Thursday, April 9, 2015

It goes on and on and on and on and on...

“The distinctive characteristic of most practical and theoretical concerns with freedom is the attempt to discover how one can be free from something: be it one’s own passions and appetites, society, laws, or the forces of physical nature. Freedom is generally conceived of as that state of being or that opportunity which is on the other side of ‘necessity’…liberty or freedom signifies properly the absence of opposition [my italics].” (Deutsch 103)

Which one is the original?

I read this quote a year and a half ago in one of my favorite books—Advaita Vedanta. It resonates with me because of the word "from": freedom from something... freedom from something....

Judith Butler tells us that "gendering is a kind of impersonation and approximation....There is no original or primary gender." Gender, actions, and ideas are reflections of other genders, actions, and ideas. When did material reflection begin and when will it end? 

Reality is an oxymoron: people identify with social roles to express their individuality, but every social role is a reflection of its opposition. People are less unique by trying to be more unique.

In Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger wrote, “It’s everybody, I mean. Everything everybody does is so—I don’t know—not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and—sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you’re conforming just as much as everybody else, only in a different way” (26).

Reality is socially constructed and context bound, meaning the connection between "woman" and "dress" is arbitrary. There's nothing inherent about "woman" that signifies "dress". In fact, there's nothing at all that's inherent about "woman". Gender and other social roles are "achieved through an apparent repetition of the same", producing "the illusion of a prior and volitional subject" (Butler).

So, where does gender come from? My mind, my body, or my spirit? All three? How do I know if I am gay or straight?

What is reality?


  1. I really like how you used the image of two mirrors facing each other and creating endless mirrors as your artwork for this post. I remember talking about it with you in class! I think you pose some pretty interesting questions at the end of this, and I like that the Butler reading made you question reality so much because she really blew my mind in this way as I was reading, too. I don't know as if "gender" comes naturally from any part of us, whether it be mind, body, or spirit, because it only exists in cultural, and there is nothing natural about culture. If I had to pick, I guess I would say that gender exists in your mind because the rules and norms of society and culture are learned in your mind, so that is where gender will eventually "originate" from. I'm not really sure though, but I love that your questions got my mind spinning again!

  2. Your final paragraph also makes me wonder what you think the role of "language" might be. For some poststructuralists who follow closely from Saussure, it's clear that "gender" would come not from any signified meaning, but from the complete sign system-- the way the words construct the reality of the signified. Derrida basically extends Saussure by suggesting that there can be no ultimate signified, so that all sign systems are actually just infinite slippages of signifiers. In that sense, everything collapses into the language that we use to describe the world. This unsettles our ability to talk about the kind of origins that you and Kendal are puzzling about there. But it doesn't really remove the urge to trace things backwards to their source... But when you look at "bodies," "minds," "spirits," in what way are you perceiving those things and in what way are you just looking at and through the signifiers that construct them?

  3. Haha, these comments make me happy. :-) Sometimes, I get caught up in theoretical ideas about what it means to live and understand the world, but I also think it's important to think about the reality we're "perceiving" in "real time". This wasn't in my mind when I wrote my post, but after reading your comments and reading about #AllTheGirls on Twitter, I'm thinking about how important it is to think about "real life" and "reality."

    When I was a little girl, I wanted to know what it meant to be a woman and I became obsessed with Marilyn Monroe because I thought she was the ultimate woman. My mom bought me Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and I couldn't finish the movie, I was so confused, why was she so stupid? I think women rely on each other to find strength and motivation about what it means to live in a patriarchal society. Right now, my role model is Ronda Rousey. She's fantastic.

    To live, people need consistency and structure. I don't know why, but that's how we're designed to understand the world. Actually, I had a great Aha! moment in a class yesterday: my professor was talking about the role of God and the fundamental question people have always asked, "if there is a God, then why is there evil?" Evil is not something negative—it's a gift. (Well, depending on many different factors, but anyway). The reason we're living at all is because there are binary oppositions.

  4. I know a student in my "'Real' World" class did a great postmodern analysis of Marilyn one year. Wish we had been blogging then-- it would be fun to be able to share that with you now... There's definitely a great blog post (maybe not for this blog...I mean just a cool idea for a bloggy paper sometime) talking about Marilyn, Rousey, and the constructed and postmodern characteristics of gender...