Cultural creationism

July 2, 2009

Angela McRobbie recommends Judith Butler's new book, Frames of War, for its "clear thread of continuity" with her early work in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, but that is a damning indictment (Book of the Week, 25 June).

Readers from disciplines where arrant nonsense is not routinely paraded as truth (that is, outside English and cultural studies) will be amazed by Butler's claim that biological sex is a "fictional coherence" inflicted upon bodies by language.

Indeed, the exclamation "It's a girl!" is supposed to generate a new fact, just as "I hereby sentence you ..." undoubtedly does. Trouble is, sex is widespread beyond the human species where dimorphism has somehow flourished without the aid of coercive utterances.

Butler's implicit denial of the evolution of sexual characteristics is a form of cultural creationism that embarrasses the disciplines that endorse it. "Performativity theory" is almost as flimsy as homoeopathy, but more widespread in academia and far more respectable. If Butler's new book shows the same scant respect for evidence and argument as her first two, then thanks but no thanks.

Greg Garrard, Bath Spa University.

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