Names and Names

Towards the end of the chapter "Subjection, Resistance, Resignification", Butler writes about the subversion (inversion) of pejorative terms into progressive usage. She argues that this is "a progressive usage that requires and repeats the reactionary in order to effect a subversive reterritorialization" (100). During this section of the reading, I remembered a personal experience with the muddiness of these distinctions.

Brief background: Around the age of ten, I was on a town soccer team. The team was relatively diverse. A significant portion of my teammates were first or second generation Hispanic-Americans. I am of mixed descent, half-black and half-jewish to put it simply. During my own upbringing, my (black) father denounced the use of slang. At the age of ten point, I had rarely, if ever, heard the "N-word" used in a non-pejorative fashion. So, when a hispanic-American teammate asked, "What's up, 'nigga'", I heard a racial slur. This caused some minor uproar that in no way shaped the rest of my life...

Anyways, since that time, I have often pondered the increasing use of the N-word in popular culture, whether it can become an empowering endeavor with its painful history, and why it remains prevalent. Butler hypothesizes, "Called by an injurious name, I come into social being, and because I have a certain narcissism takes hold of any term that confers existence, I am led to embrace the terms that injure me because they constitute me socially" (104). I think this connects a common social motif to a psychological phenomena quite powerfully. But can this narcissistic endeavor ever succeed in resituating the term? Butler leaves this possibility open, stating, "This is not the same as saying that such an identity will remain always and forever rooted in its injury as long as it remains an identity" (105). Is this identity inescapable until the entire framework of society shifts? Does language trail after society in this regard?

i posted a comment related to this in response to 3NT's discussion on a performance at the Emmy's, here's the comment:

I think this is a moment when Harraway would step in and ask us to shift the ways in we conceptualize ourselves. I think in many ways Harraway is a response to Butler, but especially in this section about language and identity, I just heard her shouting from her cyborg-tropolis "Formulate a new language! Make use of partial identity!" In re-embodying a once a oppressive linguistic space (ie: "n-word", "queer", "b*tch") while there is a viable tug-of-war over historical power of identity, the fact remains that we are still speaking in the master's tongue. Harraway would ask us to imagine new centers for ourselves that perhaps acknowledge this language, but are focused in our own creative discourse.

I struggle to negotiate how I truly feel about this, because there is something very empowering in regaining control over a word that has been pejorative for so long. But the fact remains that it still carries its violence when uttered by certain people and in certain situations, in which case I'm beginning to feel the baby cyborg in me calling out for a grassroots rejection of this power-formulated subjectivity and a space that is created for those who have not had the power to name ourselves hitherto.

What about a radiator gurgling the 'n-word'?

--Guattari Hero

I sure hope that radiator was repeating rap lyrics.