I am the 1%—On Attending Butler's Final Flexner Lecture

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I am the 1%—On Attending Butler's Final Flexner Lecture

After playfully lamenting the fact that I was without tix to Judith Butler’s Flexner Lectures at Bryn Mawr, I took it upon myself to correct the situation—meaning that I, employing all my Jedi mind skills, feigned being a journalist (really, I’m just a “blogger,” and a “lesbian blogger” at that) and scored a “press pass” to her final lecture.

So, off to Bryn Mawr I went—thankfully, there were signs to help me along my way.


(“Stop N Play. / Judith Butler, that way.”)


Butler’s third and final lecture, “Toward an Ethics of Co-Habitation,” was firmly rooted in her most recent work; I’d say, from Giving an Account of Oneself (2005) onward, but work that is still nonetheless also ensconced in (cringe-inducing…I’m sorry) Hegelianisms—in this particular lecture, via the ethical philosophies of Hannah Arendt and Emmanuel Levinas.

What does this all mean, you wonder? Basically, in her lecture, Butler contemplated forms of social interdependency, arguing for an affirmation of interdependence of bodies (nation-states, and the current Israel-Palestine conflict specifically) in egalitarian terms.  The idea of interdependence for Butler, who is the queer Hegelian of today, is that it’s essentially an ontological given: before politics, before a political society is created, there are bodies, and these bodies are delimited by the fact that there are multiple bodies.  In other words, I know where my body ends by where yours begins, but, even more, I know that I exist because you recognize me. My existence—social, but, I think Butler would contend, ontological existence as well—depends upon another person acknowledging me. (This is the whole Althusserian argument about a person coming into existence in society through being “hailed” or called by another person.)

As someone who is interested in the question of ethics, I had a vested interest in the topic; the bigger issue, for me, is how and why bodies come together to form alliances—questions implicated in this statement can clearly be applied to a queer discourse.

Butler didn’t address anything remotely queer, which left my mind to contemplate what the entire room, chock full of homolabians and academidykes, was thinking—surely, they, too, wanted Butler to talk about lesbian co-habitation?

Alas, it was not meant to be.

Although, there was one question that piqued my interest—(because it was) a question that Butler respectfully dismissed as being "unanswerable." A little Bryn Mawr student asked JB to articulate her

Comments [10]

T. Hammidi's picture

Fashion report and being seen

I like the fashion report, especially for Butler who, like many great theorists, has memorable style. Wondering if you agree that (via Butler) one is 'seen' when in that interrelationship(Drunk of the Althusserian hail.  I agree that we are reproduced, but only in splinters and fragments.  As for her residency at the college, it seems to me that GM hits it on the head that perhaps responding to the pleasures she encountered on site would have called for her dematerialization -- or for unpacking the materials of the sites she encountered. I think the ethics are about the exchange - of material/immaterial together, never resting always plural.  But as was said earlier, what brings us together is the thing at the center that has blurry edges (disrupts cartesian frameworks) but holds a life-force within it. Woo-woo of me but that's what I did with my vocabulary from school.

T. Hammidi

Marcie Bianco's picture

I think for Butler, yes, one

I think for Butler, yes, one is 'seen' when in that relationship—but the perception is one of surface, of the image....that is, I don't know how "deep" that rendering is.

T, perhaps the thing at the center on this occasion was JB herself....I mean, it was kind of a fantastic, albeit muted, experience: a room chock full of homolabians, butch academidykes abound...the room was charged leading up to her entrance onto the stage.... = ie, typical academidyke lecture experience. ... I'm cross that photography wasn't allowed! 

Tosha's picture

I've sometimes speculated

that perhaps Butler actually IS Georg Wilhelm Hegel, reincarnated as a cute butch.  I mean, stranger things have happened in this world, I am sure.   And would explain why the work is not always fully accessible to those of us who spent prior lifetimes perhaps as geisha, dramaturgists or zen monks Smile

Marcie Bianco's picture

well, her dissertation was a

well, her dissertation was a monograph on hegel, so perhaps!


i forgot to mention that she was wearing her typical lecture coat -- a black leather/pleather jacket -- with a purple indian-inspired(?) scarf, and dyke-black pants (ie, they looked navy).

Ah! important details!

Tosha's picture

ok thanks for your libra rising

fashion report lol but the most probing metaphysical question is: 

If you deconstruct writing that you did in a prior lifetime is it considered reincarnational plagiarism? 

Just wondering and now I'm really giggling.

Marcie Bianco's picture

tee hee...me too. Although,

tee hee...me too. Although, one could be Bergsonian about it and say that the new is born from the old—the old provides the material of the new, in whatever figuration...but what quintessentially comprises the difference between the new and the old is TIME itself....

...which, i'm not sure at all addresses the delicious idea of 'reincarnational plagarism"!

Tosha's picture

cliff notes to understand cliff notes indeed

 Humbling if amusing to graduate from Yale and only understand every third word.  I might do better in Spanish.  (But then so did Bush which instantly erased all cachet anyway Smile)

Marcie Bianco's picture

i clearly approached her

i clearly approached her lecture from my vested interest in ethics, personal, or "local" ethics as JB refers to them—while she's interested in nation-state politics and a more theologically-compelled ethics of 'love of thy neighbor'.....the specificities of the middle east conflict was well over my head Smile

Grace Moon's picture

i need cliff notes to understand the cliff notes

nicely done Dr. B (the digital ethicist).

I'm interested in seeing how you expound on Butler's digi ethics. so what's the ethics of our bonds on Vp?

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Marcie Bianco's picture

Thank you, professor... Well,

Thank you, professor...

Well, I think she's right on to discuss it—we're all chained to our computers/smartphones/etc nowadays...how else are the majority of us affected by 'the outside world'?

Clearly there are ethical relations at work on Vp....regardless of difference, bonds are established via the connection between 'bodies', in the flesh or otherwise...

...def more to come, though Smile