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Butler, J. (1995). Reply to Adam Phillips. Psychoanal. Dial., 5(2):189-193.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 5(2):189-193

Reply to Adam Phillips Related Papers

Judith Butler, Ph.D.

Adam Phillips's welcome commentary confirms that there might be a dialogue, even perhaps a psychoanalytic one, between a clinical and a speculative perspective on questions of gender, melancholia, and performativity. Clearly, the positions here are not as “staked out” as is often the case, for Phillips himself is both a clinician and a speculative thinker and, in this sense, furthers the kind of doubly dimensioned writing inaugurated by Freud. Indeed, what might at first seem like a strict opposition—the clinician on one hand and the cultural theorist of gender on the other—is broken down and reconfigured in the course of this exchange; and it is as much the content of his claims as the movement of his own thinking that makes me want to reconsider the oppositional framing and thinking that seems, luckily, not to be able to sustain itself here. My reply, then, will focus first on the question of whether melancholy is rightly understood to oppose or to temper the notion of gender performativity and, second, on whether sexual difference is itself an opposition that is as stable as it may appear.

Phillips suggests that the consideration of melancholic incorporation tempers the voluntarism of the position associated with gender performativity that emerged in the reception of Gender Trouble. On one hand, there appears to be a repudiated and unresolved knot of grief and, on the other, a self-conscious subject who, in Sartrian vein, creates itself anew again and again. But what if the terms of this opposition are not quite as stable as they seem? Consider that the irresolve of melancholia is tied to the check placed on aggression against the lost other, that the idealization of the other that accompanies the self-beratement in melancholia is precisely the routing of aggression against the ego that is prohibited from being expressed directly against that other.

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