Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Dissertation Paragraph Summaries Before Defense, May 2012

This is the sixty-third post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

When my dissertation defense date approached and my dissertation was completed, I wanted to help myself recall my arguments and examples more clearly. To that end, I wrote out by hand short summaries of each paragraph in my dissertation, which you can read as this PDF. I divided my handwritten notes by chapter and section. Each paragraph summary contains the main thought and a brief synopsis of examples or other supporting evidence. In some ways, it is like a reverse outline, but the dissertation was already completed and the summaries were not used for reorganizing the layout/arrangement of the dissertation’s logic. I am currently sending an expanded version of my dissertation around for possible publication. This PDF of my dissertation paragraph summaries are not the original form of the dissertation–only a summarization of each of its constituent paragraphs. For my students, I recommend this exercise–summarizing essay paragraphs during drafting to help you think about the logical order of your essay/argument and to help you know the material better for discussing, teaching, or presenting your work.

In my next Recovered Writing entry, I will post my dissertation defense opening statement. Stay tuned!

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Elizabeth Freeman’s “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations,” April 15, 2008

This is the forty-fourth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the sixth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

15 April 2008

Summary of Elizabeth Freeman’s “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations”

Freeman argues that “waves” or “generations” overlap, borrow, and are potentially incomplete when their supposed time has “passed.”  Instead of gaps between, there are interconnections between the present and past as evidenced by what she calls “temporal drag.”  Her opening example about her student illustrates a temporary crossing (think diachronic) that she calls “temporal drag,” which is a pull exerted by “lesbian” on “queer” that brings it back to a bodily politics.  Drawing on Judith Butler’s work, she points out the progressive repetition with difference in lesbianism along with the Derridean citation precedents.  Freeman argues that drag presents a valuable challenge to progress, and she holds onto the generational approach to political work and identities for the time being.  The Shulie (1997) remake illustrates how it, along with Shulamith Firestone, are part of a “feminist genealogy” that is more paradigmatic than linear (730).  It problematically remixes a visual present with a 2WF/1960s audio past.  Additionally, the video can be considered drag, in the sense of camp, not because of the obvious inverting nature of camp, but because it “[resuscitates]…obsolete cultural text” (732).  The short film connects to the shift in Butler’s work from reiteration to “allegorization,” because the film resurrects “past failures” that figure into a future narrative (732).  Allegory, like ritual, carries meaning through signs over time.  Furthermore, normative gender identities are “symbolic” of “temporal moments” and “experiences of gendered selfhood” (733).  These identities are transportable through time, but carry specific meanings and importance that may be anachronistic.  Queer performativity, as allegory, relies on “collective melancholia,” or a personally held, but collectively shared set of queer experiences, which Freeman calls an “embodied temporal map, a political archive for a contingent form of personhood” (734).  The 1997 Shulie is an interpretation of Firestone in 1967 that reflects on the supposed failure of 2WF politics while offering hope through her Riot Grrrl resemblance.  The anachronistic mise-en-scénes in Shulie (1997) disconnect it from documentary and authority, yet supports an archival past.  Also, it draws connections between her and feminist artists that followed her.  The 1997 film, unlike the original, reveals that gender doesn’t overcome the generation gap, yet evokes a sense of political cohesion between Subrin and Shulie.  Subrin does not fetishize that which came before.  She remembers, challenges, and inverts then and now.  Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex (1970) builds a relationship between feminism and history through Marxism.  Also, she encourages people to think in terms of radical and conservative versions of the politics that travel under the sign of feminism, “rather than in terms of the cyclical history of feminist generational gaps” (740).  Firestone, like Subrin, connects the radical past to her present in order to reveal the threats to radical feminism during 2WF.  The multiplicity of Firestone in the film and in reality points to the temporal fluidity or interconnectedness Freeman is arguing.  One part of that multiplicity is the signifier of the young girl, which appears in queer/feminist cultural works.  The girl sign points to the past as well as to potential in the future.  Also, it reflects Firestone’s project in The Dialectic of Sex that “radical feminism [is] incomplete unless it includes the political and sexual liberation” (741-742).  However, Subrin’s younger Shulie character is “not a child” or “a sexual icon” (742).  Her unidentified status is the vector Subrin employs for illustrating the present feminist/queer movement without the “post” modifier.  Shulie’s responses point to a future based on “experiences that discourse has not yet caught up with, rather than…a legacy passed on between generations” (742).  It’s important for evolutionary or transformative movements to recognize the temporal pull of that which precedes it.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Chandan Reddy’s “Asian Diasporas, Neoliberalism, and Family,” April 8, 2008

This is the forty-third post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the fifth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

8 April 2008

Summary of Chandan Reddy’s “Asian Diasporas, Neoliberalism, and Family”

Chandan Reddy analyses the confluence of capital and the state in the creation of the figure of the “gay Pakistani immigrant” in this essay.  His interest lies in the crossing of Asian immigrants into the U.S. and their experience, emblematized by Saeed Rahman’s account in the opening quote.  Immigration law is the system that generated the “gay Pakistani immigrant.” This figure challenges a shift in U.S. immigration law that has been reconfigured by neoliberal influences around the constructed idea of the “family.”  Neoliberal economies and policies have shifted focus from serving the individual to promoting capital, which particularly disadvantages diasporic subjects.  Dismantling the U.S. welfare state figures into a distribution of entitlements rather than a redistribution of wealth–capital is advanced rather than labor.  As a result, the poor and immigrants are further disenfranchised by policy under the rubric of security.  In defending the neoliberal American subject, all opponents are labeled/configured as terrorists, which align them in opposition to the catchall words:  “democracy, civil society, and rights” (106).  Gay marriage in the U.S. constitutes a convergence of Foucault’s deployment of alliances and deployment of sexuality, which it centered on the family.  Foucault’s argument that the family extends and consolidates the deployment of alliance links the state and family through law and sex.  Currently, those desiring same-sex marriage, while seeking legitimation, have displaced other queer issues.  The deployment of sexuality in the U.S. is connected to the “nonnational differences…of gender, race, and sexuality” to expand the working classes, and immigration alters those same differences (108).  Using the rhetoric of “family reunification,” the state increases the labor pool while appearing to perform an altruistic function for immigrant noncitizens (109).  Furthermore, the welfare responsibility of incoming immigrants has been shifted from the government to the petitioning families.  The closeting of immigrant persons is not something merely accepted by them, but it arises out of immigration policies and the state’s focus on the family for visa disbursement.  State and federal support of religious welfare organizations over secular ones further an emphasis on heteronormativity.  The end of the traditional welfare state is not a good thing, because it only effects the working and poor, and state involvement in those person’s lives will only take other forms such as within the family and church.  According to Roderick Ferguson, capital seeks any available labor, while the state enforces “a set of racialized gender ideals” (112).  Capital breaks hierarchies while the state enforces/protects heteronormativity along race, gender, and sex lines.  Returning to the gay Pakistani immigrant example, a queer of color critique would not necessarily see the U.S. as protecting gay liberty or this example instituting greater gay visibility in the history of law.  Instead, that critique would show how the gay Pakistani immigrant is formed at the convergence of mandated heteronormativity and the state’s supposed support of sexual freedom.  That figure comes about from the friction between capital and the state.  Furthermore, different gay rights groups may read Rahman’s narrative as a gay Pakistani immigrant in different ways.  Reddy reads the law as an “archive of racialized sexuality,” or a kind of socio-historical archive (115).  The law, as archive, binds historical and social differences including gender, race, and sexuality.  Additionally, the law can be read as a social history of a culture through its development over time. The archive is not passive–it reveals as well as creates subjectivities, and it registers “difference and community” (116).  The author reads the figure of the gay Pakistani immigrant as the “limit of the archive”–the point at which to reverse engineer the archive’s “conditions for existence” (116).

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Eric Clarke’s “The Citizen’s Sexual Shadow,” March 2, 2008

This is the forty-second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the fourth of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

2 March 2008

Summary of Eric Clarke’s “The Citizen’s Sexual Shadow”

 

Clarke uses Kant’s philosophical promotion of marriage within “sexual commerce” to critique the recent shift in the gay and lesbian community towards the right of marriage as well as question how same-sex sex may fit into a modification of Kant’s philosophy on the sexual citizen.

Clarke works through Kant’s philosophy of non-objectivity as essential to human subjectivity.  The uniquely human objectification of others for sexual pleasure can be dealt with/neutralized through marriage.  For Kant, “sexual inclination…is a necessary animal aspect of humans” (114).  However, it is an aspect that must be challenged through rationalization and moral choices lest one “become less than human” (114).  For Kant, the solution to that is heterosexual marriage.  Within marriage, each person gives his/herself to the other, and thereby reclaims the self.  Therefore, objectification is rendered moot within the realm of heterosexual marriage, which promotes human dignity in a human economy of value totally separate from a baser economy governing the inhuman (e.g., same-sex sex).

Kant’s philosophical system promotes a universal equality within heterosexual marriage.  However, it should be noted that this fits into an Enlightenment metanarrative of heteronormativity ad an idealized Romantic love signified by heterosexual marriage.  Within this promulgation of Enlightenment thinking and the categorization of the human, Kant combines civic values (e.g., citizenship and enfranchisement), and sexual values (e.g., heteronormativity and marriage).

Clarke attacks Kant’s philosophy based on the latter’s grammatical formulation in the subjunctive mood, which for Kant ensures each marriage partner is a sexual object of possession to the other partner as well as property owner in his/her own right of the other, which is integral to Kant’s idea of human subjectivity.  Furthermore, Clarke takes Kant to task over his employment of the categorical imperative, which universalizes a moral law if it ca be conceived by a rational agent as a moral law.

In the concluding “Citizen Slut” section, it’s fascinating how well Kant aligns with the recent rhetoric of gays and lesbians who desire a normalizing right to marriage.  Larry Kramer and Bruce Bower are shown to repeat and reinforce a Kantian view of sexual economies equating same-sex promiscuity and fluid sexuality as negative and that only through same-sex marriage can those persons, as Kramer states, “‘honor ourselves and our relationships and our innate humanness, beyond just our sex’” (qtd. in Clarke 122).

Clarke brings up some significant questions in his conclusion.  He asks, “Can there be a right to sex or a sexual citizen other than through marriage” (123)?  He questions the universality of Kantian moral-civil subjectivity and wonders if relying on communal norms might be a better solution.  Also, how far can/should equality go–“Should equality be abstract and formal, to allow greater autonomy, or more substantive, so as to recognize difference” (123)?  With these questions, he seeks to find a solution beyond Kantian moral philosophy, which is clearly hitched to heteronormativity grounded in the larger project of post-Enlightenment modernity.

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Eric Clarke’s “Visibility at the Limits of Inclusion,” Feb. 26, 2008

This is the forty-first post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the third of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

26 Feb. 2008

Summary of Eric Clarke’s “Visibility at the Limits of Inclusion”

Clarke performs a Habermasean argument, meaning an analysis of the influence of capitalism on democracy and the interrelationship between the two systems, to explore the way in which visibility politics reinforces capitalistic modes of value production, which in turn promotes a particular “authenticity” for gay and lesbian identities.

He raises questions about the project of visibility politics, which “has demanded more ‘positive’ lesbian and gay” role models/representations/representatives in the public sphere and in the media (29).  What does ‘positive’ mean?  Who decides what is ‘positive’ and what is ‘negative?’  Clarke argues that the recent trend in commercialization and sponsorship of gay and lesbian events such as the Stonewall 25 celebration introduces the process of capitalistic value production.  Instead of gays and lesbians forming community or group identities on the basis of an egalitarian democratic ideology, the confluence of capitalism and commercialism produces a gay and lesbian demographic that’s targeted as a group to be marketed and sold brand name items in the interest of reiterating a ‘lifestyle’ formed not by that group but by the dynamics of marketing and sales.  What’s really troubling about this development is that this capitalistic ‘lifestyle’ group identity for gays and lesbians comes about through capitalism and not through democratic, individual enfranchisement to make choices about belonging to such a group.  Furthermore, this process is disguised as an operation of democratic ideals, and it’s here that Clarke brings in Habermas and Marx into his discussion of value production invisibly supplanting moral enfranchisement.  That is, there is a heteronormative feature to this that enforces or favors ‘normality’ among gays and lesbians who seek or affirm the post-WWII heteronormative ideal of the nuclear family while excluding what Ellen Degeneres terms, “extremes” (qtd. 34).

Clarke relies on examples such as Ellen Degeneres’ double coming out on the ABC TV show, Ellen to reveal how this confluence of capitalism through publicity serves to promote a normalizing effect to gays and lesbians.  Degeneres (implicitly) along with persons such as Bruce Bawer, Andrew Sullivan, and Gabriel Rotello call for equal rights through what Clarke describes as, “moral conformity as the very precondition for enfranchisement” (41).

Other effects of the process of devaluation of non-normative identities promoted by the influence of capitalistic forces include the marginalization of radical gay and lesbian groups such as ACT UP (as opposed to the major funding of groups like GLAAD), and the publicity/marketing disconnection from “extreme” gay and lesbian identities that don’t fit into the promoted, normalized heteronormative model of gay and lesbian identity (this even extends to ABC turning down the lesbian vacation and cruise company, Olivia Cruises and Resorts, advertisement during the coming out Ellen show).

In the system/process that Clarke describes, social and political value is equated to economic value, and that economic value is established through capitalistic forces and publicity/marketing choices made by corporations.  Enfranchisement of individuals as citizens takes place through market forces rather than the conventionally understood ideal of egalitarian, democratic enfranchisement.  However, it’s important to note that Marx describes how capitalism stripped marriage of particular traditional functions, thereby opening new possibilities, and it has afforded similar possibilities to “modern homoerotic association” (57).

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Presentation on Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” and Introduction to Bodies That Matter Feb. 6, 2008

This is the fortieth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the second of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. This was an incredibly useful exercise to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

In this post, I am including my class presentation (each student led one seminar during the semester) and summary writing.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

6 Feb. 2008

Presentation on Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” and “Introduction” to Bodies That Matter

            My presentation today covers Judith Butler’s essays: “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” first presented in 1989 and published in 1991, and the “Introduction” to Bodies That Matter, published in 1993. These two works build on her arguments about the performative production of gender in her larger, 1990 work, Gender Trouble.

In “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” Butler employs the concepts of play/performance, drag, and imitation to describe the formation of gender and sexuality as continually created subjectivities always at risk of dissolution from non-performance. Furthermore, she points out that gender is not something chosen, but rather something deep-seated in the psyche whereby, “the psychic subject is nevertheless constituted internally by differentially gendered Others and is, therefore, never, as a gender, self-identical” (133).

She begins by resisting labels/signifiers such as “lesbian theories, gay theories” as well as “lesbian,” because she is, “permanently troubled by identity categories,” which she understands as, “sites of necessary trouble” (120-121). It’s this “trouble” that interests Butler, and is the impetus of her political project. Butler goes on to explain that she resists a theorization of gay and lesbian identity, because there lacks a shared specificity to such an identity. Even on the common ground of experiencing homophobia, there would be different vocabularies and methods of analysis. She reveals that a lack of specificity, which seems to indicate that lesbianism is derived from heterosexuality or doesn’t exist at all, can be utilized in a deconstructionist argument that posits, “lesbian sexuality can be understood to redeploy its ‘derivativeness’ in the service of displacing hegemonic heterosexual norms” (124).

Butler argues that lesbian identity is both a “being” and “trying to be” at the same time. It’s the repetition of a deep-seated play that constitutes the lesbian “I.” Taking this concept, she links compulsory heterosexuality (i.e., normalized as the hierarchically dominant position) with drag. Drag is an appropriation of gender stylizations and performance, which suggests that gender itself is a stylized imitative performance. Therefore, gender is a simulacra—a copy without an original. This means that heterosexual genders are produced through imitation rather than originating from some natural origin.

She drives her deconstructionist argument home by pointing out that homosexuality is not a copy of heterosexuality. Instead, it’s an imitation, which is more simulation than “carbon copy.” This means that homosexuality is produced, as is heterosexuality, and it inverts the classically implied hierarchical primacy of heterosexuality. Therefore, heterosexuality is a performance that requires repetition at all times in order to maintain stability. Also, gender is a compulsory performance that generates subjectivity. There is no preceding subject that chooses gender and the according performance. Also, heterosexuality is continually at risk because it must be continually performed at all times to maintain itself.

Butler draws on Freud, and Borch-Jacobsen and Leys to develop a way of thinking about the psychic identification involved in gender presentation. The former’s concept of loss, and the latter’s primary mimetism both support the idea that the “psychic subject” is formed by identification with Others of various genders, and not from self-identification. Gender produces the “illusion of an inner sex,” and gender is “always a surface sign,” i.e., marked on/by the body (134). Additionally, the psyche comes about through gender production, and it’s a continuous paradox—compelling gender performance, thereby perpetuating the possibility of gender interruption.

She reconnects this to drag when she writes, “If gender is drag, and if it is an imitation that regularly produces the ideal it attempts to approximate, then gender is a performance that produces the illusion of an inner sex or essence or psychic gender core; it produces on the skin, through the gesture, the move, the gait (that array of corporeal theatrics understood as gender presentation), the illusion of an inner depth” (134). She calls gender a “surface sign” that comes about through the performance of gender, and from that performance there is the production of an “illusion of inner sex”. This “inner sex” or psyche, “is not ‘in’ the body, but in the very signifying process through which that body comes to appear; it is the lapse in repetition as well as its compulsion, precisely what the performance seeks to deny, and that which compels it from the start” (134). However, the psyche does not have a true gender in need of liberation. It is connected to the production of gender through performance by compelling the performance as well perpetuating the chance of interruption of gender.

Having considered the performative production of gender, Butler goes on to add another element to the mix in her “Introduction” to Bodies That Matter. In this selection, she reformulates performativity in terms of the materiality of bodies and the category of “sex.”

Butler initially engages Foucault in the elaboration of her argument. She writes that the category of “sex” is a “regulatory ideal.” This means that it is both a norm and, “a regulatory practice that produces the bodies it governs” (1). It has a productive function that defines bodies, in this case, a heterosexual matrix. Furthermore, body shaping, or the defining of bodies, is an effect of power. She explains that this effect of power is materiality, which, in terms of the category of “sex,” is part of the inextricable connection between the “materiality of the body,” and “the materialization of the [sex] regulatory norm” (2). Additionally, bodily norms, like her earlier formulation of the performativity of gender, are not produced by a subject, but instead the subject is produced by the assumption of a sex and identification. This identification is dependent on the formulation of heterosexual exclusion and abjection of particular identifications outside the heterosexual norm. However, the subject comes about through a rejection of certain identities, which forms “a domain of abjection,” that is actually within the subject as the basis of its identification.

In the next section, Butler challenges the constructionist views of gender production and formation. In her critique of three radical constructivisms, she reveals that, “constructivism is reduced to determinism and implies the evacuation or displacement of human agency” (9). Constructivism relies on a misreading of Foucault, which Butler describes as the personification of power. A significant point she makes about this is that, “There is no power that acts, but only a reiterated acting that is power in its persistence and instability” (9). Reiteration means dynamism over time, which leads to her proposal to replace constructivism. She proposes, “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” (9). Thus, the theorization of gender is expanded to provide a way of theorizing the “matter” of sex (10). Furthermore, she reconfigures construction. She writes, “Construction not only takes place in time, but is itself a temporal process which operates through the reiteration of norms; sex is both produced and destabilized in the course of this reiteration” (10). And, the destabilization leads to, “the possibility to put the consolidation of the norms of ‘sex’ into a potentially productive crisis” (10).

In the final theoretical section of the “Introduction,” Butler develops, “a poststructuralist rewriting of discursive performativity as it operates in the materialization of sex,” as a critique of structuralist-oriented “constructivist accounts of gender” (12). Most of her previous theorization is poststructuralist in that it takes place over time through repetition and reiteration, whereas a structuralist approach considers slices of time and singular acts. Derrida constructed a reformulation of speech acts through the idea of citations. Additionally, she relies on Derrida’s citational reformulation of speech acts. The power of the speech act derives from the act’s citation. This means that speech acts are reiterable by citing the “conventions of authority” (13). Butler extends this to “sex,” by writing, “the norm of sex takes hold to the extent that it is ‘cited’ as such a norm, but it also derives its power through the citations it compels” (13). Next, she aligns “sex” with Lacanian symbolic law so that, “the force and necessity of these norms…is thus functionally dependent on the approximation and citation of the law” (14). Also, she questions, “what would it mean to ‘cite’ the law to produce it differently, to ‘cite’ the law in order to reiterate and coopt its power, to expose the heterosexual matrix and to displace the effect of its necessity” (15)? She calls this process materialization, which is a kind of citationality that produces being by citing power. Furthermore, this means that a subject who resists these norms is actually both enabled and produced by those norms—hence, a reinforcement of Foucault’s theory of power.

Butler’s earlier formulation of the performativity of gender, and her later theory of the materiality of bodies produced by reiterative citation of “sex” norms, raises a number of questions.

First, to what extent do you accept Butler’s overarching reformulation of performativity? Is her earlier theory about gender performativity easier to accept than the citational formation of bodies?

Second, Butler briefly touches on the human subject and less-than-human non-subject divide in the heterosexual matrix in the “Introduction.” When it’s known that biological sex is varied and not always binary (e.g., the thirteen sexes of slime mold described in Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson, or the medicalized “anomalies” of Klinefelter’s Syndrome, Ulrich-Turner Syndrome, and others that refute a chromosomal definition of human sex), what are your thoughts about removing the physical construction of sex from a formulation of bodies with a “sex?” Is this compelling or troubling?

And finally, Butler, following Foucault, talks about bodies on a local level. Is there a way to reconcile Butler and Foucault with Sedgwick regarding community? Does community come about in what Butler calls the “outside” (i.e., on the excluded borders of the heterosexual matrix), and if so, how might that alliance work in terms of the production of “sexed” bodies?

 

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Judith Butler Reader. Eds. Sara Salih and Judith Butler. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. 119-137.

—. “Introduction.” Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge, 1993. 1-23.

——————————–

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

6 Feb. 2008

Queer Studies, Summary of Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”

            “Imitation and Gender Insubordination” is an expansion of some of Butler’s ideas in her previous, larger work, Gender Trouble.  In this essay, she employs the concepts of play/performance, drag, and imitation to describe the formation of gender and sexuality as continually created subjectivities always at risk of dissolution from non-performance.  Furthermore, she points out that gender is not something chosen, but rather something deep-seated in the psyche whereby, “the psychic subject is nevertheless constituted internally by differentially gendered Others and is, therefore, never, as a gender, self-identical” (133).

She begins by resisting labels/signifiers such as “lesbian theories, gay theories” as well as “lesbian,” because she is, “permanently troubled by identity categories,” which she understands as, “sites of necessary trouble” (120-121).  It’s this “trouble” that interests Butler, and is the origin of her political project.  Butler goes on to explain that she resists a theorization of gay and lesbian identity, because there lacks a shared specificity to such an identity.  Even on the common ground of experiencing homophobia, there would be different vocabularies and methods of analysis.  She reveals that a lack of specificity, which seems to indicate that lesbianism is derived from heterosexuality or doesn’t exist at all, can be utilized in a deconstructionist argument that posits, “lesbian sexuality can be understood to redeploy its ‘derivativeness’ in the service of displacing hegemonic heterosexual norms” (124).

Butler argues that lesbian identity is both a “being” and “trying to be” at the same time.  It’s the repetition of a deep-seated play that constitutes the lesbian “I.”  Taking this concept, she links compulsory heterosexuality (i.e., normalized as the hierarchically dominant position) with drag.  Drag is an appropriation of gender stylizations and performance, which suggests that gender itself is a stylized imitative performance.  Therefore, gender is a simulacra—a copy without an original.  This means that heterosexual genders are produced through imitation rather than originating from some natural origin.

She drives her deconstructionist argument home by pointing out that homosexuality is not a copy of heterosexuality.  Instead, it’s an imitation, which is more simulation than “carbon copy.”  This means that homosexuality is produced, as is heterosexuality, and it inverts the classically implied hierarchical primacy of heterosexuality.  Therefore, heterosexuality is a performance that requires repetition at all times in order to maintain stability.  Also, gender is a compulsory performance that generates subjectivity.  There is no preceding subject that chooses gender and the according performance.  Also, heterosexuality is continually at risk because it must be continually performed at all times to maintain itself.

Butler draws on Freud, and Borch-Jacobsen and Leys to develop a way of thinking about the psychic identification involved in gender presentation.  The former’s concept of loss, and the latter’s primary mimetism both support the idea that the “psychic subject” is formed by identification with Others of various genders, and not from self-identification.  Gender produces the “illusion of an inner sex,” and gender is “always a surface sign,” i.e., marked on/by the body (134).  Additionally, the psyche is not within the body, but is a continuous paradox—compelling gender performance, thereby perpetuating the possibility of gender interruption.

 

 

Recovered Writing, PhD in English, Queer Studies, Summary of Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Parts 3 and 4, January 29, 2008

This is the thirty-ninth post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

This is the first of seven posts of material from Professor Kevin Floyd’s Queer Studies seminar at Kent State University. Most of these Recovered Writing posts are from summaries that we wrote during the semester on readings. Most of these were densely theoretical works, but we could not expend more than one page on these summaries–no more and no less–exactly one page. While these assignments were incredibly difficult, they were equally useful to get to the heart of an argument, study its supporting evidence, and identify its strengths and weaknesses. These summaries encouraged us to take a rigorous approach to understand arguments, express those arguments cogently, and adopt the jargon, terminology, and language utilized by the argument’s writer.

Jason W. Ellis

Professor Kevin Floyd

Queer Studies

29 January 2008

Summary of Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Parts 3 and 4

Foucault argues in Part Three that Western civilization has developed a “scientia sexualis,” which has replaced “ars erotica” through a series of transpositions and developments. Part Four, arguably the most important section of the text, is Foucault’s theoretical framework describing the knowledge-power dynamic, which he describes both generally as well as applicably to sex and sexuality.

In Part Three, Foucault traces the difference between ars erotica and scientia sexualis as the, “two great procedures for producing the truth of sex” (57). Ars erotica is experiential, sensual, and derived from pleasure. On the other hand, scientia sexualis arrives (originally) in Western civilization via the confession. Over time, the confession has shifted from a religious exercise in penance (sin and religion) to a method of obtaining data about our individuated sexual experiences (bodies and biological processes). In the modern usage of the confession, the confessional data is either given freely or through coercion, and it’s interpreted by a professional thereby telling the teller about his or herself. Additionally, the confession and its use to construct “truth” is linked with networks of power. The discourse of truth in relation to sex culminated in the nineteenth century when that discourse shifted to that of science and the development of “a confessional science,” i.e., psychology (64). This came about in five ways including: the confession framed as observations, influence within and without bodies by sexuality, sex is a hidden truth in need of revelation, questioner validates confession through interpretation, and the medicalization of the confession as a method of therapy. By adopting the scientia sexualis, the discourses on sex now allow for the term “sexuality” to encapsulate sex as being and experience. However, Foucault points out that the categorization of sex and its many aspects into sexuality is negative as well as positive.

Part four proceeds with Foucault defining his objective as developing an “analytics” of power rather than a “theory” of power. He wants to study the relations of power in a specific area and establish a means for analyzing those relations and how they come about. He’s reacting to the historically accepted juridico-discursive representation of power, which contains the following properties: all connections between power and sex are negative, power enforces its law on sex, power prohibits certain aspects of sex, there’s a logic to censorship enforced by power, and power is enforced homogeneously on all levels. This is a power of “no.” Foucault conceives power to be much more complex and more promising than this outdated view of power. In his analytics, he removes power from institutions, and disperses it as a diffuse network of nodes of discourse. Power comes from the interaction and butting up against points of connection within the knowledge-power network. He significantly writes, “Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (93). Power forms a network that we’re all part of, and there is no outside from which power comes. It comes from within, and we exist within the networks from which power is formed. He goes on to clarify that power is diffuse, it comes from within and between, it runs through the social body, it’s not organized by one person or institution, and resistance exists wherever there is power. Returning to the history of sexuality, he applies these observations to sex, which forms these rules: power-knowledge has no exteriority, sex is made an object by power relations, power-knowledge is dynamic, tactics of power support an overall theme, but these tactics are not necessarily representative or mirrors of the larger strategy, and there are a multiplicity of discourses, and those discourses produce and undermine power. Sexuality is a nexus of power relations.