Mulvey And Butler Psychoanalysis

886 Words4 Pages

Exposing Foundations: Psychoanalysis and Gender in Mulvey and Butler

Woman… stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the image of woman still tied in her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning. 6

In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975), Laura Mulvey points out that psychoanalytic theory can “advance our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught” (2). To understand why woman is only “the bearer of meaning, not the maker of meaning” in this order, I will turn to a very small fraction of Lacan’s psychoanalytic philosophy. Here we find that …show more content…

Thus, in doing gender, one does not move beyond this context, but instead gender identity is “performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its result” (55). Gender, for Butler, is “the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame,” it is something fluid that congeals over time “to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (63). In this sense, one can never become woman because there is no ontological ‘woman’; it is a “substantive appearance” (64). Butler uses the example of drag to illustrate how it disrupts the “very distinctions between the natural and the artificial, depth and surface, inner and outer through which discourse about genders almost always operates” (27). Drag is not an imitation of true gender, but an act that exposes foundational categories that create the notion of gender as an effect of a “specific formation of power” (27). Drag troubles gender, so to …show more content…

The question, then, is not how to get around the patriarchal order, but how to use it to one’s advantage by understanding its workings. In light of all this, it is interesting to (re)consider Signification. Henry Louis Gates argued that revising the term ‘signification’ in black vernacular language was so revolutionary because it challenged the meaning of meaning. Here, also, the discursive context is not refused; instead Signification demonstrates that a “simultaneous, but negated [, perpendicular] discursive (ontological, political) universe exists” (49) within the white discursive context. If black is a signifier of white similar to the way woman is a signifier of man, could a similar revolutionary act of re-signification for ‘woman’ be achieved within the patriarchal order (perhaps by revising the meaning of the symbolic phallus as the signifier that inaugurates signification)? Also, could Queer theory be said to have already attempted something in this

Open Document