A Bad Writer Bites Back

Tavia Nyong'O tavia.nyongo at yale.edu
Wed Mar 24 08:21:38 PST 1999

My main reaction to Judith Butler's piece in the NYT is to note the irony that--for an avowedly political writer--this is the first time I can recall encountering her writing outside the academic conference/classroom circuit. Is it the case that the only issue that impels Butler to step into the ring of public culture is the maligning of her *own* good name?

I don't intend this as a cheap shot, since I value her work in many ways. But unlike such public intellectuals as Cornel West who align themselves with causes and organizations, I am at loss to think of any progressive movement or issue that Butler pays more than lip service to. That is, except for this latest issue: the right to complex prose.

I'll be more specific: Butler has been silent on the issue of hate crime legislation and on the question of the death penalty for Matthew Shepard's alleged murderers. Yet her academic work tirelessly examines these issues of speech, injury and justice. Since, as Noam Chomsky among others have noted, only a very select group of people have access to the NYT Op-Ed page, wouldn't it be more politically useful for Butler to use this privilege to publically intervene in these debates rather than expend her capital revenging herself on her conservative detractors?


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