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Society and Culture Bundle RC: Bodies That Matter: On the discursive limits of "sex" Paperback – April 4, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"As a philosopher of gender [Judith Butler] is unparalleled." – Village Voice

"Butler gives us a new way to think about the materiality of the body in the discursive performity operative in the materialization of sex. Following a common move in postmodern feminism, Butler sets out to demolish the sex/gender distinction that has formed the mainstay of the de Beauvorian and radical feminism's notion that gender, as a cultural construction, could be critiqued and politicized against the givenness of the body's biological sex. . . .What is new in Bodies That Matter is Butler's attempt to write more directly about race." – Signs

"Extending the brilliant style of interrogation that made her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity a landmark of gender theory/queer theory, Butler here continues to refine our understandings of the complexly performative character of sexuality and gender and to trouble our assumptions about the inherent subversiveness of dissident sexualities. . . . indispensable reading across the wide range of concerns that queer theory is currently addressing." – Artforum

"What the implications/limitations of 'sexing' are and how the process works comprise the content of this strikingly perceptive book. . . . Butler has written a most significant and provocative work that addresses issues of immediate social concern." – The Boston Book Review

"A brilliant and original analysis." – Drucilla Cornell, Rutgers University, USA

"...a classic." – Elizabeth Grosz

 

 

 

About the Author

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature and the Co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. She is presently the recipient of the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (April 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041561015X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415610155
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Psychic Life of Power, Excitable Speech, Bodies that Matter, Gender Trouble, Frames of War, and with Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality.






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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 85 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book clarifies much of Foucault was saying in History of Sexuality. Butler is careful, however, to not borrow the models Foucault uses, thereby, avoids some of the mistakes and gaps that occur in his thinking, namely the silence on women. Butler, more than Foucault, is not willing to settle the debate on sexuality merely as the obtaining and disseminating of pleasures and how those bodies perform them. Rather, she takes bodies as always already gender indeterminate and destablilizes their performatives further to show how bodies are marked by gender as well as race, class, sexulaity, etc. and how these categories are also destabilized within the perfomative. I highly recommend this book to feminist and queer theorists and well as anyone who is concerned about creating any sort of opposition to the reactionary right-wing forces that are attempting to further entrench their dominance over the rest of us.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By P. Nagy on January 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
With the publication of Gender Trouble in 1990, Judith Butler spearheaded a movement in feminist theory which has become known as 'radical constructivism'. Taking its departures from psychoanalytic and poststructuralist theory, and also informed by speech-act theory, Gender Trouble contends (albeit with sophistication and nuance infinitely greater than this) that gender is not an internal essence, but one produced 'in anticipation' by a repeated and naturalised set of acts, behaviours and stylings. Gender and sexual categories are held in place by the restrictive norms of heterosexuality, but these can be revealed as artificial by their very citability -- as demonstrated in extremis by, for example, drag and camp performance.
In Bodies That Matter (1993) Butler extends and complicates the theories put forward in Gender Trouble to contend that not only gender, but the materiality of the body itself, is discursively and performatively produced. We cannot, therefore, speak of a natural, prelinguistic, 'given' body, because what we think we know about bodies is an effect rather than a cause of signification. As with Gender Trouble, this is not to say that bodies are entirely, unchangingly determined by language, but a recognition that, in Butler's words, there can be 'no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time a further formation of that body' (1993, p. 10). Referring to a body is thus, in quite a strict linguistic sense, always almost performative or constitutive, and governed largely (though not entirely) by habitual understandings and norms (such as heterosexism).
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48 of 66 people found the following review helpful By S. Whitworth on August 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I first read this book, I was pleased to see that Butler was returning to the problem of "gender performativity" she raised in *Gender Trouble.* I do believe that she was misunderstood as having claimed in *Gender Trouble* that the performativity constitutive of gender implies an infinite "plasticity" or freedom from the constraints of gender. Yet after reading *Bodies,* I felt that she evaded the question with which she opened the book: in what way can the "materiality" of anatomical sex be construed as a "discursive limit" to ideological constructions of gender without being understood as existing outside of discourse? I believe that Butler is ultimately indecisive about the status of the materiality of sex as either a pre- or extra-discursive "hard kernel of the Real" or (just like gender) another aspect of discourse. This is what leads to her very wrong-headed "critique" of the concept of "objet petit a" in the work of Slavoj Zizek and Jacques Lacan, very complex work which she oversimplifies and accuses of "reifying" or "essentializing" sex. Any serious student of Lacan knows that the a-object of fantasy is anything but "essential." It phantasmatically "dresses up" (to use Lacan's words in Seminar 14) a primordial psychic "hole," an *absence* or pure negativity where a "grounding" for discourse ought to be but is *lacking.* It's a shame that a book such as this which begins with a rigorous intellectual question degenerates into a sort of psychoanalytic dilettantism.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on May 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book, an entirely new area for me, asks a number of penetrating and foundational questions about how the idea of gender has been socially constructed. Most of the answers that ensue from the articles included in this volume (albeit in a much more complicated way), mirror answers to similar questions that could and should also be raised about the social construction and arbitrary assignment of the category of "race." The main reason I bought this book was to see how gender formation theory even as it is embedded in heavy post-structionalist jargon, could inform my own attempts to understand how our societal processes have evolved to become so dependent on the artificial concept of race.

The discourse begins where it should, at the beginning and then it quickly ascends in complexity as it deconstructs the idea of gender as it has been handed down to us from "on high." Getting to the meat of the book, gender, even within a body of a particular morphological type, still derives most of it's meaning through arbitrary socialized assignment, the same as is the case with race: which is to say that it occurs not necessarily as a choice by the individual assigned to a particular category, but by the "powers that be," "from on high."

The question this arbitrariness poses in both cases, is general and far reaching: Given that both gender and race are socially constructed entirely through power relations, relations deeply embedded within our culture and in which normative constraints do the heavy lifting (with mainstream power backing them up), the authors then ask: "how might one formulate a "social project" that preserves gender (race) practices as sites of critical agency?
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