In 'Descent' Proposal: Pathologies of Embodiment in Nietzsche, Kafka, and Foucault

  • Dan Mellamphy York University
  • Nandita Biswas Mellamphy York University


This paper advances the argument that Foucault's notion of 'bodily inscription' can be found in more rudimentary form in the Nietzschean notion of 'bodily descent'- the path qua pathology of 'going under' first outlined by Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The argument is set within context of the ongoing debate in Foucault studies about whether a non-discursive dimension of the body can be posited or whether the body is always already and inevitably discursive. Following Judith Butler's assessment that there is in Foucault's work the presence of a body outside of signification, the present paper argues that Foucaultian bodily inscription is akin to Nietzschean bodily descent: both are predicated on and depend upon the occluded presence of an inherently 'indecent' or 'undisciplined' body, one that disrupts the discursive economy of subjectivization (assujettissement). Through the detailed reading of an exemplary tale by Franz Kafka ('In the Penal Colony'), we attempt to describe the structural axes or disciplinary matrix that descends and is imposed upon 'undisciplined' or 'indecent' bodies, revealing in so doing the 'indecent' body subject to this descent, the body 'crossed over' and 'crossed out' - 'double crossed' - by these axes, by this matrix. We suggest that it is at the crossroads or the crossing of these axes, precisely at the point where the indecent and untidy body is 'inscribed' and 'disciplined', that Foucault, like Nietzsche, locates a point that points beyond the structure, beyond axial and axiomatic binaries, to a body of inherent possibilities, affective virtualities, and spirited resistance.

Author Biography

Dan Mellamphy, York University
Dan Mellamphy currently teaches literary theory and criticism at York University's Keele Street Campus and Nandita Biswas Mellamphy currently teaches political theory and international studies at York University's Glendon College Campus. Their work on ancient Greek mathesis and its application to modern theories of learning is being sponsored in part by the JUMP MATH program in Toronto, and they are also collaborating on a study of the notion of 'synarchy' developed by the French contemporary of Friedrich Nietzsche, Joseph Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre.