winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

Judith Butler's incisive discussion of the public aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks —overwhelming anti-intellectualism, self-censorship in a "you're with us or you're a terrorist" regime, refusal to seek understanding of the attacks, etc— also applies more broadly to other social issues under public deliberation/renegotiation. (To be more fully explicated in another post.) Mostly this chapter is about posing questions and questioning the "inevitability" of our interpretations and framing of events, rather than providing answers to those questions.

Themes and ideas:

  • US flag as ambiguous symbol of (a) solidarity with those lost in the attacks, vs (b) support for the US military campaign; thereby insinuating that these are one and the same, and that the former leads in a single stroke to the latter.
  • Disallowing the story we tell to begin earlier than the 9/11 attacks themselves, thereby predetermining the sorts of stories that can be told, and preventing any real answer to the question "why do they hate us so much?"
  • Shoring up the first-person perspective and, hence, the presumption of US supremacy and centrality. Any attempt to decenter the US being perceived as a component of the psychological wound of the attacks themselves. The "we're reaping what we've sown" response is just another way of asserting the centrality of the US. The refusal to acknowledge the UN and other supra-governmental bodies rooted in the fact that such acknowledgement would decenter the US.
  • The distinction between conditions and causes. And, hence, the distinction between explanation and exoneration. The need for moving beyond a framework of "justification" and "culpability".
  • "the failure to conceive of Muslim and Arab lives as lives." (Butler 2004: 12, emphasis hers) More generally, the unwillingness to show or see the faces of those we've killed. Facelessness of the "enemy".
  • "Our fear of understanding a point of view belies a deeper fear that we shall be taken up by it, find it is contagious, become infected in a morally perilous way by the thinking of the presumed enemy." (Butler 2004: 8)
  • "Dissent is quelled, in part, through threatening the speaking subject with an uninhabitable identification. Because it would be heinous to identify as treasonous, as a collaborator, one fails to speak, or one speaks in throttled ways, in order to sidestep the terrorizing identification that threatens to take hold. This strategy for quelling dissent and limiting the reach of critical debate happens not only through a series of shaming tactics which have a certain psychological terrorization as their effect, but they work as well by producing what will and will not count as a viable speaking subject and a reasonable opinion within the public domain." (Butler 2004: xix, emphasis mine)

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

When it comes to explaining the social categorization of people, I've been an advocate for performative theories since long before they became popular/mainstream. To be clear, I find the current mainstream notions of performativity deeply problematic because they overemphasize social constructivism and fail to highlight what I see to be the actual insight behind the original formulation of performativity. But all the same, I've long been a fan of (my understanding of) performativity.

However, in the tail end of chapter 8 of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano raises a major complaint against performative theories of sex/gender in particular— a complaint I agree with wholeheartedly, and which is not easily reconciled. Before getting into the problem she raises, I should probably explain what performativity is and why I've been such an advocate for it.

The Question

What does it mean to be human, or a woman, or an atheist, or a scientist? For any specific categorization the exact details will vary, of course. The question I'm asking is, once we abstract over the particular category, what does it mean to say that some person does or does not belong to that category? Many social categories are uninteresting in this regard. I am an IU student in virtue of the fact that I am registered here, pay tuition, attend classes, etc; there's a clear definition, and that definition is wholly uninteresting and uncontroversial. However, for many categories things aren't so cut and dried.

Read more... )
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

Chapters 4 and 5 capture much of the experience of transitioning and of being trans, respectively. These are the chapters which so many trans memoirs convey in their narration, though often they avoid stating it quite so directly. Both chapters do a good job of conveying the lived experience of trans women, and are well worth reading by cis audiences for that reason.

Read more... )


Chapter 5 especially was nice to read as it cuts to the core of the fact that there are both conscious and subconscious components to our experiences of (our own) gender. Read more... )

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

I'm finally getting around to reading Julia Serano's Whipping Girl (2007), and I thought I'd make a few comments as I go along.

The first couple chapters are, by and large, an introduction to the terminology standard in gender studies and transgender circles. For those already familiar, it's light reading; though there are a few important notes of positioning. The first, and one I agree with wholeheartedly, is explicitly stating that "sex" is a socially constructed concept— exactly as "gender" is. Read more... )


The second positioning Serano makes is one I take issue with. Serano names herself a feminist and considers her work in exposing and discussing trans issues to be part of the feminist enterprise. Read more... )


The most interesting point so far is her distinguishing between anti-female ideologies and anti-feminine ideologies. The distinction between femaleness and femininity should make sense to anyone. Serano goes a bit further in trying to systematically distinguish them and to identify when particular acts serve to subjugate women vs subjugating femmes. Feminism, for example, is very pro-female and has successfully built a world where it is natural to say "men and women are equal"; however, it has done so largely at the cost of sacrificing femininity— a woman can do anything a man can do, just so long as she's not too girly about it. I very much hope Serano delves into this topic more.

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