Carefully crafted

Judith Butler has done an interview with Guernica magazine, where she discusses, among other things, topics relating to her latest book, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? I haven’t actually read this one, but from what I can gather it seems to broadly continue some of the issues that Butler fleshed out in her previous published collection of essays, Precarious Life. Although Butler made her reputation and will probably always remain best known for her work in gender and queer studies in 1990s, she has since broadened her sweep from the field of identity politics to the more universal issues of biopolitics. Rather than dealing with questions of how are identities constructed and performed and how this subsequently leads to certain particular practices of domination and subjugation, Butler has came to asking how does it come to pass that we consider certain human beings expendable. Of course, this also hearkens back to her previous preoccupation with the (impossibility of) public mourning of those that had died through AIDS, and indeed, Butler herself has been maintaining that she has always been working with intrinsically the same set of questions, simply posing them in different contexts.

Be as it may, the interview is a nice primer to the latest context that she is using for asking her questions — which (i.e. asking questions rather than giving answers) is her modus operandi that seems to annoy so many people. She is certainly not the easiest of thinkers to read and in many ways this is quite deliberate. In the preface to her Gender Trouble, Butler expresses her reservations towards the common preconception towards the virtues of ‘clarity’, asking us, again, to stop and consider “what does clarity obscure”, and pointing to the fact that oftentimes it is precisely the notion of certain things being ‘clear’ and ‘self-evident’ that effectively paper over some very serious issues that we’d simply rather not discuss.

The title of the interview article refers to something that to me is a very beguiling way to think about nonviolent resistance, seeing it as a “carefully crafted ‘fuck you,’” And indeed, this very aptly describes what Butler, who is one of the relatively few American public intellectuals in the true sense of the word, has been doing all along. Her writings, despite of their calm tone and technical intricacy, are never detached and abstract. They are always political and carry a deep passion for humanity — humanity that is truly universal and not bound by what she refers to as a “cultural sameness with ourselves”.


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