Lecture 15: The Body and the Face
28 August 2013
“Although we struggle for rights over our own bodies, the very
bodies for which we struggle are not quite ever only our own.
The body has its invariably public dimension. Constituted as a
social phenomenon in the public sphere, my body is and is not
mine. Given over from the start to the world of others, it bears
their imprint, is formed within the crucible of social life; only
later, and with some uncertainty, do I lay claim to my body as
my own, if, in fact, I ever do.”
— Judith Butler, “Mourning and Melancholia,” ch. 2 of
Precarious Life (26)
Is The Left Hand of Darkness a
q What do we take “feminism” to mean?
q What kinds of projects are feminist projects?
q What kind of project is it to write a book?
q What kind of project is it to write a work of fiction?
– Of science fiction?
q What are the aims of feminist writing?
q And of fictional feminist writing?
“If ‘women’ are constructed and defined by their
unique ability to bear live children, such beings
are absent from Le Guin’s novel. That is, there
is no separate group of individuals who are
marked by their ability to produce live children .
… all people are both men and women.”
— Kathy Rudy, “Ethics, Reproduction,
Utopia: Gender and Child-bearing in
Woman on the Edge of Time and The Left
Hand of Darkness” (2004; p. 32)
Some critical responses
“Tim Libretti (who disagrees with such an
assessment) sums up the complaint: ‘Because
the novel features a male protagonist it
necessarily replicates the standard male quest
narrative and thus reproduces patriarchal
— William Marcellino, “Shadows to Walk:
Ursula Le Guin's Transgressions in
Utopia” (2009; p. 208)
“‘Is the book a Utopia? It seems to me that it is
quite clearly not; it poses no practicable
alternative to contemporary society, since it is
based on an imaginary, radical change in
— Ursula K. Le Guin, “Is Gender Necessary?
Redux” (1989; p. 16)
Judith Butler (1956–)
q Professor of rhetoric,
comparative literature, and
philosophy at UC Berkeley.
q Best known for her post-
structuralist work in gender
theory, including Gender
Trouble (1990) and Bodies
That Matter (1993).
q Recent work focuses on
the relationship between
Jewish philosophy and
notions of state violence.
Butler receiving the Theodor W.
Adorno Prize in 2012.
“the structure of address itself” (129)
“to respond to this address seems an important obligation
during these times. […] It is about a mode of response
that follows upon having been addressed, a comportment
toward the Other only after the Other has made a
demand upon me, accused me of a failing, or asked me
to assume a responsibility.” (129)
“we come to exist, as it were, in the moment of being
addressed, and something about our existence proves
precarious when that address fails.” (130)
“No one controls the terms by which one is addressed, at
least not in the most fundamental way. To be addressed is
to be, from the start, deprived of will, and to have that
deprivation exist as the basis of one’s situation in
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