The 1990 book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler creates an influential notion of gender performativity. It is considered a canonical text of postmodern feminism and queer theory. A professor suggested the reading as part of a research project on postmodern theory. Throughout my analysis, the Official Style plays a role, more generally, through the use of jargon which relates to postmodern theory. I will provide sentences containing this, as well as analyze the syntactic ordering along with the semantic meaning of what this jargon entails. In similarly written texts concerning postmodernism you will find this jargon as well. This is due to the fact that the postmodernist’s activity systems aim to achieve authority not over the reader, but over the meaningful methods of performance introduced in their writing. In effect, the jargon functions as an establishment of knowledge about the methods of performance evident in the subject discussed. I will go into more depth with this later on.
This text is directed toward a higher education audience exploring gender and identity in a postmodern setting. What is meant by postmodern, according to dictionary.com, is the appeal to fantasy and allusions to traditional historic styles, as opposed to the demand for utility of standard modern theory. Further, the text generates a sense of imagination for the reader that provokes the interpretation of a natural concept of the female and gender in general. Traditional feminism is questioned and ultimately led to the broader idea that gender is a social performance rather than an expression of a reality prior. Butler’s rhetorical style used in order to develop her ideas seems to me to be of creative credibility. What I mean by this is that she chooses her words carefully and creatively in order to structure her language in such a way that makes her ideas seem more credible and convincing than they might actually be. From this, Butler simulates a confidence which I would consider to be, in this context, ‘performing confidence’. I do not mean for this term to be negative in connotation. I mean for it to be critical of how we use the word ‘confidence’. I also do not mean for this term to be applied to Butler herself, but rather be applied to the writing itself. Similarly then, the text is performing professionalism in the sense that the methods introduced create their own kind of unique profession to be engaged in.
I consider this confidence produced by Butler’s writing to be ‘performed’ because of the lack of rhetorical clarity. For instance, there exists a difficult wordiness that can be excessive and unnecessary at times, almost as if she can’t quite choose which word she wishes to use. It is demonstrated in this sentence: “Her argument makes clear that maternal drives constitute those primary processes that language invariably represses or sublimates” (Butler 56%). The fact that she uses the word “or” can mean many things, including the assumption that the reader, a person interested in, or introduced to postmodern studies, can choose whatever word they see fit. As if they can use the word “represses” or “sublimates”. I think this causes the sentence to allude to either the theory of repression or the theory of sublimation. It generates the option of two different theories to be considered in her text. Does she mean for a person to abide to the theory of keeping under control or to the theory of diverting completely? At this point, the choice could completely be up to the reader.
Another thing that sticks out to me is the difficulty of her word choice. The excerpt I chose to critique is written at a grade level of more than 16, almost a graduate school level. This difficulty also applies to the creative credibility I discussed earlier. Again, Butler chooses her words carefully and creatively, yet she may have over-accessorized her careful choosing. In Chapter 3 of her book, she poses a good, yet difficultly worded question, “What grounds, then, does Kristeva have for imputing a maternal teleology to the female body prior to its emergence into culture?” (Butler 56%). What Butler is posing here is the question of whether or not Kristeva has successfully hinted at the self-realization of the female body in a prior reality. A reality which existed before society had a chance to have an effect on oneself. A lot of reading beforehand and after the sentence is needed to understand this concept. The rhetorical strategy in effect by her as a postmodernist writer then, is allusion. Further, maybe even study outside of the book itself is needed, especially to understand what teleology in fact is. I think that she has chosen her words to be professional in order to further engage the reader through introduced methods, such as the method of performance.
To continue with my idea of the performance of confidence that is displayed in Butler’s writing, I will point out that throughout the entire book sentences such as the ones I have quoted are continually written in the ways which I have described. This makes me question the validity of her ideas. The ambiguity obfuscates the meaning of her sentences. The wordiness and using “or” allows for the reader to choose different meanings of the text. Overall, I think the person interested in, or learning about postmodernism is forced to continually clarify her meanings with simpler words that may not be sufficient. The meanings due to this could even be lost. This is troubling. At the same time however, I think that Butler meant to be professional. I also think that Butler meant to exercise her authority not over the reader, but over the idea of traditional feminist claims. And so, the performance of confidence shines through the writing when exercising her authority. Whatever the trouble may be, the style of this writing most likely suits those passionate about understanding what a new theory consists of, whether it consists of anything that needs interpreting at all.
In conclusion, I have discovered that jargon might need to be incorporated in the writing of a newly developed theory. Its need would lay in the attempt to provide some kind of knowledge base about the theory. This leaves us with the question, does this form of writing provide a real knowledge base, a tangible, physical, substantive knowledge about what is truly being discussed, or is it a work in progress toward real knowledge?