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Judith Butler: "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution:

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Emily Morgan

on 11 March 2014

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Transcript of Judith Butler: "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution:

Performative Language and Performative Acts: An exploration of Performative theory AND Judith Butler's "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution"

Performative Language
Since the mid 20th century, ideas about the performative nature of language has flourished in the fields of literary and theoretical exploration. Namely, how performative language leads to questions about identity and the nature of the subject.
In terms of "Yerma"
Taking Lorca out of the picture, there are some examples of performativity at work in the play.
What other characters are performing--how?
Think about the Second Girl, Victor, the Washer-Women,
Back to Butler
Performatives Evolution
1950s = J.L. Austin (British Philosopher)
1980s-ish = Jacques Derrida
1990s-ish = Judith Butler
Butler in a nutshell
She's written so much about performativity and gender that we can synthesize much of her work.
Describe the idea you think is best
Performative utterances vs. Constative utterances
Constative = makes a statement, describes a state of affairs, and are true or false.

= not true or false and perform the action to which they refer
ie: I promise to pay you...
( haven't done it yet;
performing act of promising)
Performative Utterances
Do not describe
Perform the action they designate
Language is PERFORMING action; not merely reporting
When you start to really pick this idea apart, you find that all language is implicitly performative
In terms of the literary
If literature, like language, is performative, then it, too, transforms the world, brings into being the things that are named within the literature.

Breaks link between meaning and intention of the speaker--in other words, intentions of author not thought to be what determines meaning--it is the interpretations of the readers and their social and linguistic conventions that constrain them
Derrida's Performatives
Added to Austin's ideas by asking, "could a performative be successful if its forumulation did not repeat a 'codified' or iterable (repeatable) form?"
Language is perfromative in the sense that it doesn't just trasnmit info, but performs acts by its repetition of established practices (social conventions)

Some snags
acts that create something new (that are repeating a historical convention)
these can be successful, but usually with the help of a constative
ie: "We therefore ...declare these United colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states."
Final thoughts before Butler
Redefinition of constative/performative:
constative = language claiming to represent things as they are, to name things that are already there
performative = the rhetorical operations, the acts of language, that undermine this claim by imposing linguistic categories, bringing things into being, organizing the world rather than simply representing what is
Her exigence
Simone de Beauvoir (and, by extension, Helene Cixous and Woolf)
She "likes" Beauvoir's "one is not born, but, rather
a woman"
Takes issue with the idea of "fortify sexual differences"
"My only concern is that sexual difference not become a reification which unwittingly preserves a binary restriction on gender identity and an implicitly heterosexual framework for the description of gender, gender identity, and sexuality" (530)
Gender as performative
Gender is not something one IS; it is something one DOES...a condition one enacts.

You become man/woman by repeated acts which depend upon social conventions, habitual ways of doing something in a culture

Gender is not based upon a single act; rather, compulsory repetition of gender norms that animate and constrain the gendered subject
For Butler, performativity provides a model for thinking about crucial social processes where a number of matters are at stake
1) the nature of identity and how it is produced
2) the functioning of social norms
3) the fundamental problem of what we call "agency": how far and under what conditions can I be a responsible subject who choose my acts
4) the relationship between the individual
and social change
"That's how I am. That's why I take care of you....But you don't let me"
(Act I.i page 2)

"This house needs a child" (spoken to Yerma by Victor. end of ActI.i
"You work hard and you're not made for work" (Yerma says this to Juan I.i page1)

Juan: "I have to guard the flock. You know it's the owner's duty"
Yerma: "I know it only too well. You needn't repeat it" (Act II.ii)
Small groups
In small groups, discuss how performativity (either enacting the script itself OR promulgating the social conventions around the act) works in your assigned character/character group
Another small group discussion
In what ways is this play (a performance itself) a commentary about social conventions and norms? How does the idea of performativity support this idea?
A clip
Not Butler, but same idea
Refer back to the pros and cons
Explain how it will help
Describe the next steps
Based on Jim Harvey's speech structures
Full transcript