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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Bressler on Queer Theory  

2009-02-27 17:14:24|  分类: +短篇小说第二课 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 4th ed.

     Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

255

       “Terms such as heterosexual and homosexual, queer theorists argue, are socially constructed concepts that do not define who we really are. As demonstrated in the movie reviews [on Brokeback Mountain], queer theory challenges the assumption that human nature is unchangeable and can be defined by a finite list of characteristics.”

256

      “Throughout much of the twentieth century, the word queer was a pejorative term used to describe homosexuals, particularly males. Using a Marxist technique called hailing the subject or interpellation,[1] queer theorists embraced the word and turned it on its head, making it a respectable critical term in academic studies…. Similar to all schools of criticism, queer theory borrows, adopts, and adapts concepts, terms, theories, and methodologies from previously developed critical schools and finds its multipronged, historical roots in feminism, deconstruction theory, gender studies, and gay and lesbian studies.”

256-7

       “By asserting that gender must not shape a woman’s identity, feminist theories attack the long-held classical humanist belief called essentialism, which asserts that the true essence or identity of a human being is composed [257] of finite and fixed properties that are the essential components of what it means to be human. Essentialism posits that to be human means that we have an unchangeable human nature, a true invariable essence. Essentialists believe that our sexuality and our gender are determined by our essential features, our true selves that give us our core sense of who we are, our identity, and our selfhood. Nothing—not society, education, or spiritual beliefs—can change this unchangeable core, our essence.”

257

       “Many feminist theories and critics of the latter part of the twentieth century reject essentialism with its assumption of an unchangeable human essence and accept what is known s social constructivism. Social constructivists reject essentialism’s belief in an unalterable human essence but assert that gender is a socially constructed term and concept. Words such as homosexual, heterosexual, male, and female are likewise constructed and shaped distinctions that are subject to constant change…. Unlike essentialists who believe that knowledge is discovered, forgotten, and repressed and must then be rediscovered through history and experimentation, social constructivists agree with the poststructuralist assumptions of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction.”

       “For Derrida and many other postist critics, Western metaphysics assumes logocentrism, which is a belief in an ultimate reality or center of truth that serves as the basis for all thoughts and actions. Various centers of truth can exist: the self, a spiritual being, reason, and so forth. According to Derrida, logocentric thinking has its origin in Aristotle’s principle of noncontradiction: A thing cannot both have and not have a property. Hence, Western metaphysics has developed an ‘either/or’ mentality that leads to dualist thinking and to the constant centering and decentering of stated truths. Once a center is established, it can be quickly decentered. Such reasoning, leads Derrida to conclude that Western metaphysics is based on a system of binary operations or conceptual oppositions: good/bad, honesty/falsehood, up/down, right/wrong, God/humanity, and so forth. In each of these binary operations, one concept (the numerator) is superior or privileged, and the second (the denominator) is inferior or unprivileged. Both the privileged and unprivileged parts of a binary opposition relate directly to a concept of truth Derrida calls the transcendental signified.[2] What we privilege in binary oppositions thus supports our concept of truth.”

258

       “Our identities are subjective, not objective, and are constantly in the process of change. Any binary opposition we create to define ourselves is simply a social construct that must undergo constant revision. In particular, the male/female, man/woman, and masculine/feminine binaries do not represent stable concepts; rather, these binaries are unstable and are products of culture and institutions of power. There exists no stable concept of the self or selfhood because both terms are subjective and unstable. Similarly, one’s sexuality is unstable, as are the concepts of maleness and femaleness. These concepts become what Derrida calls free-floating signifieds—that is, concepts whose meanings are not fixed but are instead ever shifting. The meaning of these signifieds resides in how language is used or constructed.”

       “Throughout the last three decades of the twentieth century, feminist and gender critics highlight the unstable relationship expressed in the man/woman, male/female, and masculine/feminine binary oppositions. Because these critics believe that no transcendental signified exists to stabilize language with its accompanying binary oppositions, the term gender becomes for them a free-floating signified that shifts on a daily basis. For example, the ‘male’ head of the home in 1960 probably did not wash dishes, make the bed, or clean the house. Nor did he pierce his ears or other body parts. The male of 2006, however, often performs household tasks and may wear pierced earrings.”

258-9

       “Unlike gay and lesbian studies, which emphasize the male and female gender, queer theory abandons the discussion of gender while enlarging the discussion of sexual differences. Although not abandoning an analysis of homosexuality, queer studies is more inclusive than gay and lesbian studies, analyzing, discussing, and debating sexual topics that are considered queer—that is, odd, abnormal, or peculiar. Similar to the feminist social constructivists, queer [259] theorists posit that our identities and our sexuality are not fixed; rather, they are unstable. No set of prerequisites exists that defines our human nature or our sexuality. From queer theory’s point of view, it is pointless to discuss what it means to be male or female because our sexual identities are all different, each being socially constructed. Queer theory also challenges the compartmentalization of any person into a socially assigned group based on some shared lifestyle or habit. No identity or group can be defined as abnormal, lacking, complete, or incomplete. Our identities, including our sexuality, are shaped and developed by social codes, our individual actions, power structures within society, and a host of complex forces that are in continuous flux.”

260

       Judith Butler’s most influential work, Gender Trouble, “asserts that feminism made a mistake when it declared that women were a special group with common interests. By so doing, feminists, maintains Butler, reinforced the patriarchal culture that assumed the masculine/feminine and male/female binary oppositions. For Butler, gender is not stable, but fluid, so it changes from person to person and from context to context. Like gender, self-identity is performative—that is, what one does at a particular time, place, and context determines one’s gender and identity, not a universal concept of who we are. Our identities are not connected to our supposed essence (essentialism) but to what we do and are. Our identities are the effect, not the cause, of our performances. For Butler, the performative nature of our identities is queer theory’s key concept.”



[1] interpellation: “Also known as ‘hailing the subject,’ this term was coined by the Marxist critic Louis Althusser to refer to the process whereby the dominant hegemony or prevailing ideology forms the attitudes of people in society” (Bressler 346).

[2] A transcendental signified is “an external point of reference upon which one may build a concept or philosophy. Once found, this transcendental signified would provide ultimate meaning. It would guarantee a ‘center’ of meaning, allowing those who believe in it to structure their ideas of reality around it. According to Derrida, Western metaphysics has invented a variety of such centers, including God, reason, origin, being, truth, humanity, and the self” (Bressler 365).

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