Senses of the Subject

Senses of the Subject

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Senses of the Subject
    Book Description:

    This book brings together a group of Judith Butler's philosophical essays written over two decades that elaborate her reflections on the roles of the passions in subject formation through an engagement with Hegel, Kierkegaard, Descartes, Spinoza, Malebranche, Merleau-Ponty, Freud, Irigaray, and Fanon. Drawing on her early work on Hegelian desire and her subsequent reflections on the psychic life of power and the possibility of self-narration, this book considers how passions such as desire, rage, love, and grief are bound up with becoming a subject within specific historical fields of power. Butler shows in different philosophical contexts how the self that seeks to make itself finds itself already affected and formed against its will by social and discursive powers. And yet, agency and action are not necessarily nullified by this primary impingement. Primary sense impressions register this dual situation of being acted on and acting, countering the idea that acting requires one to overcome the situation of being affected by others and the linguistic and social world. This dual structure of sense sheds light on the desire to live, the practice and peril of grieving, embodied resistance, love, and modes of enthrallment and dispossession. Working with theories of embodiment, desire, and relationality in conversation with philosophers as diverse as Hegel, Spinoza, Descartes, Merleau-Ponty, Freud, and Fanon, Butler reanimates and revises her basic propositions concerning the constitution and deconstitution of the subject within fields of power, taking up key issues of gender, sexuality, and race in several analyses. Taken together, these essays track the development of Butler's embodied account of ethical relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6470-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Judith Butler
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    This volume represents an array of philosophical essays that I have written over the a period of twenty years (1993–2012), registering some shifts in my views over that period of time.¹ If I am asked to say what, if anything, rationalizes this collection, I could only answer in a faltering way. If there is a sense to be discerned from that faltering, it would probably be this: when we speak about subject formation, we invariably presume a threshold of susceptibility or impressionability that may be said to precede the formation of a conscious and deliberate “I.” That...

  5. “How Can I Deny That These Hands and This Body Are Mine?”
    (pp. 17-35)

    I remember a sleepless night last year when I came into my living room and turned on the television set to discover that C-Span was offering a special session on feminist topics and that the historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese was making clear why she thought Women’s Studies had continuing relevance and why she opposed certain radical strains in feminist thinking. Of those positions she most disliked, she included the feminist view that no stable distinction between the sexes could be drawn or known, a view that suggests that the difference between the sexes is itself culturally variable, or, worse, discursively fabricated,...

  6. Merleau-Ponty and the Touch of Malebranche
    (pp. 36-62)

    The English-language reception of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body focuses mainly on two texts,Phenomenology of Perceptionand the posthumousThe Visible and the Invisible. In the former, he interrogates the body as a site of mobility and spatiality, arguing that these fundamentally corporeal ways of relating to the world subtend and structure the intentionality of consciousness. In the latter work, the doctrine of intentionality is further displaced by a concept of the flesh, understood as a relation of tactility that precedes and informs intersubjective relations, necessarily disorienting a subject-centered account. The flesh is not something one has, but, rather...

  7. The Desire to Live: Spinoza’s Ethics under Pressure
    (pp. 63-89)

    The desire to live is not an easy topic to pursue. On the one hand, it seems too basic to thematize; on the other hand, it is vexed enough as a topic to cast doubt on whether one can settle the question of what is meant by the phrase itself. The desire to live is not the same as selfpreservation, though both can be understood as interpretations of a person’s desire “to persevere in its being,”¹ Spinoza’s well-known phrase. Although self-preservation is largely associated with forms of individual self-interest associated with later contractarian political philosophers, Spinoza’s philosophy establishes another basis...

  8. To Sense What Is Living in the Other Hegel’s Early Love
    (pp. 90-111)

    There are not many manifest reasons to think about Hegel and love together. First of all, Hegel is hardly lovable to most people; many readers do not want to take the time to sort out those sentences. Second, the language of love is usually understood to be a direct proclamation or a lyrical expression of some kind. Third, love has a relation to images and motions, to what we imagine time and again or, rather, to a form of imagining and moving that seems to take us up into its repetitions and elaborations. So the topic of love seems an...

  9. Kierkegaard’s Speculative Despair
    (pp. 112-148)

    Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel concerns primarily the failure of a philosophy of reflection to take account of what exceeds reflection itself: passion, existence, faith. The irony in Kierkegaard’s challenge to Hegelianism is, however, minimally twofold. On the one hand, Kierkegaard will ask, where is it that Hegel, the existing individual, stands in relation to the systematic totality that Hegel elucidates? If for Hegel the individual is outside the complete system, then there is an “outside” to that system, which is to say that the system is not as exhaustively descriptive and explanatory as it claims to be. Paradoxically, the very...

  10. Sexual Difference as a Question of Ethics: Alterities of the Flesh in Irigaray and Merleau-Ponty
    (pp. 149-170)

    Although Luce Irigaray’sAn Ethics of Sexual Differenceis a feminist reading of selected philosophical works, we should perhaps not be so clear about what that means. Feminist in an unfamiliar sense, her text is not primarily a criticism of how various philosophers have represented women, and it is not a philosophy offered from a feminist or a feminine point of view. It is, I would suggest, a complex engagement with philosophical texts, one that in the first instance appears to accept the terms of the texts, as evidenced by the lengthy and elaborated citations from those texts. In this...

  11. Violence, Nonviolence: Sartre on Fanon
    (pp. 171-198)

    What is immediately strange about Sartres controversial preface to Fanon’sThe Wretched of the Earthis its mode of address.¹ To whom is this preface written? Sartre imagines his reader as the colonizer or the French citizen who recoils from the thought of violent acts of resistance on the part of the colonized. Minimally, his imagined reader is one who believes that his own notions of humanism and universalism suffice as norms by which to assess the war for independence in Algeria and similar efforts at decolonization. Sartre’s address to his audience is direct and caustic: “What does Fanon care...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 199-212)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 213-218)