Sunday, November 20, 2011

Representation and Catagorization (Burke+Butler)

Coincidentally enough, a test that I am currently studying for in a psychology class (no, I am not fully prepared yet!) details how categorization functions in the human psyche. Wading through Butler's essay Gender Trouble (and prompted by the discussion questions for tomorrow) I began to think about how categorization and representation are associated. To categorize something, anything (such as gender) is to associate it with other, similarly represented ideas, objects, etc. But this creates boarders, because in categorization, you not only draw upon similarities, but also upon differences as well. From Burkes "Terministic Screens" and Butler's piece, it seems evident to me that representation is based upon catagorization, and thus, paradoxically wedged between similarity and difference. Try and stick with me here, I'm going to try and do my best (these are not easy theories to fuse!)

Burke states in "Terministic Screens" that "All terminologies must implicitly or explicitly embody choices between the principle of continuity and discontinuity" (Burke 50). Terminologies, such as gender, must work within a screen, a categorization, that either associates or disassociates them. "Basically, there are two kinds of terms: terms that put things together, and terms that take things apart" (Burke 49). It is reasonable to infer from his theories that catagorization (association and disassociation) permits language to function as symbolic action. Building off my previous blog post, I would venture to say that Burke's terministic screens function as a means means to categorize.

Butler seems to have a problem with this relatively simple dichotomy when it comes to gender, though. Why? Because the construction of gender, and feminine identity, cannot adequately be captured by simple catagorization, or representation for that matter. In fact, it seems that categorizing femininity at all upsets Butler. Further, the representation of gender and femininity is undermined by it too. Butler states that "by comforming to a requirement of representational politics that feminism articulate a stable subject, feminism thus opens itself to charges of gross misrepresentation" (Butler 7). The (mis)representation (another paradox to think about!) of feminism in politics, literature and discourse has been doomed by the human practice of association.

I think the real question that these two essays cast light upon is the question of whether or not representation can operate without categorization. Let me know what you think!

1 comment:

  1. I think that you may be spot on, at least to an extent when you say that the essays claim that you cannot have representation without categorization. I think that with Burke, a terministic screen is putting some thing or event into a category by spinning its information in a certain way as to satisfy whatever filter or screen you are seeing it through, basically like his example with human behavior, and how the same behavior can be interpreted in multiple ways. I think it is a bit odd that one would be able to take the same bit of information, and then be able to categorize it based on which continuities or discontinuities you chose to shed light on. It is difficult to be completely wrong, but it would seem impossible to be completely correct.


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