This week we're moving even closer to the present, with two contemporary thinkers, Judith Butler and Slavoj Žižek who are both very active and in some respects I suppose in the prime of their careers. And it is a time for thinking about the status of a critique today, as Judith Butler has sometimes put it. As Žižek has talked about, it's really the status of philosophy and, in his case, also of psychoanalysis. We're going to focus on their texts, as we do every week. And see how they relate to these questions of anti foundationalism, and the status of the subject and of thinking in the contemporary world. With Butler we begin with a consideration of her work on gender. She's a prolific author, both of these authors are prolific. And we really, as I've said, I guess, throughout this semester since we started way back with Cott, we're just scratching the surface of their productivity, of their intellectual contributions. Judith Butler started her career as I did really, with the work on French Regalism. Her dissertation in and her first book had to do with the status of Hegel in modern France. And I actually met her because of our common research interests way back when, and I've followed her work with great interest ever since. >> I received a Fulbright to study in Heidelberg. And I studied with Gordimer and I took a series of courses on Hegel there. And the concept of desire was extremely important to me, the interplay between desire and recognition, which is so central to Hegel's phenomenology. It seemed to be a point of departure both for my philosophical interests, and for my interest in feminism and gender. >> Yeah, right. >> Maybe that's all I really do, is think about desire and recognition I could probably. >> She moved on to work on gender and sexuality in a book called Gender Trouble, which really was a game changer in the field of women's studies, gay and lesbian studies, and queer studies as it came to be called later. Gender Trouble was so surprising and so provocative, because It brought together a gender theory in performativity, or theories of performance. Arguing that not only was gender not an essential category, so she was anti-essentialist and anti-foundationalist, but the gender had everything to do with performance and with improvisation, as she'll come to call it later on. And in a series of books since then, Judith Butler has been working out the ramifications of taking performance seriously, while at the same time paying attention to the ways in which identity, sexuality, and politics intersect in the contemporary world. >> I think, for me, Gender Trouble was, well, it emerged from my activism. Some people said well, you're such a feminist. Why don't you do a feminist scholarship? I thought oh, no, I don't want to do a feminist scholarship [LAUGH]. I just want to read my continental philosophy over here. >> Yes. >> And then have my feminist activism over there. But then I was invited to work on Barack and the Tieg and that involved me in a kind of critique of dominant forms of feminism at the time, that seemed to assume that women and to be recognized as a woman, you had to be within a certain kind of heterosexual frame. Or you had to have a particular relationship to the maternal, and I fought against that. >> Yep. >> And I wanted to open up the category and I wanted to say that the category misrecognizes certain people, or fails to recognize them altogether. So, maybe opening up the terms of recognition. >> Yeah. >> Was one angle, Gender Trouble. >> The text we are focused on this week is Undoing Gender, which is a text from the last decade where she has been reconsidering that constellation of issues of gender sexuality, performance, politics and ethics. In this more recent work, with a real focus on the difference that vulnerability makes as we think about identity, responsibility and performance. The quotation that I start with, is from pages nine and ten. To understand gender as a historical category, she writes, is to accept that gender, understood as one way of culturally configuring a body, is open to continual remaking, and that anatomy and sex are not without cultural framing. So even anatomy, she puts it in quotes, and sex are culturally framed, that's really important for Judith Butler. That they're not natural. They're not essential, they're not pre-cultural, and here's so important, open to continual remaking. The freedom and pleasure is found in this continual remaking. She is very sensitive to the charge that she writes as if people can just reinvent themselves willy nilly or ad hoc. She's not arguing that at all, she's very much aware of how cultural re-framing is also an inhibition on remaking. But she's interested in how inhibition and remaking work together, or intersect. And that is certainly in the Foucauldian tradition, that is how prohibitions actually lead to new forms of identity and remaking. So she says that performance, this is very early on on the very first page of the text we've assigned, performance is a kind of doing. She writes, if gender is a kind of doing, an incessant activity performed, in part, without one's knowing and without one's willing it, it is not for that reason automatic or mechanical. Gender's not automatic or mechanical even though it is an activity that happens, if we can say this, unconsciously. Gender is a practice of improvisation. This is a very interesting word, improvisation. Because when you're improvising on an instrument, you're, often you're not conscience of what you are about to play. That's one of the keys about improvisation, so we can put in some clip here about playing the piano or something, where we're just making up something. You're making up something. You can't say exactly what it's going to be before you do it, but it's certainly not automatic. It's certainly not something that is just mechanical. It's that combination of unpredictability and possibility that Butler is emphasizing here. She says there's no easy way to separate the life of gender, from the life of desire, so that our identity is very much affected by our passions, or our desires. This leads her, in the text we've assigned to a consideration of agency. Agency is a vex subject for Judith Butler because she does not want to rely on a concept of the self that sees the self as an author of everything that happens in the world. That sees the self as controlling, as dominating. Because that would put her in the liberal individualist paradigm that has been criticized by a range of thinkers we've seen it from and [INAUDIBLE] Foucault that is the criticizing of this notion of the imperial or dominating self. She's interested in agency as a mode of being, that is riven with paradox as she says on page three. The self is never outside of cultural influences, but is not simply determined by those influences. So, as she says, As a result, the I finds itself at once constituted by norms but endeavors to live in ways that maintain a critical and transformative relation to those norms. So she wants a self, or an agent, that is not just a victim or an effect of norms, but is also not just able to reinvent itself willy nilly. So gender is important for Butler, because of her own political and ethical stances, which have involved her in feminism, and gay and lesbian, transgender politics. And she wants to have a philosophical context for that politics, that emphasizes a possibility, that emphasizes freedom, but also acknowledges the realities of social norms and of cultural constraints. She wants what she calls an activism without categorization. Activism without categorization. This is from page seven of her text. After all, she says, queer theory and activism acquired political salience by insisting that anithomophopic activism can be engaged in by anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. And that identity markers are not prerequisites for participation. So she wants to make sure that everyone understands, that you don't have to be gay to be in favor of gay liberation. You don't have to be an Arab, to be in favor of Arab liberation. You don't have to be a Jew, to be in favor of Jewish liberation, etc, etc. That there is a kind of activism that comes through identity, but it is not limited to essential identity markers. She wants an activism in other words, that is not categorized, through essential identity markers. But then, if anyone can participate in these different, modes of actism. What brings these political movements together? She writes on page eight, the task of all these movements seems to me to be about distinguishing among the norms and conventions that permit people to breathe, to desire, to love, and to live, and those norms and conventions that restrict or eviscerate the conditions of life itself. In other words she thinks what brings these movements together is a politics of possibility that allows people to desire and to live more freely.