Last week I read Material Feminisms a collection of essays that makes the argument for a feminism that includes the body and the materiality of the world around us. What was particularly refreshing about this collection is that while the editors and various authors called for a step away from the linguistic turn and toward a realist materiality that acknowledges ontology and the matter of matter itself, they do not simply dismiss the lessons learned by an understanding of discourse analysis and how cultures and language shape realities. Rather, these writers take those lessons and push them even further. They are not so much turning their backs on theorists such as Butler, Foucault, and Derrida but rather following the paths laid down by these thinkers (and others) farther out into the world, unafraid of some pretty extreme and vertiginous ramifications.
While I am not going to really outline many of the arguments presented in the book, at least not right now, I did want to share where some of these ideas have started taking me in terms of my feminist theory comps questions. The first two are the most fleshed out, the third and forth both need some more research and reading before they come into focus and the fifth just expanded as I was writing this post into something that, while I’m sure is not the final draft, is approaching something at least. All in all, I’m at least much further along that I was week ago and hope to get drafts sent to my theory area advisor
Theory Comps (Feminism) Questions
Material feminists often criticize Judith Butler’s conception of gender as a performative act as too discursive, and thereby limited in its use. For example Claire Colebrook suggests that Butler’s “inability to transcend the linguistic paradigm” limits how far Butler’s critique of subjectivity can be taken (68). However, as Vicki Kirby writes, Butler’s work is valuable “not so much as a doxa to be affirmed and simply followed, but as an exemplary illustration of how to read critically, yet generously.” Indeed, even as writers like Colebrook or Karan Barad criticize Butler, their concerns are often less with what Butler was doing and more with her limitations and, in their view, unwillingness to entertain the true ramifications of a performative subject. Drawing on Butler’s formulation of subjectivity and gender, even while extending it through the work of Karen Barad and Theresa de Laurentis, how might the performance of Furry identity be understood as gender performativity rather than, as often is the case in the popular press, a kind of sexuality? How does Butler’s work in particular help frame such an approach without foreclosing on the embodied, material acts of performance that are non-discursive?
In her article “Viscous Porosity,” Nancy Tuana argues that the very question of what is natural versus what is cultural is, in some ways, the wrong question. Using Hurricane Katrina as an example, she writes:
We cannot sift through and separate what is ‘natural’ from what is ‘human-induced,’ and the problem here is not simply epistemic. There is scientific consensus that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are raising the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. These “natural phenomena” are the result of human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation. But these activities themseves are fueled by social beliefs and structures.” (193)
She then proposes the idea of viscous porosity as a way to understand “the complex ways in which material agency is often involved in interactions, including, but not limited to, human agency” (194). Viscous porosity is Tuana’s attempt to account for “the importance of re-materializing the social as well as understanding material-agency—the human as well as the more than human” (194).
How can can such a concept be deployed by feminists in theatre and performance studies? How might viscous porosity provide insight into interactions between the social and material ontologies of a play? Specifically, could the concept of viscous porosity be used to understand specific instances of anti-feminist discourse within the materiality of theatrical performances? Drawing on Tuana’s theory, and incorporating Susan Faludi’s analysis of anti-feminist discourse in the 1980s, I examine Lapine and Sondheim’s play Into the Woods and David Mamet’s Oleanna and argue that viscous porosity can provide a way to understand the interactions between narratives, authors, peformance, audience, reception, and criticism.
Hamara/Halberstam/Kristeva/Spivak. Something about sexualizing the female zombie body; the zombie as fantasy of the ultimate subaltern? Fucking the abject, the monstrous. If women are seen as abject to begin with, is it just a small step from how they are fantasized alive to how they are fantasized dead? Objects of study: images from zombie walks, zombie pinup calendar, Dead Girl. Argue that there is no noun version of “fantasy” but that it is always a verb, “fantasizing” and thus depends on interaction with material and ever materializing subject/actor/being.
Karen Barad writes that a “performative understanding of discursive practices challenges the representationalist belief in the power of words to represent pre-existing things. Performativity, properly construed, is notan invitation to turn everything (including material bodies) into words; on the contrary, performativity is precisely a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real” (121). In order to construct a deeper understanding of subjectivity and its relationship to performativity and the real, Barad posits the concept of “intra-actions” and that “[r]eality is not composed of things-in-themselves or things-behind-phenomena, but of “things”-in-phenomena” (135). Further that the “world is intra-activity in its differential mattering” (135).
Using Barad’s notions of performative and intra-activity, how might the act of story-telling be understood as a material matter in Charles Mee’s Queen’s Boulevard? In what ways can Barad’s work be used to enrich feminist criticism of theatrical production?