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Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" [Paperback]

Judith Butler
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 20 1993 0415903661 978-0415903660 1
In Bodies That Matter, Judith Butler further develops her distinctive theory of gender by examining the workings of power at the most "material" dimensions of sex and sexuality. Deepening the inquiries she began in Gender Trouble, Butler offers an original reformulation of the materiality of bodies, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender.
Butler argues that power operates to constrain "sex" from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex. She offers a clarification of the notion of "performativity" introduced in Gender Trouble and explores the meaning of a citational politics. The text includes readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud on the formation of materiality and bodily boundaries; "Paris is Burning," Nella Larsen's "Passing," and short stories by Willa Cather; along with a reconsideration of "performativity" and politics in feminist, queer, and radical democratic theory.

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Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" + The History of Sexuality: An Introduction
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"As a philosopher of gender [Judith Butler] is unparalleled. . .." -- Village Voice

"Butler gives us a new way to think about the materiality of the body in the discursive performity operative in the materialization of sex. Following a common move in postmodern feminism, Butler sets out to demolish the sex/gender distinction that has fromed the mainstay of the de Beauvorian and radical feminism's notion that gender, as a cultural construction, could be critiqued and politicized againts the givenness of the body's biological sex....What is new in IBodies That Matter is Butler's attempt to write more directly about race.." -- Signs

"Extending the brilliant style of interrogation that made her 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity a landmark of gender theory/queer theory, Butler here continues to refine our understandings of the complexly performative character of sexuality and gender and to trouble our assumptions about the inherent subversiveness of dissident sexualities. . . . indispensable reading across the wide range of concerns that queer theory is currently addressing." -- Artforum

"What the implications/limitations of ``sexing'' are and how the process works comprise the content of this strikingly perceptive book. . . . Butler has written a most significant and provocative work that addresses issues of immediate social concern." -- The Boston Book Review

About the Author

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature and the Co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. She is presently the recipient of the Andrew Mellon Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement in the Humanities.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Within some quarters of feminist theory in recent years, there have been calls to retrieve the body from what is often characterized as the linguistic idealism of poststructuralism. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars what about the materiality of the body, judy? March 23 2004
By A Customer
Although Bodies That Matter contains some interesting remarks on psychoanalysis and at some points critically builds upon some of Butler's earlier arguments, the matter of materiality, corporeality etc. remains utterly unresolved. In the introduction, Butler claims to address the topic of the materiality of bodies - how are bodies discursively constituted in their very materiality? - but this question dissapears mysteriously over the course of the next, sometimes rather dull, chapters. The one on the lesbian phallus is quite interesting, but as to the rest: save the trouble. 'Critically queer' may sound interesting, but is merely an abbridged version of Gender Trouble. Besides all this, the prose style of Bodies That Matter is at points undigestable, and I would gladly refer to some of Teresa de Lauretis' work, who adresses many of the same questions, and who is, without a doubt, just a better writer.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The best thing about Judith Butler is that she is always willing to think through the consequences of her earlier writings. This book was a response to the criticism that emerged out of the groundbreaking conclusion to GENDER TROUBLE that argued for an understanding of gender as performative. Critics took Butler to task for arguing that gender is something that is simply an act of performative volition - one can "be" whatever one wants to be - irrespective of the materiality of the body. Here, Butler turns the tables (in a neat deconstructive move) by showing how this criticism presupposes the a priori existence of "bodies" and "matter" separate from discourse. Yet, after a brilliant introduction, the book becomes weighted down by its own psychoanalytic presuppositions and its tediously dense prose style. There is often no reason for Butler's writing to be as incomprehensible as it is, especially given the giant claims she's making about the nature of gender (other than to "perform" her writing's own indebtedness to Lacanian psychoanalysis and Althusserian critique).
Moreover, her work has been rightly faulted (partiucularly by Martha Nussbaum) by holding out an ideal of "subversion" that is something (in the terms of how she frames it) that ultimately DOES have very little to do with the ways sexual inequality is experienced outside of a somewhat narrow bourgeois American academic purview. But, finally, given the indisputable pervasiveness of Butler's ideas within the academy and without it (particularly in the ways in which sexuality is viewed today), the work is clearly a seminal text nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking March 15 1999
By A Customer
This book clarifies much of Foucault was saying in History of Sexuality. Butler is careful, however, to not borrow the models Foucault uses, thereby, avoids some of the mistakes and gaps that occur in his thinking, namely the silence on women. Butler, more than Foucault, is not willing to settle the debate on sexuality merely as the obtaining and disseminating of pleasures and how those bodies perform them. Rather, she takes bodies as always already gender indeterminate and destablilizes their performatives further to show how bodies are marked by gender as well as race, class, sexulaity, etc. and how these categories are also destabilized within the perfomative. I highly recommend this book to feminist and queer theorists and well as anyone who is concerned about creating any sort of opposition to the reactionary right-wing forces that are attempting to further entrench their dominance over the rest of us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars no better feminist theorist July 5 2002
By A Customer
Butler is one of the most rigourous and thoughtful feminist theorists writing today. In all her writings she follows through the consequences of her arguments with great care, something still lacking in much academic theoretical writing. Especially in writing on the 'body', there is still an awful lot of stuff out there which assumes that bodies are 'things' that speak their own meaning somehow... Butler in this book demonstrates the untenable aspects of that position, and works out brilliantly what some of the consequences are of working thoroughly and rigourously with the idea that the meanings of the body are constructed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading for Feminist/Gender Theory Aug. 22 2002
By A Customer
Anyone interested in feminist and/or gender theory must read this book. Butler's challenging approaches to "sex" as a social construct, to performative resistance, and to other works are well worth the intellectual efforts of the reader. She brings a new perspective to theories about gender inequality and how gender shapes our lives.
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