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Spivak Cornell Et Al.nussbaum and Her Critics

Spivak Cornell Et Al.nussbaum and Her Critics

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The New RepublicAPRIL 19, 1999Martha C. Nussbaum and Her Critics: An Exchange
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2847 wordsTo the editors:In a recent issue ("The Professor of Parody," February 22), as an example of gullibility in the face of obscureprose, Martha C. Nussbaum trots out a secondhand quotation where I reputedly opine that Judith Butler is"probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet."Had Nussbaum verified the quotation instead of citing a citation, she would have found a literary theory websiteintroducing "The Grand PoohBahs: Often Named Jacques, but also Helene, Luce, Michel, and occasionallyFred" (which also features Michel Foucault's head pasted atop a Pez dispenser). The original quote: "JudithButler's ideas are sophisticated enough that people usually simplify them in cartoonish ways. Engaging her in aprofound way necessitates an understanding of an intimidating list of difficult thinkers... . Probably one of theten smartest people on the planet, and damn her--he said admiringly--she's only 34." It's called irony.Discerning readers are welcome to join me.Without doubt, theory-minded academics often dismiss objections with unwarranted impatience. But when self-appointed defenders of clarity are unwilling to do the basic research we would require of any first-yearcomposition student, perhaps that impatience is warranted. For the original, campy discussion of Butler (andnow, Nussbaum) visit: www.sou.edu/English/IDTC/Swirl/ swirl.htm. Warren HedgesAssistant Professor of EnglishSouthern Oregon UniversityAshland, OregonTo the editors:In her recent review of Judith Butler's work, Martha C. Nussbaum complains that feminists like Butler "findcomfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals." Her own essay isa better example of this confidence than anything written by Judith Butler.Nussbaum believes that socialconstruction theories are the same as the analysis of gender as performative. Andshe will not allow Butler the freedom of expanding the Austinian performative into a more than verbal category.Since she so berates Butler for being impractical, she should have reckoned that social construction of gendertheories being around since Plato is not quite the same thing as an intellectual pointing out that we all makegender come into being by doing it. Butler's performative theory is not the same as Austin's and not the same associal construction theories. She is addressing conventions in use, social contract-effects, collective
 
"institutions" of elusive materiality, the ground of the political. No legal or political reform stands a chance of survival without tangling with conventions.As an Indian feminist theorist and activist resident in the United States and honored by the friendship of suchsubcontinental feminist activists as Flavia Agnes, Farida Akhter, Mahasweta Devi, Madhu Kishwar, RajeswariSunder Rajan, Romila Thapar, Susie Tharu, and many others, I refuse the implicit matronizing reference to"rape law in India today, which has most of the flaws that the first generation of American feminists targeted"with which Nussbaum opens her subplot of Indian feminists as an example of what Butler is not. (How are weto treat Anupama Rao's serious consideration of Butler in "Understanding Sirsgaon: Notes TowardConceptualising the Role of Law, Caste and Gender in a Case of 'Atrocity,'" for example? Instances of the useof Butler by Indian feminist theorists can be multiplied.)This flag-waving championship of needy women leads Nussbaum finally to assert that "women who are hungry,illiterate, disenfranchised, beaten, raped ... prefer food, schools, votes, and the integrity of their bodies." Soundsgood, from a powerful tenured academic in a liberal university. But how does she know? This may be her ideaof what they should want. In that conviction she may want to train them to want this. That is called a "civilizingmission. " But if she ever engages in unmediated grassroots activism in the global South, rather thanchampioning activist theorists, she will find that the gender practice of the rural poor is quite often in theperformative mode, carving out power within a more general scene of pleasure in subjection. If she wants todeny this generality of gender culture and make the women over in her own image, she will have to enter theirprotocol, and learn much greater patience and understanding than is shown by this vicious review."Butler's hip quietism ... collaborates with evil," Nussbaum concludes. Any involvement with counter-globalization would show how her unexamined, and equally hip, U.S. benevolence toward "other women"collaborates with exploitation. The solution, if there is any, is not to engage in abusive reviews in the pages of national journals.Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Avalon Foundation Professorin the HumanitiesColumbia UniversityNew York, New York To the editors:We were disturbed by Martha C. Nussbaum's attack on Judith Butler in the February 22 issue of The NewRepublic.One element we found particularly objectionable was Nussbaum's repeated attempts to dismiss Butler as aphilosopher. At one point Nussbaum claims that Butler is seen as a major thinker "more by people in literaturethan by philosophers." She asks whether Butler's manner of writing "belongs to the philosophical tradition atall." As one who has contributed much to bringing literature and philosophy closer together, Nussbaum'squestioning of Butler's attempts are disingenuous. Furthermore, Nussbaum's move is reminiscent of those whohave tried to keep feminist concerns out of philosophy on grounds " that this is just not philosophy."While Nussbaum raises some worthwhile questions, the element of vituperativeness in the essay is disturbing.Butler's contributions are not only described as "unconscionably bad" but the quietism Nussbaum claims tofollow from them is said "to collaborate with evil." This rhetoric of overkill stands in striking contrast to the
 
unquestioning adulation Nussbaum gives to Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. Given theauthoritarian strains in the politics of MacKinnon and Dworkin, Butler's strong antiauthoritarianism is a usefulantidote.Seyla BenhabibProfessor of GovernmentHarvard UniversityCambridge, MassachusettsNancy FraserProfessor of Political Science andPhilosophyThe New School for Social ResearchNew York, New York Linda NicholsonThe State University of New York,AlbanyAlbany, New York To the editors:Martha C. Nussbaum's review of Judith Butler takes as its premise the belief that the test of a theory's goodnessis its positive political outcome. Yet we are offered no empirical evidence for this claim. Instead, we arepresented with a manichean scheme which defines "good" theory as that which " is closely tethered to practicalcommitments," to "real" issues, to "the real situation of real women," to "real politics" and "real justice." It isirrelevant to Nussbaum's polemic that Judith Butler is on record in word and deed as a politically concernedperson with "practical commitments" to "real politics," and that her writings have influenced what evenNussbaum would take to be "good" politics among Queer activists, feminist psychoanalysts, and lawyersworking on women's rights. According to the logic of the argument, since Butler does not share Nussbaum's"normative theory of social justice and human dignity," Butler can only "collaborate with evil." In the guise of aserious book review, Nussbaum has constructed a self-serving morality tale in which she (along with CatharineMacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin) represents historically authentic and politically efficacious feminism, whileJudith Butler (and the young, Francophile, sado-masochist minions who are said to follow her) indulge in"amoral anarchist politics" or "hip quietism" and so betray feminist goals.Nussbaum conveniently omits all discussion of instances of "real" politics in her article, perhaps because theevidence is so damning to her argument. To deduce politics from theory, as Nussbaum does, is to misunderstandthe operations of both. The job of theory is to open new avenues of understanding, to trouble conventionalwisdom with difficult questions. The job of politics (in democratic societies, at least) is to secure some end in acontested, conflictual field. Politics and theory may inform one another at certain moments with successful or

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