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Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (Routledge Classics) (英語) ペーパーバック – 1993/12/16
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In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler further develops her distinctive theory of gender by examining the workings of power at the most "material" dimensions of sex and sexuality. Deepening the inquiries she began in Gender Trouble, Butler offers an original reformulation of the materiality of bodies, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender.
Butler argues that power operates to constrain "sex" from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex. She offers a clarification of the notion of "performativity" introduced in Gender Trouble and explores the meaning of a citational politics. The text includes readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud on the formation of materiality and bodily boundaries; "Paris is Burning," Nella Larsen's "Passing," and short stories by Willa Cather; along with a reconsideration of "performativity" and politics in feminist, queer, and radical democratic theory.
"As a philosopher of gender [Judith Butler] is unparalleled." – Village Voice
"Butler gives us a new way to think about the materiality of the body in the discursive performity operative in the materialization of sex. Following a common move in postmodern feminism, Butler sets out to demolish the sex/gender distinction that has formed the mainstay of the de Beauvorian and radical feminism's notion that gender, as a cultural construction, could be critiqued and politicized against the givenness of the body's biological sex. . . .What is new in Bodies That Matter is Butler's attempt to write more directly about race." – Signs
"Extending the brilliant style of interrogation that made her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity a landmark of gender theory/queer theory, Butler here continues to refine our understandings of the complexly performative character of sexuality and gender and to trouble our assumptions about the inherent subversiveness of dissident sexualities. . . . indispensable reading across the wide range of concerns that queer theory is currently addressing." – Artforum
"What the implications/limitations of 'sexing' are and how the process works comprise the content of this strikingly perceptive book. . . . Butler has written a most significant and provocative work that addresses issues of immediate social concern." – The Boston Book Review
"A brilliant and original analysis." – Drucilla Cornell, Rutgers University, USA
"...a classic." – Elizabeth Grosz
"If gender consists of the social meanings that sex assumes, then sex does not accrue social meanings as additive properties but, rather, is replaced by the social meanings it takes on; sex is relinquished in the course of that assumption, and gender emerges, not as a term in a continued relationship of opposition to sex, but as the term which absorbs and displaces 'sex,' the mark of its full substantiation into gender or what, from a materialists point of view, might constitute a full desubstantiation." (pg. xv)
In order to achieve her analytical framework, Butler proposes “in place of these conceptions of constructions is a return to the notion of matter, not as a site or surface, but as a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter.” (pg. xviii) Butler’s examination draws upon a wide array of sources, including Plato’s Timeus, Freud, Jacques Lacan, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, and more. Butler’s purpose in writing was “to understand how what has been foreclosed or banished from the proper domain of ‘sex’…might at once be produced as a troubling return, not only as an imaginary contestation that effects a failure in the workings of the inevitable law, but as an enabling disruption, the occasion for a radical rearticulation of the symbolic horizon in which bodies come to matter at all.” (pg. xxx) These run-on sentences pervade Butler’s writing and often obscure her meaning and argument.
The discourse begins where it should, at the beginning and then it quickly ascends in complexity as it deconstructs the idea of gender as it has been handed down to us from "on high." Getting to the meat of the book, gender, even within a body of a particular morphological type, still derives most of it's meaning through arbitrary socialized assignment, the same as is the case with race: which is to say that it occurs not necessarily as a choice by the individual assigned to a particular category, but by the "powers that be," "from on high."
The question this arbitrariness poses in both cases, is general and far reaching: Given that both gender and race are socially constructed entirely through power relations, relations deeply embedded within our culture and in which normative constraints do the heavy lifting (with mainstream power backing them up), the authors then ask: "how might one formulate a "social project" that preserves gender (race) practices as sites of critical agency?" The articles do not give clear answers to this important question, but instead in my view engages in a new form of genderless machismo.
Moreover, in each case it is obvious from the context that the same questions could just as easily have been asked by the dominant or oppressing group as by the minority or aggrieved groups? This point is not necessarily just a minor theoretical consideration given that the immediate corollary to the last question is: How precisely are we to understand the ritualized and repetitious assignment process by which norms are used to produce and standardize not only the effects on gender (and in my case on race) but also the materiality of the category (sexual attributes in the case of gender and color in the case of race)? And finally it asks the next logical and perhaps the most important question of all: Can this process of arbitrary social assignments be turned on its head, or back on itself and reversed so that it rebounds in favor of those affected?
It is a serious question that is not often asked in exactly this way. Among other things (after wading through what seemed like tons of almost impenetrable post-structuralist analysis and jargon), it suggests that using the "ways of power" against itself may be the best answer?
I believe that at least this last question in the previous paragraph leads to a nontrivial but obvious answer: That since in both the case of gender and race the assignments occur under the duress of social and societal pressures, that is, to say as a result of the enforcement of norms on others by the greater more dominant powers of society, the obvious answer then is that "the ways of power will always rule the day, and will always win out?" Said another way: unless existing power arrangements are at least confounded, if not directly confronted and eventually defeated, the problem reduces to one of how best to blunt the effects of the greater powers that dominant groups use to rule society?
I believe once the articles in this book are stripped of all of their post-structuralist jargon and bombast, their strategy to reverse power arrangements, is a facile strategy and a facile answer to the questions pose in the setup piece, one whose essence sidesteps the main issue which is how power arrangements are to be settled. This new form of genderless chest beating and machismo does not exactly get the job done.
And on this point, may I refer interested readers to Andrew Smookler's beautifully written and penetrating book called "The parable of the Tribes: the Problem of Power in Social Evolution." Smookler's analysis gives systemic reasons why embarking on such a strategy of "power reversal," leaves scant hope for those bent on doing so to be hopeful. Invariably it results in a "lose-lose" cul de sac -- the "Black Power" movement being the perfect case in point.
Three stars only because the book does not follow closely the lead set in the introduction, and thus it does not hold together well. That, plus all the superfluous post-structuralist jargon, makes what could have been a seminal work, practically impenetrable.