Judith Butler: Giving Identity its troubles=liberations

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliott professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the most well-known post-structural feminist thinkers in our present.  Her focus concerns the construction of normalized notions of body, sex, and gender as identity constructions.  She also speaks to Jewish intellectuals in the historical present, the legacies of violence and the necessities for mourning, and other topics which would ask us to think of a different society through historical/political and social contexts.

Her most well-known works at present, are:  Undoing Gender ; Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ ; Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity ;  Precarious Life: the Powers of Mourning and Violence ; and Frames of War: When is Life Grievable, among others.

In the first three works mentioned above, Butler takes the reader into the questions of identity construction.  She questions the notion of two-gender norms, which are based on the natural science’s notion of a biological duality of male and female.  She further lays out the meaning of the compulsory and mandatory aspects of our social selves as we adhere to the idea of two genders and analyzes the ambivalence of gender that precedes our own internalized norms toward becoming these two genders.  She states that we perform gender, and also we police each other and ourselves on gender.  Furthermore, gender is looked at as something different from sexual orientation, for instance, making it more complex and shifting the historically dominant notions of two gender realities.  She does not do this in order to be complex.  The complexities form the centerpieces for her points on how these gender normalizations create the anxieties and therefore violences that are acted out socially, politically, structurally.  Her work is ultimately liberating.

Her work is very original, and carries the legacy of earlier works such as that of the great Michel Foucault, who has left humanity a serious legacy on which to ponder the meaning of violence and subjugation in our lives through post-structural analyses which shift the normal foundations of thinking.  This has been done by Michel Foucault and other post-structural thinkers, through looking at history and how things are created to become dominant in societies.  His three-volume work: The History of Sexuality, as well as Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison; Birth of a Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception , and Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, present an oevre that unpacks and destabilizes the dominant notions of our institutions and what we have internalized as human, as ‘me’ and ‘us’ and as reality itself.  The goal is for emancipation in thinking, a  freedom beyond our mainstream understandings of freedom.

Butler has carried much of this legacy to focus on gender and sexuality, and bringing these issues into the realm of questioning militarism and emotions, the body and perception and their connections to holding patriarchal violences in society in place.  Butler also writes and thinks of her Jewish heritage, Judaism and its impact in the social life of our present, its exclusions and future/present possibilities.  As you may or may not know, Judaism approaches this world as the world in which heaven is created, not a future time or place. This also speaks to how justice is important in life, stemming from the realities of the history of oppressions against the Jewish people.  So in this kind of perception, there is the activist element in much of Jewish intellectual writing–as concern for humanity and justice.  Butler is interested in working with this aspect.

The below are four sections of a YouTube video that is from a French documentary.  She mainly speaks English, and there are French parts and German parts where either the narrator or herself are speaking in these languages. Everything she says in all of these videos interact with each other so I hope that you will take the time to watch all of them in succession and to not skip over too much, even though you may not understand one language or the other.

Judith Butler Link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler

Michel Foucault Link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_foucault

I have copied videos #2 through #5 of the six-part documentary series.

For the ENTIRE VIDEO SERIES parts 1 through 6 on Youtube, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q50nQUGiI3s

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