Performative Pastiche: Judith Butler and Gender Subversion

2017-04-28T05:53:32Z (GMT) by Annie Pettitt
"Does it really make no difference if you're black or white, boy or girl, male or female? Is it the dance or performance itself that produces the body, the identity? Judith Butler argues that gender is a performative citation, a reiteration of an always already derived identity that takes place within an economy of heterosexuality. So what happens when a body performs the so-called 'wrong' gender? Can we think of this as a subversive action in and of itself? To do so Butler argues would assume, firstly, that the performer has the ability and agency to consciously choose his/her own gender and, secondly, that the performance somehow takes place outside of the juridical regime that constrains and bounds its constituents. Central to Butler's thesis is that agency is affective; that is to say, agency can only be effected from a gendered position, therefore the subject does not exist prior to its agency, rather is constituted as the very affect of agency. Despite appearances these presuppositions are not counter to, but rather primary to Butler's reading of gender and subversion. So when is drag subversive and when is it the reinstatement of hegemonic norms? In Gender Trouble Butler argues that drag is "potentially" subversive; but on what grounds does she assert this? And why is it that when she is later forced to clarify her position in response to misreadings, she states that drag is not necessarily subversive?"

"This paper is an attempt to investigate what is at stake in the performance of gender and where the possibilities for, and limits of, subversive action lie."

"Throughout this paper Jennie Livingston's documentary film Paris is Burning will be taken as an example of a potentially subversive performance, but it must be stated at the outset (as Butler herself has done many times) that it must not be taken to be paradigmatic of all subversive acts; it is merely one possible example among others."