November 18, 2012

Representation and Identity Politics

Having read Burke and Butler this week (the latter for the sake of preparing for my discussion leading on "gynocriticism"), I find myself reflecting upon the function of representation in rhetorical theory. Whereas Burke's essay on the idea of terministic screens seems to portray representation as a characteristic of many effective rhetorical appeals, Butler's claim that the category of "women" might suffer both in the presence or in the absence of a singular definition may in fact be a a weakness of representation itself. If classes of persons are socially constructed, then treating women as "the subject" of feminism conceals a discursive formation constituted by the same political system that is supposed to facilitate its emancipation. Though Butler does not believe we can just choose to forgo representational politics entirely, it is worth noting that social classifications of groups are often produced by the same political system that they (might) aim to alter.

Yet while we may have good reason to cast doubt on the integrity of representation, I feel it equally presumptuous to deny others the ability to classify themselves as they wish. Social classes do not appear to be generated spontaneously, but instead on the basis of recurring interactions and characteristics. To attempt to reduce every single individual into a context-neutral non-specific "person" may be to make them no longer human. I found it in no way surprising that Butler motioned towards the exploration of a "Postfeminist" perspective, as I found Butler's approach to be very Postmodern in the sense that it offers compelling reasons to challenge the existing conception (of "women" as a social class in this case) but little in the way of substantial alternatives. Yet it is hard to deny Butler's assertion that Feminism, a movement whose history has been so radically shaped by historical, social, and cultural influences, all of which convene at no discernible point, may be in need of a reconception with respect to who it aims to represent.

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