Who is Judith Butler?
Judith Butler (1956-) is Professor of Comparative Literature and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley, and is well known as a theorist of power, gender, sexuality and identity. Indeed, she is described in alt.Culture as “one of the superstars of ’90s academia, with a devoted following of grad students nationwide”.
In ‘Gender Trouble: Feminism and the subversion of Identity’ Butler describe the ways in which socially constructed identities might be challenged by ‘subversive bodily acts. Butler suggests that there is no “essence” to the self, only acts whose repetition constitute an identity that can be explored through a number of different subject positions. She argues that we all put on a gender performance, whether traditional or not, and so it is not a question of whether to do a gender performance, but what form that performance will take.
The Queer Theory:
To be queer’ is to openly adopt a non-straight life, while ‘to queer’ is to estrange or defamiliarize identities, texts and attitudes which are taken for granted and assumed to have fixed meanings. Such meanings are understood to endorse heterosexuality as a social-sexual norm. Queer theory emphasizes the contractedness, plurality and ambivalence of sexual identities. This makes heterosexuality one identity among others. It follows that sexual identities are malleable and a matter of choice or personal style.
key concepts: compulsory heterosexuality, gender, essentialism, homophobia, identity politics, perversions, sexuality, Otherness, performativity, transgression, resistance, freedom, and fluidity.
Foucault (body and history) ＊ Body is figured as a surface and the scene of a cultural inscription, the task of genealogy is to “expose a body totally imprinted by history.” For Foucault, history in its essential and repressive gesture. He subscribes to a prediscursive multiplicity of bodily forces that break through the surface of the body to disrupt the regulating practices of cultural coherence imposed upon that body by a power regime, understood as a vicissitude of “history.”
Mary Douglas(body and culture) Purity and Danger suggests that the very contours of “the body” are established through markings that seek to establish specific codes of cultural coherence. (structural-functionism) She takes body as a model to stand for any bounded system.
＊ boundary, margins, danger, taboo, excrement binary structure of the nature/ culture distinction (structuralism) (p.2493)
In her theory, the boundaries of the body become the limits of the social per se.
Kristeva “abjection” in The Powers of Horror uses the structuralist notion of boundary-constituting taboo for the purpose of constructing a discrete subject through exclusion. (p.2494)
Iris Young “ inner / outer”
-She appropriates Kristeva’ theory to understand sexism, homophobia, and racism. (p.2495)
v The division between the inner and the outer world maintained for the proposes of social regulation and control .
The boundary between the inner and the outer is confounded by those excremental passages in which the inner become the outer which becomes the model by which other form of identity differentiation are accomplished.(2495)
Main points in Butlers essay, From Chapter 3. Subversive Bodily Acts
Bodily Inscriptions and performative subversions
-The body does not precede meaning but is inscribed, shaped by political forces.
-The body is an epistemic inquiry, knowledge is imprinted on the body.
-The body is read as having an inside and an outside with discrete boundaries that are fixed and policed to insured normal (heterosexual) behavior. The assumption of the internal produces a priori, an essence.
– The interior can not be seen, only signified on the surface.
-There is no ontological status for the gendered body, no inner truth of gender. This is an illusion written on the body.
-Gender is not some inner truth but the presence of received meanings. No one can embody the ideal gender constructions.
Amna Al-Momen & Shaikha Al-Asfour.