all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 8

I couldn’t really justify rape fantasies or liking being strangled through Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and I did do an awful lot of agonising over her text trying to extricate something that could be regarded as a statement on the relationship between identity and desire in the real world, not just something abstract or elusive. I failed. The closest I think she gets is when she’s talking about Foucault’s text on Herculine Barbin, the all-too-well-known French hermaphrodite. Besides her quote of Foucault’s line where pleasure is “grins hang(ing) about without the cat”, I considered the attention paid to Herculine troublesome precisely because she/he is so singular. In tangling with gender but seeing perhaps some use in it as a descriptive generalisation, she went so far towards the atomistic individual and left nothing common to grasp.

So I used some of ADT’s production budget to pay an exorbitant $63 for her, I suppose, response, Undoing Gender.

Judith writes sublime introductions. I sometimes think if she left it at that, she’d still be one of the most profound philosophers. I found so much in these few pages as to be overwhelmed, and … I have this feeling when I read her, from the first time in the mid-90s till now that she has written this for me. Kind of an anthropomorphic view of the universe wherein it’s there because I’m here to observe it, and in doing so it makes life more possible.

I have said so often that in the making of performance, the performing, and even in the viewing that you should emerge a different person from the one who went in, a kind of commitment to going beyond yourself or entangling with yourself and with the others during this time, so it becomes an unknown journey possibly off the end of the world, far from the safe and familiar. It’s easy to talk about this and … exhausting, traumatic, embarrassing, painful … all these things to really do, even when I trust the people I am with.

So this piece has become very personal, autobiographical, easy to write about here, difficult to talk about outside of our gang of five. I’ve constantly been skating between fearing it’s gone into art-therapy, or even it’s so self-indulgent as to be cringeworthy, like a Hollywood vanity project. Or contra this, I haven’t gone far enough or haven’t been honest enough, that it will read as duplicitous and arrogant. We have fun, though.

I’ve actually had two rehearsals this week, a monster four hours on Monday, and a forty minute ‘review’ on Wednesday (and I’m too tardy to write until now). The latter was mostly talking. I’ve written a script I suppose you could call it. So much text and talking and acting, I guess it’s acting, somewhere between performance art and installation art with the traces of choreography and dancing. Unlikely to be eight minutes either. I keep thinking, “Lucky I’m off to make real dance after this, because I’m getting far too tanztheater-begrifflich”.

I was sitting – where else – in Cibo, reading Undoing Gender for the first time, almost with vertigo … I have this tension between the joy I find in someone’s writings that allow for a larger world to exist, one I can feel less foreign in, and the annoyance in myself in that I need someone, someone who is published and esteemed and intelligent and educated, to validate me … I was so happy to be interrupted by Gala.

Some non-sequential bits from Judith that made it into my notes and moved me somehow.

Moreover, one does not “do” ones gender alone. One is always “doing” with or for another, even if the other is only imaginary.

Although being a certain gender does not imply that one will desire a certain way, there is nevertheless a desire that is constitutive of gender itself and, as a result, no quick or easy way to separate the life of gender from the life of desire.

If I am a certain gender, will I still be regarded as part of the human? Will the “human” expand to include me in its reach? If I desire in certain ways, will I be able to live? Will there be a place for my life, and will it be recognisable to the others upon whom I depend for social existence?

There is a certain departure from the human that takes place in order to start the remaking of the human. I may feel that without some recognisability, I cannot live. But I may also feel that the terms by which I am recognised make life unlivable.

Moreover, there is no better theory (psychoanalysis) for grasping the workings of fantasy construed not as a set of projections on an internal screen but as part of human relationality itself. It is on the basis of this insight that we can come to understand how fantasy is essential to an experience of one’s own body, or that of another, as gendered.

Am I a gender after all? And do I “have” a sexuality? Or does it turn out that the “I” who ought to be bearing its gender is undone by being a gender, that gender is always coming from a source that is elsewhere and directed towards something that is beyond me, constituted in a sociality I do not fully author? If that is so, then gender undoes the “I” who is supposed to be or bear its gender, and that undoing is part of the very meaning and comprehensibility of that “I”. If I claim to “have” a sexuality, then it would seem that a sexuality is there for me to call my own, to possess as an attribute. But what if sexuality is the means by which I am dispossessed? What if it is invested and animated from elsewhere even as it is precisely mine? Does it not follow, then, that the “I” who would “have” its sexuality is undone by the sexuality it claims to have, and that its very “claim” can no longer be made exclusively in its own name? If I am claimed by others when I make my claim, if gender is for and from another before it becomes my own, if sexuality entails a certain dispossession of the “I”, this does not spell the end to my political claims. It only means that when one makes those claims, one makes them for much more than oneself”.

— Judith Butler – Undoing Gender