I feel completely inept to be writing about Butler, or analyzing her all the same. So in an effort to try and understand and make sense of "Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy" I will analyze certain points that I find important to the reading.
She begins by posing the question, "what makes our life bearable, and what makes others lives bearable?" She calls these, "questions of the human". She implies that when there is grief, which lives within the binary of grief/desire, we find ourselves fallen and something happens- mourning, "which has to do with the transformation of the human". This transformation cannot be known in advance, and can be different every time.
"What claims us at such moments, such that we are not the masters of ourselves? To what are we tied? And by what are we seized?"
This complete utter overwhelming sadness, feeling of falling... Everyone has been there and everyone deals and reaches for different things at these times. In these moments something about who we are is revealed, we loose our autonomy and control of the "self" in a certain sense during the grief process.
She then looks at the possibilities for using this grief in a "collective responsibility for the physical lives of one another" rather than the usual alternative of violence. It looks at the issue of violence towards those outside the conjugal social norms in gender and questions whether a desire to kill those outside these norms suggests that life 'requires a set of sheltering norms, and that to be outside it, is to court death."
So... Butler's main inquery: "The predicament is to decide which kind of community is composed by those who are besides themselves."
When discussing the body and autonomy, it is interesting to point out the limits to sexual autonomy. We are discussing the ways in which our bodies are never completely autonomous because they are in fact affected by other people constantly. Even though we conceptualize our bodies as OURS and autonomous, as we must in order to politically organize around certain bodily struggles, we must acknowledge that violence affects people's bodies, therefore pointing out that bodies are never autonomous. "The body has its invariably public dimension, constituted as a social phenomenon in the public sphere, my body is and is not mine". So, in the struggle for autonomy, what are we really fighting for?
She goes on to discuss how vulnerability plays into grief. Saying that vulnerability is a human characteristic. She asks, "Or are we, rather, returned to a sense of human vulnerability, to our collective responsibility for the physical lives of one another?" So why do we try to banish vulnerability? Why is vulnerability wrong? If it really is a human characteristic, which it is, what's wrong with being vulnerable? As Butler states, vulnerability is "one of the most important resources from which we must take our bearings and find our way".
Grief once again can be the basis for politics and forming communities around struggles.
She calls into question the task of creating or understanding the "human". She asks what makes a human intelligible, and what people are not considered human because they are not intelligible. She asks, "what if new forms of gender are possible, what would that mean for the human community"? Gender regulations raises the question does gender pre-exist regulation or have regulations themselves created gendered subjects? To assume gender exclusively means masculine and feminine is to miss the point that those genders that do not fit with the norm are just as much a part of the perceived gendered norms as they themselves.
"To assert sexual rights, then, takes on a specific meaning against this background. It means, for instance, that when we struggle for rights, we are not simply struggling for rights that attach to my person, but we are struggling to be conceived as persons". We are struggling to be seen as intelligible, recognized as human, legitimized, autonomous.
Next she looks at the issue of violence towards those outside the conjugal social norms in gender and questions whether a desire to kill those outside these norms suggests that life 'requires a set of sheltering norms, and that to be outside it, is to court death."
What would happen if we allowed the human to be something other than what we traditionally deem it to be? What we do not know then comes into question, and in order to be nonviolent we must be comfortable with not knowing. As Butler points out, the violent person does not ask, or try to understand what is unknown. Because that would be vulnerable? Because maybe violence is easier?
She then goes into discussing ways of "knowing" the human. What constitutes the human and what qualifies as a livable human life. Then she goes into the cultural relativist versus "everyone has inalienable human rights" arguments. "When we ask what makes a life livable, we are asking about certain normative conditions that must be fulfilled for life to become life". This could very easily come back to the inalienable human rights argument.
Wow, I am spent and my recently concussed brain (I got a pretty bad concussion snowboarding and have been dizzy with major headaches) had quite the hard time processing and thinking critically about Butler. Thanks Butler, as many times as you have been drilled into my head in 4 years you still make my brain spin!