ArticlesVolume 21, Number 2 (2011)

Performing Interdependence: Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor in the Examined Life

Abstract

When I was invited to participate in this symposium, I planned to talk about Judith Butler’s 1994 essay Against Proper Objects. This essay has always been one of my favorite examples of Judith’s work: I love its transgression of a boundary between feminism and queer theory that was only beginning to take shape at the time of its publication; its excavation of the voices of dissident feminists that were otherwise often submerged by what was then a wave of support for a dominance approach; its invitation to renew or reconfigure a conversation that had already become difficult, but could potentially bear unexpected kinds of fruit. Against Proper Objects has helped a small but determined group of legal feminists to see new directions for our thinking, and possibilities for collaboration and coalition at times when the most exciting work on sexuality and gender seemed to be happening far from the usual domains of feminist jurisprudence. But a funny thing happened on the way to writing that essay. As I was poking around a bookstore, I came across the book version of The Examined Life, a documentary film by Astra Taylor that is comprised of interviews with eight philosophers on the central ideas or themes┬áthat animate their work. One of these interviews features Judith Butler, and it is organized around the idea of “interdependence.” I found it riveting: It has a great deal to say (directly) about the body and (indirectly) about the law-both topics of the panel on which I was invited to participate. I then went out and rented the film: even better. So my comments- perhaps appropriately, for a talk originally presented two days before the Oscars-will focus on Judith Butler’s debut as a star of the silver screen.