Sunday, November 19, 2017

Summary: Critically Queer / Judith Butler - part 1

In the opening of "Critically Queer" Judith Butler starts from J.L.Austin's "How to Do Things with Words?" in which he examines the performative function of speech acts. Butler asks how and from where do speech acts (such as "I pronounce you husband and wife") get their power and authority. Butler holds that speech acts "also perform a certain action and execsice a binding power" (Critically Queer, p.17). This performance of power through acts is linked by Butler to the concept of discourse (as formulated by Foucault). Discourse for Butler is the power structure which enables speech acts. The discourse precedes the subject which is always constructed by the discourse and not the other way around as we usually think. Butler holds that "The "I" is thus a citation of the place of the "I" in speech" (p.18).

Queer Trouble

The second part of Butler's "Critically Queer" examines the concept of "Queer". Butler says that the word queer was traditionally used as denouncement, a form of insult aimed at disarming those who oppose to social constructions of gender relations and roles (like "I pronounce you..." supports these constructions). Butler quotes Derrida in saying that a speech act always draws its authority through the repetition of an already formulated argument. Speech acts, in other words, always have a history which is activated through them, discourse has a history which conditions any present use of it. In order to assert control over such terms like "queer" one has to oppose this constituting history. This leads Butler to argue that the critique of the queer subject plays a crucial role in queer politics.
Butler says the queer politics have no option but to appeal to categories of identity in order to pose political claims and demands, but this also means that this identity cannot be mastered within discourse. Butler wants to use the terms "queer" as a "site of collective contestation" (p.19) in a way of repositioning it within the existing discourse, not outside of it for there can be no independent control over language. This means to lay claim over terms like "women", "queer", "gay" and "lesbian" in a critical manner which connects itself with the history of discourse. 

Next: Critically Queer / Judith Butler - part 2


More summaries of Judith Butler
Judith Butler / Gender Trouble 
Judith Butler / Bodies that Matter
Judith Butler / 
Performative Acts and Gender Constitution

Some books to check out:

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