Category Archives: Lecture notes

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A List of Literary, Mythical, Cultural Allusions

See also Alison Bechdel’s artist’s website (Dykes to Watch Out For)

The following is an (as of yet) incomplete list of important literary, cultural, and mythical allusions/mentions/themes in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.  

Please feel free to add to the list!








Wallace Stevens’ poem “Sunday Morning”

James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (a modernist rewriting of Homer’s epic The Odyssey)

Albert Camus’ novel A Happy Death

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest


Theory (especially about lesbianism, feminism):

Adrienne Rich

Kate Millett

Film, TV: 

It’s A Wonderful Life

The Addams Family

Second-Wave Feminism, Lesbian History:

Adrienne Rich

Kate Millett

Stonewall riots

1920s Paris Left Bank lesbian literary salon scene, Sylvia Beach Shakespeare and Co. book shop) and Adrienne Monnier


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Lecture notes: James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

James Baldwin (1924-87)

  • One of the most influential African American (and simply American) writers of his time; work was read much by white Americans; became a major voice in the 1960s civil rights movement.
  • Father was a Harlem evangelist, Baldwin himself tried preaching when he was very young.  Left home at age 19 to live in Greenwich village (NYC), worked for various papers as a messenger boy and writer (his first essay appeared in 1948).  Important event of his youth: suicide of his 24-yr.-old Af Am friend Eugene Worth; had indirectly confessed his love to Baldwin (Baldwin recalls in essay “The Price of the Ticket”: “I wish I had heard him more clearly: an indirect confession is always a plea.  But I was to hurt a great many people by being unable to imagine that anyone could possibly be in love with an ugly boy like me . . .”
  • Worth’s suicide was one of the reasons why Baldwin went to Paris at age 24 (for 10 years).  Here he met a young Swiss artist, Lucian Happersberger; they were lovers for a short time, and Happersberger became his closest friend for 40 years.
  • Wrote novels, essays, book reviews, plays.  Among his most important works: essay essay collection Notes of a Native Son, Go Tell It On the Mountain (his best-known novel, published in 1953), “The Fire Next Time” (1963, book-length essay, one year on the bestseller list).
  • Subject of homosexuality in three novels: Giovanni’s Room (1956), Another Country (1962) and Just Above My Head (1979).
  • American context: Giovanni’s Room was quite daring to write in 1950s, pre-Stonewall, Joseph McCarthy-era America (McCarthy persecutions notoriously homophobic and “queer-baiting”; suspected homosexuality made many people a target and could seriously damage someone’s personal and professional reputation).  By this time, Baldwin was already living in Europe, but the cultural climate in America was anti-gay and Baldwin had only just established a name as a writer.  Giovanni’s Room was first published in UK and only then in the USA.

“Although relatively open about his homosexuality from a young age, Baldwin was also ambivalent about it.  He saw little possibility that shared sexuality could be the basis of a community, an attitude largely formed by his experiences in the 1940s as a black gay man in New York City.  In later years, he recalled a gay world of impersonal and demeaning sexual encounters, of being called ‘fa***t’ on every streetcorner of a world where his existence was ‘the punch line of a dirty joke’.  Eager, vulnerable, and lonely, as he put it, he survived only by finding older ‘protectors’—a Harlem racketeer who fell in love with him when he was 16, an Italian man who threatened to kill anyone who touched him.  In a 1954 essay on André Gide, called ‘The Male Prison’, he wrote,

The really horrible thing about the phenomenon of present-day homosexuality . . . is that today’s unlucky deviate can only save himself by the most tremedous exertion of all his forces from falling into an underworld in which he never meets men or women, where it is impossible to have either a lover or a friend, where the possibility of genuine human involvement has altogether ceased.”  (Out of the Past, p. 286)

In a 1984 interview with The Village Voice, Baldwin was apparently still ambivalent and uncomfortable with the notion of gay community life and culture, and rejected the notion of a group’s sexual difference: “I loved a few people and they love me . . . It had nothing to do with these labels” (qtd. in Out of the Past, p. 287). In the same interview, Baldwin said that Giovanni’s Room was about love in general, not homosexuality per se: “It’s about what happens to you if you’re afraid to love anybody” (ibid.).

Source for this summary: Neil Miller, Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present.  Revised and updated ed.  New York: Alyson Books, 2006.  Pp. 284-89.

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More on Gertrude Stein’s writing style

From “Gertrude Stein,” entry in The Oxford Companion to American Literature, ed. by James D. Hart.  5th ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 721:

[Gertrude Stein’s] Lectures in America (1935) explains her philosophy of composition, which is partly indebted to the aesthetic theories of William James and Bergson’s concept of time.  She contends that it is “the business of art” to live in the complete actual present,” and in describing her technique she compares it with that of the cinema.  No two frames of a motion picture are exactly alike, yet the sequence presents to the eye a flowing continuity.  Similarly, Miss Stein, by the use of partly repetitive statements, each making a limited advance in the theme, presents an uninterrupted series of instantaneous visions, so that one grasps a living moment in precise, ordered forms.  […]  In order to convey her concept of movement in the motion-picture manner, she set up a rhythmic pattern and placed her emphasis upon the verb.  Nouns being names, she felt that “things once they are named the name does do go on doing anything to them and so why write in nouns.”  She felt that most punctuation is “an unnecessary name of something.” “It is evident that when you ask a question you ask a question . . . and so why add to it the punctuation mark.”  Other punctuation also interfered with the need for capturing motion: “If writing should go on what had colons and semicolons to do with it.”  In her poetry she holds a different theory about language; for, though naming or non-using, does not carry prose forward, “you can love a name and if you love a name then saying that name any number of times only makes you love it more . . .” and poetry is “really loving the name of anything.”  Thus, for her, poetry is a method of dealing “with everything that was not movement in space.”

Cf. also Stein’s famous line  from the poem “Sacred Emily” (1913):  “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” 

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Lecture notes: Sexology, Uranianism, Theories of Inversion

By Dr. Petra Dierkes-Thrun, Stanford University

Sexology, Uranianism, Theories of Inversion

Introduction and context 

20th-century historian Michel Foucault challenged the so-called “repressive hypothesis” in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (vol. 1, 1976).  Foucault argued that while sex was officially treated as a private (and often shameful) matter by Victorian and fin-de-siècle French and German culture and Victorian culture has consequently been seen as “repressed” in hindsight, this very culture actually found many outlets to talk and think obsessively about sex.  One of the most important developments, in Foucault’s view, was the scientific discourse we now refer to as “sexology,” the science or study of sexual behavior in humans.  Before Freud formulated his theories of sexuality as a function of biological and mental instincts and drives, the sexologists laid crucial groundwork for thinking about so-called “pathological” or “perverse” forms of sexuality.  One of the primary focus points for sexologists was male same-sex desire and behavior, which was still widely legally criminalized at the time.  The term “homosexual” [homosexuell] first appeared in 1869, in an anonymous German pamphlet by Karl-Maria Kertbeny.

Legal background regarding male homosexuality in Britain:

  • Buggery act: legal term for sodomy since the 16th century.  Under Henry VIII being convicted of buggery, “the abominable crime,” carried the death penalty.  During Queen Victoria’s reign, however—until 1861, when the law was changed—no one was executed for the crime.
  • New law of 1885 with notorious section XI, the “Labouchère Amendment,” assigned prison terms to homosexual acts between males, no matter whether performed in public or in private.

Lesbianism was mostly invisible in the eyes of the culture and the law—to many, such “perversion” in women (who also had a long tradition of intimate female friendship, which helped mask same-sex desires by interpreting them in this “harmless” and approved light).  Fortunately, lesbians actually flew mostly “under the radar” as far as 19th-century laws were concerned, but garnered serious legal attention in the 1920s, with the Radclyffe Hall obscenity trial. The trial involved her work dealing with a transgendered FTM protagonist in love with a woman, The Well of Loneliness, which she wrote specifically to provoke social empathy for “inverts,” and which popularized the cultural stereotype of the “mannish lesbian.” Havelock Ellis specifically endorsed The Well of Loneliness and wrote a preface.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs  (1825–95) first coined the term “Urning” or “Uranian” to describe homosexuality and same-sex desire (in Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe, literally, “Scientific Observations about the Riddle of Man-Manly Love,” 1864-65). Ulrich’s concept of Uranianism alludes to one (of several different) myths of Aphrodite, who was born from the Greek God Uranus (“Heaven”), who had been castrated by his son Chronos (“Time”) and thrown into the sea.  According to the myth, Aphrodite was born of the bubbling foam emanating from Uranus as he was thrown in, without the physical participation of a female.  (The myth is alluded to in Plato’s Symposium, in a discussion on Eros.)  This Uranian Aphrodite is also associated with loving male youths.

Ulrichs understood male urnings as essentially feminine, possessing a female soul in a male body.  He also developed complex codes for classifying sexual behavior along masculine-feminine lines, seeing receptive or “passive” sexual behavior as more feminine than giving or “active” sexual behavior, which his system considered more masculine.  In fin-de-siècle London, the terms and concepts of Uranianism as a scientific theory were widely known and understood to refer to male homosexuals.

Richard Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902), Austro-German psychologist and sexologist, wrote the famous work Psychopathia Sexualis (1886).

The Oscar Wilde trials in the spring of 1895 embodied a cultural and legal watershed that led to more censorship and legal prosecutions in Britain; many homosexual men fled Britain for the continent (especially France) during this time.  France and Germany were the most liberal countries regarding gay culture at this time; the modern homosexual human rights movement largely started in Germany and based its claims for more cultural, social, and legal tolerance largely on the work of the mentioned sexologists, many of whom were German.

Henry Havelock Ellis (English, 1859-1939):  In Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 1901, first published as Sexual Inversion with John A. Symonds in 1892, critiqued and modified Ulrichs’ statements, arguing for the concept of “inversion” instead: “Sexual inversion, as here understood, means sexual instinct turned by inborn constitutional abnormality towards persons of the same sex.”  Symonds (the “case study” included in today’s readings) had been Ellis’s patient.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929): not a scientist but a writer and early gay activist, wrote famous pamphlet The Intermediate Sex (1908), modified Ulrichs’s ideas about “Uranian” love by arguing that biological sex and internal gender traits were separate and the mixture of femininity/masculinity in a person attracted them to someone who would balance out their own gender traits.  Homogenic Love is from 1894, one year before the infamous Oscar Wilde trial for “acts of gross indecency” changed the cultural landscape, but could not be published until 1902.

Discussion questions:
  1. What are some of Ellis’s major ideas and conclusions about homosexuality in the excerpts we’re reading?  How does this compare to debates in our own culture today—do some of these ideas still seem familiar?  Which ones/why?
  2. How do Carpenter’s points compare to Ellis’s (and what are they)?
  3. How can you tell that there is also a specific agenda (social, cultural, political…) in the ways these seemingly objective scientific texts read and represent homosexuality?

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Lecture notes: Radclyffe Hall and The Well of Loneliness

Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge

Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)

  • Radclyffe Hall: Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall, preferred to be called John; 1880-1943, English writer
  • Wealthy but unhappy family background
  • Educated in London (King’s College) and in Germany
  • Called herself a “congenital invert,” adopting the term by Havelock Ellis and other sexologists.
  • In 1907 she met the singer Mabel Batten, then 51 and married with kids and grandkids; moved in with her after Batten’s husband died. Nicknames: Mabel = Ladye, Hall = John.  In 1915 Hall fell in love with Una Troubridge (1887–1963), a cousin of Batten’s, also married and a mother, who was an accomplished sculptor and translator of Colette’s works from French into English.  After Batten’s death in 1916, Una and “John” started living together and stayed together until Hall’s death (despite Hall’s numerous lesbian affairs in between).
  • Hall and Troubridge were deeply religious (Roman Catholic—Hall had converted in 1912); they left their money to the church upon death.  Hall was also interested in spiritualism.
  • Before The Well of Loneliness (1928), her most famous and notorious book (see Trial section below), Hall had already written 4 major novels (two of which were bestsellers and critically acclaimed: The Forge [1924] and Adams’s Breed [1926]), and a lot of poetry and shorter pieces.

The Well of Loneliness: 
Background and Context


  • Groundbreaking in its overt, open, sympathetic treatment of “inversion” (transsexualism, female masculinity [Halberstam’s term], lesbian desire—all these terms are to some extent fluid here; we’ll discuss why). A planned project to provoke public discussion of female inversion and same-sex desire.  Hall’s career at its height in 1926; now she was emboldened to write about sexual inversion with social and political goals.  Asked her partner Una Troubridge’s permission, as the scandal would affect her as well.  Told her editor in 1928, “I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world …. Nothing of the kind has ever been attempted in fiction.”  It was a courageous programmatic idea on Hall’s part; she wanted to change lesbianism’s mainstream cultural invisibility and elicit more tolerance. Hall knew that she was famous enough to be listened to.
  • Three publishers praised the novel but turned it down. Hall’s condition was that the publisher not change one word of the novel.  To one, she wrote: “I have put my pen at the service of some of the most persecuted and misunderstood people in the world…. So far as I know nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.”  Jonathan Cape published it first in a trial run of 1,500 high-priced copies with a discreet jacket (to limit exposure).
  • The Well received mixed but respectful initial reviews and was out for three weeks before the obscenity trial in England put an end to it. Although not sexually explicit at all, because of its subject the book was on the radar of obscenity laws.  Hall lost the trial; all (UK) copies of the book were ordered destroyed.
  • Other contemporary queer writers such as E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville-West attended the trial to speak out against the obscenity charge, but privately did not think much of the novel’s quality of writing. (To Woolf’s relief, she did not have to testify, as her diary attests, and she did not attend Hall’s appeal trial that followed. )
  • Publisher Cape secretly leased rights to the Pegasus Press in France and an English-language publisher, who printed the book and shipped copies back to Leonard Hill, a distributor in the UK. (France, unlike England, did not really enforce laws against homosexual behavior and was generally more tolerant of it—that’s why Oscar Wilde moved to France after his release from Reading Prison in 1898, for example.)  They were soon found out, however, and the authorities seized copies and stopped imports.  In the US, the book was published but was subjected to years of legal battles (in New York State and Customs courts).
  • Influence from sexual inversion theories of Havelock Ellis, Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, Richard Krafft-Ebing, and other sexologists (see Havelock Ellis’s endorsement in preface; Sir Philip’s reading of Ulrichs; Stephen Gordon’s finding of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis in the novel, etc.). The book actually publicized these theories further.
  • The book is not an autobiography but it is of course inspired by Hall’s own experiences; Hall said that she drew on herself for the “fundamental emotions that are characteristic of the inverted.” The ambulance driving that Stephen does in World War I (as well as her fencing, aristocratic background, and cross-dressing) may have been inspired by a friend of Hall’s, Toupie Lowther.  Mary in the novel does not resemble Una Troubridge, while Angela may be a composite character inspired by several of Hall’s other lovers.  Some parts of the novel: inspiration by/allusions to Paris lesbian and gay subculture, especially Natalie Clifford Barney’s salon.
  • Today: still on many gay and lesbian “top 100 books” lists; controversy whether this book should be labeled “lesbian” or rather transgender/transsexual (Stephen as a transman; “female masculinity” [Halberstam], “mannish lesbian” [contemporary term in 1920s], etc.?).

Some interesting statements about The Well of Loneliness

1.  “It isn’t a great literary work, but it is a book of importance in the history of the unending struggle with censorship.  It was the stone that loosened the avalanche.  No one would say that Uncle Tom’s Cabin awoke the world to the horrors of slavery, but its wide circulation did much to hasten the American Civil War, and the outcome of this was to bring about the end of slavery in America.”

–Lovat Dickinson, Radclyffe Hall at the Well of Loneliness: A Sapphic Chronicle, 1975, p. 21

2.  Radclyffe Hall in a letter to her friend Newman Flower of Cassells, a publisher:

“In a word, I have written a long and very serious novel entirely upon the subject of sexual inversion.  So far as I know, nothing of the kind has ever been attempted before in fiction.  Hitherto the subject has either been treated as pornography, or introduced as an episode, as in Dusty Answer, or veiled as in A Regiment of Women.  I have treated it as a fact in nature—a simple, though at present tragic, fact.  I have written the life of a woman who is a born invert, and have done so with what I believe to be sincerity and truth; and while I have refused to camouflage in any way, I think I have avoided all unnecessary coarseness.”

–Quoted in Lovat, p. 140

3.  Three weeks after the book’s publication, the editor of the Sunday Express, Hames Douglas, condemned the book and went on a public campaign against it, calling for its withdrawal:

“I am well aware that sexual inversion and perversion are horrors which exist among us today.  They flaunt themselves in public places with increasing effrontery and more insolently provocative bravado.  The decadent apostles of the most hideous and loathsome vices no longer conceal their degeneracy and their degradation. . . . They do not shun publicity.  On the contrary, they seek it, and they take a delight in their flamboyant notoriety.  The consequence is that this pestilence is devastating young souls.”

–Quoted in Lovat, p. 149

4.  “Oh god not again.  The Well of Fucking Loneliness.  When will the nightmare stop?  Here we are again, asleep and fitfully dreaming: it’s the final play before the buzzer at the Greatest Lesbian Writers of the World Basketball Championship. . . .  How bad, bad, bad is The Well of Loneliness?  Like many bookish lesbians I seem to have spent much of my adult life making jokes about it, as if to fend it off once and for all.  After all, it is quite possibly the worst novel ever written . . .  [she cites the opening paragraphs as one example]. And likewise: who could forget (ever) The Well’s celebrated love scenes—turgid, pimple-ridden, sumptuously ungrammatical, yet all too pat to peter out in feeble redundancies just when everything is hotting up?”

–Terry Castle, “Afterword: It was Good, Good, Good,” in Palatable Poison: Critical Perspectives on The Well of Loneliness, eds. Laura Doan and Jay Prosser, 2001, pp. 394-95.

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Lecture notes: What is a (Queer) Author? What is a (Queer) Text? (Barthes, Butler)

 Petra Dierkes-Thrun’s Lecture Notes, January 12, 2012

“What is a (Queer) Author? What is a (Queer) Text?” session

Texts discussed:

  • Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.”  In Performing Feminisms, ed. Sue-Ellen Case.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.  270-282.
  • Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”


What happens when we try to apply Barthes’ and Butler’s ideas and critiques to the idea of queer authors: the death of the queer author, the performance of the queer author (or text)? What are some additional questions or considerations, not brought up by Butler or Bathes, when the subject is queer authors and texts?

What about the idea of performativity that comes out of Butler’s text?  Does the queer author “perform” his or her queerness somehow?  How?  And what is the relationship between a queer reader and a queer author or a queer text?

Roland Barthes (1915-1980), “The Death of the Author”               Roland-Barthes-Paris-1979-002


Structuralist/poststructuralist (helped found the field that is now called semiotics)

“The Death of the Author”—some background: Influential essay from 1968, written right before Barthes’ turn to poststructuralism (where theories of intertextuality, the interplay of culture and texts, and the play of language, rather than the stricter structuralist view of language as a game of chess with strict rules that can be fully explored and understood, would play more of a role.

Structuralism: focuses on production of meaning through certain structures in texts (identifies the underlying structures of meaning).  Key principles: interconnections of a sign with other signs, signs are understandable both diachronically and synchronically (i.e. historically through time, and contemporaneous with other signs).  Barthes builds on the intentional fallacy idea to develop his concept of the death of the author. Intentional fallacy, formalist critics Wimsatt and Beardsley, 1946:  They criticize the mistaken belief that what the author intended is the final, real meaning of his work and that we as readers can or should discover what that is (focusing on author’s intention).  W/B argue that “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a literary work.”  All we have is the text itself; it isn’t criticism’s business to inquire into author’s intentions.


  1. Idea that writing is the deconstruction of every voice (end of first paragraph)—do you buy that?  What could that mean?
  2. Describe elements of the author as B describes him: a modern phenomenon (not a shaman) i.e. a constructed concept and a historically changeable one, individualistic view.
  3. Page 2 describes some exceptions or rather loosening of the idea of author phenomenon in literature.  How does today’s internet culture figure in here as well?  See end of Foucault’s essay, too (read it in light of the recent www developments, social networks, youtube etc.).
  4. Explain the idea of the modern author versus the modern scriptor, collect passages.  Subjectivity as essence vs. agency (not personhood) as construction.  How does this compare to Butler’s notion of performativity? Do the two views of “authors” and “readers” (of texts, of genders) oppose each other, resemble each other, or overlap—how?
    1. Barthes: text as expression of author, final signified, closed-off writing, “decipher” text and you’re done, theological Author-God.
    2. Text as construction (limited dictionary and actions) of the scriptor, “disentangle” text, anti-theological activity refusing to fix meaning
    3. Famous last sentence, “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the Author”—explain, discuss,  Last sentence is a bit of a cop-out—a salutary finish, rhetorically effective, but also not explained.  Does Barthes indicate what “the reader” is, or can we infer it somehow?  Is the death of the reader next?


Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution”                   Judith Butler


Judith Butler (who teaches at UC Berkeley) has been one of the most conspicuous theorists of gender for decades.  One work especially catapulted her to academic fame: Gender Trouble [1990], and the follow-up study Bodies That Matter [1993], also Undoing Gender [2007] (all still essential reading for the study of sexuality and gender today).  Besides having helping to develop the field of queer theory, Butler belongs to the school of thought called feminist constructivism, which believes that gender is MOSTLY culturally constituted, rather than ONLY biologically determined.

“doing one’s gender”                                                           vs.               “being one’s gender”

Butler starts with a quote from Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born but rather becomes a woman.”

Central question: if gender is culturally and gradually individually developed, then, how can we think about this happening in an actual person’s life?

Butler suggests a couple of answers:

  • We only perceive a person as having a certain gender because that person him-herself acts, looks, behaves in certain ways which are identified as “masculine” or “feminine,” or a mixture of these.  This is not completely the individual’s voluntary, conscious choice though:  “doing one’s gender” is both determined by

— individual will, choice, preference (e.g. style of clothes, hair, perhaps certain conscious mannerisms), but even this is “rarely original” (p. 277);

— social norms, conventions, education, upbringing etc.—the social and cultural environment

  • If gender is not a prior given, it must be developed and performed over time and be manifest in certain acts (looks, behavior) in order to be recognizable by others as belonging to someone’s personality: hence Butler’s idea of gender as something that is first “rehearsed” like a role (i.e. we rehearse our gender as kids), and then later repeated again and again.

Some quotes from Butler that express these ideas well:

Gender as

  • “an identity tenuously constituted in time” (271)
  • “a stylized repetition of acts” (271)
  • relying most visibly and obviously on the stylization of the body (ideas about the body are subject to historical interpretation which can change).
  •  “To guarantee the reproduction of a given culture, various requirements, well-established in the anthropological literature of kinship, have instated sexual reproduction within the confines of a heterosexuality-based system of marriage which requires the reproduction of human beings in certain gendered modes which, in effect, guarantee the eventual reproduction of that kinship system.  As [Michel] Foucault and others have pointed out, the association of a natural sex with a discrete gender and with an ostensibly natural ‘attraction’ to the opposing sex/gender is an unnatural conjunction of cultural constructs in the service of reproductive interests.  […]  My point is simply that one way in which this system of compulsory heterosexuality is reproduced and concealed is through the cultivation of bodies into discrete sexes with ‘natural’ appearances and ‘natural’ heterosexual dispositions.”  (275)

Butler calls this compulsory  system one of “binary genders” organized by “the heterosexual contract” in society (ibid.).

Greek hetero = “the other,” Greek homo = the same


Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.  New York: Routledge, 1990:

If there is something right in Beauvoir’s claim that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman, it follows that woman itself is a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or to end.  As an ongoing discursive practice, it is open to intervention and resignification.  Even when gender seems to congeal into the most reified forms, the “congealing” is itself an insistent and insidious practice, sustained and regulated by various social means. […]  Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being.  (33)

Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter.  New York: Routledge, 1993: 

Materiality of the body versus the performativity of gender (1)

But how, then, does the notion of gender performativity relate to this concept of materialization [of sex]?  In the first instance, performativity must be understood not as a singular or deliberate “act.” But, rather, as the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names.  What will, I hope, become clear in what follows is that the regulatory norms of “sex” work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and, more specifically, to materialize the body’s sex, to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative. (2)

If gender is the social construction of sex, and if there is no access to this “sex” except by means of its construction, then it appears not only that sex is absorbed by gender, but that “sex” becomes something like a fiction, perhaps a fantasy, retroactively installed at a prelinguistic site to which there is no direct access.  (5)

[What we habitually call sex is produced by] a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter.   (9)

[The regulation and normalization of gender and sex in our society] contribute to that field of discourse and power that orchestrates, delimits, and sustains that which qualifies as “the human.”  We see this most clearly in the example of those abjected beings who do not appear properly gendered; it is their very humanness that comes into question.  Indeed, the construction of gender operates through exclusionary means, such that the human is not only produced over and against the inhuman, but through a set of foreclosures, radical erasures, that are, strictly speaking, refused the possibility of cultural articulation.  (8)

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