passage shows the disciplinary practices best, through specialisation, for example [with more examples as with the book]. Yancy stresses once again that this power was productive of the new docile bestial Black body, subject to 'the objectifying dimensions of the public gaze', which included exoticizing it.

Sciences further normalised biopower and made Black bodies abnormal, and produced the myth of the Negro rapist. Foucault never discussed the racial by mentions of cleanliness and sexual control in Sexuality, but takes a class dimension. Yancy wants to add a racial dimension to establishing bourgeois identity as European and White. There is the same stuff on the Black body as a site of disease and a propensity to crime produced by evolution.

There is the same sort of critique of European philosophers as 'the philosophical performativity of Whiteness' (10), where European philosophers were 'seduced by the value code of Whiteness '. This linked reason to power, agreeing with Foucault. Examples include Hume and Kant as before, and Locke, with a Foucauldian post script showing the inherent link between knowledge and power, and this case the scientific and philosophical knowledge of Black inferiority, and the actual practices, including lynching, of disciplining Black bodies, the 'White power/knowledge nexus '(12). Here, 'what holds these examples together is not a deep racial conspiracy, but a White power bloc '[not an episteme]. This imposes itself in everyday life, in a deep way, as interpellation.

He now goes on to analyse the novel and the character as 'negatively marked, shaped and discipline within a (generative) White semiotic field '(11) [I will only skim this because I haven't read the novel]

Apparently Morrison specifically refers to a White gaze and has an implicit social constructionist theory of the self. She also has an implicit view of a racist 'power/knowledge nexus '(13), and similarities with Foucault are noted throughout [talk up,  unkind critics would say]. There is a claim that the character knows as a Black person that she is a 'raciated object, limited, and somatically uglified ', which is linked to the notion of self ressentiment [which is self disgust really, feeling inferior] (14). She wishes for blue eyes. Fanon is quoted as reporting a similar feeling of always being inferior in White eyes.

There are connections with the idea that Whiteness is a form of property, and that the Black character has nothing, that Black possessions are worthless or dirty. Class is also hinted at. The family is aware of the limits which constrain them and the weight of Whiteness. One character denies her own Blackness and tries to adopt a fiction being White

[Lots more]

The article ends by reverting to Foucault and what would happen if individuals are able to resist or block power relations and domination, whether they are able to impose their own notions of freedom. F is rather pessimistic, but Yancy says that he does not consider psychological domination at least. If we operate at the phenomenological level and go beyond genealogy, people can think their own history and discover their own possibilities, liberate themselves psychologically, and this is important, at least at the micropolitical level. Yancy actually advocates psychotherapy, albeit 'in conjunction with political resistance '(24) and thinks that psychological liberation will lead to more general political awareness and attention to the problem of Whiteness and its universality. Foucault does not support any notion of authenticity in connection with the self, however so there is no 'Black authentic self waiting to be discovered… No "ontological Black self" '(25), only a field of possibilities. There has been a real oppression of Black people by White people. You can find in the experience of people of African descent 'narratives that allow for a healthier sense of who [we want] to be '. We can take on ressentiment. But, with Foucault, no one 'exists on the outside of power'. We can develop 'narrative importance which are less restrictive and less damaging ', but any space 'comes replete with its own power/knowledge nexus '[so real Foucault at last!]

Here are some notes I gathered on the conept of episteme in Foucault. First, my own from reading of  Archaeology

‘relations that unite... the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences and... formalised systems'  (191). These affect the different thresholds and the paths between them.  An episteme is more than a form of knowledge or type of rationality, but is best seen as an 'indefinite field of relations', including relations with other fields. This varies over time. It gives the right to be a science, not as a one-off gift, but as an historical practice again. NB about science!  Other kinds of archaeology are possible: do we need, say, an archaeology of sexuality which  would involve not only the science of sexuality, but also a field of possible enunciations in its own right?  Should we not be oriented to ethical rather than epistemic issues? What about political knowledge? Foucault says that he is interested in the emergence of sciences in particular for several reasons -- because they are emerging strongly these days, because it is an important political task to criticise science, but principally because they demonstrate best the points about positivity.
Science emerge as...
    1.    It is a selection from knowledge, a local region in knowledge. Its boundaries vary as an effective discursive formations. The function of science is the important issue rather than the science/ideology issue  [which Althusser had made central]. Turning to that [rather hastily I thought], science and ideology share features as discursive practices.  There is no sharp distinction between them, but the level of discursive formation is decisive. Whether one uses causal explanations is irrelevant, and it is not just a matter of rigour. [Having disposed of that], the ideological role of science is established by looking at 'the system of formation of its objects, its types of enunciation, its concepts, its theoretical choices'  (186). [So a great deal of wriggling must take place here. Both science and ideology are discourses, but we do not want to let anyone say that therefore they are of equal value -- we have not yet got to post-modernism. So we assert some differences, and claim they are important. But this is really very near the end of the book, and we have not mentioned these crucial differences before but have stayed at a very general and abstract level indeed. By the time we have got to these crucial specific differences, we have done enough theorizing and there is time and space enough only to jot down a few remarks].

    2.    Discursive forms emerge first as positivities [practices become autonomous and systematised first?]. Then there is a stage on the 'threshold of epistemologisation', when norms are clarified and begin to function as a model. Then formal criteria and logical explicitness develop,on the 'threshold of scientificity'. Further definitions of axioms, propositions,and rules of transformation leave us on the threshold of 'formalisation' (187). The way these develop and interlock can vary: there are no neat periodisations, and stages 1 and 2 can be mixed, for example. Mathematics seems to have crossed all the thresholds at once, which is why it is often taken as a model for the development of a discipline.

    3.    So distinct histories are possible. There can be a history of formalisation, and one of scientificity. [Bachelard and Canguilhem are much admired here]. Such histories are often situated within science itself, and thus tend to be saturated with terms like truth and error, rational and non rational. A history can stop at the stage of epistemologisation -- not all discursive formations lead to sciences.

    4.    Analysing the dynamics within discursive formations and positivities leads to an analysis of the episteme itself, the ‘relations that unite... the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences and... formalised systems'  (191). These affect the different thresholds and the paths between them.  An episteme is more than a form of knowledge or type of rationality, but is best seen as an 'indefinite field of relations', including relations with other fields. This varies over time. It gives the right to be a science, not as a one-off gift, but as an historical practice again.

For Kendall and Wickham the notion of the episteme in Foucault is similar to the idea of a paradigm in Kuhn (repeated by several other commentaries -- and denied by others!)

For Oleary and Chia (2007). Epistemes and Structures of Sensemaking in Organizational Life. Journal of Management Enquiry 16 (4) 
(I just happened to come across them on Google) it is more abstract again eg 
‘Episteme’, the underlying code of a culture that govern its language, its logic, its schemas of perception, its values and its techniques, etc., is what makes collective meaning and sense-making possible and in this paper we examine three epistemes of organizational sense-making for legitimising and justifying managerial actions and decision-making. There are also classical and modern epistemes. The key idea of the archaeological method is that systems of thought and knowledge (epistemes or discursive formations, in Foucault’s terminology) are governed by rules, beyond those of grammar and logic, that operate beneath the consciousness of individual subjects and define a system of conceptual possibilities that determines the boundaries of thought in a given domain and period. So, for example, History of Madness should, Foucault maintained, be read as an intellectual excavation of the radically different discursive formations that governed talk and thought about madness from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. (Stanford Encyclopaedia)