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bluish's picture

A Disorganized Conversation between Foucault, Nietzsche, and LeGuin

Nietzsche and the Osden’s Master Morality:

In an exchange between Osden and Haito, Nietzsche’s concepts of the master and slave moralities surface.

"I was trying," she [Haito] said, "to learn some facts." She thought her tone was admirably calm. "You weren't after facts. You were trying to get at me. With some fear, some curiosity, and a great deal of distaste. The way you might poke a dead dog, to see the maggots crawl. Will you understand once and for all that I don't want to be got at, that I want to be left alone?" His skin was mottled with red and violet, his voice had risen. "Go roll in your own dung, you yellow bitch)" he shouted at her silence.”

Haito’s prodding and need to “understand” Osden characterizes her as one who exhibits the slave morality, while Osden’s genuine disinterest alludes to his focus, and despite being an empath, one who reflects the emotions of others, he has individualized direction. With regard to

Nietzsche, Osden is representative of the master mentality. He explains:

“The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, “what is harmful to me is harmful in itself”; it knows itself to be that which first accords honor to things; it is value-creating. The noble human being honors himself as one who is powerful, also as one who has power over himself” (Nietzsche 260, 205).

As mentioned, on first interpretation, one would assume that because Osden is unable to distance himself from others, he is not self-governing. But upon deeper inspection, it seems quite the opposite. Throughout the entirety of the story he is distant and uninvolved with the group. His mission and role are independent of the other’s and as we see at the end of the story, he makes the ultimate leap into the unknown.

Furthering Nietzsche’s concept, in contrast to the master, slave morality is focused on “pity, the complaisant and obliging hand, the warm heart, patience, industry, humility, and friendliness” -- slave morality is centered around utility (260, pg. 207). In more recent discourse, philosophers highlight the notion of “ressentiment,” and suggest it as a primary affect of the slave morality. Instead of actualizing masterly drives, the slave mentality projects those repressed drives onto others in the forms of pity and sympathy, subliminal efforts to control others whom we envy for realizing their masterly drives. Haito does just this:

"Calm down" she said, still quietly, but she left him at once and went to her cabin. Of course he had been right about her motives; her question had been largely a pretext, a mere effort to interest him. But what harm in that? Did not that effort imply respect for the other? At the moment of asking the question she had felt at most a slight distrust of him; she had mostly felt sorry for him, the poor arrogant venomous bastard, Mr. No-Skin as Olleroo called him. What did he expect, the way he acted? Love? (LeGuin 153).

Haito’s inability to identify with Osden turns her to pity and resentment. This is the key function of herd mentality: to ostracize, otherize, pity, and kill those who are capable of actualizing our repressed drives to power and control.

The Diagnosis/Examination:

Osden is characterized by his diagnosis. The rest of the team is fixated on examining and investigating his behavior in the hopes of “figuring him out.” Foucault claims that this process of examination and rehabilitation is actually the primordial form of power exaction, and that through this process, one is able to objectify the subject. He goes on to explain how the social sciences have indoctrinated us to think about what is normal and abnormal (not solely pathological). We search for the source of contamination, the speck of toxicity, and think "something must have gone wrong in their life…" This social manifestation of pity is then exacted through rehabilitation (Foucault 171). In LeGuin’s short story, Osden’s character supports these claims. During an initial interaction, LeGuin points to the idea that Osden’s psyche will become an object for the scientific discourse of his peers. Mannon, the Soft Scientist says:

“Well, you know, Mr. Osden is really a very rare case. In fact, he's the first fully cured case of Render's Syndrome--a variety of infantile autism which was thought to be incurable. The great Terran analyst Hammergeld reasoned that the cause of the autistic condition in this case is a supernormal empathic capacity, and developed an appropriate treatment. Mr Osden is the first patient to undergo that treatment, in fact he lived with Dr.Hammergeld until he was eighteen. The therapy was completely successful.

"Successful?” [says Porlock] "Why, yes. He certainly is not autistic” (LeGuin 150).

While Foucault is not calling for the end of rehabilitation, he doesn’t believe that it is purely scientific and not evaluative. In accordance with Nietzsche, Foucault sees this process of deep evaluation as a means of putting people back into the herd mentality. Power does not only repress, but it constitutes new kinds of beings. In contrast to the contemporary prison system, penality in the classical era was concerned with revenge; people were flogged, maimed, quartered, and punished publically; punishments were enacting and then over, and there was no production of the "criminal identity". The punishment was spectacular, theatrical, and then over. There was no review board, no parole, not concept of recidivism, no solitary confinement. But the creation of the modern prison system has much different aims. What is prison meant to do? It is meant to be monastic, a process of reflection on wrong doing. You start to reflect on why you did what you did, and what made you a criminal. Then, there is the need to tell a redemption story (discovery of a deity is the best way to demonstrate remorse). In the classical age, no one gave a shit about whether you were sorry-- you were just punished. This new punitive method is used not only to punish, but to reconstitute! To produce a new and different socially normative being (Foucault 172).

Osden has been reconstituted in order to be useful to the herd. His character is not only ostracized from the group, but also transformed into the object of examination for the other scientists. This is the process of separation and "othering" on an interpersonal level, which I plan to expand upon in my next essay to take into account the ecological practices which perpetuate this same divide. 






Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Walter Arnold. Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

LeGuin, Ursula. "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow." The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Short Stories.  New York: Harper and Row, 1975. 148-178.






Anne Dalke's picture

it's grand to have this as your last paper of the semester, and as the one you'll re-work in revision, doing what you have done best for all of us: bringing in one of your dead best friends to help us think philosophically about our shared texts. in doing so, you're answering the question i posed to one of my (living!) philosophical friends: WTF read such canonical materials? ....because they illuminate what we are facing now, giving us access to a larger, broader understanding.

i'm especially interested in your turn, here, to Foucault's work on discipline and punishment, since (as you know) i teach in a prison and am constantly asking myself what i am doing there. one of the students in my 360 has recently written beautifully about the art of freedom that our book group, and the activity of interpretation (what she calls reading as radical practice) offers:

"Perhaps this, in itself, is a form of resistance. Perhaps this, alone, is radical. In a space characterized by such intense forms of surveillance, control, and dehumanization, offering a space in which the incarcerated people subjugated by these systems daily are able to reclaim some small form of agency by applying their own readings to a book (and in this way, "adapting" it) is incredibly important. And while we so often question our intentions in the space, constantly wondering if we are reenacting the very hierarchies of power that the women experience every day, we deserve to acknowledge this contribution we make when we carry in texts each week. And here I name a major purpose for book groups as form of higher education in prisons."

i hope you've also heard, by now, that you were cited by name in our Socrates Cafe y'day morning (and referenced in one of the reflections on that discussion: "Abby said that, citing her friend, freedom is people having equal limitations"); arising from that, we also had some good conversation about Hegel's notion of 'mutual recognition' as a way to re-conceptualize freedom. a different (and i think wonderfully productive) way to think of the interdependence of master and slave than what you lay out for us (via Nietzsche) here....