Monday, February 25, 2008

Theories of the Self: Judith Butler

I referenced Judith Butler in seminar this past Tuesday, so instead of a post on letter writing, I wanted to post the passages I had in mind. They're from Giving an Account of Oneself (Fordham, 2005), which is actually a compilation of the Spinoza Lectures she gave for the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam in Spring 2002. Butler draws from Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Hegel, Hannah Arendt, and Adriana Cavarero...

"The opacity of the subject may be a consequence of its being conceived as a relational being, one whose early and primary relations are not always available to conscious knowledge. Moments of unknowingness about oneself tend to emerge in the context of relations to others, suggesting that these relations call upon primary forms of relationality that are not always available to explicit and reflective thematization. If we are formed in the context of relations that become partially irrecoverable to us, then that opacity seems built into our formation and follows from our status as beings who are formed in relations of dependency
This postulation of a primary opacity to the self that follows from formative relations has a specific implication for an ethical bearing toward the other. Indeed, if it is precisely by virtue of one's relations to others that one is opaque to oneself, and if those relations to others are the venue for one's ethical responsibility, then it may well follow that is is precisely by virtue of the subject's opacity to itself that it incurs and sustains some of its most important ethical bonds" (20).

*is Clarissa only defined by others? what are the ethical implications of her flight from her family, both in terms of how she sees herself and how others see her?*

Butler goes on to highlight the frustrations of giving a narrative account of oneself:
"There is (1) a non-narrativizable exposure that establishes my singularity (she is referring to a bodily experience), and there are (2) primary relations, irrecoverable, that form lasting and recurrent impressions in the history of my life, and so (3) a history that establishes my partial opacity to myself. Lastly there are (4) norms that facilitate my telling about myself but that I do not author and that render me substitutable at the very moment that I seek to establish the history of my singularity. This last dispossession in language is intensified by the fact that I give an account of myself to someone, so that the narrative structure of my account is superseded by (5) the structure of address in which it takes place" (39).

Butler's comments were particularly applicable, I thought, to the passages we looked at in Clarissa--pages 483 and 460...

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