41 thoughts on “Coach Taylor Defends Feminist Philosopher

  1. I apologize for the exasperated tone of comment #3. One’s patience has its limits, but that’s no excuse. Anyway, this 2009 article in Australian Feminist Studies attempts to bring Butler and Nussbaum together on the issue of universalism: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08164640903074928

    From the Intro: “Notwithstanding this ostensible opposition, I argue that a substantive
    engagement between Nussbaum and Butler that is attentive to the complexity of their
    respective positions has thus far been lacking, and suggest that such careful attention
    reveals grounds for a provisional alliance between the two. Both theorists have consistently affirmed the political utility of universalism, and both are committed to envisioning a universalism that is non-exhaustive and open to contestation. Moreover, considering Nussbaum and Butler together provides a means to rethink reflexive critiques of universalism that suggest that universal theory is inevitably inattentive to difference, to locality and to particularity. Instead, I argue that we can most productively think through the relationship of universality to particularity in terms other than those that are starkly

  2. And anyway, I don’t read Nussbaum as claiming that Butler isn’t a philosopher. She is claiming that Butler isn’t a very good philosopher and that her approach to feminist theory is dangerous but that’s a different thing altogether.

    Writes Nussbaum: “One American feminist has shaped these developments more than any other. Judith Butler seems to many young scholars to define what feminism is now. Trained as a philosopher, she is frequently seen (more by people in literature than by philosophers) as a major thinker about gender, power, and the body. As we wonder what has become of old-style feminist politics and the material realities to which it was committed, it seems necessary to reckon with Butler’s work and influence, and to scrutinize the arguments that have led so many to adopt a stance that looks very much like quietism and retreat.”

    That reads to me like one philosopher engaging with the work of the other. Who is right and whether Nussbaum is sufficiently charitable to Butler is a whole other argument.

    The complete piece is here, “The Professor of Parody,” published in The New Republic, is here, http://www.akad.se/Nussbaum.pdf.

  3. The implication of the original post was that those who view Butler as “not a real philosopher” do so unfairly, perhaps out of hostility to the project of feminism in general. In reply, it seems entirely sporting to point out that there are people with more or less impeccable feminist credentials who share this dim view.

    There seems to be a tension, by the way, between your suggestion that we dismiss Nussbaum’s piece out of hand for having been written in the past (“drag that Nussbaum piece out of the way back [sic] machine”) and its context in a blog devoted to the study of philosophy. Having attempted to read Butler, and having come to much the same conclusions as Nussbaum, I am content to continue to link to the piece whenever the question of Butler’s philosophical merits comes up. (N.B. that this isn’t merely ‘Butler’s name being mentioned’; it’s an assertion that Butler *is too* a real philosopher.) If someone could actually explain to me why Nussbaum’s appraisal of Butler is mistaken–rather than merely expressing exasperation for daring to mention it– I would be obliged.

    The piece you linked is pay-walled, unfortunately.

  4. redeyedtreefrog,

    Nussbaum’s point in the paragraph quoted is that Butler happens to be taken seriously, not that she ought to. She takes care to write that Butler is “trained as a philosopher”, not that what she is doing is philosophy; even more pointed is her aside that her star-struck disciples tend to lack philosophical training themselves. I don’t intend that remark snidely, but it’s entirely cricket to observe that the people in the best position to evaluate her philosophical claims (inasmuch as they are even claims) are largely unimpressed by them.

    In section II of the linked article, Nussbaum issues and substantiates several serious charges against Butler including deliberate obfuscation, irresponsible and careless scholarship, misinterpretations of trivially basic aspects of other philosophers’ work, sloppy argument and general contempt for her reader. Finally, in the closing paragraph, she writes:

    “Butler gains prestige in the literary world by being a philosopher; many
    admirers associate her manner of writing with philosophical profundity. _But one should ask
    whether it belongs to the philosophical tradition at all_ [emph added], rather than to the closely related but
    adversarial traditions of sophistry and rhetoric. Ever since Socrates distinguished philosophy
    from what the sophists and the rhetoricians were doing, it has been a discourse of equals who
    trade arguments and counter-arguments without any obscurantist sleight-of-hand. In that way,
    he claimed, philosophy showed respect for the soul, while the others’ manipulative methods
    showed only disrespect.”

    Although Nussbaum takes pains from section III onwards to attempt to identify Butler’s arguments and interpret them with back-bending charity, her conclusion is that there’s simply no there there– Butler’s celebrated, daring theses turn out to either banal trivialities, points made before and better by other philosophers, or self-refuting absurdities. These remarks are difficult to reconcile with the view that Nussbaum regards herself as “one philosopher engaging with the work of the other”. More rather “one philosopher pointing out that the other actually isn’t”.

  5. Anonymous, I’m not dismissing Nussbaum, I’m pointing out that it’s a dreadful cliché to drag out her 1999 piece every time Butler’s name is mentioned “as a philosopher” if you insist. If you want to discuss the Australian Feminist Studies piece, you can email me at protevi AT lsu DOT edu and I’ll email you a copy.

  6. Let’s put Nussbaum aside then. I don’t think we do much good for the cause of women in philosophy by declaring some feminists as ‘not really philosophers.’ Between those who choose to deliberately leave our discipline by working in related fields such as political science, women’s studies, queer studies etc and those who others decide aren’t really philosophers, no wonder there are so few women left. It’s bad enough that so many mainstream philosophers think that all feminist philosophy doesn’t really count as philosophy without feminist philosophers joining in.

  7. Generally, what is at stake in making a distinction between being a bad philosopher and not really being a philosopher?

  8. I admit I’m puzzled by this form of argument for several reasons. In the first place, the question of whether Butler is doing philosophy seems independent of the question of the status of women in philosophy. Either Butler is doing philosophy or she is not– if she is not, how is the cause of women in philosophy advanced by claiming she is (or at least demurring to admit that she isn’t)? The sense of the original post is that Butler is obviously a real philosopher, and people who think otherwise are just arguing in bad faith. When one points out sincere objections to Butler’s place in the philosophical tradition, it seems rather beside the point to suggest “let’s put Nussbaum aside then”. Very respectfully, “suppose we change the subject” is not an argument with a history to be proud of.

    Your reply, if I’ve read it correctly, seems like a tacit admission that Nussbaum’s charges are accurate, but that it’s impolitic to say so because it’s bad for the cause. In fact, isn’t the status of feminist philosophy actually jeopardized by that impulse? If we are inclined to ‘circle the wagons’ around anyone who claims to be doing feminist philosophy instead of evaluating their work on the merits, is that not precisely the sort of reaction to fuel the worst stereotypes of feminist philosophy, viz. that it subjugates inquiry to politics, tends not to be closely argued, can’t stand up to scrutiny, &c.? If considerations of usefulness to the movement are so compelling that they can motivate us to refrain from criticizing pseudo-philosophical posturing, are we even doing philosophy any more?

    Moreover, if you are worried about what the public (or the profession) in general thinks of the quality of feminist philosophy, how could it help to refrain from driving out the most egregious offenders? Consider, say, the mean caliber of scholarship in feminist philosophy. If you remove Butler from the set of feminist philosophers, as it were, how could it help but increase? That Butler does not do philosophy is an empirical question which one may care to dispute (although no one in this thread appears interested in mounting that defense), but if she is not, how could it help the reputation of feminist philosophy to pretend not to notice it? Certainly there are many reasons that feminist philosophers who could work in cognate fields like law or history often choose to do so, but do we know that this attitude is not itself a contributing factor? If terrible scholarship is knowingly tolerated, is it unreasonable to suspect Gresham’s law at work?

    Lastly, as an aside, I think it’s important not to casually elide the status of women in philosophy and the status of feminist philosophy, let alone certain (alleged) feminist philosopers. The two are not totally independent, of course, but they are definitely distinct.

  9. I think the distinction between “bad Xs” and “not Xs” can be useful. Many students, for example, engage in what is unmistakable as bad philosophy. Their arguments are shot through with unexamined premises, special appeals and other lacunae. They are clearly trying to do philosophy– they just don’t fully understand yet what that requires. There is an important difference in intention between such students and one who submits a chemistry lab report or a fast food menu.

  10. @13: so your students are doing bad philosophy, but a feminist philosopher who holds a phd in philosophy and has written several books in philosophy is not a philosopher.

  11. I have trouble reading Butler myself, but I wonder why she is singled out.

    There are probably hundreds of mediocre, jargon-ridden and obscure male philosophy professors and no one publicly questions whether they are philosophers or not.

    So why does Nussbaum, instead of putting down some obscure or pretentious male philosopher, turn her considerable argumentive skills against Butler?

  12. sk,

    I was not aware that special credentials like a Ph.D. were sufficient to do philosophy. The specific difference I proposed is that the undergraduates are clearly trying to offer arguments and evidence for their positions and generally make themselves understood. Perhaps they have not yet succeeded, but they are at least trying in good faith. Whether Butler has written books of philosophy or not is precisely the question at hand.

    Further, I don’t think the question of what Butler’s really up to has much to do with feminist philosophy at large. It certainly doesn’t have anything to do with my view of her work. When you write “so your students are doing bad philosophy, but a feminist philosopher…is not”, one cannot help but wonder whether you think that her status as a feminist is relevant to me. There are plenty of feminist philosophers (and women philosophers generally) whom I admire, and whose work was seriously influential for me when I studied philosophy. Butler happens not to be one of them. As I’ve tried to stress repeatedly (apparently without result) it’s a grave mistake to mentally substitute feminist philosophy for any arbitrary feminist philosopher, totum pro parte.

  13. I just want to point out to redeyedtreefrog that the more bad philosophy that is done in the name of feminism and sanctioned by feminists, the worse non-feminists will think of feminist philosophy.

  14. s. wallerstein,

    There are indeed hundreds of mediocre, obscurantist philosophy professors, but most of them languish in obscurity and it is kind of a general principle that the size of one’s target will be proportional to one’s prominence. This is explicitly why Nussbaum chooses to address Butler: because she fears there is a generation of students that takes her seriously.

    Butler is hardly alone in this treatment: Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, Guattari, Baudrillard and Virilio all come to mind as prominent “theory people” criticized for their extreme disregard for clarity in argument and discreditable appropriations of concepts from sciences and mathematics that they demonstrably do not understand. What unifies all of these examples is not anti-feminist backlash, but contempt for pseudo-intellectualism from people who should know better.

    I think your closing rhetorical question loses its force when we actually try to answer it. Why does Nussbaum criticize Butler? Because she has secretly internalized a patriarchal false consciousness? Or is it because “Judith Butler seems to many young scholars to define what feminism is now…[and] it seems necessary to reckon with Butler’s work and influence, and to scrutinize the arguments that have led so many to adopt a stance that looks very much like quietism and retreat.”? Do we have any good reason not to take Nussbaum at her word about the motivations for her own article?

  15. John, I was able to get it through my machine on campus. I’m afraid to admit I’m not sure how it’s supposed to clarify Butler’s views, especially as the author appears to be making a claim about the two that neither would seem to endorse.

  16. Anonymous:

    I’m going to try to make the case for Butler or for her style of philosophy.

    First of all, I’m relatively unfamiliar with Butler’s work, but since you group her with Deleuze and I’ve read a fair amount of Deleuze, I’ll go ahead with my defense, it being understood that I’m defending not so much Butler as certain theory people, whom you refer to.

    I see Deleuze’s work as an experiment: he takes arguments or ideas far down certain paths and often finds little that sticks to your ribs.

    On the other hand, taking the journey with him is interesting.

    Perhaps his most extremist work, Anti-Oedipus, is, as far as I know, completely mistaken about a relationship between capitalism and schizophrenia, its basic tenet,
    but it forces the reader to rethink the family, psychoanalysis and the oedipal relationship in fruitful new ways, just as his works on Nietzsche and Spinoza, by identifying and then blowing out of proportion certain facets of the work of the two philosophers, lead you resee their work in once again, fruitful new ways.

    The experimental journeys are worth taking, for me at least.

    And while current analytic philosophy may contain few experimental journeys, the Western philosophical tradition, from Plato’s cave to Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, abounds in them and thus, they are a way of doing philosophy, although they may not be your way nor that of Nussbaum.

  17. Anonymous,

    I’ve provided a link below to a forthcoming essay that criticizes Butler’s work, and I do so from a philosophical perspective. As I see it, Butler was attempting to address philosophical issues and problems in her work, but just not as well as she could have done. I do find Butler’s writing style particularly annoying – far too oracular for my tastes! But we should not let the style blind us to the substance, such as there is, in Butler’s work. I also draw from Whitehead, Davidson, and Deleuze in this essay to make my case. I suspect you would think the first two are philosophers though possibly not the third (too obscurantist perhaps). Well anomalous monism is a challenging concept to wrap one’s mind around too, but it makes sense within the context of Davidson’s broader project (as I show in this essay); the same is true, as the linked essay tries to show, in the case of Deleuze’s concepts.

    Click to access modesofviolence.pdf

  18. look, anonymous, i get that you don’t like butler. that’s fine; there are a whole lot of philosophers i don’t particularly like. but i don’t go round yanking their philosophy card. why is it that we can trust that your students are doing philosophy (not that i don’t trust that: they are certainly doing philosophy), but we can’t trust that butler is arguing in good faith, and is therefore doing philosophy, even if badly? i’m not trying to determine what is sufficient to doing philosophy, as i think that such arguments are usually stupid and destructive. i am trying to zero in on why what your students are doing is philosophy, even if bad, but what butler does doesn’t even count as philosophy. because nussbaum (again, circa 1999; butler has written a lot since then) thinks she is dangerous? because she’s hard to read? because she’s arguing in bad faith? because she is a fake? a pseudo-philosopher? a mimic? i’m reminded of what kant once said about women scholars, “who use their books much like a watch, that is, they wear a watch so it can be noticed that they have one.”

    her status as a feminist philosopher may well be immaterial to you, and as much as you would like to separate out pure inquiry from politics (because it’s feminists who sully inquiry with their politics), believe me when i tell you that feminist philosophers have heard this all before: they aren’t rigorous, they aren’t substantive, they are obscurantist, they are shrill, they are absurdly political, their ideas aren’t seminal (perhaps the single most revealing thing ever said about philosophy), and on, and on. in other words, this argument takes place in a context: a context which dismisses what women do, *not as bad philosophy*, but as *inherently non-philosophical*. there is a whole history of work in feminist philosophy that carefully examines and critiques this context, from de beauvoir to okin to lloyd to irigaray to, well, butler.

  19. this is not to say that there is no possibility of arguing a case on its merits, btw. but i think that we may have to determine more specific merits than simply “philosophy” and “not philosophy.”

  20. I have to admit I’m enjoying this 90s night here at FP. First we get Nussbaum from 1999 and then in #18 we return to the halcyon days of the Sokal Hoax! What’s next, hearing “Candle in the Wind” on the radio?

    And yes, I’m treating anonymous’s words here with exactly the seriousness they deserve.

  21. I suppose I should pinpoint just what I take to be so comedic about the performance by anonymous here. A few notes then from #12:

    1: “Either Butler is doing philosophy or she is not”: what is the mark of the philosophical promoted by anonymous such that possession of it puts one in the magic circle?

    2. “When one points out sincere objections to Butler’s place in the philosophical tradition”: where exactly in Nussbaum’s essay is this discussed?

    3. “Moreover, if you are worried about what the public (or the profession) in general thinks of the quality of feminist philosophy, how could it help to refrain from driving out the most egregious offenders?”: what could it possibly mean to “drive someone out” of feminist philosophy? Is there some certificate that gets rescinded? What is the procedure here?

    4. “That Butler does not do philosophy is an empirical question”: it is? really? what are the criteria here? who gets asked? who formulates the question?

    I mean, in one sense I’m sorry that I snarked way back up in #3, but in another I’m not, since we get to see this performance. I wonder if anonymous has some sort of bat-signal rigged up so responses to other joke pictures about Butler will be forthcoming?

  22. man, professor protevi, you are making me regret ever leaving the path, but your snark-fu is better than mine. makes me miss the halcyon days of the berube blog.

  23. sk,

    Imprimis, I should clarify that the students in my example are not my own. It doesn’t really matter either way, but it would seem dishonest to let the impression stand.

    Unlike the students in my example, whose term papers are mercifully witheld from the public, Butler’s writings and public life are a matter of record. This makes it all the more difficult to maintain that Butler’s works constitute serious attempts to understand the world and our place within it.

    I’m aware that this argument, in an obligatory turn of phrase, “takes place in a context” in which women’s philosophical work has been historically de-valued. You will find, if you review what I’ve written here, that I’ve repeatedly clarified my position against innuendos accusing me (and, bizarrely, Martha Nussbaum) of sexist motivations (cf. #10, 14, 15 and your own 22) instead of engaging any of the claims Nussbaum presents.

    If you really must know, I was much taken by the work of philosophers like Alison Jaggar, Elizabeth Anderson, Eve Kittay, Rosemarie Tong and Lisa Lloyd (to say nothing of women philosophers working in other areas like Penelope Maddy and Michelle Friend) when I studied philosophy. Indeed, articles by Anderson and Lloyd in particular stood out to me as sterling examples of how to do philosophy in general. But when one is presented with facially substantive criticisms of someone on Team Feminist Philosophy, it’s not a healthy sign that the presenter must first also demonstrate allegiance to that team before the criticisms will be addressed, if ever. I’m sorry to say that the repeated accusations of sexism without any evidence save my agreement with Nussbaum’s arguments are beginning to seem less honestly mistaken than personally rude.

    As to the “possibility of arguing a case on its merits”, this is precisely what Nussbaum does in the article I linked. Although she does not literally write “Butler is not a philosopher”, the most cursory reading between the lines in section II would reveal this as a fair approximation of her own opinion.

    Nussbaum’s outline is roughly as follows (since there seems to be much reluctance to read and address the article that generated such controversy here):

    Butler’s writing and argumentative style is not merely bad but actively hostile to the project of reasoning among equals.

    Butler thinks her interpretations of philosophers are so obviously correct that she need not be troubled to argue for them, even when these interpretations are not mutually compossible.

    Butler makes sophomoric misinterpretations of basic points of philosophers’ work that would be considered howlers if submitted in a student’s term paper.

    Butler’s most celebrated thesis of the performativity of gender is either severely unoriginal if intended as a philosophical claim, lazy scholarship if a social claim, outlandishly false if a scientific claim, or some other option that must remain unknown to us due to Butler’s bad writing.

    Butler’s recommendations for parodic resistance make no distinction between socially constructed systems of power that are bad (like racism), and socially constructed systems of power that are good (say, for example, the criminal statutes that punish marital rape). As Nussbaum points out, calls for parodic subversion only seem appealing when the people doing the subverting already agree with you–otherwise you need some independent, unironic reason to subvert what you’re subverting.

    At times, Butler incredibly seems to oppose actually ameliorating material conditions on the grounds that they will diminish opportunities for subversive performance. (I am hesitant to include this point in the case against Butler-as-philosopher since it is merely insane and not obviously unphilosophical, but I think it’s still pretty remarkable.)

    Butler’s legal analysis is slipshod. She does not understand what kinds of claims need to be argued in her account of the First Amendment, and is she unfamiliar, or thinks herself above dealing with) any of the work on that subject done by those that came before.

  24. John, I’m inclined to ignore the spirit of #24 rather than reply in kind, although I admit to puzzlement that your principle objection to my position is that it’s ‘soooo 90’s.’ Even though my comments aren’t linked to my real name, I still feel restrained from making a hash of this.

    1. A willingness through things clearly together. Debates about the proper scope and ambit of philosophy are inexhaustible, but I think that about captures it for me. That includes all of the paradigmatic instances of philosophy I can think of, while excluding most paradigmatic negative examples. I don’t think there’s a particularly bright line between philosophy and many other areas of inquiry, but there are things that clearly lie on one side of it or the other. Does that sound unreasonable to you?

    2. vide supra.

    3. I cannot help but read this point as a symptom of a breakdown in discursive charity, as if I were suggesting we cashier Butler and rip off her philosophical insignia. Philosophers have plenty of means of dissociating themselves from noxious people, the easiest of which is just to stop citing them.

    4. How do you know that Judith Butler does, in fact, do philosophy? Is it a truth of reason or definition? No: you found out through some sort of sensory impression, like the photons that reflected off a book review and struck your retinas. Whether someone engages in the sort of thing we call philosophy is itself a fact about the world that one can learn. That’s a very minor point embedded within a larger point about the professional status of feminist philosophy which you have chosen not to address.

  25. “Quit” digging, not “quite”! “Quit” as in stop, desist, don’t do it any more.

    The first rule of snark: you’re sure to make a typo that takes away from the effect.

  26. we’re going to talk about hostility to reasoning among equals while writing in latin?

    Also, it’s unspeakably vulgar to get snark in return when all I did was want to reason among equals about driving people out of feminist philosophy!

  27. s. wallerstein, thanks for your reply.

    I guess we are in agreement about Deleuze sticking to one’s ribs. I don’t mean to cast myself as an opponent of experimentation with philosophical forms. Some of my favorite pieces of contemporary analytic philosophy are actually written in the form of dialogues or parables (Raymond Smullyan, Doug Hofstadter, Dan Dennett and John Perry come to mind as successful writers in that medium), and even the classical French existentialists made basically lucid points through novels and plays. (It is sometimes actually surprising how clear Sartre’s literary work is in contrast to his philosophical prose, which was pretty much not even edited.)

    But experiments are supposed to yield results, are they not? Unless Deleuze’s experiment was supposed to be the public reception of the works themselves, I can’t see what those are. I will leave his treatment of psychoanalysis, Nietzsche and Spinoza to others, but in his treatment of mathematics and science, where I am actually competent to judge whether he is talking sense or not, there is absolutely nothing there save charlatanry. Deleuze’s understanding of dynamical systems, for example, is skimmed off the back of a cereal box, then badly mangled. I would be astonished if Deleuze could have told you the most elementary facts about, say, the theory of linear dynamical systems or characterize them in any systematic way, like one would learn in week 1 of a grad ODE course. (To say that Deleuze gets a pass because he is a philosopher will not do. Philosophers of X still have to learn their X.) Instead, one is left with the impression that Deleuze appropriated some buzzwords from dynamical systems because they’re “sexy”, without caring to check whether his treatment of the topic was even wrong, as they say. Perhaps Deleuze’s other writings are valuable. I don’t know. But in the area where I am most competent to judge whether Deleuze makes any sense, he just does not.

  28. sk, just to address your last substantive point, I never claimed that inquiry and politics are always sharply distinguishable, or that this problem is unique to feminist philosophy. My comment was in reply to RETF, who argued that Nussbaum’s criticisms of Butler don’t “do much good for the cause of women in philosophy”, as if that were the criterion by which we should evaluate philosophical arguments. That’s not merely sullying inquiry with politics– it’s subordinating philosophy to ‘message discipline’ and the party line.

  29. Yo, snarkers! This is turning into a snark competition. Let’s all go back to being nice, OK? All the 90s references are giving me flashbacks to the classic 1989 Roadhouse, which is what I was actually thinking of when I formulated the rule “be nice” (until it’s time to be not-nice). Feel free to discuss that instead if you just can’t leave this thread and you’ve got to snark.

  30. Anonymous:

    Sartre is in another class than Deleuze.

    His philosophical prose needs editing, as you say: that’s all. As you probably know, he wrote philosophy on benzadrine and it shows.

    Being and Nothingness could be edited and cut to half its present size; the Critique could be reduced to a third or a fourth of its length.

    The other thing is that, as Foucault remarks, Sartre is a 19th century man trying to understand the 20th century and so his way of doing philosophy is strangely anachronistic.

    Being anachronistic is no defect. Hannah Arendt is equally out of her time, out of it.

    My guess would be that when the period of inevitable backlash to the Sartre boom of the 60’s ends, Sartre will be one of those thinkers like, say, Schopenhauer, who goes through periodic revivals and never completely disappears from the bookstore shelves or the online booksellers, since bookstores with shelves, sadly, seem likely to disappear.

  31. s. wallerstein,

    I didn’t mean to distract by mentioning Sartre–I just brought him up as an example of a philosopher who profitably employed experimental forms. (I would even include avant-garde artists like the dadaists as people who successfully made philosophical arguments through very weird media). My point is that Sartre had a recognizable point, and even if I didn’t get it by reading his plays, a scholar could explain it to me in terms that a high school student could understand.

  32. okay.

    but i don’t see how 1) coming here to tell us what feminist philosophy is not and 2) demanding that feminist philosophers denounce butler because she makes us all look bad, all in order to 3) protect the cause of True Philosophy by being really defensive about stuff is not, precisely, defending a party line.

    there are lots of kinds of philosophers, and while you seem able to extend the benefit of the doubt to other philosophers who work in areas in which you don’t have expertise, you feel the need to proclaim some of them simply not philosophy. i don’t get that.

    no one attacked you personally (that i can see); in my comments i was focusing on the *effect* of your argument, not the *intent*; you had no need to proclaim your feminist bonafides, as you already did the “some-of-my-best-friends” bit with nussbaum. whose argument, it seems to me, largely boils down to “butler is difficult to read” and proves nothing more than that feminist philosophers sometimes disagree with each other. i refuse to take advise on arguing amongst equals, from folks who use latin. butler may be difficult to read, but we need different tools for different tasks, and some of our tasks are really very challenging. i admire the clarity of work written in the analytic style; i strive for it myself. but i appreciate what other philosophers are doing when they depart from that style, and i usually take it as my job to try to learn things (even latin things!) that i don’t quite understand, not evidence that what is occurring before me is simply not philosophy.

    as for the argument, the stuff about butler having no account of power is patently ridiculous; her account of power is largely in line with that of foucault (not that nussbaum has much love for his work). the stuff about her not opposing the material conditions on the ground that this would destroy opportunities for parody would be mean if it weren’t simply silly. do all of those who engage in critique desire that the crappy conditions they critique remain in place so that they can continue to have a job critiquing it? silly. moreover, the claim that it is difficult to maintain that “Butler’s works constitute serious attempts to understand the world and our place within it” is absurd. beyond nussbaum’s complaints about “gender trouble,” what evidence is there for this claim? Is Butler’s account of subjectivation in the psychic life of power not an attempt to understand the world and our place in it? is butler’s reading of materiality in bodies that matter not such an attempt? how about her reading of antigone as the constitutive outside of political language in antigone’s claim? perhaps her development of a social ontology of vulnerability in frames of war and precarious lives does not constitute a serious attempt to understand the world and our place in it. maybe her attempts to understand the logics behind torture and immigration do not count as serious attempts to understand the world and our place in it.

    as i don’t particularly see a point in being nice to those who would wish that i and others like me simply not exist in a professional sense, i suppose i’ll just have to leave it at that.

    except to say, if this is what philosophy is, practically speaking – these incessant rounds of demands for denunciations, to guard the name of true philosophy, all while pretending that this isn’t somehow *political* – then frankly y’all can have it.

  33. […] Meanwhile, women in philosophy are subject to subject to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Meanwhile, people of color of all genders and sexualities are subject to a state of permanent probation: presumed incompetent. Meanwhile, feminist philosophers are subject to routine suspicion, from claims that they are unqualified to objectively assess the climate for women at the department at CUBoulder, to claims that they are hardly philosophers at all. […]

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