Thursday, March 5, 2009

Judy!

Throughout the selections we read fro class today, Butler stresses the inseparability (and simultaneously the disconnection) between gendered identities and gendered bodies. Sex is always already gendered and cannot be seen as a prediscursive ground onto which gender is written. I am interested in her disavowal of phenomenology (Gender Trouble, 43) in terms of her project. She is careful to validate “being a gender” as not “illusory” or “artificial,” yet her analysis is not concerned “being” as much as “doing.” How can we use her insights to understand the feeling of being gendered? Where (or when) can I place my sense/feeling of being in a gendered body?

In Bodies that Matter, Butler introduces Spivak’s concept of “enabling violation” to help wrestle with the contradictory experience of using terms which are implicated in a system of power to subvert that same system. Does this concept excuse the parade of feminists in the first chapter of Gender Trouble who uncritically took up totalizing concepts “woman” and “sex” in order to defend an experience of oppression? How does one weigh what enables and what violates? Thinking pedagogically, how does one teach gender and sex without resorting to these violations of the past?

Butler’s treatment of Venus Xtravaganza’s death seems odd. After Butler’s discussion of the ability for drag performance to reify and subvert systems of power simultaneously, she seems to put aside the subversive aspect and construct Venus’s life/performance as a na├»ve mime of class and gender positions that are out of her reach. Lines like “her death thus testifies to a tragic misreading of the social map of power” and “a promise which, taken too seriously, can culminate only in disappointment and disidentification” (131) make me wonder if Butler is blaming Venus for her own murder. Is she? What crime did Venus commit to deserve such punishment? Is there another way to read this passage? How does the slippage between drag and transgender identity (both theoretically and in lived experience) contribute to Butler’s (tragic) misreading of Venus?

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