Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Short Piece on Judith Butler's Antigone's Claim

There is an interesting comment that is made within Talal Asad’s text, which I would like to read in relation to the work that we looked at in Judith Butler’s Antigone’s Claim. Asad notes, “Because they are progressive-minded (read: constructivists), these social theorists disapprove of any talk of ‘innateness.’ They also want to present struggle (resistance) and dissent (deviation) as normal to human behavior. But “normal” is notoriously ambiguous notion, including a descriptive statistical sense in which a distribution is normal and a prescriptive one in which being is being healthy, the opposite of pathological. Sliding between these two senses, the editors can assert that there is nothing in the agent “that has somehow escaped cultural shaping and ordering” and yet insist that “culture” can never be totally determining.”” (Asad 72)

In effect, Asad points to knot that is produced through certain conflicting demands on progressive understandings of the subject. On one had the thinker wants to avoid modes of thought that are linked with ‘innateness’ that is to say of ‘biologizing’ culture into fixed norms. They also want to recognize the normality of resistance and transformation within society. What seems to happen in the end is the return to a form of the liberal subject that slips through the back door. We are told that “culture” can never be totally determining” despite the fact that “there is nothing in the agent “that has somehow escaped cultural shaping and ordering.” Yet somehow we must have an element of an autonomous subject that can escape the inescapable.

I want to read Butler within this discussion. It is clear that she is concerned to avoid the sort of structures of ‘innateness’ that the thinkers that Asad discusses are trying to avoid. She looks at certain modes of structural anthropology and Lacanian psychoanalysis for these models of thought. In effect, she argues that these models operate within a certain ‘innateness’ of a specific formulation of the family structure. “Perversion” may produce the system, but it always acts on the outside of this system. (see p 76) There is a certain linkage that one can make with some of Clastres’ arguments concerning political anthropology. Both are, it seems, arguing against a certain teleological model of understanding structure. Clastres is arguing against the inevitability of a certain model of power and the state, whereas Butler is arguing against a certain innateness of the family model.

In invoking the statement, “But it’s the law!”, Butler is arguing that there is a performative element to the statement, and at the same time a desire for the normative structure. (see page 21) She points out some of the statements on the part of the Lacanian establishment against same sex marriage and child-rearing as examples of this. In effect, Butler argues that there already exists the material for the post-Oedipal family in the existing society. “What will be the legacy of Oedipus be for those who are formed in these situations, where positions are hardly clear, where the place of the father is dispersed, where the place of the mother is multiply occupied or displaced, where the symbolic in its stasis no longer holds?”

Butler reads the figure of Antigone within the terrain of this horizon, and not as a heroic transgressive figure, but as the figure of that is produced within this indeterminancy. She makes an argument for a sort of post-structuralist formulation of kinship. The modes of resistance that Antigone can enact are precisely those that are culturally determined to her. She is able to enact this resistance to power precisely through appropriating its forms. She confronts Creon by taking on his modes of public discourse and his gender. In effect, she acts within the forms of the law, but changes their meaning, and Butler refuses to read this within the field of consciousness as Hegel desires, instead she presents her speech as out of her control. Perhaps it can be read as a structural effect. “If kinship is the precondition of the human, then Antigone is the occasion for a new field of the human, achieved through political catachresis, the one that happens when the less than human speaks as human, when gender is displaced, and kinship founders on its own laws. She acts, she speaks, she becomes one for whom the speech act is a fatal crime, but this fatality exceeds her life and enters the discourse of intelligibility as its own promising fatality, the social form of its aberrant, unprecedented future.” (82)

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