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A Butlerian Analysis of an American Political Event

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Dec. 2nd, 2005 | 12:53 pm

"It is important to understand performativity — which is distinct from performance — through the more limited notion of resignification. I'm still thinking about subversive repetition, which is a category in Gender Trouble, but in the place of something like parody I would now emphasise the complex ways in which resignification works in political discourse."

Judith Butler

What is 'resignification'? What is 'performance'? What is 'subversive repetition'? And what role do they play in the American culturo-politic?

Resignification is a way to re-appropriate images, bodies, signs, symbols, and conventions, in order to subvert them. It is the coupling of irony and resistance to the oppressive modes of masculine discourse in the white, capitalist patriarchy. Consider, then, the storied Kanye and 50 Cent beef. Kanye, in his now infamous quip, resignified the media mode of "telethon," in order to transform it into a venue for political resistance and protest. Telethons (typically the property of white hegemons) were historically an "apolitical" (in that nothing is apolitical) vehicle, and employed the 'ethic of giving' to unify silence and charity, and to reify the dominance of white over black. 'Giving' was a white-to-black phenomenon, or, a subject to other phenomenon. Kanye's performative utterance shifted the paradigm to subsume a paralogical play on the Ameriwhite politick and the ethic of charity. 50 Cent, on the other hand, responded with the ironic re-appropriation of white power as black resistance. In this way, the discourse is pushed up a level, to the performosphere of speech act.

Performance is play, both at the ontological and ironical levels; I will cover this in the next post.

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