Judith Butler

Judith Butler is a professor at Berkeley. The Force of Nonviolence will be published in 2020.

Genius or Suicide: Trump’s Death Drive

Judith Butler, 24 October 2019

Donald Trump​ would have us believe that his behaviour, his lawbreaking, is just fine, perfect even, and that the impeachment hearings are a kind of coup. What he has done he would do again. Indeed, he has already done it again with his open appeal to China to investigate the Bidens and his refusal to comply with the impeachment inquiry. Pundits such as Roger Cohen of the New York Times and...

On Cruelty: The Death Penalty

Judith Butler, 17 July 2014

‘Whence comes this bizarre, bizarre idea,’ Jacques Derrida asks, reading Nietzsche on debt in On the Genealogy of Morals, ‘this ancient, archaic idea, this so very deeply rooted, perhaps indestructible idea, of a possible equivalence between injury and pain? Whence comes this strange hypothesis or presumption of an equivalence between two such incommensurable things? What can a wrong and a suffering have in common?’ By way of an answer, he points out that ‘the origin of the legal subject, and notably of penal law, is commercial law.’

Who Owns Kafka?

Judith Butler, 3 March 2011

An ongoing trial in Tel Aviv is set to determine who will have stewardship of several boxes of Kafka’s original writings, including primary drafts of his published works, currently stored in Zurich and Tel Aviv. As is well known, Kafka left his published and unpublished work to Max Brod, along with the explicit instruction that the work should be destroyed on Kafka’s death. Indeed, Kafka had apparently already burned much of the work himself. Brod refused to honour the request, although he did not publish everything that was bequeathed to him. He published the novels The Trial, The Castle and Amerika between 1925 and 1927. In 1935, he published the collected works, but then put most of the rest away in suitcases, perhaps honouring Kafka’s wish not to have it published, but surely refusing the wish to have it destroyed. Brod’s compromise with himself turned out to be consequential, and in some ways we are now living out the consequences of the non-resolution of Kafka’s bequest.

‘You know the left think that I am conservative,’ Hannah Arendt once said, ‘and the conservatives think I am left or I am a maverick or God knows what. And I must say that I couldn’t care less. I don’t think the real questions of this century get any kind of illumination by this kind of thing.’ The Jewish Writings make the matter of her political affiliation no easier to settle. In these editorials, essays and unfinished pieces, she seeks to underscore the political paradoxes of the nation-state. If the nation-state secures the rights of citizens, then surely it is a necessity; but if the nation-state relies on nationalism and invariably produces massive numbers of stateless people, it clearly needs to be opposed. If the nation-state is opposed, then what, if anything, serves as its alternative?

“If his critics worried that, with Derrida, there are no foundations on which one could rely, they doubtless were mistaken. Derrida relies perhaps most assiduously on Socrates, on a mode of philosophical inquiry that took the question as the most honest and arduous form of thought. ‘How do you finally respond to your life and to your name?’ . . . Is there justice to be done to a life? That he asks the question is exemplary, perhaps even foundational, since it keeps the final meaning of that life and that name open. It prescribes a ceaseless task of honouring what cannot be possessed through knowledge . . . Indeed, now that Derrida, the person, has died, his writing makes a demand on us. We must address him as he addressed himself, asking what it means to know and approach another, to apprehend a life and a death, to give an account of its meaning, to acknowledge its binding ties with others, and to do that justly.”

“If we think that to criticise Israeli violence, or to call for economic pressure to be put on the Israeli state to change its policies, is to be ‘effectively anti-semitic’, we will fail to voice our opposition for fear of being named as part of an anti-semitic enterprise. No label could be worse for a Jew, who knows that, ethically and politically, the position with which it would be unbearable to identify is that of the anti-semite. The ethical framework within which most progressive Jews operate takes the form of the following question: will we be silent (and thereby collaborate with illegitimately violent power), or will we make our voices heard (and be counted among those who did what they could to stop the violence), even if speaking poses a risk?”

From The Blog
25 September 2011

Among the many astonishing claims that Barack Obama made in his recent speech opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood was that ‘peace will not come through statements and resolutions.’ This is, at best, an odd thing to say for a president whose ascendancy to power itself depended on the compelling use of rhetoric. Indeed, his argument against the power of statements and resolutions at the United Nations to achieve peace was a rhetorical ploy that sought to minimise the power of rhetorical ploys. More important, it was an effort to make sure that the United States government remains the custodian and broker of any peace negotiation, so his speech was effectively a way of trying to reassert that position of custodial power in response to the greatest challenge it has received in decades. And most important, his speech was an effort to counter and drain the rhetorical force of the very public statements that are seeking to expose the sham of the peace negotiations, to break with the Oslo framework, and to internationalise the political process to facilitate Palestinian statehood.

From The Blog
20 November 2009

I was glad to see in today's press that it was decided to separate the question of what sex Caster Semenya really is from the questions of whether she could keep her medal or compete in women's sports. It seemed to me that the drive to publish the results of the sex determination tests was always sensationalist and intrusive, and that it missed the important points at issue in this situation. Yesterday's decision by the IAAF goes part of the way to honour the complexity and vulnerability of the person here, but also to affirm the way her gender is bound up with cultural and familial modes of belonging and recognition.

Letter
Terry Eagleton only damages himself by refusing to read and engage Gayatri Spivak’s important contribution to the theory of cultural studies with the seriousness that it deserves (LRB, 13 May). Surely he knows that her influence on Third World feminism, Continental feminist theory, Marxist theory, subaltern studies and the philosophy of alterity is unparalleled by any living scholar, and that...

Dive In! Hegelian reflections

Bruce Robbins, 2 November 2000

In 1987, three years before Gender Trouble made her the most famous feminist philosopher in the United States, Judith Butler published a book on Hegel’s dialectic of lordship and bondage...

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