Feminist theory as adaptation

Feminist theory as adaptation: Judith Butler ”writes” Beauvoir ”writes” Butler

MOYA LLOYD, Professor of Political Theory
Department of Politics, History and International Relations
Loughborough University

At Christina Research Seminar
On Tuesday 26.4.2011 at 5–7 pm
Unioninkatu 40, seminar room 8

A persistent refrain in critical commentaries on Butler – much of it relating to Gender Trouble – is that she is a poor reader of her sources; that, in fact, she simplifies complex arguments, misrepresents or overlooks the fundamental themes of a text, and uses concepts in ways that are unfaithful to their meaning or role in a particular theory. What, though, if instead of deforming these texts Butler is actually reforming them? What if rather than their distortion or misrepresentation – their ‘misreading’ – Butler is actually engaged in their renovation, staging through them the possibility of new meanings and new concepts? Deploying an idea of theory as adaptation derived from film theory, in this paper I will begin to explore these questions by examining the way that Butler in a series of articles on Beauvoir prior to the publication of Gender Trouble interprets or, as Stanley Fish puts it, ’writes’ the ideas of the author of The Second Sex. In particular, I am concerned here with the way that Butler’s re-writing of Beauvoir in these papers is both her route into unravelling the sex/gender distinction and thus to the development of the idea of gender performativity as well as an essential step in the writing (and rewriting) of “Butler” the ‘text’. In this respect, my interest is less in what Butler’s successive adaptations of Beauvoir tell us about her understanding of that author than in what Butler’s approach to ’doing’ theory reveals about how ‘Butler’ also ‘writes’ – indeed re-writes and adapts – ‘Butler’ and what this reveals about her own conception of what it is to be a ’”living” author’.

Christina research seminar is chaired by professor Tuija Pulkkinen. Seminar pays tribute to Gender Studies, and the history of Queen Christina’s name connected to this field of studies at the University of Helsinki. Seminar is open to everybody with an interest in research questions related to gender studies.