Re: Judith Butler

Hugh, in your original response to my initial post on Rich, you quite
clearly make a distinction between "a specific socio-cultural practice of
heterosexuality" and "heterosexuality _per se_". Now, since Rich makes no
such distinction, and since it is used as part of a critique of Rich's
argument, I can only assume that it is part of *your* position. If you
reread your post, I'm sure it will be quite clear that, if your
intention was to paraphrase Rich, you failed to signal that fact. In any
case, I see no such distinction. "A specific socio-cultural practice of
heterosexuality" *is* heterosexuality. There is no heterosexuality that
is not completely a socio-cultural practice - so the distinction is a
false one.

Vis-a-vis your charge of Rousseauism, I'd be interested to see where you
get this from. In my reading, Rich makes no such assumption. One needn't
(and Rich doesn't) assume a "natural" or "free" state of sexuality in
order to criticize compulsory heterosexuality as (in this context) an
element of systemic sexism. Also, Rich might (or might not - it remains
to be established) believe in the possibility of a non-coercive form of
sexuality. This is not a Rousseauist or idealistic notion, but rather,
one that arises out of quite concrete experience (in her case, of lesbian
sexuality). Even if we decide eventually to reject this aspect of Rich's
framework, her arguments regarding compulsory heterosexuality do *not*
stand or fall on this particular point.

I've noticed a real tendency in a lot of people's deployment of
post-structuralist thought. It seems that this way of speaking and
approaching things has assumed the mantle of "truth-narrative" (not
statedly, but effectively). That is, the invokation of post-structural
ideas and thinkers is used in order to discredit or discount the insights
of people writing outside of that system. Thus, it is claimed that
someone like Rich lacks the sophistication of someone like Foucault, and
for this reason, we can reject her work. This, of course, is not only a
false belief, but also deeply sexist in its deployment. (Since we all
know the real reason Rich lacks this sohpistication is because she's a
girl.) Rich anticipates and antedates Foucault in so many ways. I think
Sedgwick's and David Halperin's investigations of what they call
"heterosexist epistemological privilege" are relevant here. That is, it
is part of heterosexist epistemological privilege (and sexist privilege)
to assume that the work of someone like Rich can be understood at a
reading, while the work of someone like Foucault (whose radical queerness
seems to go unaddressed in most discussions) requires years of
aprenticeship and practice. The reason one can make such an assumption
about someone like Rich is that, secretly, we all know all about her
anyway - and thus we don't have to take her seriously - we "know what's
up with her" - so anything she says will be seen as just confirmation of
what we already know about those queers. (Of course, I don't count myself
as part of this we.) Whether straight people know it or not, and whether
they want it or not, the configuration of speaking-positions and criteria
of legitimation and delegitimation function in our culture such that the
speaking position "queer thinker" is impossible - since the queer is the
object of knowledge in all cases, something to be looked upon, but not to
be identified with, while the thinker is the subject of knowledge, the
one who knows, who identifies. This enables the straight commentator to
say just about asything he or she (but usually he) wants about queer folk
and be taken seriously.

I saw a relevant comic once: in two panels, in each of them a woman is
standing in front of a lecture speaking. The first panel is captioned
"What We Say" and the woman says something like "As a lesbian, I have an
investment in coming to a critique of gender hierarchy insofar as this
intersects with homophobia" etc. The second panel is captioned "What
Straight People Hear" and in this word-bubble are the words "As a

bye. malcolm.

  • Re: Judith Butler
    • From: D Hugh-Jones
  • Replies
    Re: Judith Butler, Hugh . Roberts
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