This is the final essay I wrote for Introduction to Literary and Cultural Studies at Amsterdam University College. I have pasted the introduction and conclusion here.
In Imitation and Gender Insubordination, Judith Butler boldly claims that human identity is not associated with what one is or has, but what one does. In particular, gender and sexual identities are never as static as essentialists may expect it to be, but a set of performative actions subject to socio-political expectations and prevalent cultural norms. Butler fiercely argues against the fixed signification of gender and problematises sexuality discourse that is subject to power-knowledge relationships in society. In this essay, I explain how Butler’s theory aligns with Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstruction and Michel Foucault’s power-knowledge mechanism. I apply Butler’s critical lens to a Chinese transgender dancer, Jin Xing, and her recently broadcasted talk shows. I argue that although Butler, Derrida and Foucault are Euro-American scholars, their arguments capture the cultural and political nuances of China, and Butler’s theory on gender performance well applies to Jin Xing and her talk shows.
In conclusion, I find Butler’s essay a sharp and somehow despairing depiction of the
nuanced human existence, or how gender and sexuality in particular can be both assertive and destructive. Inspired by Derrida’s deconstructive methodology and Foucault’s power-knowledge mechanism, Butler drastically shakes the concept of human identity and two most important aspects of it, namely gender and sexuality, that have been so firmly but perhaps mistakenly fixed in human civilisation. Through generations of “necessary drag”, the confusion about gender and sexuality have been rudely eliminated, and people, in an effort to conceal their fear, put faith in heteronormativity across the world. The universalness of heteronormativity is in itself an interesting topic in anthropology, but looking to the future, I do hope that not just intellectuals, but the general public can be inspired by Butler’s work and re-consider those mistaken categorisations of gender and sexuality. The result, as I believe, enriches the possibilities of human existence and relationships; it can be truly liberating.
Butler, Judith. Imitation and Gender Insubordination. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, David M. Halperin, editors. Routledge. 1993.
Parker, Robert D. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford University Press, New York, 2015.
Van Norden, Bryan W. Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto. Columbia University Press, New York, 2017.