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Judith Butler’s Comrades and Rivals

Your favorite critic has plenty of frenemies.


Fanzines, Facebook, and Other Friends

If book sales aree the only measure, I'm an academic supersart. But in the interest of full disclosure, I'm gonna just tell you that I don't make friends left and right. Sure, there are fellow critics and intellectuals whose ideas have trickled into my work (such as Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Gayle Rubin, Eve Sedgwick, and Monique Witting), and I—in turn—have impacted critics such as Judith "Jack" Halberstam and filmmaker Todd Haynes (go rent Velvet Goldmine!). But I am a contentious person, which means that I don't take friends for granted.

That said, I'd like to point you to a Facebook page called "If Judith Butler was my friend, then the fun would never end." These folks subscribe to one of my favorite maxims: WWJBD (What would Judith Butler do?). Its lyrical offering by one E.A. Woodward warrants quoting at length:

If Judith Butler was my friend,
then the fun would never end.
We'd spend the day at the park
and then the fair when it gets dark.

She'd tell me all about her books
and then we'd go and feed the ducks.
We'd fly a kite to catch the breeze
and question gender categories.

Isn't that just the best?

A 1992 fanzine titled Judy! was devoted fully to all things Judith Butler. Judy! offered tests, missives, letters, even paper dolls. And on top of that, I've got tumblrs and blogs, and tributes oh my. Basically, the interwebs love me, and as they should. I'm all about free communication for all.

Susan A. Speer and Jonathan Potter

I love this dynamic duo. I blush when I think of the fact that they praised me as a "remarkable social theorist who has had a profound influence on the development of queer theory, and on our understanding of the relationship between sex, gender, and desire" (source). Tomorrow, the world!

So many of my followers are anonymous graduate students cranking out queer theory papers in the trenches, so it's a comfort that some tenured professors aren't afraid to commit, too. Rather than making a dig at my infamously inscrutable syntax, they say that it is "immensely challenging and illuminating." That just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Slavoj Žižek

At least this kooky Slovene philosopher knows when enough is enough. He once made an off-color comment about my sexuality, but then, er, manned up and said sorry. In typical fashion, he had to theorize his own apology, claiming that the "no need to apologize response" can only be said after one has appropriately apologized. Navel gazing, much? And of course some folks think this blathering on about making amends was really just his way of pointing out how he and I are besties. (Source.)


Camille Paglia

This one's a real feminist frenemy. So-called feminists are the worst. Granted, she's one clever academic, but when she wrote on Salon.com that I am a "slick, super-careerist Foucault flunky" (source), I thought "Where's the love? The sisterhood?"

Susan Bordo

I can't catch a break from these feminist philosophers. It can be rough having to constantly defend your work for not being relevant to life as we know it, but Susan Bordo has to heap that criticism on me just like the rest of 'em. In her book Unbearable Weight, Bordo says that in making gender all about language, I dismiss the fact that people have bodies, which means they experience life through those bodies.

Then she proclaims "Butler's world is one in which language swallows everything up" (source). If you ask me, she just hates me because I'm a postmodernist. Sure, I poke a big fat hole in society's gender constructs, but I'm doing it to liberate one and all from the ball and chain of culture and society.

Martha Nussbaum

This fellow star in the academic constellation attacked me for my writing style, of all things (yawn). Nussbaum is just like the rest of my critics. They get all cray cray about the fact that my work allows for ambiguity and refuses to tie everything up in a neat bow. Well, my point is that many of these issues aren't resolvable.

Ladies like Nussbaum are post-structuralist haters who begrudge my language-based interpretations of the world. Nussbaum is one of these academics who manages to sell colossal numbers of books to the masses (You should see her sales—ka-ching!), and then she has the nerve to get all in my face for speaking to an academic audience. Well, I am an academic, after all. Who else am I supposed to talk to?

Denis Dutton and the Editors of Philosophy and Literature

These folks thought it would be hilarious to award me a prize for "Bad Writing." To me, that's a full frontal assault on liberal thinking. We intellectuals may tackle ideas about sexuality, race, nationalism and the capitalist machine in knotty terms, but these are knotty subjects. They need knotty terms. So what did I do? I took to the pages of The New York Times to defend myself. That's how I roll.

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