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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Butler on Sex and Gender  

2010-05-25 22:23:09|  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

       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

       Her [Beauvoir’s] 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.

       If we are always already gendered, immersed in gender, then what sense does it make to say that we choose what we already are? Not only does the thesis appear tautological, but insofar as it postulates a choosing agent prior to its chosen gender, it seems to adopt 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 and, as is the problem with all Cartesian views of the ego, its ontological distance from language and cultural life seems to preclude the possibility of its eventual verification.

       Unclear: we are always already gendered.

       Is it possible that the self is already gender-specific before the mirror stage? (But for Borch-Jacobsen, the child identifying with an object, not with either parent) - If a gendered child prior to language and cultural life, then a seeming tautology in saying he chooses what he already is – sex already gendered - gendered child before language acquisition (then language does not determine one’s ego, a Cartesian view of the ego?).

       The mirror stage, where the first, although blurry, division between self and other takes place – then no gendered child/self before the mirror stage, without even a conception of the self – But if not gendered before language acquisition, then pure and simple body/sex exists as the starting point for one to become a gendered subject? Lacan on gender and language - language and the Oedipus complex help to shape the child’s gender after the mirror stage – then the existence of a pure and simple body/sex on which basis language and the Oedipus complex shape a gendered child?

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 of personal identity [consciousness] as paradoxically, yet essentially, related to embodiment [body]. 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

39

       That one is not born, but becomes, a woman does not imply that this ‘becoming’ traverses a path from disembodied freedom [Cartesian consciousness distanced from language and culture] to cultural embodiment [body as lived]. Indeed, one is one’s body from the start, 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. To mix Sartrian phraseology with Simone de Beauvoir’s, we might say that to ‘exist’ one’s body in culturally concrete terms means, at least partially, to become one’s gender. [For Sartre, ‘consciousness exists its body’ (quoted on page 39).]

       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. For Sartre, the natural body is an ‘inapprehensible’ and, hence, a fictional starting point for an explanation of the body as lived. Similarly, for Simone de Beauvoir, the postulation of ‘sex’ as fictional heuristic allows us merely to see that gender is non-natural, i.e. a culturally contingent aspect of existence. Hence, we do not become our genders from a place prior to culture [Cartesian view of the ego] or to embodied life [body as lived], but essentially within their terms. For Simone de Beauvoir at least, the Cartesian ghost is put to rest [Cartesian ghost: consciousness that exists before language and culture: “Cartesian views of the ego, its ontological distance from language and cultural life”].

44

       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 is necessarily deceived because the body can never really be denied…[echoing Kristeva’s notion of abjection] 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. [Consciousness goes both beyond body (disembodied) and is focused on the body (embodied).]

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 [body being inscribed]. The body is also the situation of having to take up and interpret that set of received interpretations [body as a site of inscription, as personal choice, as agency].

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

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. [body entrenched in cultural language]

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

147

       Through new formulations of gender, new ways of amalgamating and subverting the oppositions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine,’ the established ways of polarizing genders becomes increasingly confused, and binary opposition comes to oppose itself. [blurred binary opposition of sex and gender on which “masculine” and “feminine” are based]

 

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