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«12. . .9,9069,9079,9089,909

As we wrap up #TWPride, here's something a bit like our Queer History feature. This one is a very brief piece on the philosopher and queer theorist Judith Butler.

The philosopher and queer theorist Judith Butler has become a household name in the academy. Her work is cited in fields ranging from philosophy to anthropology to feminist and queer thought to even theology. But her writing is also not an easy read. This is a short primer on the thinker’s importance for celebrating #TWPride . Full disclosure: though I have a fair amount of training in philosophy, that formation is in slightly different fields (theories of interpretation and "philosophy of religion") and have only read Butler more recently. I have attempted to write accurately, but surely others may point out the weaknesses and omissions of this short writing. 

What Is Queer Theory? 
The whole history of philosophy can be read as attempts to respond to the questions, “What kind of embodied creature am I? What constitutes the human? What do I know, how do I know it, and what am I doing when I am knowing?” Broadly speaking, philosophical reflection has shifted from assuming a “universal,” normative, given account of human existence to recognizing difference. Why? Because on a number of levels, scholars in these fields recognize that the categories are violent. They are constructed and imposed on other people. Though this is outside the realm of gender, the following example can help. The "new world" (the Americas) was inhabited by a variety of cultures and empires, including The Aztec, the Maya, the Inca, and the Iroquois Confederacy to name a few. Each had a rich, distinctive culture, history of knowledge, and wonder (think of the Pyramids). Were they "primitive" peoples? According to the European colonists and explorers, yes—but it is surely an unfair (and deeply unjust) judgment in retrospect. How and what we know and assume should be "deconstructed" because language and knowledge are too complex and even unstable, and moreover can be used as a means of exclusion and violence. After such realities, critical thinkers try to deconstruct anything that we think is "given" by asking: how did that come to be historically, and was it always the case that it was "given"? 

With this in mind, we can turn to gender theory. Gender theory in general, and queer theory specifically, expands the understanding of human by challenging what counts as sexually normative and why. It can be at the level of sexual orientation and preference (hence “heteronormativity”), but it can also be at the level of gender as expression. This is where Butler’s work is particularly important. There is a similar logic here as in the example above: the way we have been formed to understand sexuality and gender can be, and is for many, oppressive. Not everyone is heterosexual, and historically and ethically it is not possible to assert that heterosexuality is normative. Rather, philosophers and historians who were formative for Queer Theory and who operate within Queer Theory theory show that the rigid categories of Western sexuality are only recent things. 

Queer theory's most important insight is that sexual identity is fluid and dynamic. People cross dress. Some may be born with intersex bodies. Their understanding of desire and attraction can shift over time. Queer theory aims to deconstruct social norms and structures of categorization (taxonomy) at the level of history and contemporary practice. It is especially attentive to how and where categories and norms are oppressive and reflect privilege. In this way, it is related and flows out of feminist theory which challenges the (white and) male-centered way of knowing. 

Butler’s Contributions
One of the original goals of Judith Butler's work Gender Trouble was to engage and challenge feminist theory for not being wide enough in its understanding of the feminine because it could be unwittingly exclusionary and even homophobic. Her caution: feminism "ought to be careful not to idealize certain expressions of gender that... produce new forms of hierarchy and exclusion." Instead, the goal is "open up the field of possibility for gender without dictating which kinds of possibilities ought to be realized." 

With this in mind, Butler's enduring contributions are to argue that gender is not given but performed, and that the "performativity" of gender can be a strategy to resist imposing gender or sexual norms as natural. The basic point about gender performance is that gender is something that we do (perform) by repetition rather than who we are naturally or by some prior given. This is important because we live in an age where advancing the rights of marginalized and oppressed people is vital, and people who are different in terms of sexual orientation or gender identity are often subjected to deep violence because of their difference. Attention to gender identity as something that is performed allows one to see and recognize the great uniqueness and diversity of people's identities.

One of the major examples that Butler provides for gender performance is Drag. In general, drag parodies the idea that there is an "original" or "primary" gender identity. At face value, drag plays on two dimensions: the anatomy of the performer and the gender that is performed. But for Butler there are actually three dimensions: anatomical sex, gender identity, and gender performance. From here, Butler argues that drag shows how gender is about imitation and contingency. With this example she means "to establish that 'reality' is not as fixed as we generally assume it to be." 

This also lays the groundwork for the key theory of gender as performed. Gender, for Butler, is an identity made in time through a "stylized repetition of acts." Thankfully, I don’t need to do the heavy lifting to explain the elaborate and dense work of Judith Butler. This infographic LinkJudith Butler Explained With Cats explains Gender Trouble using Socratic method and images of cats.

Of course, people may have different philosophical and religious commitments. But there are deep ethical insights that one cannot ignore in Butler's work and in queer theory in general. They make space for welcoming people in their diversity, and they raise important questions about what counts as normative, according to whom, and why. Finally, they make space for allowing people to discover and be themselves by performing their identity.

So remember these basic points about Butler's work.

  • Gender is performed rather than a fixed reality

  • Because gender is a construct, Butler opens a way for the rights of those who are marginalized because their gender or sexual identity are not considered normative

  • Gender and sexuality are irreducibly complex; denying this can be tremendously violent for those who do not fit neatly into binaries and "given" categories

    Resources
    LinkJudith Butler Explained With Cats
    LinkBigThink short video: Judith Butler on Gender

Read dispatch

What Does the Title of the Armed Republic Mean?

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends - Friday Karaoke.

The Moody Blues - I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock and Roll Band)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=N_J-hmyAS6c

I'm just a wandering on the face of this earth
Meeting so many people
Who are trying to be free
And while I'm traveling I hear so many words
Language barriers broken
Now we've found the key

And if you want the wind of change
To blow about you
And you're the only other person to know, don't tell me
I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band.

A thousand pictures can be drawn from one word
Only who is the artist
We got to agree
A thousand miles can lead so many ways
Just to know who is driving
What a help it would be

So if you want this world of yours
To turn about you
And you can see exactly what to do
Please tell me
I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band.

How can we understand
Riots by the people for the people
Who are only destroying themselves
And when you see a frightened
Person who is frightened by the
People who are scorching this earth.

I'm just a wandering on the face of this earth
Meeting so many people
Who are trying to be free
And while I'm traveling I hear so many words
Language barriers broken
Now we've found the key

And if you want the wind of change
To blow about you
And you're the only other person to know, don't tell me
I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band.

How can we understand
Riots by the people for the people
Who are only destroying themselves
And when you see a frightened
Person who is frightened by the
People who are scorching this earth.

Music is the traveller crossing our world
Meeting so many people bridging the seas
I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band.
We're just the singers in a rock and roll band.
I'm just a singer in a rock and roll band...

I'll find another song tomorrow possibly, but the wordless song that I didn't share last week was Beethoven's 9th.

Fuzzy Iridescent Oroboros wrote:I'll find another song tomorrow possibly, but the wordless song that I didn't share last week was Beethoven's 9th.

But tomorrow is not Friday. You see the operative word in Friday Karaoke is Friday. And really no one’s too concerned about songs you didn’t share last week.

So take part or not, just don’t waste our time.

Edit: Beethoven’s 9th is wordless? Wonder why it’s known as the Choral Symphony and contains Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” then?

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