The will to knowledge: Older writings on descent, Foucault, and interdisciplinary work

If there is always this notion of justice involved in translation and comparativist practice, are we not limiting ourselves in our conceptions of what a comparativist practice looks like? How does the notion of treating objects of knowledge with respect affect our practice of object-making? Respect or justice are not neutral terms that lead us to objectivity but, in themselves, are mechanisms of objectification, a mode of knowledge production that functions within limitations to understand an object that functions as disciplines do.

When Foucault speaks of cutting and descending as a genealogy, as opposed to a linear and casual genealogy, he turns our attention towards a blind field (that of descent) where terms like “justice” and “humanist” cease to exist.

Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people. On the contrary, to follow the complex course of descent is to maintain passing events in their proper dispersion […] an unstable assemblage of faults, fissures, and heterogeneous layers that threaten the fragile inheritor from within or from underneath.

Being just and noble, for Foucault, is impossible within a system that reproduces subjugation under the auspices of justice, as an ideology that is a condition of humanist practice that assumes a whole and universal identity as the starting place of human heritage and history. Being in the darkness of descent, “disturbs what was previously considered immobile; it fragments what was thought unified; it shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself (146-147).” Justice, respect, and value are a few of terms of consistency that emerge as heterogeneous in the descent.

Taking into account how context, epoch, and language color any writer, philosopher, or theorist–as Braudel and Carr, and to a lesser extent Alberuni, alert us to–to what extent is a comparativist and/or interdisciplinary (are they the same?) approach deemed as such because of its process, the actual practice of bringing together disparate worlds or ways of knowing worlds; or, on the other hand, turned towards the question of process itself, questioning processes, as the practice of a comparativist? To relish always in the blind field, or to write always along fissures and margins that a “humanist heuristic” exists outside of (or where it does not exist at all)? What is the negotiation between anti-humanist realities, contexts and times continually erasing and re-creating worlds (reality as referring to the desire for an unchanging truth) and humanistic intentions that are locked in the borders of limited and sovereign ways of knowing?

Is Alberuni a receptacle? Is the comparativist a mechanism that has no responsibility over what she contains? How can Alberuni’s work be, “nothing but  a simple historical record of facts?” It is problematic that we even think this is possible. The comparativist work is in the act, the process, which becomes the purpose, the distinction, between the historian and the comparativist. So she works as the historiographer, examining methods while simultaneously engaging the blind field? What worlds are possible and, furthermore, can possibilities that emerge from masteries and dissections be the concern of comparativist or interdisciplinary work? Is the unsaid part of the process of doing comparativist work? Is there even a possibility of doing a work like Foucault’s for Khaldun and/or Alberuni? Should this be the question we ask and does it matter whether or not this is considered a just question to pose?

If the question is how we construct our objects of knowledge within systems (disciplines) of totality, than is the focus on the object or the process of object-making? Is it about mapping the fissures or falling into the spaces between the fissures? As Foucault leaves us:

It is no longer a question of judging the past in the name of a truth that only we can possess in the present; but risking the destruction of the subject who seeks knowledge in the endless deployment of the will to knowledge.


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