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Gaby Pailer (University of British Columbia)

Gender, Cultural Diversity, and the Comic
Notes and Quotes for Discussion

At the first workshop in Bronnbach, the group decided, that Andreas Böhn and I shall provide a theoretical framework for the initial session of the second workshop in Vancouver. What follows here, is less a concise argument than a patchwork of theories from gender studies, cultural and postcolonial studies as well as theories of the comic, which I would suggest to employ. Next to a brief description of selected theories, I shall provide “lengthy” quotes as a material basis for my oral presentation at the workshop as well as for our discussion in the first section “Theory Trouble.”

Common Ground Discourses of gender, cultural diversity, and the comic have in common that they are critical or disturbing towards binary oppositions and envision a conflict between a “norm” and an “other.” I would like to take this common ground as a point of departure for a theoretical framework that could help to further investigate comic strategies and effects combined with gender and cultural diversity in literature, theatre, and film.

Gender and the Heterosexual Norm In the 1960s, feminist theories assumed a possible distinction between (biological) “sex” and (socio-cultural) “gender”. This distinction and its epistemological value underwent critical review (e.g. Gildemeister/Wetterer, Butler Gender Trouble). Since the 1990s, the biological bi-morphism of humans, formerly considered as a “natural” binarism that produces distinctive “masculine” and “feminin” ways of behaviour, thought, talent, language, is now seen as the effect of a socio-cultural practice to label us as “male” or “female” at (or even before) birth. There is no knowledge to gain about “sex” before “gender”. The categorizing/labeling socio-cultural “norm” and the

question how it can be changed has been delt with by a wide range of critics, among them Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, and Donna Haraway.

Butler (Bodies that Matter) considers the “heterosexual norm” to be a cultural, political and societal power that forces individuals to “assume” one or the other gender and to perceive their co-indivuals to embody one or the other gender. The problem with the norm is that it works hierarchizing (in historical terms, male gender as the norm, female as deviance) and exclusive (sexual orientation towards the opposite-gender). Butler (refering to Lacan) asks, how the “heterosexual norm” can be changed: The “heterosexual norm” is produced and stabilized by the individual entering language and the symbolic law. Since the “assumption” of the symbolic works as an act of “citation,” Butler sees a chance to quote the law differently and thus change the norm: “And though the symbolic appears to be a force that cannot be contravened without psychosis, the symbolic ought to be rethought as a series of normativizing injunctions that secure the borders of sex through the threat of psychosis, abjection, psychic unlivability. And further, that this ‘law’ can only remain a law to the extent that it compels the differentiated citations and approximations called ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine.’ The presumption that the symbolic law of sex enjoys a seperable ontology prior and autonomous to its assumption is contravened by the notion that the citation of the law is the very mechanism of its production and articulation. What is ‘forced’ by the symbolic, then, is a citation of its law that reiterates and consolodates the ruse of its own force. What would it mean to ‘cite’ the law to produce it differently, to ‘cite’ the law in order to reiterate and coopt its power, to expose the heterosexual matrix and to displace the effect of its necessity?” (Butler Bodies, 15)

Kristeva (Revolution) has been criticized (for example by Butler) for reessentializing gender by locating the semiotic as the “maternal” chora. However, Kristeva’s chora must not be mixed up with real mothers....
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