Saturday, November 19, 2011

Butler & Burke: Creating Observations, Creating the Subject

As I read Judith Butler's "Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire" (for the 64th time), I was struck by a parallel between her theorizing and Burke's.

In discussing the 'question of the subject', and especially its pertinence for feminist politics, Butler writes, "Juridical power inevitably 'produces' what it claims merely to represent" (Butler 3). She refers to this as the 'dual function of power,' the ability to create what it represents. This reminded me also of French theorist Louis Althusser's concept of interpellation, in which a subject is interpellated as such under a larger institution of power (ideological state apparatuses). I.e., a woman might be interpellated as a woman by the medical industry, and that definition carries certain notions with it, and the way that person is dealt with- whether or not they self-identify as a woman- will reflect those notions.

Of course, we see a similar 'dual power' in Burke's discussion of terministic screens. He writes, "Not only does the nature of our terms affect the nature of our observations, in the sense that the terms direct the attention to one field rather than to another. Also, many of the 'observations' are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made" (Burke 46). I guess this seems pretty self-evident; after all, if I read Persepolis for an art history class about drawing style in comics, I would discover much different things- and have a much different reading experience in general- than the discoveries and experiences I had reading it for this class.

It seems to me that all three of these theorists have implications for the agency of the reader (and perhaps the writer and the text as well?) by acknowledging the seemingly simple truth that attention must be directed, and directed attention creates specific subjects. And furthermore, I wonder if the concept of interpellation could be applied to literature- possibly genre could be a way of interpellating if an author writes within a specific genre and creates a specific audience by doing so?

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