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Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"

4.08  ·  Rating Details ·  2,237 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality: the body. Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the "matter" of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 20th 1993 by Routledge (first published 1993)
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Jun 25, 2012 Avital rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
In Bodies that Matter Judith Butler replies to the criticism of her earlier book Gender Trouble. She argues with the feminist thinkers who see the body as matter--a material body with a sexual specification. According to her the body does not exist beyond a cultural construction. It serves as a site for the feminist theory independently of such a pre-discursive definition. In her introduction she explains:
For surely bodies live and die; eat and sleep; feel pain, pleasure; endure illness and vio
Erdem Tasdelen
Sep 17, 2008 Erdem Tasdelen rated it really liked it
This certainly cleared up a few ideas that seemed vague in Gender Trouble. Butler asserts here that the performativity of gender does not imply an agency that allows one to put it on and take it off as one pleases, which is in dialogue with Spivak's elaboration of deconstruction where she dismisses the idea of free play. Performativity in this sense is a repetitive reiteration that imagines and images a coherent identity at the cost of its own complexity. It is not a matter of antagonizing the o ...more
Jan 04, 2013 Benjamin rated it really liked it
This is the second Judith Butler book I've read (the other being Gender Trouble), and I found it as interesting and enlightening as the first. As a cis male, I would originally be thought of as an outsider. However, once you enter into the text you realise that this has repercussions for every individual regardless of sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or any other form of identity you can think of. Discussing gender may focus on those who are oppressed (as in feminism or gay and lesbian studies) ...more
Nov 23, 2008 Ty rated it it was ok
It's worth reading but I consider Butler much stronger on immigration and citizenship concerns than on those of sexuality. I recognize her lexicon makes a fair bit of her writing generally inaccessible but having taken on her works half a dozen times, I don't notice that anymore.

From using the sole, individual, case of David Reimer to make sweeping statements on gender (which she conflates into sex at the most disturbing of times), imposing a change in pronouns onto someone else's repeatedly exp
Jan 10, 2017 Sabra rated it really liked it
This book is clearly a better version of her other book "gender trouble". It explains in much more detail the queering performativity which allows individuals to define themselves beyond just sexuality!
Apr 05, 2015 Amber rated it did not like it
I feel like it's socially irresponsible to conduct a conversation about such an important topic using language that makes that conversation inaccessible to so much of the population. We get it. You're a smarty pants. But you fail to move the pegs when you're only talking to other academics.
Aug 05, 2007 Daniela rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: radical feminists
Shelves: academic-chores
Butler not only looks like a mad German philosopher but writes like one.
Ayleen Julio
Tan interesante como complicado de leer. Relectura necesaria e imperativa.
May 03, 2008 Jamie rated it it was amazing
Yes, it feels pretentious to give Butler 5-stars, or to consider this one of the best books I read this year, but I think she's just fantastic. People bitch and moan about her 'moonspeak' but frankly, I think it's rare to find a theorist or a philosopher more inclined to help the reader understand--there's a highly methodical, repetitive quality to the way she states her ideas. It's clear to me that she *wants* her reader to follow along, it's just that the ideas at hand are frequently so dense ...more
Feb 08, 2016 Adam rated it liked it
Whilst I can't speak highly enough of the fantastic ideas in this book, it does share a problem with many post-modern critical writings. It insists on hiding simple yet powerful ideas behind overly esoteric language, potentially rendering them inaccessible to people who could make great use of them. A book intended to have consequences for society as a whole shouldn't be written in language that is only understandable to those privileged few who posses degrees in related subjects. Given the subj ...more
i've been carrying this around for years now, reading bits of it. i don't think i'll ever read it in its entirety; not dedicated enough to wrestle with butler's style when i don't need to i suppose. nevertheless, the ideas in here are important and matter still 25 years later.
Kaitlyn Myers
Dec 26, 2016 Kaitlyn Myers rated it it was ok
In a manner which echoes that of Faulkner and his long-winded contemporaries, Judith needs to practice getting to the point. She writes of important topics, yet the message is often hidden in a mish-mash of unnecessarily complex metaphors and/ or demonstrative stories.
Alex Lee
May 28, 2015 Alex Lee rated it it was amazing
Here Judith Butler expands on the agental role that "queering" performativity allows for the creation of individuals beyond sexuality. While most of the book is geared towards shoring up (and critiquing) psychoanalytic roles of sexual determination of identity and subjectivity, Butler also includes a few complex examples of how marked positions within the sexual dichotomy as it relates to phallics and sexual identity is problematized.

Although at times with terse sentences that sometimes say too
Joseph Sverker
2014: This is supposedly Butler's reply and clarification on some of the critique she received for Gender Trouble. I write supposedly with regard to the clarification because to my mind this book is more difficult to understand and really penetrate than Gender Trouble. And, also, I is really quite complex to follow what Butler thinks about the body, which is the critique she received against Gender Trouble in the first place. So from that perspective this book might be something of a failure. Ha ...more
Ayanna Dozier
Mar 30, 2015 Ayanna Dozier rated it liked it
I would give this book two stars but it's Judith Butler and as someone who conducts research in the field of Gender and Sexuality, my work owes a considerable debt to her and to this book. With that being said, Bodies that Matter is a book that seeks to reposition bodies in relation to sexuality through the re-reading of psychoanalysis and Irigaray. Specifically, bodies that are white, female marked, cis, and queer. If this were all that the book is, I wouldn't be bothered because it is, obvious ...more
Me acabo de acordar de este libro, ahora no sé por qué. El texto es una cosa densa que creo que iba sobre la diferencia entre sexo y género y de que quizá el cuerpo se construye psicológicamente (o físicamente, no me quedó claro si era en plan "metáfora" o no) a partir de la identificación con un género al nacer. El postmodernismo antes me impresionaba.
Menciona dos novelas que desde entonces tengo para leer:Passing y My Antonia.
Pero por lo que tengo un buen recuerdo es lo que aprendí no del lib
Michael Meeuwis
Nov 29, 2013 Michael Meeuwis rated it it was amazing
In many ways, I think, this would be a better book to read (or assign) to give a feel for what Butler's thought and its possibilities are like. There's a lot of inside-baseball theory amusement in the early parts of the book, where Butler basically tells everyone that they misread "Gender Trouble" by treating drag performance as central to culture rather than--and I think this is actually more intriguing, and troubling--noting that all performances of identity are analogous to drag in being cult ...more
Nov 30, 2012 Nina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just like the rest of her work it is very very dense and cites numerous other pre-req's to be read and digested in their own right to understand the depth of her arguments about gender. Her distinctions are very fine and I find her writing most convincing and useful when she stops explaining her own work in reference to others but speaks clearly about her own agenda. There are several places in each chapter where she steps fully into her own voice and agenda and it is then that I remember exactl ...more
Mar 06, 2008 simon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with patience and wikipedia
this book confirms that judith butler is seriously a genius. it was Extremely helpful to read this book in class, rather than on my own, which is how i've attempted other butler. for instance, when you get to the chapter that follows Butler on Irigaray on Plato, it helps to have someone around that knows the French psychoanalysts. And when you start reading about mirrors, identity and Lacan, having someone versed in Freud is really a bonus.

so yeah, unless you know a fair amount of Zizek (and I u
Cara Byrne
Sep 29, 2013 Cara Byrne rated it really liked it
"The goal of this analysis, then, cannot be pure subversion, as if an undermining were enough to establish and direct political struggle. Rather than denaturalization or proliferation, it seems that the question for thinking discourse and power in terms of the future has several paths to follow: how to think power as resignification together with power as the convergence or interarticulation of relations of regulation, domination, constitution? How to know what might qualify as an affirmative re ...more
Clayton Whisnant
Though a book that is difficult to appreciate without having read _Gender Trouble_, _Bodies That Matter_ is, in my opinion, more satisfying. I've never understood the compulsion that some have to cite Lacan's works as if they were absolutely authoritative, but nevertheless I appreciate Butler's interesting efforts to reintegrate the social/cultural dimensions of Foucault's thoughts on discourse with the psychological dimension of psychoanalysis. This book includes some very interesting readings ...more
A good start, followed by a 100 page tangent, an awkward 50 of tripping over zizek and a great closing chapter than summarises what the rest of the book was supposed to be about.

While butler's (admittedly cherry picked) cultural reference points go some way to explaining her ideas in action, it does feel like your being beaten around the head with it. I guess it's difficult to explain performative actions without giving examples, yet a lot of this book is taken up with descriptions of things we
Aug 25, 2016 Andrea rated it it was amazing
It is simply amazing how much better this book is than Gender Trouble. I hated every page of Gender Trouble and now I am in disbelief just how well-written this book is; I can accept most of Butler's theses in here and I commend her for creating a much less dense text. In fact, I absolutely loved some parts of it like the chapters on Plato or Nella Larsen. The only chapter I didn't really appreciate was The Lesbian Phallus, but other than that her readings and critiques of Lacan and Žižek are fa ...more
The Awdude
Nov 02, 2010 The Awdude rated it really liked it
Butler, for about 100 pages, executes a virtuosic reading of Lacan that I thoroughly enjoyed, but then later on she mis-appropriates Zizek and tries to stic to her guns with old ideas about performativity and it doesn't really lead her anywhere. She ends up asking more questions than she answers, which of course is never a bad thing, but I thought she wwas taking me somewhere she wasn't. But I'm sure she's cleared some things up since she wrote this book, which was published in 1993, so I'll def ...more
Oct 04, 2008 Albertine rated it really liked it
i appreciate this book's political and theoretical vision (a call for a feminism not rooted in identity politics and an analysis of gender and the body that is not disaggregated from sex and sexuality). that being said, i am left totally unsatisfied with her treatment of materiality, which is completely a-sensual (her conception of materiality...derived from derrida and lacan...understands the body as materialized through language). strangely, although the book is concerned centrally with perfor ...more
Apr 27, 2011 Liz rated it really liked it
this was mostly really good; she says interesting things about signification and political strategy, I like it when people talk strategy to me; I don't care about Žižek but in the course of laying the smackdown on him she says some good things about names and patrilineage; I wish she had delivered more on her promise to theorise materiality because that was what I was reading this for; the title chapter reads like the first, vaguest chapter of the book I actually wanted to read; I understand, bu ...more
F Ilth
Jan 21, 2017 F Ilth rated it really liked it
This is a great book for any queer person or ally to read. It basically picks apart how naming things and identity function with themselves and in reaction to heterosexual hegemony.

It is pretty complex in its language, however, and may not be suitable for people unfamiliar with reading philosophical works that are looking to get into queer theory/third wave feminism.

Also, although I enjoyed reading it, I get the feeling that I could have picked a more suitable book of butler's to read first. Fro
Michael Mena
Dec 14, 2016 Michael Mena rated it it was amazing
This book, I think, is more accessible than Gender Trouble. This is an in depth elaboration on performativity but also materiality and language/practice. I would recommend for linguistic anthro and sociolinguistic people interested in materiality, so very useful tools here. I don't know if it is 'easier' than Derrida, but it is a different take on Derrida if you didn't quite understand him. Unfortunately, it will needs a solid background is Freud and Lacan or else you might be a little lost. I'm ...more
Amai Freeman
Apr 10, 2015 Amai Freeman rated it really liked it
Challenging yet informative elaboration of gender performativity. Butler elucidates how power and discourse come to prescribe and proscribe identity through complex codifying strategies that delimit domains of subjectivity. She posits that to operate within identity in any subversive way requires a continual critical vigilance towards identity and its many constituent intersections between sex, gender, race, and sexuality.
Mima Flamingo
Dec 10, 2014 Mima Flamingo rated it it was ok
I've tried so hard with Butler. I really have. But as mentioned by a previous reviewer, the style is horrible. The syntax is cruel and drawn-out, her vocabulary is difficult, and her argument is lost in the density.

It's a damn shame because she makes some excellent contributions to this area. I'm sure I'll try again at some point but it won't change my mind about the bottom line: it's written from the ivory tower, for the ivory tower.
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Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist and feminist philosopher who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy and ethics. She is currently a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley.
Butler received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1984, for a dissertation subsequently publi
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“The misapprehension about gender performativity is this: that gender is a choice, or that gender is a role, or that gender is a construction that one puts on, as one puts on clothes in the morning, that there is a 'one' who is prior to this gender, a one who goes to the wardrobe of gender and decides with deliberation which gender it will be today.” 47 likes
“On the one hand, any analysis which foregrounds one vector of power over another will doubtless become vulnerable to criticisms that it not only ignores or devalues the others, but that its own constructions depend on the exclusion of the others in order to proceed. On the other hand, any analysis which
pretends to be able to encompass every vector of power runs the risk of a certain epistemological imperialism which consists in the presupposition
that any given writer might fully stand for and explain the complexities of contemporary power. No author or text can offer such a reflection of the world, and those who claim to offer such pictures become suspect by virtue of that very claim.”
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