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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Butler on Sex and Gender  

2009-02-26 18:32:07|  分类: 同性恋理论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Butler, Judith. “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex.” Yale French Studies 72 (1986): 35-49.

36

       To be a gender, whether, man, woman, or otherwise, is to be engaged in an ongoing cultural interpretation of bodies and, hence, to be dynamically positioned within a field of cultural possibilities. Gender must be understood as a modality of taking on or realizing possibilities, a process of interpreting the body, giving it cultural form.

       It is usual these days to conceive of gender as passively determined, constructed by a personified system of patriarchy or phallogocentric language which precedes and determines the subject itself. – Does this system unilaterally inscribe gender upon the body, in which case the body would be a purely passive medium and the subject, utterly subjected? – How, then, would we account for the various ways in which gender is individually reproduced and reconstituted? What is the role of personal agency in the reproduction of gender?

36-7

       In what sense do we construct ourselves and, in that process, become our genders?

37

       In the following, I would like to show how Simone de Beauvoir’s account of ‘becoming’ gender reconciles the internal ambiguity of gender as both ‘project’ and ‘construct’. When ‘becoming’ a gender is understood to be both choice and acculturation, then the usually oppositional relation between these terms is undermined…. Her theory of gender, then, entails a reinterpretation of the existential doctrine of choice whereby ‘choosing’ a gender is understood as the embodiment of possibilities within a network of deeply entrenched cultural norms.

       A Cartesian view of the self, an egological structure which lives and thrives prior to language and cultural life. This view of the self runs contrary to contemporary findings on the linguistic construction of personal agency….

38

       Although Sartre argues that the body is coextensive with personal identity (‘I am my body’), he also suggests that consciousness is in some sense beyond the body (‘My body is a point of departure which I am and which at the same time I surpass…’). Rather than refute Cartesianism, Sartre’s theory seeks to understand the disembodied or transcendent feature [consciousness] of personal identity as paradoxically, yet essentially, related to embodiment [body being intrinsic to human reality]. The duality of consciousness (as transcendence) and the body is intrinsic to human reality, and the effort to locate personal identity exclusively in one or the other is, according to Sartre, a project in bad faith.

       … The body is not a static phenomenon, but a mode of intentionality, a directional force and mode of desire. As a condition of access to the world, the body is a being comported beyond itself, sustaining a necessary reference to the world and, thus, never a self-identical natural entity. The body is lived and experienced as the context and medium for all human strivings. Because for Sartre all human beings strive after possibilities not yet realized or in principle unrealizable, humans are to that extent ‘beyond’ themselves.

       The body is not a lifeless fact of existence, but a mode of becoming. Indeed, for Sartre the natural body only exists in the mode of being surpassed, for the body is always involved in the human quest to realize possibilities: ‘we can never apprehend this contingency as such insofar as our body is for us; for we are a choice, and for us, to be is to choose ourselves… this inapprehensible body is precisely the necessity that there be a choice, that I do not exist all at once.’

39

       That one is not born, but becomes, a woman does not imply that this ‘becoming’ traverses a path from disembodied freedom to cultural embodiment. [“disembodied freedom”: Cartesian notion of consciousness; “embodiment”: embodied life, lived or experienced body] Indeed, one is one’s body from the start [no “disembodied freedom”], and only thereafter becomes one’s gender. The movement from sex to gender is internal to embodied life, i.e. a move from one kind of embodiment to another….

       Sartre’s comments on the natural body as ‘inapprehensible’ find transcription in Simone de Beauvoir’s refusal to consider gender as natural. We never experience or know ourselves as a body pure and simple, i.e. as our ‘sex’, because we never know our sex outside of its expression as gender. Lived or experienced ‘sex’ is always already gendered. We become our genders, but we become them from a place which cannot be found and which, strictly speaking, cannot be said to exist… Hence, we do not become our genders from a place prior to culture or to embodied life, but essentially within their terms. For Simone de Beauvoir at least, the Cartesian ghost is put to rest. [The Cartesian self prior to language and cultural life]

39-40

       In an important sense gender is not traceable to a definable origin precisely because it is itself an originating activity incessantly taking place. No longer understood as a product of cultural and psychic relations long past, gender is a contemporary way of organizing past and future cultural norms, a way of situating oneself with respect to those norms, an active style of living one’s body in the world.

41-2

       The social constraints upon gender compliance and deviation are so great that most people feel deeply wounded if they are told that they are not really manly or womanly, that they have failed to execute their manhood or womanhood properly. Indeed, insofar as social existence requires an unambiguous gender affinity, it is not possible to exist in a socially meaningful sense outside of established gender norms…. If existence is always gendered existence, then to stray outside of established gender is [42] in some sense to put one’s very existence into question. … we confront the burden of choice intrinsic to living as a man or a woman or as some other gender identity, a freedom made burdensome through social constraint.

43

       I would like to read her discussion of Self and Other as a reworking of Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave in order to show that, for Simone de Beauvoir, the masculine project of disembodiment [pursuit of transcendence, consciousness, or the soul] is self-deluding and, finally, unsatisfactory.

       The self-asserting ‘man’ whose self-definition requires a hierarchical contrast with an ‘Other’ does not provide a model of true autonomy, for she points out the bad faith of his designs, i.e. that the ‘Other’ is, in every case, his own alienated self.

44

       The disembodied ‘I’ [male consciousness as soul over female body] identifies himself with a noncorporeal reality (the soul, consciousness, transcendence), and from this point on his body becomes Other. Insofar as he inhabits that body, convinced all the while that he is not the body which he inhabits, his body must appear to him as strange, as alien, as an alienated body, a body that is not his…. The body rendered as Other—the body repressed or denied and, then, projected—reemerges for this ‘I’ as the view of Others as essentially body. Hence, women become the Other; they come to embody corporeality itself.

Beauvoir’s use of the Hegelian dialectic of self and Other argues the limits of a Cartesian version of disembodied freedom and implicitly criticizes the model of autonomy upheld by masculine gender norms. The masculine pursuit of disembodiment [rationality, consciousness, soul] is necessarily deceived because the body can never really be denied… Disembodiment becomes a way of living or ‘existing’ the body in the mode of denial. And the denial of the body, as in Hegel’s dialectic of master and slave, reveals itself as nothing other than the embodiment of denial.

44-5

       Despite Simone de Beauvoir’s occasional references to anatomy as transcendence, her comments on the body as an insurpassable ‘perspec-[45]tive’ and ‘situation’ (38) indicate that, as for Sartre, transcendence must be understood within corporeal terms.

45

       The body as situation has at least a twofold meaning. As a locus of cultural interpretations, the body is a material reality which has already been located and defined within a social context. The body is also the situation of having to take up and interpret that set of received interpretations. No longer undersgtood in its traditional philosophical senses of ‘limit’ or ‘essence’, the body is a field of interpretive possibilities, the locus of a dialectical process of interpreting anew a historical set of interpretations which have become imprinted in the flesh.

       The notion of a natural body and a natural ‘sex’ seems increasingly suspect.

       If gender is a way of ‘existing’ one’s body, and one’s body is a ‘situation,’ a field of cultural possibilities both received and reinterpreted, then gender seems now to be a thoroughly cultural affair. That one becomes one’s gender seems now to imply more than the distinction between sex and gender. Not only is gender no longer dictated by anatomy, but anatomy does not seem to pose any necessary limits to the possibilities of gender.

46

       Any effort to ascertain the ‘natural’ body before its entrance into culture is definitionally impossible, not only because the observer who seeks this phenomenon is him/herself entrenched in a specific cultural language, but because the body is as well.

       The body is, in effect, never a natural phenomenon.

47

       For both theorists [Wittig and Foucault] the very discrimination of ‘sex’ takes place within a cultural context which requires that ‘sex’ remain dyadic [of a two relation]. The demarcation of anatomical difference does not precede the cultural interpretation of that difference, but is itself an interpretive act laden with normative assumptions. That infants are divided into sexes at birth, Wittig points out, serves the social ends of reproduction, but they must just as well be differentiated on the basis of ear lobe formation or, better still, not be differentiated on the basis of anatomy at all. In demarcating ‘sex’ as sex, we construct certain norms of differentiation. And in the interest which fuels this demarcation resides already a political program. In questioning the binary restrictions on gender definition, Wittig and Foucault release gender from sex in ways which Simone de Beauvoir probably did not imagine. And yet, her view of the body as a ‘situation’ certainly lays the groundwork for such theories.

48

       Anthropological findings of third genders and multiple gender systems suggest, however, that dimorphism [formation of two genders] itself becomes significant only when cultural interests require, and that gender is more often based upon kinship requirements than on anatomical exigencies.

       She [Beauvoir] gives Sartrian choice an embodied form and places it in a world thick with tradition. To ‘choose’ a gender in this context is not to move in upon gender from a disembodied locale [male transcendence or consciousness], but to reinterpret the cultural history which the body already wears. The body becomes a choice, a mode of enacting and reenacting received gender norms which surface as so many styles of the flesh.

49

       The incorporation of the cultural world is a task performed incessantly and actively, a project enacted so easily and constantly it seems a natural fact. Revealing the natural body as already clothed, and nature’s surface as cultural invention, Simone de Beauvoir gives us a potentially radical understanding of gender. Her vision of the body as a field of cultural possibilities makes some of the work of refashioning culture as mundane as our bodily selves.

 

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