Re: Judith Butler

The exchange below can in no way substitute for a discussion of Judith
Butler's writings nor of her contribution to a philosophical engagement with
feminist studies, queer studies and increasingly issues of race. while i
appreciate Gregory Coolidge's attempts to paraphrase Butler's arguments, it
seems that paraphrase produces exactly the kind of polemical and
anti-intellectual response espoused by Derrick Allums. It would be more
fruitful for discussion and perhaps for learning, if the list could focus on
close reading of passages. i would suggest beginning with the preface and
introduction to *Bodies That Matter*. In those introductory pieces Butler
lucidly addresses some of the more peculiar misunderstandings of her work.
you might then consider reading the entire first section, but if that is too
much at once, begin with the book's title chapter. there you will find a
very nuanced account of her use of assujetissement, Foucault's subjection.
Far from being the flat-footed nihilist that Derrick seems to see -- one
wonders on what basis these opinions are formed, surely not on the
foundation of a reading -- Butler is always at pains to produce More
questioning rather than less. in fact, her essays always find a kind of
speculative crescendo in whole paragraphs, sometimes whole pages, given over
to the questions made manifest by her critique. this, i believe, is the work
of philosophy Not polemics. for those of us working in the wake of Foucault,
for those of us for whom Foucault's work has produced more to think rather
than less, this questioning is essential.

another thing, you will get nowhere in Butler's work if you refuse to
interrogate your own assumptions about matter, empirical evidence and the
putative rationalism subtending a commonplace about both. There is a very
good reason that psychoanalysis is such an important speculative enterprise
for Butler, one subject to the deformation and renewal of a substantial
philosophical reworking. allow me to cite two passages for possible discussion:

"Insofar as Foucault traces the processof materialization as an investiture
of discourse and power, he focuses on that dimension of power that is
productive and formative. But we need to ask what constrains the domain of
what is materializable, and whether there are modalities of materialization
-- as Aristotle suggests, and Althusser is quick to cite. To what extent is
materialization governed b principles of intelligibility that require and
institute a domain of radical unintelligibility that resists materialization
altogether or that remains radically dematerialized? Does Foucault's effort
to work the notions of discourse and materiality through one another fail to
account for not only what is excluded from the economies of discursive
intelligibility that he describes, but what has to be excluded for those
economies to function as self-sustaining systems?"BTM, 35


"Here the question is no simply what Plato thought bodies might be, and what
of the body remained for him radically unthinkable: rather, the question is
whether the forms which are said to produce bodily life operate through the
production of an excluded domain that comes to bound and to haunt the field
of intelligible bodily life. The logic of this operation is to a certain
extent psychoanalytic inasmuch as the force of prohibition produces the
spectre of a terrifying return. Can we, then, turn to psychoanalysis itself
to ask how the boundaries of the body are crafted through sexual taboo? To
what extent does the Platonic account of the phallogenesis of bodies
prefigure the Freudian and Lacanian accounts which presume the phallus as
the synechdochal token of sexed positionality?
If the boudning, forming, and deforming of sexed bodies is animated
by a set of founding prohibitions, a set of enforced criteria of
intellibility, then we are not merely considering how bodies appear from the
vantage point of a theoretical position or epistemic location at a distance
>from bodies themselves. On the contrary, we are adking how the criteria of
intelligible sex operates to constitute a field of bodies, and hwo precisely
we might understand specific criteria to produce the bodies that they
regulate. In what precisely does the crafting power of prohibiiton consist?
Does it determine a psychic experience of the body which is radically
separable from something that one might want to call the body itself? Or is
it the case that the productive power of prohibition in morphogenesis
renders the very distinction between morphe and psyche unsustainable?" BTM, 55


>On Thu, 9 May 1996, Gregory A. Coolidge wrote:
>> Judith Butler would vehemently disagree with you that sexuality occurs at the
>> jucture of biology and social construction. The radicallness of Butler's
>> account, is that sex is in no way biologically motivated.
> What????? In NO WAY biologically motivated? I hope for Ms
>Butler's sake that you overstate her case. Have you (or has she) ever
>heard of the bonobo? How are we to understand that creature, our closest
>primate relative (according to people who study such things) and not only
>the distinction between their sexual practices and ours but also the
>uncanny similiarities between the practices?
> To rest
>> sex on any notion of the biological, would, for Butler, put an inherent
>> limit on the sexualities open to individuals, it is to play the game
>> of normalizing sexuality (as is the case now), by attaching it to
>> biology as the foundation of noraml human sexuality.
> Are we not safe in assuming that an overwhelming majority of
>living adult and sexually active human beings engage in cross-"sex"
>copulation and that such is the case for most of our mammalian
>relatives? Is it not then safe to assume that some degree of biological
>determinism comes into play in this phenomenon? Is it reasonable to
>suggest that biology and nature have NOTHING to do with our choices of
>sexual partners?
>Such a notion may
>> appear ridiculous to you, since it avoids our obviously biological
>> nature as organisms (we are clearly creatures composed of genes, etc.),
but it is what Butler would like you to imagine
>> when you conceive of sexuality, and when you attempt to critique
>> contempoary controls and limitations on human sexuality. It is a theoretical
>> vantage point from which to conceive of sexuality, perhaps not to be taken
>> literally, but to be taken quite seriously in the realm of the political.
> Here, I must disagree again. I think the extreme nature of Ms
>Butler's argument makes it absolutely unconvincing and not at all
>compelling. If this is the case for people who wish to think of these
>issues in other terms, then it seems that Butler's argument (as it has
>been presented here in cyberspace) only encourages her opponents in their
>belief as opposed to persuading them in the least bit to her point of
>view. Her argument opens itself up to ridicule and to the extent that it
>does, allows people who have certain political ideas around sexuality/etc
>to rest assured in those beliefs. I, personally, think it is better to
>unsettle with the familiar rather than mock with the overly sophisticated
>and opaque...

  • Re: Judith Butler
    • From: Malcolm Dunnachie Thompson
  • Re: Judith Butler
  • Partial thread listing: