Politics as a Neuter

22 October 2005

Thanks to Sarah Lindon for her posting 'Neutering Politics.' Her comments not only elaborate on Judith Butler's lecture 'On being beside oneself: on the limits of sexual autonomy'. They also weave together cultural politics and security politics with international human rights. In reading Sarah's comments, I was struck not only by her eloquent elaboration of ideas but initially by the title of her posting. As I read it (and correct me if I'm wrong, Sarah), the reference to 'Neutering Politics' implies a concern we seem to share, about how anxieties concerning difference 'license' not only what Sarah calls a neutering of fantasy and a rewriting of resistence into support of normality but also the material bodily deaths that provoked Butler to write her essay in the first place.

As I read the postings on this website by women activists and intellectuals, I am struck again and again by how these woman work to resist stereotypes of women as those who make too much of a difference by the very fact of being women. For as these activitists and intellectuals realize, stereotyping women as making too much of a difference (as, in Butler's terms again, the source of 'gender trouble' and sometimes simply as the source of any trouble) means that women (and other) are made to carry the anxiety of difference by some faction of the world (be it gendered, sexualitized, racialized, religious, moral, economic, and on and on) that claims to be and to act on behalf of what is normal and natural. And this may well result in these subjects bearing the very real risks not only of exclusion and abuse but of death in their everyday material lives.

This is partly why I believe work in the so-called cultural spheres is as important as work in the so-called political spheres. For cultural politics is another domaine in which we can resist and rewrite these stereotypes about women as (making too much of a) difference. It is also another domaine in which one can reimagine what it looks like to enact meaningful change as a 'political neuter' -- this time not understood as someone whose politics is neutralized but as someone whose confusion of norms and normativity might participate in meaningful cultural and political changes. The challenge is to make difference -- and, in this case, the difference women make -- something that is safe to imagine and to live.


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