Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So, Margaret Price and Judith Butler Walk into a Bar

Part of my task for the remainder of this semester is to get all of the theorists in whom I'm (supposedly) interested in conversation with each other. What do I want to take from each theorist? How might all of this theory fit together - or not? What would Judith Butler say to Margaret Price at the bar? And would Margaret Price pull out her brass knuckles in response?

Butler: Oh, hey Marge! I was just sitting here thinking about the collectivity of humanity over this appletini.  Why don't you join me?

Price: I don't know, Judy. You always get to lofty when you drink appletinis. But I never get out, so I guess I'll listen to you this one time. Bartender - a Long Island Iced Tea, please.

Two hefty drinks in their hands, the ladies settle in for a conversation on the intersections of disability theory, autobiography, and identity. 

B: So, I assume you've read Precious Life. Everyone has, you know.

P: I actually only got to chapter two so far, but it's been interesting. I assume you've read at least chapter 5 of Mad at School?

B: But of course! Here's one question I've been dying to ask you - how do the disability autobiographies you wrote about fit into concept I wrote about in my book - that our identities depend on each other?

P: Honestly, I wasn't thinking about your book when I wrote mine, but since you asked, I'll think about an answer. (Stares off and takes a long sip of her drink.) Well, I suppose pronomial variance in autobiography extends the experiences in an autobiographical text beyond the narrator. I think a question of ownership has to be explored here. Who owns a story? The person who lived it? The people who relate to it? The people who read it? And does collective ownership of a story or experience imply a collective identity?

B: My book laid out the concept of collectivity in a philosophical sense. What we seem to be trying here is an application of philosophy. Can we see the principle of collectivity in textual life stories? Autobiography, by nature of the genre, is meant to reflect one person, but it inevitably incorporates the environment and people who surrounded that person as she or he went through life. Thus, the personal narrative rests upon its human and environmental circumstances. Are life narratives written without the context of others being present? I imagine if they were, then the story would focus on the absence of characters, and would thus still be dependent on human connection (or lack thereof).

P: I've been interested in acknowledging personal differences without casting those differences as a reason to "other" a group. How do differences fit into collectivity? How do we not "other"?

B: Collective identities are focused on the fact that we all bear the human condition. It is our broader connections that I focused on. If we concentrate on those broad human connections and see the smaller individual ones (or ones unique to a specific subset of people) as less important than our collective human qualities, then it will be difficult to "other".

P: That seems a bit impractical. I mean, we can't always focus on broader connections? We do, to some degree, have to acknowledge the individual. The disability narratives I analyzed focus on resisting diagnostic genres, thereby resisting traditional conceptions of autobiographies. Surely, we have to have some deviation to make progress. And deviation is derived from otherness. Can we then conclude that otherness can drive social progress and that it may, in certain circumstances, be a beneficial thing?

B: (Finishes her appletini in one sip.) Perhaps, then, collectivity is the goal. Or acknowledged collective identity. Look, right now we see that we are all intertwined and interdependent. But we think of ourselves as individuals. Our perceptions deviate from the truth, but that doesn't mean the truth of a collective identity doesn't exist.

P: Ok, so collective identity exists and pronomial fragmentation and variance pushes toward that collective by pointing out instances of othering and attempting to smooth them over by extending "personal" life stories to a person beyond their supposed author?

B: That sounds plausible.

P: I have a headache. I don't know if it's from the Long Island or you. I think I'm going to go home.

B: Lightweight. But it was nice talking to you.

P: Indeed.

Was this a little silly? Yes, but it did work to put these two theorists in dialogue for me. More experiments to come...

1 comment:

  1. Not silly. Fun. And you've got me thinking further...I wonder if you would be willing to take the risk of bringing in Karen Barad's work here? To get you hooked, I suggest you start w/ a student's testimony to "getting Barad fever":

    ... and if that works, go on to my summary of her November visit here, "there are no fish-killers w/out fish":

    ... and if that works, well then i'll get you started on her VERY big book, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning .... ;)