I've been meaning to get to this for the last few days, and I'm ahead of myself tonight, so might as well do it now.
Some time ago
I made a hasty error, although one that's understandable. Re-reading the quotation from Standing I can't actually disagree with it. What happened was I was reading things into the context of his article that weren't there. How do I know this? He emailed me!
Just thought I'd offer a quick response to your comments on my Butterflies & Wheels article ('A mounted knight attacking a creampuff').
Firstly, I wouldn't say I'm solidly behind B&W either! I find the site interesting, and it's good to find a forum for views contrary to the current academic 'orthodoxy' of postmodernism / poststructuralism, but I think it leans too much towards oversimplification and a naive faith in Enlightenment rationalism. I am with Critical Theory insofar as it unveils the pretentions of those who claim to be speaking with cool objectivity, but I take my leave of it when it moves from what I regard as valid scepticism into an extreme anti- foundationalism - denying a priori all attempts to view objective truth or reality as possible, or denying that there is any requirement to take science seriously when discussing issues such as gender and sexuality (biology must be taken into account).
Secondly, I would like to defend the statement you quote as being perfectly reasonable, not as a moral or ideological comment, but merely as a statement of a logically sound position. I'm not sure what a middle ground between Butler and my argument would be, as my argument in the section quoted has little to do with what Butler has to say on the matter. I was, in this section, specifically referring to Kate Bornstein and Sandy Stone's views, which centre on transsexuality, a topic Butler barely touches upon. The point that I was making here was not that there is anything *wrong* with a relationship between two transsexuals, but that one cannot build a denaturalising critique of gender and sexuality on such a relationship. I'm sure you will agree that the transsexual body is not 'natural' (again, not a value judgement, but a statement of fact), if 'natural' is taken to mean 'given' as opposed to humanly created. The transsexual has a body that has been surgically and hormonally altered into another state than which originally developed. This body is not therefore a 'natural' body, but rather an 'alien' one - it simply would not exist without our humanmade technology. My point here is that queer theory seeks to problematise or denaturalise sexuality, particularly heterosexuality. Some of the queer theory arguments are convincing, others, such as the Bornstein-Stone ones far less, for they use as evidence examples of relationship that could not occur 'naturally'. Same sex sexual attraction challenges the notion that heterosexuality is simply 'natural', but attraction between two humanly (physically) constructed persons does not challenge the idea that the dominant forms of gendered and sexual behaviour
are actually 'natural'.
Thirdly, I note that you speak of my article as an attempt at 'tackling a topic as rich and complex as ... sexuality'. To be fair to my article, it was largely based on critiquing gender theory, not theories of sexuality, although they are of course inseparable.
Right... Now a little background info: I was formerly a great disciple of Butler and her ilk, and enthusiastically embraced queer theory at undergraduate level. Then shortly before undertaking my MA, I read Sokal and Bricmont's book Fashionable Nonsense
which led to a far more critical response to postmodern/poststructuralist theory. A term into my MA I wrote the article you now see on B&W (and Sokal and Bricmont's reactionary style had clearly rubbed off on me at that point), but it was at the time an essay for the course. I'm not entirely happy with the tone or scope of the piece, but have become so tired of dubious postmodern theory being credulously accepted as sound scholarship
that I decided to offer it to B&W, as I could find nothing of a similar nature on the net (with the exception of Martha Nussbaum's excellent piece on Butler
), and wanted to encourage critical thinking primarily at the undergraduate level.
I am ambivalent about having that article on B&W. I naively hoped to provide a critical yet accessible contribution to the queer theory debate, but the piece has so far been championed primarily by conservative and right-wing sites, including, to my shame, Free Republic
. I stand diametrically opposed to the Right, yet my piece obviously appeals to them as they think it is a critique by one who agrees with their narrow worldview. If I were to write the piece again, I would use more sober language and make clear that I do not espouse conservatism, homophobia, or any other crap like that, but rather that I am calling for clearer and more critical thinking in gender/sex/sexuality theory.
It may interest you to know that my personal position is actually situated *within* the queer movement. I self-identify as queer (a position in which one denies the fixed nature of sexual desire, akin to bisexuality), but I'm not willing to use silly arguments such as can be found in some Theory circles to back up my philosophical standpoint and sexual 'identity'. I do not completely reject the insights of Butler, Kroker & Kroker et al (they do have *some*!), in fact, ironically, I have made use of some of their work in another, recently published article of mine
, but find much of what they say to be intellectually weak. We can't build a countercultural movement against restrictive gender and sexuality norms using easily refuted claims, such as are found criticised in my B&W article.
Anyway, I hope this reponse has been of some interest, and clarified my views and standpoint. If you would be willing to reproduce this reponse to your comments on your blog, that would be most appreciated. If not, I quite understand.
Not only will I post his email here, but I feel the need for a public apology; he points out where I confused Butler with Kate Bornstein and Sandy Stone (which was just a dumb mistake), but he also lucidly and civilly points out where I have misinterpreted him (as he mentions, I'm far from the first, although I think he over-estimates how disapproving his original article was - I thought it was good if a bit reactionary, which he mentions here). The reason I have put certain sections of the email in bold is because I feel those sections, especially (but also the letter as a whole) are things I have felt myself or agree with to the utmost degree - I literally could not have said them better myself. As it is, once I read this email I figured out pretty early on that the two of us are, as it were, on the same side. I also agree that the Right's contention that there is debate among leftist academics therefore the right is correct is purely sickening. Standing has my condolences at having a good piece of work ill-used. "calling for clearer and more critical thinking in gender/sex/sexuality theory" is what I was trying to do as well, and I'm more than a little shamed that I misunderstood him so badly - his work deserves better than that. I have read B&W before, and have noticed things there tend towards the reactionary/conservative, but it was wrong of me to have allowed that prejudice to colour my reaction to the article.
I urge anyone interested in what we're talking about here to at least check out the Nussbaum link - that essay, "The Professor of Parody", is just excellent. Standing also passed along a link to an abstract of one of his recent articles
, which looks really interesting. Apologies again to Edmund for the sloppy misinterpretation (well, this is a fairly casual blog), and to quote my letter back to him, "if every author I have wronged in this fashion bothered to write such a cogent and intelligent clarification without resorting to snideness my world, at least, would be a much better, more interesting place."