Judith Butler is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Their books include Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (1993), Undoing Gender (2004), Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2006), Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009), Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012), The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (2020) and What World Is This? A Pandemic Phenomenology (2022).
“If we think that to criticise Israeli violence, or to call for economic pressure to be put on the Israeli state to change its policies, is to be ‘effectively anti-semitic’, we will fail to voice our opposition for fear of being named as part of an anti-semitic enterprise. No label could be worse for a Jew, who knows that, ethically and politically, the position with which it would be unbearable to identify is that of the anti-semite. The ethical framework within which most progressive Jews operate takes the form of the following question: will we be silent (and thereby collaborate with illegitimately violent power), or will we make our voices heard (and be counted among those who did what they could to stop the violence), even if speaking poses a risk?”
“If his critics worried that, with Derrida, there are no foundations on which one could rely, they doubtless were mistaken. Derrida relies perhaps most assiduously on Socrates, on a mode of philosophical inquiry that took the question as the most honest and arduous form of thought. ‘How do you finally respond to your life and to your name?’ . . . Is there justice to be done to a life? That he asks the question is exemplary, perhaps even foundational, since it keeps the final meaning of that life and that name open. It prescribes a ceaseless task of honouring what cannot be possessed through knowledge . . . Indeed, now that Derrida, the person, has died, his writing makes a demand on us. We must address him as he addressed himself, asking what it means to know and approach another, to apprehend a life and a death, to give an account of its meaning, to acknowledge its binding ties with others, and to do that justly.”
‘You know the left think that I am conservative,’ Hannah Arendt once said, ‘and the conservatives think I am left or I am a maverick or God knows what. And I must say that I couldn’t care less. I don’t think the real questions of this century get any kind of illumination by this kind of thing.’ The Jewish Writings make the matter of her political affiliation no easier to settle. In these editorials, essays and unfinished pieces, she seeks to underscore the political paradoxes of the nation-state. If the nation-state secures the rights of citizens, then surely it is a necessity; but if the nation-state relies on nationalism and invariably produces massive numbers of stateless people, it clearly needs to be opposed. If the nation-state is opposed, then what, if anything, serves as its alternative?
I was glad to see in today's press that it was decided to separate the question of what sex Caster Semenya really is from the questions of whether she could keep her medal or compete in women's sports. It seemed to me that the drive to publish the results of the sex determination tests was always sensationalist and intrusive, and that it missed the important points at issue in this situation. Yesterday's decision by the IAAF goes part of the way to honour the complexity and vulnerability of the person here, but also to affirm the way her gender is bound up with cultural and familial modes of belonging and recognition.
This week two conversations with the feminist theorist and writer Judith Butler: one recorded the week Trump won the presidency in 2016 and one recorded a few days ago, as his presidency (just maybe) approaches...
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