Re: Judith Butler

Hi folks.

First. Hugh, I guess where you and I differ is that I see heterosexuality
as nothing but a "socio-cultural practice", as you put it. You seem to
conflate "reproduction" (which is, on one level, an act, on another, a
process, and on yet another, a socially-regulated institution - another
aspect of compulsory heterosexuality in this last respect) and
"heterosexuality" (which is an identity - that is, the effect of an
identification with a certain regime of sexuality, one which entails the
adoption of certain preferences, gestures, privileges, limitations on
desire, social relations, motives, etc., etc.). Now, I would reject such
a conflation on the grounds that that it installs the latter as the
consequence of the former. This is not at all to suggest that
reproduction is "natural" while heterosexuality is not - but nor is it to
suggest that reproduction is "unnatural" while hetoersexuality is not.
Rather, heterosexuality entails a certain (culturally mediated)
relationship to one's own body and to those of others. Vis-a-vis
reproduction; well, it all depends on how you define it. Is it the ol'
hetero-in-and-out? In which case: under what conditions and to whose
advantage does this occur? (Even if we grant that all cultures do "it",
we still need to ask how such an "experience" becomes a part of
discourse, how it is implicated in a field of (compulsorily heterosexist
and sexist) power, and what effects this has.) Also, in what modalities
does this act come to exist as an "experience"? Is reproduction a
process? How do we know about it? Does this not involve the scrutiny and
invasive inspection of women's bodies ("all in the name of science, of
course")? Is reproduction a social institution? Organized in whose
interests? How is it arranged? Who does the work? etc. etc. Now, one
would ask very different questions about heterosexuality (primarily
because it is a completely different kind of thing). However one chooses
to define reproduction (as an act, a process, an institution), it is in
any case altogether separate from heterosexuality (an identity). But we
can talk about this more, of course.

Second. I found that quote that I couldn't find during my last post -
yes, it is in "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History". Re: the body as a cultural
site or artefact rather than as a mute, pre-discursive given:

"Descent attaches itself to the body. It inscribes itself in the nervous
system, in temperament, in the digestive apparatus; it appears in faulty
respiration, in improper diets... The body - and everything that touches
it: diet, climate, and soil -... manifests the stigmata of past
experience and also gives rise to desires, failings, and errors. These
elements may join in a body where they achieve a sudden expression, but
as often, their encounter is an engagement in which they efface each
other, where the body becomes the pretext of their insurmountable
conflict. The body is the inscribes surface of events (traced by language
and dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated Self (adopting the
illusion of a substantial unity), and a volume in perpetual
disintegration" (_Language, Counter-Memory, Practice_: 147-48).

While not every clause in this quote makes much sense without the
surrounding text, I think the general sense is clear. (This quote, in
addition I think, is *so* Butlerian.)

I would be very interested in running Foucault and Butler alongside each
other, to see what collective observations we can come up with.

One observation I'd like to put out to everyone as a potential
methodological starting point (although I'm not committed to it by any
means) is the problem of vocabulary. I'm often frustrated by the (I think
unfounded) assumption that the same word (e.g. the "body") refers to the
same object in whichever context it appears. If one wishes to understand
a certain word, one must refer it to the context of its use. Thus, the
"body" can, within one regime of power/knowledge, refer to one kind of
thing, and in another, quite another kind of thing. For example, the body
as it exists in biological discourse and practice is one thing (e.g. a
certain unity of interrelated systems and functions), but it is quite
another when it exists as a focal point for self-modification (e.g.
bodybuilding - here it is an object for modification rather that an
object for study), and it is yet another thing when it exists within an
economic-managerial context (in which it is a potential labour-power, an
object to be inserted into an economic machinery). This may also clarify
alot of misunderstandings. It may also clarify some of the confusions of
our grammar - it is very difficult to speak of the body (again, just as
one example) in ways that do not make it appear as a pre-given object.
But the poverty of our vocabulary in no way justifies the attendent
assumption. (This is why, I think, so many people find someone like
Butler frustrating - well, not the only reason: politics is another.) I
hope this at least somewhat clear.

I look forward to people's posts on _Bodies that Matter_.


Re: Judith Butler, Hugh . Roberts
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