Re: Judith Butler

Hi. Just some notes on the Butler thread. First of all, -din-, thank you
for your contribution. These are *great* quotes to start from.

Second, I don't think Foucault's and Butler's project is the extraction
of sexuality from the categories of "normal" and "abnormal". It is, I
think, far more radical than that. Such a move would make them merely
fairly traditional liberals. They are not investigating the progressive
implication of "the sexual" in a half-scientistic/half-moralistic
discursive field. Rather, they are investigating a complex and
differentiated deployment of a multi-tacticed apparatus for the
regulation of bodies and pleasures. Which, in the same set of gestures,
literally *creates* new kinds of bodies and pleasures. It is not at all
the case that heterosexuality and homosexuality (and all the other forms
of "sexuality") "just are". Rather, they are themselves discursive
constructions that date from about the second half of the nineteenth century.

Also, for Butler, her theories are inextricable from Adrienne Rich's
notion of "Compulsory Heterosexuality". In the essay "Compulsory
Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence", Rich postulates that
heterosexuality is part and parcel of systemic sexism and misogyny. She
lists some of the tactics that characterize the *imposition* of
heterosexuality on women, and whose interests (mens) they serve:

"punishment, including death, for lesbian sexuality... closing of
archives and destruction of documents relating to lesbian existence...
rape (including marital rape) and wife-beating [Susan Brownmiller also
articulates a similar theory in _Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape_]
... incest; the socialization of women to feel that male sexual "drive"
amounts to a right; idealization of heterosexual romance in art,
literature, media, advertizing, and so forth... psychoanalytic doctrines
of frigidity and vaginal orgasm... the institutions of marriage and
motherhood as unpaid production... seizure of children from lesbian
mothers by the courts... rape are terrorism [from which all men benefit,
whether they know it or not]... "feminine" dress codes... prescriptions
for full time mothering... erasure of female tradition...

...what surely impresses itself is the fact that we are confronting not a
simple maintenance of inequality and property possession, but a pervasive
cluster of forces, ranging from physical brutality to control of

Now, what I take from this (by the way, Rich's list is *much* longer than
my excerpting of it) is that heterosexuality is not in any way "natural".
In fact, if it was so natural, why would we need so many things to
enforce it? (And who is this "we" anyway?)

Now, for Butler, the contemporary configuration of "sex" in biological
and popular discourse (and its necessarily attendent naturalization of
heterosexuality - I'll explain this if people want) is inextricable from
a project of ensuring women's continued sexual subservience and
availability to men. Thus, heterosexuality is part of sexism. This is
quite distinct from the liberal position that sexualities should not be
seen as natural or unnatural. It is not that heterosexuality just is in
more of less the same form as homosexuality (which also just is). Rather,
this apparently obvious configuration of experiences is in fact the
complex effect of a discursive and institutional imposition of a sexual

Someone asked: how does Butler define discourse? At this point, I think
an answer is possible. Near the end of _Gender Trouble_ Butler succintly
defines discourses as "historically specific organizations of language"

Now, in this context, several passages from Foucault are especially
pertinent. Rather than sex being a primary material upon which discourse
acts, it is rather a more or less unified effect of a certain grouping
of features together into a unity that is by no means self-presenting:

"the notion of "sex" made it possible to group together, in an artificial
unity, anatomical elements, biological functions, conducts, sensations,
and pleasures, and enabled one to make use of this fictitious unity as a
causal principle, an omnipresent meaning, a secret to be discovered
everywhere: sex was thus able to function as a unique signifier and as a
universal signified."

Now, I think this applies both to biological sex and to fucking, as
someone curdely put it, but in different ways. (That is, I think Butler
uses it to signify biological sex, quite justifiably, and Foucault uses
it to mean fucking - but I could be wrong about this.) Thus, the fact
that we cannot imagine a world without biological determinations says
nothing at all about the self-evidence of them - rather, such an
inability (what Kenneth Burke would call "trained incapacity") is instead
merely an index of just how effective the regime of compulsory
heterosexuality is.

In (I think) "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" (I can't find the specific
passage just now, but he argues the same thing elsewhere - i.e. in "Two
Lectures" from _Power/Knowledge_), Foucault argues that history has given
us everything, even our very bodies. That is, we don't just "have" our
bodies as things upon which power acts. Rather, our bodies, their shapes,
metabolisms, systems, functions, significations, are themselves effects
of their implication in historical dynamics over which we have no control
- discursive regimes, systems of normativity, the availability of food
and resources (the result of economics), etc. As Foucault says in "Two
Lectures", our bodies are both effects and transfer points for power. He
is making an argument that confounds my next shortly-answered question:
How do our bodies come to function in this way?

This returns me to Rich's "pervasive cluster of forces". Foucault's
notion of the "apparatus" is present in _The History of Sexuality: Volume
I_ but is somewhat obscured in the translation. So, in "Confessions of
the Flesh" (again, in _Power/Knowledge_) he defines it more clearly as
the set of things that collecticely constitute the system for the
formation and regulation of "sexuality" and "sex":

"What I'm trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly
heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses [but *NOT JUST
DISCOURSES*], institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions,
laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical,
moral and philanthropic propositions - in short, the said as much as the
unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is
the system of relations that can be established between these elements...
[B]etween these elements, whether discursive or non-discursive, there is
a sort of interplay of shifts of position and modifications of
function..." (194-195).

Thus, the deployment of sexuality is an extraordinarily complex movement,
which involves both discourses and extra-discursive elements.
Heterosexuality and homosexuality are effects of this movement - not
pre-given forms upon which it acts. And our bodies, our sexes, our
pleasures, as they are grouped together into causal relations, are
themselves effects of this apparatus. "What did this apparatus produce?
An entirelt unforeseen effect which had nothing to do with any kind of
strategic ruse on the part of some meta- or trans-historic subject
conceiving and willing it" (195). Thus, our bodies and our pleasures are
piecemeal constructions of history - and compulsory heterosexuality is
the piecemeal effect of a differentiated and variegated set of cultural
movements - not controlled by men (certainly not - men could never
actually plan anything so devious), but from which men directly benefit.

This, as far as I understand it, is the radicalness of Foucault's and
Butler's critique. Finally, a Butler quote - I apologize for the length
of this post, but then I guess I'm only apologizing to those people who
read this far -:

"If taken as the grounds of feminist theory or politics, these "effects"
["sex" and "sexuality"] of gender hierarchy and compulsory
heterosexuality are not only misdescribed as foundations, but the
signifying practices that enable this... misdescription remain outside
the purview of a feminist critique of gender relations... There is no
ontology of gender on which we might construct a politics, for gender
ontologies always operate within established political contexts as
normative injunctions, determining what qualifies as intelligible sex,
invoking and consolidating the reproductive constraints on sexuality,
setting the prescriptive requirements whereby sexed or gendered bodies
come into cultural intelligibility. Ontology is, thus, not a foundation,
but a normative injunction that operates insidiously by installing itself
into political discourse as its necessary foundation."

Queer power now.


Re: Judith Butler, din
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