Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"

Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"

Judith Butler / Jul 17, 2019

Bodies That Matter On the Discursive Limits of Sex In Bodies That Matter renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality the body Butler offers a brilli

  • Title: Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"
  • Author: Judith Butler
  • ISBN: 9780415903660
  • Page: 376
  • Format: Paperback
  • In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality the body Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the matter of bodies, sex, and gender Butler argues that power operates to constrain sexIn Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality the body Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the matter of bodies, sex, and gender Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex She clarifies the notion of performativity introduced in Gender Trouble and via bold readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud explores the meaning of a citational politics She also draws on documentary and literature with compelling interpretations of the film Paris is Burning, Nella Larsen s Passing, and short stories by Willa Cather.

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      Posted by:Judith Butler
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    About "Judith Butler"

      • Judith Butler

        Judith Butler is an American post structuralist and feminist philosopher who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy and ethics She is currently a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.Butler received her Ph.D in philosophy from Yale University in 1984, for a dissertation subsequently published as Subjects of Desire Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth Century France In the late 1980s she held several teaching and research appointments, and was involved in post structuralist efforts within Western feminist theory to question the presuppositional terms of feminism Her research ranges from literary theory, modern philosophical fiction, feminist and sexuality studies, to 19th and 20th century European literature and philosophy, Kafka and loss, and mourning and war Her most recent work focuses on Jewish philosophy and exploring pre and post Zionist criticisms of state violence.


    1. In Bodies that Matter Judith Butler replies to the criticism of her earlier book Gender Trouble. She argues with the feminist thinkers who see the body as matter--a material body with a sexual specification. According to her the body does not exist beyond a cultural construction. It serves as a site for the feminist theory independently of such a pre-discursive definition. In her introduction she explains: For surely bodies live and die; eat and sleep; feel pain, pleasure; endure illness and vi [...]

    2. I feel like it's socially irresponsible to conduct a conversation about such an important topic using language that makes that conversation inaccessible to so much of the population. We get it. You're a smarty pants. But you fail to move the pegs when you're only talking to other academics.

    3. This certainly cleared up a few ideas that seemed vague in Gender Trouble. Butler asserts here that the performativity of gender does not imply an agency that allows one to put it on and take it off as one pleases, which is in dialogue with Spivak's elaboration of deconstruction where she dismisses the idea of free play. Performativity in this sense is a repetitive reiteration that imagines and images a coherent identity at the cost of its own complexity. It is not a matter of antagonizing the o [...]

    4. This is the second Judith Butler book I've read (the other being Gender Trouble), and I found it as interesting and enlightening as the first. As a cis male, I would originally be thought of as an outsider. However, once you enter into the text you realise that this has repercussions for every individual regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or any other form of identity you can think of. Discussing gender may focus on those who are oppressed (as in feminism or gay and lesbian studies) [...]

    5. It's worth reading but I consider Butler much stronger on immigration and citizenship concerns than on those of sexuality. I recognize her lexicon makes a fair bit of her writing generally inaccessible but having taken on her works half a dozen times, I don't notice that anymore.From using the sole, individual, case of David Reimer to make sweeping statements on gender (which she conflates into sex at the most disturbing of times), imposing a change in pronouns onto someone else's repeatedly exp [...]

    6. i've been carrying this around for years now, reading bits of it. i don't think i'll ever read it in its entirety; not dedicated enough to wrestle with butler's style when i don't need to i suppose. nevertheless, the ideas in here are important and matter still 25 years later.

    7. This book is clearly a better version of her other book "gender trouble". It explains in much more detail the queering performativity which allows individuals to define themselves beyond just sexuality!

    8. Yes, it feels pretentious to give Butler 5-stars, or to consider this one of the best books I read this year, but I think she's just fantastic. People bitch and moan about her 'moonspeak' but frankly, I think it's rare to find a theorist or a philosopher more inclined to help the reader understand--there's a highly methodical, repetitive quality to the way she states her ideas. It's clear to me that she *wants* her reader to follow along, it's just that the ideas at hand are frequently so dense [...]

    9. Whilst I can't speak highly enough of the fantastic ideas in this book, it does share a problem with many post-modern critical writings. It insists on hiding simple yet powerful ideas behind overly esoteric language, potentially rendering them inaccessible to people who could make great use of them. A book intended to have consequences for society as a whole shouldn't be written in language that is only understandable to those privileged few who posses degrees in related subjects. Given the subj [...]

    10. In a manner which echoes that of Faulkner and his long-winded contemporaries, Judith needs to practice getting to the point. She writes of important topics, yet the message is often hidden in a mish-mash of unnecessarily complex metaphors and/ or demonstrative stories.

    11. Almost 25 years after initial publication, Butler's work holds up as a classic. With readings of Freud, Lacan, the film Paris Burning, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, this book has a massive scope. We often forget by focusing on Butler the theorist / philosopher just how solid she is at reading a variety of textual mediums.

    12. Here Judith Butler expands on the agental role that "queering" performativity allows for the creation of individuals beyond sexuality. While most of the book is geared towards shoring up (and critiquing) psychoanalytic roles of sexual determination of identity and subjectivity, Butler also includes a few complex examples of how marked positions within the sexual dichotomy as it relates to phallics and sexual identity is problematized.Although at times with terse sentences that sometimes say too [...]

    13. 2014: This is supposedly Butler's reply and clarification on some of the critique she received for Gender Trouble. I write supposedly with regard to the clarification because to my mind this book is more difficult to understand and really penetrate than Gender Trouble. And, also, I is really quite complex to follow what Butler thinks about the body, which is the critique she received against Gender Trouble in the first place. So from that perspective this book might be something of a failure. Ha [...]

    14. I would give this book two stars but it's Judith Butler and as someone who conducts research in the field of Gender and Sexuality, my work owes a considerable debt to her and to this book. With that being said, Bodies that Matter is a book that seeks to reposition bodies in relation to sexuality through the re-reading of psychoanalysis and Irigaray. Specifically, bodies that are white, female marked, cis, and queer. If this were all that the book is, I wouldn't be bothered because it is, obvious [...]

    15. In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argued that gender is constructed through the performative. A common critique offered to that work was that Butler was consigning the body to the realm of the linguistic and not retaining materiality. In Bodies that Matter, Butler answers that criticism, arguing for “a return to the notion of matter, not as site or surface, but as a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter.” (xv [...]

    16. In many ways, I think, this would be a better book to read (or assign) to give a feel for what Butler's thought and its possibilities are like. There's a lot of inside-baseball theory amusement in the early parts of the book, where Butler basically tells everyone that they misread "Gender Trouble" by treating drag performance as central to culture rather than--and I think this is actually more intriguing, and troubling--noting that all performances of identity are analogous to drag in being cult [...]

    17. Just like the rest of her work it is very very dense and cites numerous other pre-req's to be read and digested in their own right to understand the depth of her arguments about gender. Her distinctions are very fine and I find her writing most convincing and useful when she stops explaining her own work in reference to others but speaks clearly about her own agenda. There are several places in each chapter where she steps fully into her own voice and agenda and it is then that I remember exactl [...]

    18. Esse foi o livro da Judith Butler que menos gostei e ainda assim achei relativamente bom. Talvez o estranhamento tenha se dado porque esse é traduzido em espanhol. Mas também porque comecei a reparar nas marcas de estilo da escritora, que adora encher um parágrafo de perguntas e de estruturar suas conclusões por ítens começando por letras. Isso deixa o texto um bocado maçante. Por outro lado, ela traz algumas elucidações bastante importantes para sua teoria dos atos performáticos inici [...]

    19. this book confirms that judith butler is seriously a genius. it was Extremely helpful to read this book in class, rather than on my own, which is how i've attempted other butler. for instance, when you get to the chapter that follows Butler on Irigaray on Plato, it helps to have someone around that knows the French psychoanalysts. And when you start reading about mirrors, identity and Lacan, having someone versed in Freud is really a bonus yeah, unless you know a fair amount of Zizek (and I unde [...]

    20. "The goal of this analysis, then, cannot be pure subversion, as if an undermining were enough to establish and direct political struggle. Rather than denaturalization or proliferation, it seems that the question for thinking discourse and power in terms of the future has several paths to follow: how to think power as resignification together with power as the convergence or interarticulation of relations of regulation, domination, constitution? How to know what might qualify as an affirmative re [...]

    21. Though a book that is difficult to appreciate without having read _Gender Trouble_, _Bodies That Matter_ is, in my opinion, more satisfying. I've never understood the compulsion that some have to cite Lacan's works as if they were absolutely authoritative, but nevertheless I appreciate Butler's interesting efforts to reintegrate the social/cultural dimensions of Foucault's thoughts on discourse with the psychological dimension of psychoanalysis. This book includes some very interesting readings [...]

    22. I didn't get into this book although I can tell it's wisely written. Raises curious questions. How does it happen that the human subject makes himself [sic] into an object of possible knowledge, through what forms of rationality, through what historical necessities, and at what price? My question is this: How much does it cost the subject to be able to tell the truth about itself? — Michel Foucault, "How Much Does It Cost to Tell the Truth?Willa Cather - cites the paternal law, but in places a [...]

    23. It is simply amazing how much better this book is than Gender Trouble. I hated every page of Gender Trouble and now I am in disbelief just how well-written this book is; I can accept most of Butler's theses in here and I commend her for creating a much less dense text. In fact, I absolutely loved some parts of it like the chapters on Plato or Nella Larsen. The only chapter I didn't really appreciate was The Lesbian Phallus, but other than that her readings and critiques of Lacan and Žižek are [...]

    24. Butler, for about 100 pages, executes a virtuosic reading of Lacan that I thoroughly enjoyed, but then later on she mis-appropriates Zizek and tries to stic to her guns with old ideas about performativity and it doesn't really lead her anywhere. She ends up asking more questions than she answers, which of course is never a bad thing, but I thought she wwas taking me somewhere she wasn't. But I'm sure she's cleared some things up since she wrote this book, which was published in 1993, so I'll def [...]

    25. i appreciate this book's political and theoretical vision (a call for a feminism not rooted in identity politics and an analysis of gender and the body that is not disaggregated from sex and sexuality). that being said, i am left totally unsatisfied with her treatment of materiality, which is completely a-sensual (her conception of materialityrived from derrida and lacanunderstands the body as materialized through language). strangely, although the book is concerned centrally with performativity [...]

    26. this was mostly really good; she says interesting things about signification and political strategy, I like it when people talk strategy to me; I don't care about Žižek but in the course of laying the smackdown on him she says some good things about names and patrilineage; I wish she had delivered more on her promise to theorise materiality because that was what I was reading this for; the title chapter reads like the first, vaguest chapter of the book I actually wanted to read; I understand, [...]

    27. This is a great book for any queer person or ally to read. It basically picks apart how naming things and identity function with themselves and in reaction to heterosexual hegemony.It is pretty complex in its language, however, and may not be suitable for people unfamiliar with reading philosophical works that are looking to get into queer theory/third wave feminism.Also, although I enjoyed reading it, I get the feeling that I could have picked a more suitable book of butler's to read first. Fro [...]

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