English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Judith Butler's "Variations on Sex and Gender:
Beauvoir, Wittig, and Foucault" (1987)

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1. To understand Judith Butler's argument, it's important to know what question she is posing. What issue does she raise on pages 612-13 top?

2. What is "the Cartesian ghost"? According to Butler from 613-14, how do de Beauvoir's ideas about an "embodied identity" avoid the problem of Cartesian dualism (i.e. the mind/body split implied by Descartes' dictum "I think; therefore, I am")?

3. What is the "choice at the origin of gender"? (614-15) How does Butler use motherhood to illustrate the kind of choice she means?

4. From 615-16 col. 1, Butler examines the traditional treatment of the mind/body split posited by Descartes. How has this binary opposition been of service to men and a disservice to women? What does Butler say is de Beauvoir's alternative to the "gender polarity" that is based upon Cartesian dualism?

5. From 617-19, Butler discusses the theory of French feminist Monique Wittig. How, according to Butler, does Wittig develop de Beauvoir's ideas about gender? That is, what problem does Wittig identify with the standard "sexual distinctions" we generally maintain, and what vision of human relations does Wittig offer her readers?

6. How does Butler, from 619-20, link Foucault's ideas about sexuality and power to Wittig's feminism?

7. What argument against her own attempt at "renovating gender relations" does Butler work into her conclusion from 621-22? How does she respond to this potential criticism?

*The reading selection is from Davis, Robert Con and Ronald Schleifer. Contemporary Literary Criticism: Literary and Cultural Studies. Fourth edition. New York: Longman, 1998. 611-23.