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In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality: the body. Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality: the body. Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex. She clarifies the notion of "performativity" introduced in Gender Trouble and via bold readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud explores the meaning of a citational politics. She also draws on documentary and literature with compelling interpretations of the film Paris is Burning, Nella Larsen's Passing, and short stories by Willa Cather.


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In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality: the body. Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality: the body. Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex. She clarifies the notion of "performativity" introduced in Gender Trouble and via bold readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud explores the meaning of a citational politics. She also draws on documentary and literature with compelling interpretations of the film Paris is Burning, Nella Larsen's Passing, and short stories by Willa Cather.

30 review for Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    I feel like it's socially irresponsible to conduct a conversation about such an important topic using language that makes that conversation inaccessible to so much of the population. We get it. You're a smarty pants. But you fail to move the pegs when you're only talking to other academics. I feel like it's socially irresponsible to conduct a conversation about such an important topic using language that makes that conversation inaccessible to so much of the population. We get it. You're a smarty pants. But you fail to move the pegs when you're only talking to other academics.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Avital

    In Bodies that Matter Judith Butler replies to the criticism of her earlier book Gender Trouble. She argues with the feminist thinkers who see the body as matter--a material body with a sexual specification. According to her the body does not exist beyond a cultural construction. It serves as a site for the feminist theory independently of such a pre-discursive definition. In her introduction she explains: For surely bodies live and die; eat and sleep; feel pain, pleasure; endure illness and vi In Bodies that Matter Judith Butler replies to the criticism of her earlier book Gender Trouble. She argues with the feminist thinkers who see the body as matter--a material body with a sexual specification. According to her the body does not exist beyond a cultural construction. It serves as a site for the feminist theory independently of such a pre-discursive definition. In her introduction she explains: For surely bodies live and die; eat and sleep; feel pain, pleasure; endure illness and violence; and these “facts,” one might skeptically proclaim, cannot be dismissed as mere construction. […] But their irrefutability in no way implies what it might mean to affirm them and through what discursive means. Moreover, why is it that what is constructed is understood as an artificial and dispensable character? (xi). The construction of bodies is a constitutive constraint, and bodies are understood through it. She states again that both body and gender are parts of discourse. The only way to reach the matter beyond discourse is through discourse itself. After all, it is the discourse that defines the body as a matter existing beyond it. Inspired by Foucault, she contends that discourse is based on power relations and manipulated by those who control the sources of knowledge. The definition of what is natural is manipulated as well. Henceforth, the materiality of the body is discursive. The material body, its boundaries and its sexuality, materialize through the repetition of policing norms. The norms attribute meaning to it. Even the body limits are the product of social codes according to which certain practices are allowed and others are not. Butler goes back to the concept of performativity and confirms that repeatedly performed acts normalize an attributed gender, as well as marks of race, class and sexuality. Discourse defines certain bodies as natural, thus marginalizing others. This alludes to the fact that the accepted body does not owe it to its biological characteristics but to cultural signs. Based on Luce Iragaray’s Lacanian analysis, Butler also investigates the political coherence for which certain bodies are not legitimized. Through her own and Iragaray’s analysis of Platos’ work Timaeus, she reaches the conclusion that the marginalized bodies are related to homosexuality. She concludes that deconstruction cannot be based on already constituted references. Only a truly open debate can bring change.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Whilst I can't speak highly enough of the fantastic ideas in this book, it does share a problem with many post-modern critical writings. It insists on hiding simple yet powerful ideas behind overly esoteric language, potentially rendering them inaccessible to people who could make great use of them. A book intended to have consequences for society as a whole shouldn't be written in language that is only understandable to those privileged few who posses degrees in related subjects. Given the subj Whilst I can't speak highly enough of the fantastic ideas in this book, it does share a problem with many post-modern critical writings. It insists on hiding simple yet powerful ideas behind overly esoteric language, potentially rendering them inaccessible to people who could make great use of them. A book intended to have consequences for society as a whole shouldn't be written in language that is only understandable to those privileged few who posses degrees in related subjects. Given the subject matter, it is clearly impossible that jargon be avoided altogether. Still, there were many moments where things could have be said simply but were not. If it were possible to give separate reviews for content and form, I would give five stars for content and one for form and recommend that people read it, but be prepared for an uphill struggle. Since this is not possible however, I will give it three stars and recommend that people read it, but be prepared for an uphill struggle.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Erdem Tasdelen

    This certainly cleared up a few ideas that seemed vague in Gender Trouble. Butler asserts here that the performativity of gender does not imply an agency that allows one to put it on and take it off as one pleases, which is in dialogue with Spivak's elaboration of deconstruction where she dismisses the idea of free play. Performativity in this sense is a repetitive reiteration that imagines and images a coherent identity at the cost of its own complexity. It is not a matter of antagonizing the o This certainly cleared up a few ideas that seemed vague in Gender Trouble. Butler asserts here that the performativity of gender does not imply an agency that allows one to put it on and take it off as one pleases, which is in dialogue with Spivak's elaboration of deconstruction where she dismisses the idea of free play. Performativity in this sense is a repetitive reiteration that imagines and images a coherent identity at the cost of its own complexity. It is not a matter of antagonizing the one who performs or the performance itself, but to make the distinction, which then results in the shattering of the heterosexual matrix. What still needs further elaboration within this discussion is the materiality of sex. I understand and concur with Butler's dismissal of the idea that sex is in a sense a tabula rasa free of identity onto which gender is projected. Sex, then, also enters our perception through discourse, and is made sense of discursively. But where does one draw the line? Which part of the materiality of the body is to be understood as that which is essential to sexuality? To say that our understanding of sex is shaped by discourse is one thing, but that requires a clarification of the extent to which genitality dictates sexuality. On the other hand I really admire Butler's suggestion that a project worth pursuing is of alternative imaginary schemas for constituting sites of erotogenic pleasure. I was first introduced to this idea through Elizabeth Grosz's reading of desire in Spinoza, which led to a call for the proliferation of zones of pleasure, one that would not privilege genitality. I would certainly like to think and read more on this. I have to admit that I'm still not sure about Butler's insistance on psychoanalysis as a tool of empowerment that can be appropriated. It seems to me thus far that Lacan's phallogocentric discourse (along with Zizek's reading of Lacan and criticism of poststructuralism, feminism and particularly Foucault) is bluntly sexist, heterosexist and essentialist. I certainly like reading Butler's take on it, and there is some due credit to this idea of reversal (which can also be traced back to the appropriation of the word 'queer' itself by queer activists), but I'm not entirely convinced that this is the best way to deal with contemporary issues. I'd like to think that psychoanalysis has lost its widespread influence on how we make sense of the world. And just how beautiful is this: "The power of the terms 'women' or 'democracy' is not derived from their ability to describe adequately or comprehensively a political reality that already exists; on the contrary, the political signifier becomes efficacious by instituting and sustaining a set of connections as a political reality. In this sense, the political signifier in Zizek's view operates as a performative rather than a representational term. Paradoxically, the political efficacy of the signifier does not consist in its representational capacity; the term neither represents nor expresses some already existing subjects or their interests. The signifier's efficacy is confirmed by its capacity to structure and constitute the political field, to create new subject-positions and new interests."

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ty

    It's worth reading but I consider Butler much stronger on immigration and citizenship concerns than on those of sexuality. I recognize her lexicon makes a fair bit of her writing generally inaccessible but having taken on her works half a dozen times, I don't notice that anymore. From using the sole, individual, case of David Reimer to make sweeping statements on gender (which she conflates into sex at the most disturbing of times), imposing a change in pronouns onto someone else's repeatedly exp It's worth reading but I consider Butler much stronger on immigration and citizenship concerns than on those of sexuality. I recognize her lexicon makes a fair bit of her writing generally inaccessible but having taken on her works half a dozen times, I don't notice that anymore. From using the sole, individual, case of David Reimer to make sweeping statements on gender (which she conflates into sex at the most disturbing of times), imposing a change in pronouns onto someone else's repeatedly expressed preference to then declaring it supports transsexuals when in fact it is routinely used in anti-medical transition rhetoric, I struggle to voice my opposition to her work amidst the flood of praise she garners from most people in my circles.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sabrarf

    This book is clearly a better version of her other book "gender trouble". It explains in much more detail the queering performativity which allows individuals to define themselves beyond just sexuality! This book is clearly a better version of her other book "gender trouble". It explains in much more detail the queering performativity which allows individuals to define themselves beyond just sexuality!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Yes, it feels pretentious to give Butler 5-stars, or to consider this one of the best books I read this year, but I think she's just fantastic. People bitch and moan about her 'moonspeak' but frankly, I think it's rare to find a theorist or a philosopher more inclined to help the reader understand--there's a highly methodical, repetitive quality to the way she states her ideas. It's clear to me that she *wants* her reader to follow along, it's just that the ideas at hand are frequently so dense Yes, it feels pretentious to give Butler 5-stars, or to consider this one of the best books I read this year, but I think she's just fantastic. People bitch and moan about her 'moonspeak' but frankly, I think it's rare to find a theorist or a philosopher more inclined to help the reader understand--there's a highly methodical, repetitive quality to the way she states her ideas. It's clear to me that she *wants* her reader to follow along, it's just that the ideas at hand are frequently so dense that it's near-impossible to 'master' them in the way she seems to. I know I've got many many readings of this text ahead of me, because even having read this a couple of months ago (and reread a couple of the chapters over the course of the semester for papers and such), I'm already losing my grasp in the quicksand of a lot of it. The introduction and the title chapter are perhaps the most dense and the most challenging to just read through, but both are well worth it. Some of the "Lesbian Phallus" chapter was over my head because of my limited experience with Freud, Lacan, and Irigaray--but it also had some really unexpected, hilarious lowbrow dick humor from Butler (she says at the beginning of the chapter something along the lines of "perhaps the promise of a phallus is always somewhat disappointing"). Her readings of Nella Larsen's 'Passing' and the documentary-film 'Paris is Burning' are both simply awe-inspiring; for each, she breaks them down into their most basic components and offers compelling interpretations of each in the context of her own argument--and against others' arguments (this is particularly fun to watch in the chapter on 'Paris is Burning'). In short, this was not my first experience with Butler, but it was my most in-depth--and it was so rewarding. I genuinely found this to be one of the most provocative, engaging, and all-around-best books I worked through this year. Looking forward to more experiences with good ol' Judy B.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    This is the second Judith Butler book I've read (the other being Gender Trouble), and I found it as interesting and enlightening as the first. As a cis male, I would originally be thought of as an outsider. However, once you enter into the text you realise that this has repercussions for every individual regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or any other form of identity you can think of. Discussing gender may focus on those who are oppressed (as in feminism or gay and lesbian studies) This is the second Judith Butler book I've read (the other being Gender Trouble), and I found it as interesting and enlightening as the first. As a cis male, I would originally be thought of as an outsider. However, once you enter into the text you realise that this has repercussions for every individual regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or any other form of identity you can think of. Discussing gender may focus on those who are oppressed (as in feminism or gay and lesbian studies) or marginalised/excluded (as in queer theory) but it nonetheless allows one to reflect back upon one's own situation. It's true that Butler isn't the easiest read you could hope for. She's the winner of the Bad Writer of the Year award, which says a lot. Rather than defending the quality of her writing, I'd prefer to defend the content. I don't think there's a great philosophical reason to defend her style, so I won't. Some sentences amble on forever and I did actually need to go back and break them down in a way I haven't done since I was in primary school. However, I disagree thoroughly with critics like Nussbaum who argue that there is no substance behind the lengthy sentences and it's just another Derridean attempt to be obfuscatory. Let's face it: that's the general criticism of anyone who falls under the unhelpfully broad monikers of "postmodern" or "continental" philosophy, even those that I've always found clear like Foucault or Laclau. Stylistic problems aside (something we have to accept in Butler's work), there is still plenty to get you thinking especially the chapters on "Paris is Burning", her re-reading of Zizek and Laclau (and, dare I say, improvement upon them), as well as the closing chapter on being "Critically Queer". A superb read, especially for an impulse buy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

    i've been carrying this around for years now, reading bits of it. i don't think i'll ever read it in its entirety; not dedicated enough to wrestle with butler's style when i don't need to i suppose. nevertheless, the ideas in here are important and matter still 25 years later. i've been carrying this around for years now, reading bits of it. i don't think i'll ever read it in its entirety; not dedicated enough to wrestle with butler's style when i don't need to i suppose. nevertheless, the ideas in here are important and matter still 25 years later.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Daniela

    Butler not only looks like a mad German philosopher but writes like one.

  11. 4 out of 5

    M.

    This woman frustrates me greatly, for she thinks you can't pin her down, but she's so repetitive and obvious that even though this promises to provide the much needed clarifications to Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, it just reaffirms everything I knew that was wrong with that book. In her vision, not only gender is a construct, but sex too. Of course she does not entirely reject the body, but says that there is nothing there which is not mediated by culture as if culture This woman frustrates me greatly, for she thinks you can't pin her down, but she's so repetitive and obvious that even though this promises to provide the much needed clarifications to Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, it just reaffirms everything I knew that was wrong with that book. In her vision, not only gender is a construct, but sex too. Of course she does not entirely reject the body, but says that there is nothing there which is not mediated by culture as if culture was bad on the whole. Of course, this is where the "BuT wHaT aBouT hErmApHrOdIteS?" argument comes from, failing to consider that even then, intersex people are a) extremely rare, and b)overwhelmingly genetically male. Sex is also determined by chromosomes rather than by a "phallogocentric Lacan dervided" construct. None of this takes away the reality of sex as such. Annoyingly enough, she has no better idea than to go on about psychology for a lot of time in the book, never considering that she's making up *constructs* to defy the constructs she dislikes. Science, folks.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn Myers

    In a manner which echoes that of Faulkner and his long-winded contemporaries, Judith needs to practice getting to the point. She writes of important topics, yet the message is often hidden in a mish-mash of unnecessarily complex metaphors and/ or demonstrative stories.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tori

    a very tentative five stars here because butler’s ideas, where intelligible, are incredibly prescient and useful, but her prose is of wildly varying quality. the run of chapters in the middle of the book where she writes on ‘paris is burning’, willa cather, and nella larsen’s ‘passing’ are wonderful, using their primary texts to enable a really clear articulation of otherwise difficult-to-conceptualise concepts; the book’s problem is that this goodwill is then squandered on a lengthy discussion a very tentative five stars here because butler’s ideas, where intelligible, are incredibly prescient and useful, but her prose is of wildly varying quality. the run of chapters in the middle of the book where she writes on ‘paris is burning’, willa cather, and nella larsen’s ‘passing’ are wonderful, using their primary texts to enable a really clear articulation of otherwise difficult-to-conceptualise concepts; the book’s problem is that this goodwill is then squandered on a lengthy discussion of žižek’s thoughts on the ‘lacanian real’, an effort that’s both difficult to read and to understand the motivations behind (imo žižek’s theory leaving no space for women is less an issue of attention than a product of his reactionary misogyny). all this is to say that when ‘bodies that matter’ is good, it’s amazing; vital, challenging, and comprehensive. it’s hard work, though, and if i didn’t find the work it does so important i would criticise its flaws much more strongly than i have here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    This text lived up to its reputation--challenging! Much tougher than her more recent works, and requiring a lot more psychoanalytic background. I'm definitely going to need a primer on Freud and Lacan before I come back to this. Another book from my embodiment reading list done! This text lived up to its reputation--challenging! Much tougher than her more recent works, and requiring a lot more psychoanalytic background. I'm definitely going to need a primer on Freud and Lacan before I come back to this. Another book from my embodiment reading list done!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jimena Casillas

    What is gender?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Roger Green

    Almost 25 years after initial publication, Butler's work holds up as a classic. With readings of Freud, Lacan, the film Paris Burning, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, this book has a massive scope. We often forget by focusing on Butler the theorist / philosopher just how solid she is at reading a variety of textual mediums. Almost 25 years after initial publication, Butler's work holds up as a classic. With readings of Freud, Lacan, the film Paris Burning, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, this book has a massive scope. We often forget by focusing on Butler the theorist / philosopher just how solid she is at reading a variety of textual mediums.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anton

    I gave up trying to read this because it’s not in any way enjoyable to read and I have better things to do rather than trying to decipher this text. I might give this another shot at some point if I can find the book in my native language or have the energy to really focus on the text.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Roy Oliver Corvera

    This book has tackled many fantastic ideas but fallen into a category of being inaccessible to many–by using critical words that could be simplified into more understandable, digestible ones-failing to reach and inform a set of diverse communities. With topics that concern and highlight the struggles of society, we must use a communication tool that is accessible not only to the part of the academe but also to the ordinary, underprivileged people.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alex Lee

    Here Judith Butler expands on the agental role that "queering" performativity allows for the creation of individuals beyond sexuality. While most of the book is geared towards shoring up (and critiquing) psychoanalytic roles of sexual determination of identity and subjectivity, Butler also includes a few complex examples of how marked positions within the sexual dichotomy as it relates to phallics and sexual identity is problematized. Although at times with terse sentences that sometimes say too Here Judith Butler expands on the agental role that "queering" performativity allows for the creation of individuals beyond sexuality. While most of the book is geared towards shoring up (and critiquing) psychoanalytic roles of sexual determination of identity and subjectivity, Butler also includes a few complex examples of how marked positions within the sexual dichotomy as it relates to phallics and sexual identity is problematized. Although at times with terse sentences that sometimes say too much in one bite, I feel that Butler successfully sees both sides of the issue and navigates through this minefield with a fresh outlook on how sexuality plays a role in determining how we consider ourselves and how we consider others. Using the various figures of transgender and drag and so on, Butler ultimately demonstrates that the agency relationship of performativity still requires that dichotomous hetereosexual cut. Although the performative natures of drag and trans, "queering" normative roles is always a subversive possibility, the reliance of the dichotomous hetereosexual norms as a queering always has the possibility of retroactively reinforcing rather than subverting. Put on the street, a gay pride rally may make non-normative hetereosexuals express themselves with aplomb but it will also allow conservative types to dig further into their entrenchment simply because the dichotomy is always invoked as a way of identifying who we are and where we are located. This transcendental cut is a difficulty with queering, one that Butler does not seem able to resolve. In a way, this has to do with the fact that despite performativity's power in one's ability to redefine one's self, this is always in relation to how others can define one's self through their acts. Thus her chapter on "lesbian phallus" and the straight woman as a melancholy lesbian or the straight man as a melancholy straight man is a way to note that all positions are "queering" when we begin to eradicate the normative judgements socially and understand the relations on the sexual "phallic" transcendental as mere positional exchange. We may want to inhabit certain positions above others, and in that sense all identity is performative and "queering" when understood through alternate filters. In a way, Butler stops in an appropriate spot. She doesn't go too deep into critiquing transcendental reason (as obviously this would take us afar off field) but she doesn't shy away from mentioning either, when appropriate. I feel that her ending could be tighter, as she takes a very long time to conclude where she wants to end, but she does the best that she can in outlining the fact that identity is created through sexual performativity as blind truth procedure rather than as an ontological given. She engages feminist theorists to this end in a way that is appropriate, although I feel she spends a little too much time with psychoanalysis, simply because she needs a bulwark that is hetereo-normative in order to sexualize the field in order to make her point. The twist from ontology to procedure is really the takeaway key here, to how Butler redeploys social identity for all of us. Taken in that approach, in theory, we could have avoided sexuality all together in performativity, but the charged nature of sexuality as a key to identity allows Butler to tackle the subject all the more strongly. Bravo.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sverker

    2014: This is supposedly Butler's reply and clarification on some of the critique she received for Gender Trouble. I write supposedly with regard to the clarification because to my mind this book is more difficult to understand and really penetrate than Gender Trouble. And, also, I is really quite complex to follow what Butler thinks about the body, which is the critique she received against Gender Trouble in the first place. So from that perspective this book might be something of a failure. Ha 2014: This is supposedly Butler's reply and clarification on some of the critique she received for Gender Trouble. I write supposedly with regard to the clarification because to my mind this book is more difficult to understand and really penetrate than Gender Trouble. And, also, I is really quite complex to follow what Butler thinks about the body, which is the critique she received against Gender Trouble in the first place. So from that perspective this book might be something of a failure. Having said that, I think it is no failure whatsoever. Butler challenges me to think about my preconceptions about the body. It is easy to take one's bodiless for granted. Yet, it is certainly difficult to state clearly in what this bodiless entails, since how I think about my body is affected by exactly that, how I think about my body. Butler's use of Lacan and Freud is difficult to know exactly how to relate to. Butler is critical against much of Freud's conclusions for examples, but appears to still want to use much or some of Freud's thinking and method. With the help of Lacan it is no longer Freud the develop psychologist that we are talking about I suspect, but rather something much more linguistic than that. But still, how much psychoanalysis can one bring in and still be credible? The book has two parts of which the first one is more theoretical and dense in what might be uncarefully called queer theory (I don't think Butler can be limited to that field of thinking namely) and the second part can be seen as some application of the theory and method put forward in the first part. 2013: I read this book over an extended period of time and I think it was too long because it is2 not a book that one should dip in and out of. It is simply a bit too complex for that and one should really try to have Butler's terminology fresh in mind since it is very demanding to follow her thinking and to remember her own definitions of the words she uses. Having said that, the book really needs its time and one should not try to read it with any speed in mind. I think I made that mistake too. But next time I read it I will certainly pay it more justice. There are so many things to discuss from this book that my mind is sort of confused at the moment. I have still not got my mind around the performativity and the constitutiveness of language as in a sense prior to "nature" or "essence". That I need to revisit at take it slowly. I think Butler has man interesting things to say about identity in this book and that I will certainly use for my research and as such I will revisit that too and try to relate what she says her with her more recent writings. One question I bring with me coming out of this book is how valid the focus on psychoanalysis really is. It is of course valid in the internal discussion in the discourse in which Butler can be found, but when she takes the conclusions from that discourse and wants to apply it to "the real world" (a very problematic phrase to use in this context, I know), then how valid and applicable is it considering that psychoanalytics is pretty much discarded as psychological theory today?

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ayanna Dozier

    I would give this book two stars but it's Judith Butler and as someone who conducts research in the field of Gender and Sexuality, my work owes a considerable debt to her and to this book. With that being said, Bodies that Matter is a book that seeks to reposition bodies in relation to sexuality through the re-reading of psychoanalysis and Irigaray. Specifically, bodies that are white, female marked, cis, and queer. If this were all that the book is, I wouldn't be bothered because it is, obvious I would give this book two stars but it's Judith Butler and as someone who conducts research in the field of Gender and Sexuality, my work owes a considerable debt to her and to this book. With that being said, Bodies that Matter is a book that seeks to reposition bodies in relation to sexuality through the re-reading of psychoanalysis and Irigaray. Specifically, bodies that are white, female marked, cis, and queer. If this were all that the book is, I wouldn't be bothered because it is, obviously, quite wonderfully written, read, theorized, etc., but my problem is the problem that so many academics have noted is how Butler decides to theorize this repositioning through the use of genderqueers of color from the 1991 film Paris is Burning. Extending her use of drag queens as a way to theorize gender from Gender Trouble, Butler extends that use and misreads everything. While I am not the biggest fan of her use of drag queens in Gender Trouble, I find it to not be entirely problematic because she works off of Esther Newton's well researched book on drag queens, Mother Camp. Re-reading a text and using the imagined materiality of bodies in that context is one thing but Paris is Burning (especially when if first came out) is another issue. Firstly, Butler misreads bell hooks' evocative review of the film and takes hooks' statement about the misogyny found within the mis-use of drag within the black community (that was Eddie Murphy in a dress) to be how hooks' read the queens in the film that is not the case at all! When reading hooks' review you can see how she is challenging spectators to look at how race plays a role in the construction of their lives and wants to challenge the spectacle that the director, Jennie Livingston, created that offers no insight to the characters as beings. To hooks' they are constructed as props for the camera and this especially noted with the death of Venus Xtravaganza, who was trans not a drag queen. Returning to Butler, Livingston is interesting because she is a lesbian who possesses the power to turn these queens and Venus into women. No, no, no, it doesn't work like that. Trans people and drag queens do not exist for theorist to rethink their sexualities that have no relation to a trans person or drag queen's body or sexuality. Frankly, it's offensive and although it bears a small part of the book it leaves a sour taste in ones' mouth. Also, I'm not big on psychoanalysis as a methodology unless you're Teresa de Lauretis so the rest of the book didn't offer me much.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dwight Davis

    In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argued that gender is constructed through the performative. A common critique offered to that work was that Butler was consigning the body to the realm of the linguistic and not retaining materiality. In Bodies that Matter, Butler answers that criticism, arguing for “a return to the notion of matter, not as 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.” (xviii) In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argued that gender is constructed through the performative. A common critique offered to that work was that Butler was consigning the body to the realm of the linguistic and not retaining materiality. In Bodies that Matter, Butler answers that criticism, arguing for “a return to the notion of matter, not as 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.” (xviii) Bodies, while linguistically constructed and inscribed with notions of gender, are areas of boundary and fixity. The performative is a ritual, it is a set of practices continually enacted through which identity is formed. Butler says, “Generally speaking, a performative functions to produce that which it declares. As a discursive practice (performative ‘acts’ must be repeated to become efficacious), performatives constitute a locus of discursive production. No ‘act’ apart from a regularized and sanctioned practice can wield the power to produce that which it declares. Indeed, performative act apart from a reiterated and, hence, sanctioned set of conventions can appear only as a vain effort to produce effects that it cannot possibly produce.” (70) For Butler, there is no prediscursive subject. Our identity and subjectivity comes precisely through the linguistic construction and complex interplay of power we experience in the world. Overall, I found this difficult book to be ultimately helpful in clarifying some of Butler's positions in Gender Trouble. I find her notion of the performative as ritual to be helpful in naming the processes by which identity is formed. I also found her interaction with Foucault's Discipline and Punish to be illuminating and helpful as well. This is a tough read, but well worth the effort.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Meeuwis

    In many ways, I think, this would be a better book to read (or assign) to give a feel for what Butler's thought and its possibilities are like. There's a lot of inside-baseball theory amusement in the early parts of the book, where Butler basically tells everyone that they misread "Gender Trouble" by treating drag performance as central to culture rather than--and I think this is actually more intriguing, and troubling--noting that all performances of identity are analogous to drag in being cult In many ways, I think, this would be a better book to read (or assign) to give a feel for what Butler's thought and its possibilities are like. There's a lot of inside-baseball theory amusement in the early parts of the book, where Butler basically tells everyone that they misread "Gender Trouble" by treating drag performance as central to culture rather than--and I think this is actually more intriguing, and troubling--noting that all performances of identity are analogous to drag in being culturally constructed. (Watching Judith Butler turn on "Judith Butler"--including, at one point, saying that pace the fanzines, she doesn't like being called "Judy" is fun, if you're into that sort of thing.) This book also extends that thinking, grounding it (I think wisely) by stressing that all communicable identity performance must to some extent negotiate a relationship to normalcy in order to get what it wants. At points she almost sounds like Saussure or de Certeau's idea of strategy/tactics in this regard. I'm no theory specialist, but I think the idea of balancing buying in versus idiosyncratic self-interest--being like other people in order to get what you, the individual, want--hasn't yet been mined enough. And around the edges of this choice I think I even saw the liberal subject, like Kilroy, peeking out. Anyway, in the Great Academic Chain of Being, Butler is pretty much St. Paul, and I'm pretty much a hangnail--but I liked this book very much.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    Just like the rest of her work it is very very dense and cites numerous other pre-req's to be read and digested in their own right to understand the depth of her arguments about gender. Her distinctions are very fine and I find her writing most convincing and useful when she stops explaining her own work in reference to others but speaks clearly about her own agenda. There are several places in each chapter where she steps fully into her own voice and agenda and it is then that I remember exactl Just like the rest of her work it is very very dense and cites numerous other pre-req's to be read and digested in their own right to understand the depth of her arguments about gender. Her distinctions are very fine and I find her writing most convincing and useful when she stops explaining her own work in reference to others but speaks clearly about her own agenda. There are several places in each chapter where she steps fully into her own voice and agenda and it is then that I remember exactly why her arguments continue to stay with me. When she talks about the consequences of discussing the limits of language and the inability to firmly latch on to an identity she points in a direction for gender and sexuality that I think gives room for growth. More than that I think that people could personally resonate with her descriptions of what it means to not just speak about the world we live in and how power affects us but what it feels like in actual bodies to live within those structures. She wants to move away from the distinctions between the psychic and the actual matter of the body and offer a theory that is capable of showing how/when they work together/against must be theorized and where the challenges lie. I think her work is meant to spur one to not only think but to act to create new communities and sustaining relations for those who have been excluded.

  25. 5 out of 5

    simon

    this book confirms that judith butler is seriously a genius. it was Extremely helpful to read this book in class, rather than on my own, which is how i've attempted other butler. for instance, when you get to the chapter that follows Butler on Irigaray on Plato, it helps to have someone around that knows the French psychoanalysts. And when you start reading about mirrors, identity and Lacan, having someone versed in Freud is really a bonus. so yeah, unless you know a fair amount of Zizek (and I u this book confirms that judith butler is seriously a genius. it was Extremely helpful to read this book in class, rather than on my own, which is how i've attempted other butler. for instance, when you get to the chapter that follows Butler on Irigaray on Plato, it helps to have someone around that knows the French psychoanalysts. And when you start reading about mirrors, identity and Lacan, having someone versed in Freud is really a bonus. so yeah, unless you know a fair amount of Zizek (and I understand some people really do), I recommend finding a good wikipedia-type source before beginning. I would skip over her reading of _Paris is Burning_. it's the weakest part of the book and actually bits of it are offensive to me and probably would also be to some trans/ally readers. but reading butler and getting it makes me feel smart. and i like to watch her take down the Old Masters (Freud, Lacan, Plato, Aristotle). its nice. oh! and in the footnotes, butler starts off one particular reference saying that Donna Haraway made such and such a comment "in a hot tub in santa cruz". meaning that at one point in time, judith butler and donna haraway were in a hot tub together in santa cruz. now that's nice.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cara Byrne

    "The goal of this analysis, then, cannot be pure subversion, as if an undermining were enough to establish and direct political struggle. Rather than denaturalization or proliferation, it seems that the question for thinking discourse and power in terms of the future has several paths to follow: how to think power as resignification together with power as the convergence or interarticulation of relations of regulation, domination, constitution? How to know what might qualify as an affirmative re "The goal of this analysis, then, cannot be pure subversion, as if an undermining were enough to establish and direct political struggle. Rather than denaturalization or proliferation, it seems that the question for thinking discourse and power in terms of the future has several paths to follow: how to think power as resignification together with power as the convergence or interarticulation of relations of regulation, domination, constitution? How to know what might qualify as an affirmative resignification - with all the weight and difficulty of that labor - and how to run the risk of reinstalling the abject at the site of its opposition? But how, also, to rethink the terms that establish and sustain bodies that matter?" (240). Like _Gender Trouble_, Butler's _Bodies That Matter_ engages readers in a dense history of philosophical questions in order to work through questions of power, gender, sexuality, and normativity. I think you get a little more of Butler's voice in this work compared to _Gender Trouble_, but like her other works, piecing apart her prose and defining her main ideas is often like solving a difficult puzzle.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Clayton Whisnant

    Though a book that is difficult to appreciate without having read _Gender Trouble_, _Bodies That Matter_ is, in my opinion, more satisfying. I've never understood the compulsion that some have to cite Lacan's works as if they were absolutely authoritative, but nevertheless I appreciate Butler's interesting efforts to reintegrate the social/cultural dimensions of Foucault's thoughts on discourse with the psychological dimension of psychoanalysis. This book includes some very interesting readings Though a book that is difficult to appreciate without having read _Gender Trouble_, _Bodies That Matter_ is, in my opinion, more satisfying. I've never understood the compulsion that some have to cite Lacan's works as if they were absolutely authoritative, but nevertheless I appreciate Butler's interesting efforts to reintegrate the social/cultural dimensions of Foucault's thoughts on discourse with the psychological dimension of psychoanalysis. This book includes some very interesting readings (and criticisms) of Lacan, Luce Irigaray, and Slavoj Zizek, as well as more difficult (in my mind) engagements with the stories of Willa Cather and Nella Larsen. And those people reading this book in reference to poststructuralist theory will find some very interesting thoughts about the incoherence of identity, the ways that bodies are "materialized" through discourse, and a consideration of agency as a "failure" of the citation of normative discourse, possible because of the ways that the excess of language itself enables creative "resignifications." Not an easy book, as my review probably suggests, but one that is still rewarding.

  28. 4 out of 5

    D

    I didn't get into this book although I can tell it's wisely written. Raises curious questions. How does it happen that the human subject makes himself [sic] into an object of possible knowledge, through what forms of rationality, through what historical necessities, and at what price? My question is this: How much does it cost the subject to be able to tell the truth about itself? — Michel Foucault, "How Much Does It Cost to Tell the Truth? Willa Cather - cites the paternal law, but in places and I didn't get into this book although I can tell it's wisely written. Raises curious questions. How does it happen that the human subject makes himself [sic] into an object of possible knowledge, through what forms of rationality, through what historical necessities, and at what price? My question is this: How much does it cost the subject to be able to tell the truth about itself? — Michel Foucault, "How Much Does It Cost to Tell the Truth? Willa Cather - cites the paternal law, but in places and ways that mobilize a subversion under the guise of loyalty. The life of the law exceeds the teleology of the law, enabling an erotic contestation and disruptive repetition of its own terms. "Dangerous Crossing": it's painted on signboards all over the world! - Willa Cather, "Tom Outland's Story" Discourse is not life; its time is not yours. - Michel Foucault, "Politics and the Study of Discourse"

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Poggiali

    i appreciate this book's political and theoretical vision (a call for a feminism not rooted in identity politics and an analysis of gender and the body that is not disaggregated from sex and sexuality). that being said, i am left totally unsatisfied with her treatment of materiality, which is completely a-sensual (her conception of materiality...derived from derrida and lacan...understands the body as materialized through language). strangely, although the book is concerned centrally with perfor i appreciate this book's political and theoretical vision (a call for a feminism not rooted in identity politics and an analysis of gender and the body that is not disaggregated from sex and sexuality). that being said, i am left totally unsatisfied with her treatment of materiality, which is completely a-sensual (her conception of materiality...derived from derrida and lacan...understands the body as materialized through language). strangely, although the book is concerned centrally with performativity and practice, it is in the end unable to speak about bodily experience as anything-other-than representational.

  30. 5 out of 5

    The Awdude

    Butler, for about 100 pages, executes a virtuosic reading of Lacan that I thoroughly enjoyed, but then later on she mis-appropriates Zizek and tries to stic to her guns with old ideas about performativity and it doesn't really lead her anywhere. She ends up asking more questions than she answers, which of course is never a bad thing, but I thought she wwas taking me somewhere she wasn't. But I'm sure she's cleared some things up since she wrote this book, which was published in 1993, so I'll def Butler, for about 100 pages, executes a virtuosic reading of Lacan that I thoroughly enjoyed, but then later on she mis-appropriates Zizek and tries to stic to her guns with old ideas about performativity and it doesn't really lead her anywhere. She ends up asking more questions than she answers, which of course is never a bad thing, but I thought she wwas taking me somewhere she wasn't. But I'm sure she's cleared some things up since she wrote this book, which was published in 1993, so I'll definitely be re-visiting her in the future. Butler is hands down one of our most important latter-day deconstructionists.

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