v. Identity, sex, and the metaphysics of substance
Judith Butler begins the fifth section of her first chapter in Gender Trouble with questions relating to "identity". Her discussion becomes particularly relevant to the abject when she poses the questions, "To what extent is 'identity' a normative ideal rather than a descriptive feature of experience? And how do the regulatory practices that govern gender also govern culturally intelligible notions of identity? (23). If identity is prescriptive, rather than descriptive, it has to cite, as points of reference, recognized "identities" -- such as male or female. Since the recognized modes by which persons are identified trace gender to biological sex, and desire to biological sex, the possible combinations of gender "identities" are limited to those of the heterosexual matrix. Here is where the abject begins to find relevance. Butler writes,
Inasmuch as 'identity' is assured through the stabilizing concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality, the very notion of "the person" is called into question by the cultural emergence of those 'incoherent' or 'discontinuous' gendered beings who appear to be persons but who fail to conform to the gendered norms of cultural intelligibility by which persons are defined (23)
So these "incoherent" or "discontinuous" gendered beings -- those whose genders do not conform to the (biological) sex = gender/performativity = (heterosexual) desire are unintelligible genders and thus abject persons. It may appear in my discussion of prescriptive identity that the abject are defined by being outside the borders of this formula of recognized gender identity; on the contrary, Butler's stance is that the abject serve to define the borders of acceptability by demonstrating the unacceptable.
There also exists an interesting correlation between the abject and Butler's discussion of Herculine Barbin: "Herculine is not an 'identity,' but the impossibility of an identity" (32). Here is the logic as I follow it: This body is not found on the matrix, therefore it cannot exist. Although, Foucault does not deny the existence of Herculine's gender, per se, he acknowledges that this gender identity exists somewhere down the rabbit hole, in "a world of pleasures in which grins hang about without the cat" (qutd. in Butler, 32). There too, perhaps, is where the abject are found, can exist and be recognized. (Much later on in Gender Trouble, Butler speaks of the abject in terms of Inner and Outer worlds and, citing Kristeva, speaks of the abject, the outer, as the inner's shit -- so in relation to the "rabbit hole" ... never mind.)