Meeting Butler

Right now I’m slowly working on my intellectual history. It’s a daunting task. And I’m approaching it in a mostly undisciplined way. This morning, on the last day of 2012, I decided to look through my old notes to find evidence of my first encounter with the theorist, philosopher, troublemaking role model, Judith Butler. In my video introduction to this Trouble blog, I claimed that this first encounter occurred in the fall of 1996, my first year in graduate school. But this morning I discovered that I actually encountered Butler and Gender Trouble in February of 1997, in my Contemporary Feminist Theory course at Claremont Graduate School. According to the syllabus, I first started reading Gender Trouble on February 11th:


In my notes for that week, my favorite line about trouble being inevitable is the first thing I wrote:

But, even though this line gave me pause, it wasn’t what really moved me about her preface or the chapter on that day in 1997. I was interested more in Butler’s challenge to the subject/identity “woman” and her critique of feminist identity politics. And, having recently been exposed to deconstruction and postmodern critiques of the self, I liked her idea of politics as parody, her rethinking of agency through Nietzsche and her discussions of Luce Irigaray. I wanted to add in some links to a few of my papers from that year, but I’ll have to keep looking for them. Hopefully I have them in a filing cabinet somewhere.

Side note: In the process of looking for my papers, I found a syllabus for one of the other classes that I was taking that spring of 1997: Feminist and Womanist Theory with K. Baker-Fletcher and Karen Torjesen. We were engaging with Black Feminist Criticism the same week I discovered Butler:

The recommended reading is Barbara Christian. I don’t think I actually read her Black Feminist Criticism until Emory University in 2002 or 2003. I wonder if reading her Race for Theory and its powerful critique of the limits of theory, would have influenced my initial readings of Butler? It definitely helped to shape my doctoral exams and dissertation writing in 2003-2006.