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Rothenberg, M.A. Valente, J. (2001). Identification Trouble in Butler's Queer Theory. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 6(2):183-208.

(2001). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 6(2):183-208

Identification Trouble in Butler's Queer Theory

Molly Anne Rothenberg, Ph.D. and Joseph Valente, Ph.D.

Judith Butler's work on gender identity presents two simultaneous but incompatible accounts of the role of identification and desire in forming the gendered subject. One derives from Freud, taking melancholia as the paradigm of ego formation, predicated on loss. The other derives from Borch-Jakobsen, taking “psychic mimetism” as the paradigm of ego formation, predicated on imitative acts that condition the experience of loss. In her Freudian account, desire precedes identification, while in the other account identification precedes desire. The first model supports the voluntarist politics which Butler presents under the rubric of “performativity” and for which she has been justly criticized. The second, more “postmodern” version of identity formation cannot ground “performativity” and actually vitiates Butler's political claims, but it serves to indemnify her argument against criticisms that her model of the subject is volitional. This essay interrogates the arguments and claims of both models and then elucidates their function and articulation within Butler's work as a whole. We go on to evaluate Butler's assertion that her criticism of Freud's heterosexist presuppositions prepares the conditions for queer theory and gay studies to displace feminism. In this conclusion, we show that Butler's critique of heterosexism remains mortgaged to sexual difference and a “heteroideology” pervading the psychoanalytic paradigms on which she relies. In our view,

psychoanalytic “heteroideology” inevitably installs “identification” as a means of reproducing patriarchal hegemony and linking it to heterosexist ideology. While Butler's express project requires that the process of identification be accorded primacy over the condition of identity, as a way of eroding the defining lines of gender and sexual classification, she nonetheless ends up demonstrating how identification works to ensure the persistence of these categories.

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