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Performative Knowledge
Vikki Bell

To consider the process of subjectification one
Keywords Butler, Foucault, gender, language,
has therefore to attend to the lines of light and
power, subjectivity, subjectification
enunciation that literally incorporate the subject
and sustain the subject as it both indicates and
sustains the wider matrix of power. To speak of

‘P
erformativity’ could no doubt be given ‘performativity’ in relation to the subject or
various introductions and genealogies. subjectivity is to focus on the practices of this
Understood as part of a movement against conditioned element within the various matrices
Descartes’ cogito, the notion of performativity by which it is sustained. In particular, performa-
names an approach that refuses to tie the fact that tivity has become, via Judith Butler’s thesis, a tool
‘there is thinking’ to identity or ontology. In place of analysis by which to interrogate differentiated
of the certainty that I am – the cogito – is an subject formation within practices that sustain
argument for ‘co-extensivity’. ‘Thinking’ is only lines of power and power effects. Thus, while the
confirmation that an individual exists within a term comes from the study of linguistics, was
discursive world; ‘the subject’, in this rendering, is coined by J.L. Austin (1962) and was further
co-extensive with his or her outside in the sense that elaborated by Searle’s Speech Acts (1969), its
they are produced by historically varying conditions implications and its critical challenges now extend
that are in turn sustained by their produced beyond a theory of language. A performative utter-
elements. From Nietzsche’s fiery ‘there is no doer ance, for Austin, was one in which ‘the issuing of
behind the deed’ to Foucault’s image of the Panop- the utterance is the performing of an action’
tican by which he sought to present diagrammati- (1962: 163), such that the saying of the utterance
cally the exercise of productive power/knowledge – his classic examples were ‘I do [take this woman
relations, to Judith Butler’s feminist rendering of to be my lawful wedded wife]’ and ‘I name this
the argument, this co-extensivity is a radical critique ship the Queen Elizabeth’ – is not to describe my
of any originary notion of interiority. The sense of doing but ‘to do it’. ‘When I say, before the regis-
an interiority – what Butler calls the ‘trope’ of inte- trar or altar, &c., “I do”, I am not reporting on a
riority – into which the subject him or herself can marriage: I am indulging in it’ (1962: 163). These
‘look’ and thereby enact a conscience, a self, is an utterances are oftentimes taken, erroneously in his
effect, it is argued, of the configurations in which the view, to be the outward description, true or false,
subject is ‘caught’. of ‘the occurrence of the inward performance’

Downloaded from tcs.sagepub.com at Bobst Library, New York University on April 24, 2015

As Deleuze reads Foucault’s oeuvre. exercise. violence. as if the ship were realm of the possible’ (2004: 32). As Butler puts it in more recent work: ‘I am ‘In all his work’. the formation his letters. which is what Judith Butler achieved being or makes it possible’ (1992: 161). in seems haunted by this theme of an inside which is order to survive. . of the regime within which it appears. of the lines of light and foreshadows Butler’s use of his thesis. from his interest in Raymond turn sustain those power/knowledge relations. The gendered to another. 2015 . It is his challenge to the idea that a folding of the sea’ (Deleuze. The susten- uttering the words. He subject is the outward performance. for example. It is the Downloaded from tcs. Austin’s ultimate concern was to explicate the incomplete product.’ (1962: 164) – cannot then what is readable on the body is only ever the be considered within the terms of truth and false. From Madness fabrication. folded into the subject’s very being. The inmates in Foucault’s accomplishment is also its ability to be undone. something has been done. momentary if seamlessly reiterated. or the The power/knowledge relations that produce act of doubling in sewing: twist. Not only are of which the external tissue is twisted. hood. sustained without the necessity of any whereby Foucault ‘is always concerned with ‘inward act’: the idea that there is such an interi. as well as its fragility.com at Bobst Library. it is power/knowledge regimes. Even one who promises in bad faith. whether they are describes it in The Psychic Life of Power (1997) by being watched or not and whether they truly which something has to be foreclosed to enable the believe it or not and whether they even consider subject’s survival where certain possibilities are their surveillance as a question. The Roussel and the notion of the ‘snag’ – ‘no longer disciplined body is one that has to co-ordinate its the accident of tissue but the new rule on the basis movements in the most minute detail. so brilliantly in her text Gender Trouble. For while enunciation that have that object as their mobile. a performative achievement that is and Civilisation through to the later volumes of sustained through the production and repetition of the History of Sexuality. More generally put. . the Distant. In Foucault’s forbidden or disallowed. in other follows the ‘games of repetition’ (1988: 98) words. It is the non-necessity difference. gradually building his own reading. in of forces that emanate from without. This theme can be traced through- conditioned element – to respond in ways that in out Foucault. a production of subjectivity in ‘outer’ performative that enables Austin’s thesis to a social apparatus [dispositif]: it has to be made. If the there needs be an inward. showing how the Other. makes the promise. ‘Foucault outside myself from the outset. be tied to the tradition of critical thought indi. embodiment. which in Deleuze’s words genders’ flow from the seemingly simple duality of becomes figured as the fold: ‘it resembles exactly anatomical sex (1990: 140). he reads from one book ‘corporeal signs’ (1990: 136). and process is what allows for the achievement of something is set in motion. and doubled’ (1988: 98) – to his final works pline and Punish (1977[1975]) required to follow where. and if difference – such as requisite conditions for the smooth or ‘happy’ ethnic or gender difference – is understood as functioning of a performative. For her. 1988: 97). even argument that performatives – even the ‘awe. even spiritual. in. a mastery over the inside – eating. The schoolboy Foucault as the Greek version of the snag and the doubling. tification is always incomplete and always threat- ing the attentions of power without passing ened therefore by the sense in which its through consciousness. and in order to enter into the merely the fold of the outside. describes has to pay attention to the placement of To interrogate the performative nature of these his feet. act to seeming integrity of the object is a product of the accompany these performative utterances that workings of the dispositif. praying. still. he finds the fiction that there are two discrete genders is a this recurrent theme of the fold. fold.sagepub. the grip of his productions is to lay emphasis on the detail of pencil. the extension of his spine. It description of the Panoptican come to act as if they is threatened by its melancholic structure as Butler believe they are being watched. each gesture. it is crucial to his indicative of the implicit or explicit power. reading. the invagination of a tissue in embryology.12_poeticknowl_062574 10/5/06 10:22 am Page 215 Problematizing Global Knowledge – Poetic Knowledge 215 (1962: 164). is also the ority – one that ‘causes’ the subject’s gender – is Near and the Same’. and so which becomes ‘hollowed out’ as a relation with on – but they must also co-ordinate each limb. stop and so the subject require that subject – as their on’ (1988: 98). inspiring’ ‘I promise to . as Foucault put it in Madness the ‘cultural fiction’ that ‘discrete and polar and Civilisation. Subjec- are a training because they become habits. the knowledge is taken threatened by the principle fact of co-extensivity. sustain. A promise ance of the element in question by this external has been made. inasmuch as the apparatus allows it to come into cated above. each the self is allowed to emerge – can be understood glance. the notion of enkrateia – a timetables that co-ordinate them in space and time sort of self-mastery. wrote Deleuze. New York University on April 24. invaginated the disciplined bodies Foucault describes in Disci. Deleuze explains: ‘a line of subjectifi- of an ‘inward’ performance to accompany the cation is a process. sleeping. and must be. These movements power’s operations.

cally related and heteronormatively organized. so survival. I listen to them tell me the step. Indeed. Partaking in the cultural fiction the vehicle through which Ben and May perform is also the securing of one’s own ‘cultural survival’ answers for their individual survival. The dancing body exhibits its bility is to risk sanction. they need to be reiterated and sustained listen to them tell me the step. and insofar as bodies move through different of the relation to the self. even of Sexuality. too are any claims that flirt with an authentic or According to Deleuze’s reading. emphasis added). as both historical and contemporary – is not imposs- Vivian Patraka suggests. as Foucault comes to regard it through or interiority in order to comprehend how differ- the texts studied in The Use of Pleasure. (2005: 97) lighted in accounts of passing and changing gender This accountability is a complex one in which. Ben and May which amounts to his own argument. no need to revert to a notion of a true subjectivity subjectivity. the celestial regimes of different orders – are always the dancers who guard the heavens and mediate primary issue for Butler. Khmer away from Foucault’s. In a fascinating exploration establishes one’s subjectivity (1988: 102). as a more Nietzschean reading of Foucault might At first I am so scared. 2015 . New York University on April 24. To There are several ‘bodies’ engaging in performa- exist outside the contemporary terms of intelligi- tive knowledge here. and operate in different capacities. vol. May Sem says: to his own notion of the assemblage. the fragility of gender production Hamera understands this accountability in Baktin- does not mean that its deployment is easily inter- ian terms such that. 2: The Use of Pleasure. they sense that their much to a Deleuzean reading. I don’t see. Deleuze’s writing also breaks couple – Ben and May – from Cambodia. course derived from power and knowledge. I think so. there is (1992: 161.12_poeticknowl_062574 10/5/06 10:22 am Page 216 216 Theory. always accountable to the ‘thing gone’ (1999: 7).com at Bobst Library. as he moves beyond admi- survivors living in Los Angeles. This notion of the line of escape which may Their interviews with Hamera suggest that they continue preceding lines but then loops and forms understand their skill in embodying this ‘ur-text’ of new shapes and spaces such that it breaks from Khmer culture (2005: 97) as allowing that culture them. I am like mean an imposition of an interiority from outside. The ethical questions at rigorous training in technique. the ethical requirement to engaged in the performance is understood to demonstrate the foreclosures of a variety of become the embodiment of ‘Apsaras’. 1988: 101): ture is the emphasis on the use of embodied per- ‘[The line of subjectivication] is a line of escape. 1993). in the practice space. then I do. how to articulate between the sacred and the secular through their a response to those regimes while cognizant of the dances. tell me. Movement within those lines – as high. across time in order to support the lines of the Sometimes I do better. is not One strong theme in the post-Panoptican litera- dependent upon them (Deleuze. More than one from the lines of force which brought it into being disciplined body can share the same co-ordinates in and establishes its relation to self. there is what Deleuze institutions. suggested that the folding does have the possibility require (or are required to entail) a performative of establishing a subjectivity which.sagepub. the doing/performance is ible but is potentially dangerous. Not only are pyschoanalytic terminolo- exhibiting the fragile possibility of potential gies disallowed within a Foucauldian paradigm. I hear Deleuze’s ‘What is a Dispositif?’. Then there is the refugee-survivor body contradictions in positing an escape via an ‘un- who in his or her performance offers an ambigu- disciplined’ route to a place free from disciplinary ous. Through their performance of Foucault’s thematic in order to produce something this highly stylized dance form. Belongings. To return to I hear my teachers who did not get out. while the dancer stake here – that is. dance becomes rupted or broken. perform an embodied ‘answer’ to past trauma. for the Sems. But I fragile. non-spoken answer to the past as well as regimes. Foucault those given via the most genealogical of routes. In other words. Hamera (2005) tells the story of a point in his account. but for Deleuze co-extensivity does not [movements generally] to the dance. because they dispositif. just encircle and seem to give rise to objects and hear. Moreover. Culture & Society 23(2–3) temporal nature that makes the productions go crazy like my neighbour I tell you. For Butler. while of dimension (Boyarin and Boyarin. I do. that is. I don’t listen. a child. breaks off ently disciplined bodies can co-exist. the ‘lines’ them sometimes in the day. That is. hierarchi- Khmer culture. formance to explore a tension between the one who It escapes preceding lines and escapes from itself’ appears and the one who performs. who were trained in ration to emphasize a certain reading. is a reading of Foucault that belongs very to survive. I am scared but they tell me the steps subjects. circling classic Khmer dance. Maybe offer. and that of in a world where genders are distinct. Deleuze’s embodied knowledge of it comes to account for reading of the dispositif or apparatus draws it close their own survival. Rather co-extensivity would be another term Downloaded from tcs. a baby. this would call a line of escape or flight by which one is necessarily the case. in The History natural subject and community. At this of this thought.

(2004) Undoing Gender. if indeed it T. (2005) ‘The Answerability of Deleuze’s understanding. all of Austin. Butler. These apparatuses. succeeds in detaching itself ’ (2002[1977]: 125). namely the Foucault’s dispositif: creativity of things. pp. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. What has Performance (Berg.12_poeticknowl_062574 10/5/06 10:22 am Page 217 Problematizing Global Knowledge – Poetic Knowledge 217 to describe the rhizomatic nature of the lines of been. S. only co-extensivity’. inflected language. in detached from the two others. Indiana University Press. they are grouped. some with Words’. (2004[1962]) ‘How to Do Things which criss-cross and mingle together. These must remain in the analysis. this creativity. (1990) Gender Trouble. Routledge. Oxford: Blackwell. Internationalising encircle and produce the effect of interiorities. ingly replace or contradict co-extensivity in Hamera. to become Deleuze. Cultural Studies. G. by M. the analytic task is to Generation and the Ground of Jewish follow the tangle of the assemblage. micro-politics. . implies a include Feminist Imaginations: Genealogies in version of interiority and a critique of the mantra Feminist Theory (Sage. But it certainly Patraka. M. Her publications as a relationship of the thing to itself. University of London. appears to arise [surgir] afterwards.L. trans. London: Penguin. This line of flight is a movement of creativity Deleuze. (1992) ‘What is a Dispositif?’.sagepub. schizo-analysis. New York University on April 24. power and subjectification that A. (1992: 162) Boyarin. Sheridan.com at Bobst Library. (1988) Foucault. fracture. 2015 . insofar as it is posited College. Bloomington: movements of becoming – or. D. Rivkin and lines reproducing and giving rise to others. (1977[1975]) Discipline and Punish.. pragmatics. References lines of splitting. if not denied. What is at stake here is how one understands Foucault. to use the Bergson. breakage. Abbas and J. G. What we Butler. dia. of the greatest gradient’: ‘this line London: Athlone. (1999) Spectacular Suffering: Theatre. rhizomatics. London: within the tangle of lines of the dispositif. other object than the study of these lines. New York: [Deleuze and Guattari] call by different names – Routledge. is put back into the frame. Critical Inquiry 19: 693–725. and J. (2002[1977]) Dialogues II. flight . means of variations or even changes in the way Oxford: Blackwell. cartography – has no Stanford: Stanford University Press. 162–76 in J. J. J. (1997) The Psychic Life of Power. 1999) and Culture and ‘no interiority. Continuum. in Butler. J. lines of force. A. means that for Deleuze and Guattari following Fascism and the Holocaust. then bracketed. Michel Foucault: Philosopher. ‘We have as Identity’. in light. J. Ryan (eds) Literary Theory: An Anthology. Hand. lines of subjectification. a specific becoming. . knowledge. trans. There are still lines of Memory: “Saving” Khmer Classical Dance’. J. . For this creativity does not seem. V. New York: groups or as individuals’ (2002[1977]: 125). Amidst these paths will be those of the ‘line of Deleuze. then. forthcoming 2007). their self-activity. G. . Armstrong. indeed the very insistence of life. Boyarin (1993) ‘Diaspora: As he puts it elsewhere. is actual- ized – is also to trace the path of a creative Vikki Bell is Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths relationship to self which. Erni. are composed of the following elements: lines of visibility and enun- ciation. attempting to trace the path by which a differing. Downloaded from tcs. grammatism. many tangled lines as a hand .