At 11:52 13/05/96 +0100, you wrote:

Colin, thanks for your response to my post. This is part one of my response.
Part two will follow.

>This is all fine. And if Butler is not susceptible to these charges, all to
>the good. But it's also very question begging: can/does she avoid them? One
>major clue comes in Butler's chapter in Feminist Contentions, particularly,
>those criticisms from Benhabib. Butler begins her chapter by giving us
>almost the same list of critiques presented above. That is, she belittles in
>a similar manner tothe above deep serious unresolved questions. But does she
>even attempt to answer them. No. I'm not saying that she should have all the
>answers, but you don't solve problems by redescribing them. As noted in the

I generally agree that problems are not solved simply by redescribing them
(although redescribing, resituating problems and debates can have
interesting, useful effects); this was just a starting point, a suggestion
that perhaps Butler is doing something a little more interesting with the
notion of discursive construction than you are suggesting. Although from the
direction of the thread thus far we may well end up disagreeing, which is
not in itself a problem. But perhaps it would be interesting to examine the
politics of this disagreement? I think that in Bodies That Matter Butler
attempts to respond to the "deep, serious unresolved questions"--- whether
you think this attempt is interesting or useful is another question. The
work does not only redescribe problems (or was this comment only directed at
me?). Butler is simply refusing to be positioned within the frame of
linguistic idealism. In fact Bodies that Matter can be read as a careful
response to criticisms of discursive construction that were raised in
relation to the earlier Gender Trouble (she points this out in the preface
of Bodies That Matter). Although as your arguments demonstrate some readings
expend quite alot of effort (linguistic gymnastics?) to keep Butler within
that frame and reduce her work to something of a straw target.

>Fine, we are all tired with this debate. The 'scandal of philosophy' is that
>positions, i.e., Butler's own, keep reappearing which make remarkable claims
>that clearly do make material bodies a human construct and nothing but a
>human construct, no matter how much linguistic gymnastics are performed to
>deflect this charge.

Interesting. Please refer me to where Butler makes the "remarkable claims"
that material bodies are human constructs and nothing but human constructs.
Discursive constructs maybe, but human constructs. You seem to be imputing
to Butler a philosophy of the subject that she is working explicitly to
undermine. In the introduction of Bodies That Matter Butler points out that
there is not a human agent, a subject who guides or does the construction
(6-7). Butler goes on to argue that the very category of the "human is not
only produced over and against the inhuman"; an effect of differential
relations (8). Butler argues that Foucault's notions of discourse and power
disrupt a metaphysics of the human subject. A little linguistic gymnastics I
think to make Butler an easier target. O'kay, but does Butler then still
make your point, turning everything into discourse, including the human
subject (a linguistic idealist refuting the reality, the materiality of
bodies). Here though you want Butler to concede a materiality that, as she
puts it, is undeniable (10). Butler's response is that the attempt to
impose this conception of materiality is itself a discourse. Butler's point
is not that there is not real material body, but that "there is no reference
to a pure body which is not at the same time a further formation of that
body" (10). Butler's interesting argument is that the very attempt to impose
a line of demarcation or a boundary between the material, 'unconstructed'
body and constructivism occurs through a signifying practice: "Indeed to
'refer' naively or directly to such an extra-discursive object will always
require the prior delimitation of the extra-discursive. And insofar as the
extra-discursive is delimited, it is formed by the very discourse from which
it seeks to free itself", she adds "This marking off will have some
normative force and, indeed, some violence, for it can construct only
through erasing; it can bound a thing only through enforcing a certain
criterion, a principle of selectivity" (11). Butler's work is interested in
examining the power of discourse to produce such effects, constraints and
limits; and the political possibilities and limits of contesting and
resignifying such limits.

>Much of the discussion in this thread thus far seems to
>>remain caught within such tired old assumptions about what theorists such as
>>Butler mean when they talk about discursive construction; and a noted lack
>>of any detailed engagement with her work.
>I love this move. Criticisms are either dismissed by the charge that 'you
>haven't read' the work (well actually I have) or even worse, 'you just
>doooooon't understand' (a kind of theistic appeal to just believe me and it
>will be all right on the night).

Okay, I did not say you haven't read the work. Here I'm interested in what
could be described as the politics of interpretation---there are obviously
competing readings; but what is going on in this effort to reduce Butler to
linguistic gymnastics? What frees your reading from such problems (your
access to the real perhaps?).I agree it is a rhetorical move, which has
particular effects. But does not your reading of Butler also engage in such
moves (linguistic gymnastics again?). The strength of Butler's approach is
that it takes account of such moves (the performativity of interpretation)
rather than simply brushing them off as linguistic gymnastics.

>>she points out that construction operates through a proces of excusion... "a
>>set of foreclosures, radical erasures, that are, strictly speaking, refused
>>the possibility of cultural articulation" (8).
>All of this is fine, if you give it a non-human spin, and I have no major
>disagreements with this. Still, it raises the rather intersting questions of
>how and why some things get excluded and not others? Moreover, this seems to
>be suggesting a form of the 'repressive hypothesis' and clearly Foucault
>(although I think he has his own Reichian model) might object to this.

What do you mean here by nonhuman? Butler does give it a antihumanist
direction in that human actors are not doing the construction. Are you
imlying here a division between the human realm (the social, the discursive
etc.) and a materiality of the real (the nonhuman)? I agree that the
interesting question that opens is why some things get excluded-- I think
this is precisely what Butler is interested in.

Part Two of my response follows
John Banks

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