October 6, 2005

How do we Deconstruct? We Construct

Category: Books/Articles,Ethics,Politics — @ 7:51 am

One of the truly great things about my postdoc is I am reading again. And reading a wide range of books and articles. Some of it is reading for our working groups (for example Jody Greene’s excellent, really excellent, work on the the relationship between liability and property established by copyright), other reading is on psychiatric survivors and then I am catching up on some theoretical stuff on politics, being that is the backbone of much of my work.

I just finished “Contingent Foundations” by Judith Butler, which is a concise and short piece touching on her signature topic: the nature of politics when you are anti-foundationalist and you confront the reality of discursive constraint. On the one hand, some of her work deeply resonates with me, for after all, I am not one to champion individuality along the lines of unhinged agency and am precisely interested in how political action manifests within a field of various constraints. What I like about Butler is that despite her penchant for deconstruction, she steers clear from the twin towers of cynicsm and nihilism and attempts to affirm a positive (if not positivist) and emancipatory politics. In her own words:

“… if feminism presupposes that “women” designates an undesignatable field of differences, one that cannot be totalized or summarized by a descriptive category, then the very term becomes a site of permanent openness and resignifiability.. To deconstruct the subject of feminism is not, then to censure its usage, but on the contrary, to release the term into a future of multiple signification, to emancipate it from the maternal or racialist ontologies to which it has been restricted and to give it play as a site where unanticipated meanings might come to bear. Paradoxically, it may be that only through releasing the category of women from a fixed referent that something like ‘agency’ becomes possible. For if the term permits resignification, if its referent is not fixed, then possibilities for new configurations of the term become possible.” (1992: 16).

On the other hand, despite a positive politics, I feel that the nature of political action in her work and many in her class, is left unspecified, and here I mean in a very pragmatic sense. How is it exactly do we “release the term into a future of multiple signification”?

I agree with her that categories, words, etc., the world of the discursive, is much more bloated than most language ideologies will let on. Resignification is possible, especially when we contest the universalisms that presuppose some of our cherished categories. Yet, sometimes you get the feeling that resignification is a simple act of language and will (just the thing she writes against) as opposed to requiring an engaged and difficult material practice by which new subjectivities and moralities can be born through building of alternative moralities. One must engage in a dialectic between a desire for alternatives that exists in an inchoate and imaginary plane, and its realization through the medium of intersubjective action. For it is through a material vehicle in which one can participate in the process of resignification and more importantly embody new meanings.

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Biella,

    This being the topic on books.. I recently noticed that your favorite dutch comic has finally been translated! Fokke and Sukke in English! It’s the one that says ‘Engelse Editie’ on the -oh silly- Dutch site of Fokke and Sukke. http://www.foksuk.nl/bestellen2.phtml?type=1



    Comment by niels — October 16, 2005 @ 2:25 pm

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