Judith Butler is a controversial philosopher making deep intrusions into feminist, gender and queer studies. Reading her I became submerged in sea of incoherence. Here in this essay I would like to provide facets of her theory which I have understood and wanting to interpret.
The problem with Butler is that she is rather confused about gender identity and sex. She becomes a lesbian-centered feminist who wants to make toxic the existing norms of the society. Butler has borrowed the Philosophies of Hegel, Derrida, Foucault and many others to explicate her views. Her key ideas are gender performativity, parody and drag.
According to her race, gender and sex (orientation) are discourses which are a semantic and philosophical. She argues that we should subvert these identities and deconstruct them. She is not sure of the way to go about them. Let’s take the idea of a race. How can we deconstruct it? No matter what paradigms we adopt, the identity of a race cannot be negated. Some racial elements of culture have become universal. For example music like Jazz, Blues and Rap coming from Black culture have become universalized. After decolonization the concept of a race has no conceptual categories for deconstruction. For me a racial connotation would be, I have brown body, a black soul and a white mind. I take comfort in this kind of Butlerian subversion but that does not change my race as an Asian. Gender for Butler is a biological and cultural construct and that’s problematic for Butler. Perhaps it is because of her own lesbian moorings. Gender remains a fixated identity irrespective of one’s orientation. I would like to use the psychoanalyst Jung the anima and animus, the masculine elements of feminine psyche and the feminine elements of masculine psyche. In today’s world of democratization of orientations, Butler’s arguments of gender as a construct are rather flawed. Talking about sex, I would like to say that the aspect of the queer as an orientation is being democratically subverted to mainstream acceptance. I wonder why Butler regards it as a philosophical problem.
Butler has heavily borrowed from Hegel’s dialectic. For Hegel’s dialectic there is a thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For example the ill treatment of Germany during the second world war (a thesis), led to the rise of Hitler an (antithesis) and that ensued in the Holocaust (synthesis). Butler traces Hegel’s dialectic to the formation of a subject. Here Butler uses the allegory of Hegel’s Master and the Slave. The Master though superior to the slave is dependent on the slave for his actions. The Master and the slave share a reciprocal relationship. I would like to say that Hegel’s allegory is misleading because it alienates the sense of the self. Yes, in psychology there are multiple states, the ID, EGO and the Super Ego. Lacan has said that the self is never a perfect entity and we become alienated when we enter the discourse of language. For Butler the idea of sex, gender and race have an ontological position of becoming. The dialectical relationship of the Lord and the slave is a mutualism of being reciprocative.
Next I would like to comment on Butler’s ‘Gender Performativity’. Butler has given unusual connotations to Gender Performativity. Orientations in sex enter a dialogic relationship rather than being prone to a discourse. Butler has falsely assumed that there is a philosophical problem regarding orientations and sex. The concept of gender performativity is unique as it adumbrates conceptions of pleasure and Eros. The extent of perfomativity is subject to the phenomenology of individualized consciousness. There is no fault line to take Butler’s specious argument forwards. Pleasure, orgasm and ecstasy become contents of consciousness which are sublime.
Another concept used by Butler is the drag. Butler assumes the performativity of masculine and feminine roles by both subjects of gender. I would like to ask Butler, what is the problem of a transvestite? Switching of gender roles has become a democratic norm of the society and it no way poses any hazards. The Drag Queen of Butler is a witch and wizard of sexual orientation. Butler also downplays the role of those with the orientation of straight sex. Sexual identities though being constructs are prone to variations in practice.
A closely related Butlerian concept is parody. This refers specially to enactment of masculine and feminine roles. Jung has brought this concept through the anima and the animus. The body and gender are brought into a dilemma of a conundrum by Butler. The feminine and the masculine roles keep changing. There is a catharsis of reciprocative sharing. In sex there is a doing and becoming. Parody as a conceptual apparatus is not a problem in philosophy.
The most puzzling of Butler’s concept is that of a Lesbian Phallus. Here Butler has borrowed the concept from Lacan. The phallus is an empty signifier. The codes and conventions of a society have not developed from a Phallus. Lacan has exaggerated the term and it has resulted in it being a hyperbole. Why does Butler think that the society condemns lesbians? Women do not suffer from castration anxiety as they do not have a penis. The phallus is a semantic structure and authoritarian. Perhaps Butler meant that a lesbian phallus as a clitoris and it occupies a structure of being in democratic dialogism.