Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Queer Theory: Imitation without an Original

Whether or not sexuality is genetic, natural, inherently embedded, etc., queer theory assumes that it is only through culture and its language that sexuality can be understood. Following post-structuralist thought, queer theory understands the man-woman binary as constructed and meaningful only in the opposition which it creates. Only through this binary opposition are masculinity and femininity given “life” and meaning. Similar is a heterosexual-homosexual binary through which normalcy and otherness are created. Judith Butler believes both gender and sexuality to be a form of impersonation which is necessarily repetitive: “gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original; in fact, it is a kind of imitation that produces the very notion of the original as an effect and consequence of the imitation itself” (371). While gender fails to hold within itself a true and holy original, the role the imitator plays must assume, being an imitator, that there is something to be imitated in the first place. Because of this, gender must constantly imitate the imitations which preceded and surround it, creating an endless continuum of imitation that inherently preaches an underlying Truth. Butler also believes sexuality to be extremely unstable and imitative: “if it were not for the notion of the homosexual as copy, there would be no construct of heterosexuality as origin. Heterosexuality here presupposes homosexuality. And if the homosexual as a copy precedes the heterosexual as origin, then it seems only fair to concede that the copy comes before the origin, and that homosexuality is thus the origin, and heterosexuality” (372). Here Butler shows the ability of this particular binary opposition to be flipped back and forth endlessly. The problem is that any given “resolution” is subject to being flipped once again. It is in this instability that Butler and queer theory are able to reject the Truths of gender and sexuality, thus making room for play.

Each photograph in this collection is a banana. It is only when put in opposition to one another that each’s imitation is exposed. The banana in the upper left corner is modified into a drawing (imitation) of a banana only when opposed to the others. The “real” (original) banana in the lower corned is exposed to be an imitation only when the banana to the left is observed in opposition to it. This collection of photographs plays as Judith Butler does to reverse and reverse again the binary between heterosexuality and homosexuality or original and imitation in order to expose the binary’s overall instability. Even in the right picture which appears to address and resolve the binary, one must remember the medium of photography to be imitative in itself. In this way the photos attempt to call attention to the restrictive and problematic nature of the extremely mediated communicative system of signs which the banana (along with gender and sexuality) must be understood through.

Because of the repetitive nature the repetition of gender and sexuality, I wonder what it to ever stop it from its endless impersonation of the impersonation preceding it. Is it not more likely that individuals empowered by the system will react to the exposition of its instability in violent frenzy? What value is to be gained from sighting instability if cultural memory refuses to let the system collapse?


  1. At some point, I couldn't help but wonder if you would explain why you chose a banana. But then I remembered that we are reading Freud for next time, and I figure that even if it looks like coincidence or convenience right now, by Tuesday the reasons will become apparent! Ha ha...

    To me, the key to your wonderful exploration here comes in that last question. What IS the value of exposing this kind of instability? What challenges emerge for activists if we can no longer reliably claim stable identity categories (remind me to share with you all Diana Fuss' take on "strategic essentialism" which I think will be helpful here)? How can deconstruction be a tool by which we rethink and redesign culture, not just texts? All fantastic questions. Sometimes people arrive at the conclusion that deconstruction is an anti-political maneuver...but I disagree. Let's parse this out in class if we can...

  2. When I first glanced at your post, I have to admit that I was curious about the bananas. Once I read through your post though, I like how you use this grouping of images of the same object to highlight the how different the images themselves actually are. None of them are "actually" a banana, but each image is an impersonation of whatever a banana "actually is" and shows you how weak such impersonations are at being the real thing. I love how you related that back to Butler's ideas of gendering as endlessly continuing impersonations. I also like your thought at the end of the post about how can we make recognizing these instabilities into something meaningful for societal change instead of just looking at texts.