courting and pursuing death

Edelman and our last two authors touch on death as crucial to the thinking of a new order (or, for Edelman, to the opposition to our current social order). Butler asks, "What would it mean for a subject to desire something other than its continued 'social existence'?

Zoe, bios and subjectivation?

There is a great deal about the underlying implications of Agemben's argument that resonated as a slightly different take on Butler's same dilemma. Where Agemben argues for the collapse of zoe and bios such that our once natural and pure 'bare life' is politicized in a way that the two experiences may no longer be had without the other, Butler seems to be implicitly positing a similar case for pre-subjectivity.

the unhappy consciousness and attachment

Even though in our reading I tend often to regard much of this theory as, whether it's intended to be so or not, having more to do with other theory than real life, ultimately one has to compare theoretical ideas with lived experience. It's always nice after all to be able to sort of have an idea of whether what you think someone is arguing squares with your impression of reality or not.

Class Discussion


Something I'd like us to talk about in class today is whether Butler, who really does seem committed to finding (to crib capt. haddock) 'escape mechanisms' from this process of subordination and subjectivation, ever gives a convincing account of how those escape mechanisms would work. Haddock pointed to one escape mechanism on p.28, this notion of alterity, i.e.


On page 170, Butler (citing Freud) distinguishes between melancholia and mourning: in mourning, the object is "declared" lost, but in melancholia, no declaration is possible. Melancholia therefore paves the way for mourning.

gender performance

Before reading The Psychic Life of Power, I had often thought of the performance of drag as a sort of simulacrum.

Turns and Overturns

Butler's theory of psychic formation plays on the trope of 'the turn' throughout numerous writers' works on identity, power, conscience, interpellation, etc., and the general idea seems to be that interiority always requires a turning-in-on or turning-back-on or a turning-back-of-power of/from a 'self' that actually isn't one before the convolutions of these turns.

when are we not subjects?

A quick clarification/pondering: If we accept Butler's definition of 'the subject' as NOT interchangeable with 'the individual' or 'the person,' but instead as "the linguistic occasion for the individual to achieve and reproduce intelligibility" (p12), at what point or in what instance, might one not be considered a 'subject'?

Is this so new?

Perhaps this is my utter ignorance of the chronology of this postmodern strain of critical theory, but there is something in Butler's central thesis that strikes me as not especially revolutionary. She writes as if no one, to date, has made the connection between political power and domination of the psyche. Indeed, she offers this most in depth exploration into the theoretical underpinnings of the ways in which Freud and Foucault can be navigated to create a theory that acknowledges power's supression on a psychic level.

Butler & Freud on melancholy

Butler repeatedly asks how a subject could internalize lost attachment to an object prior to the constitution of interior/exterior distinctions. I guess I'm not sure about Butler's relationship to Freud: did Freud give melancholy its founding, originary role, or did he conceive of it as one possible psychic phenomenon among many? Is the paradox Butler seizes on inherent to Freud, or is it the result of her own understanding of melancholy as the founding turn of subjectivation?

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