Abbot's Journal Vol 65, August 8, 2008

by Norman Fischer | August 08, 2008 at 2:57 PM

Abbot’s Journal Vol 65
August 8, 2008
Muir Beach

Judith Butler’s “The Psychic Life of Power” is very strange. “Theory” is a funny, fractured way of looking at life. The idea must be “think your way through to a completely unexpected view of what’s going on.” As Foucault, Derrida, etc did. It looks like this is going on, everyone always thought so, took it completely for granted, everyone agrees, but it’s not this at all, it never actually was, it’s that. (Though in reality it might actually be this and that, and a million other things). And I’ve noticed this too – for example, that the oppressor is actually more oppressed by the oppressive relationship than the oppressed, who, in Butler’s terms (following Hegel) becomes the actual body of the oppressor, while the oppressor gives up a body, loses a body.

Her overarching point seems to be that (based on a Foucaultian pun) to be a “subject” is to be under subjugation – one necessarily internalizes society’s norms in order simply to be a person. It’s not that there’s a person there, who’s subsequently pushed out of shape by society; rather that there’s nobody there other than society’s violence. So that the “self” is already always necessarily a projection of the very world it thinks it is trying to become free of. And the self is therefore unknowingly at war with the very energy that formed it. (This seems to be basic Hegelian logic). It is very like a Buddhist view of self. Also, it unites the political and the personal/psychological, which makes sense. How could these realms be separate? The idea of “personal” life divorced from “social” life or vice versa makes no sense. Obviously both are constructs. But Butler is very long winded. She obscures and repeats herself and I think does not realize she is doing this. One has to (I have to) strain to keep track of what she’s saying. 


You are increasingly

As the day is long
Going “down” the line

A boy and a girl - 
The trouble with it

Is that “this”
Is oppressively limiting

Everything must be somewhere
In order to be at all

Or it opens
Into nowhere

And what’s “wrong” with that?
I can’t tell what they mean - 

To no longer waken
To the sad struggle of a face

Is to remain

Or to “imagine” such a thing -
And then?

One word
Answers another

Or dismantles it
Depending on where you are standing

Is how you feel
Concave or convex?

The outrageously leaning
Purple orchid

Is ashamed or embarrassed
Against the light -

Is that my bad
Or do the “ayes” have it?

Le me make something
Perfectly clear


Norman Fischer