Mistress Judith (was Re: Butler on Spivak

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Mon Nov 22 05:49:39 PST 1999

... No wonder Doug finds Butler infinitely compelling, for she writes her reader into a Mistress-Slave dialectic, in which the Law never fully discloses itself and the Slave must accept any punishment as fitting. Butler's style says: "You've failed me again, my dear, you never learn, do you, but you know you are responsible for my desire, you must please me without my instruction."

Butler not only eschews such a hope, she takes pleasure in its impossibility. She finds it exciting to contemplate the alleged immovability of power, and to envisage the ritual subversions of the slave who is convinced that she must remain such. She tells us--this is the central thesis of The Psychic Life of Power--that we all eroticize the power structures that oppress us, and can thus find sexual pleasure only within their confines. It seems to be for that reason that she prefers the sexy acts of parodic subversion to any lasting material or institutional change. Real change would so uproot our psyches that it would make sexual satisfaction impossible. Our libidos are the creation of the bad enslaving forces, and thus necessarily sadomasochistic in structure.

Yoshie --------------------

Great readings. The subordination of the reader to the discipline and punishment of Butler's text is definitely not a liberating experience. The work put into it is just that, slave labor, like any other boring job.

I want to add something to the second paragraph, though. In Psychic Lives, notice that it isn't just the sexual dimension of identity that is formed in the master-slave dialectic, but the entire fabric of identity itself. Within this borrowed scheme (Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind), the formation of being as mind, is the materiale substrate in the master-slave dialectic. And, in this formation, identity resides forever locked in its own inner dialogue of master to slave and slave to master, echoing some of Freud's partitions. So, then because this dialectic is the formative process of identity, it is bound to reproduce itself in relation to all else.

And then finally, it seems implicit that to destroy the master-slave dialectic of identity formation would destroy identity.

In some sense, I don't disagree with any of this, since I've known people for whom this sort of process does in fact constitute their identity, and they do reproduce this process in their relationships with other people and the social world at large. On the other hand, the scheme borrow from Hegel, was in Hegel, merely one stage of history, and one stage of the mind, and by no means the end of either.

I am making these pronouncements, after coming back from killing myself cycling in the Berkeley hills (17.5/ml, +1500-2000/ft, 1/h 12/m). It was a great fall day out here this afternoon. Whatever the political-social-cultural take, it feels good.

In cycling or climbing, the master-slave relation of mind to body is one possibility. On the other hand, the best of times are when there is no such relation, and when these poles meld together and are indistinguishable.

BTW, it's great to hear that LBO is peppered with gym bunnies.

Chuck Grimes

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list