Friday, February 4, 2011

Judith Butler - London, Feb 3, 2011

The event was jointly hosted by Iniva, a government-funded arts organization, and Amnesty International. The talk was on the theme of paternalism, and it was structured as a dialogue with Sundeep Dasgupta.

Dasgupta began by asking, how might cultural institutions avoid the trap of paternalism? Are there forms of power which accrue to the person being paternalized?

What is the who and the what of cultural difference? What does it mean to end a discourse by making the claim that identity is simply fluid, hybrid, or fragmented? What are the problems with making such a conclusion? Dasgupta implied that this kind of conclusion may lead to a notion of universal transferability and a loss of specificity with regard to cultural difference.

In my opinion, these questions were a bit too tentative. People had come to hear Butler, and she turned these questions into something much more complex:

First we must inquire as to basic questions of address--what is the nature of power in a speech situation?
Our operative presumptions in speech situations involve perceived cultural difference.
Terms employed in policy discourses are those already used in scenes of interlocution.
Butler encouraged people to interrupt her: Bertolt Brecht said that 'interruption is everything.'
How is a subject produced through a speech act?
If I extend recognition or allocate funds to a culturally different group, I am establishing a paternalistic relationship of benevolence.
If this Other accepts my allocation they are accepting, potentially enhancing, and augmenting my power to paternalize.
This paternalistic 'I' differentiates him/herself from the recipients of the benefits (the paternalized).
Sometimes, tragically, the more I give, the greater the gulf becomes between myself and the recipient.

States offering recognition to new immigrants is an instance of such paternalism, as is the allocation of human rights benefits based on recognition of the humanness of a subject.
Especially in the U.S., health benefits are distributed paternalistically.
The paternalistic relation is about the distribution of benefits. Some ask, is redistribution taking place equitably?
However, if we think only in terms of redistributive equality we fail to question the presumptive paternalistic sovereignty because we credit the sovereign for equal redistribution.
Butler says this against Nancy Fraser, who fails to focus on the fact that the allocator becomes culturally articulated.
Democracy entails modes of self-governance and self-allocation: the people, not the sovereign.
It requires means of distribution which would not solidify the power of the sovereign and its cultural neutrality.
The power of the paternalized depends on whether or not to ratify the sovereign authority and cultural difference by accepting the allocated good.
Butler is arguing for the dispersion of sovereignty through the rethinking of the culture of benificence and dependency (especially in terms of internal others in a state, i.e. welfare recipients).
Europe is already its others.

Q&A: Mubarak said on television that he will protect Egypt [from itself] against radical democracy. Paternalism is here preventing a democratic outcome.
The question of protection: paternalistic protection vs. necessary/democratic. Under what conditions could protection be non-paternalistic?
It is not enough to say that identity is hybrid. One could be a non-essentialist and be very stuck.
There is a problem of borders which limit and force mobility. Mobility is not necessarily either liberating or bad.
We must look to see how difference is produced and reified.
If one receives the entitlement of the benefit and visibility without changing the paternalistic mechanism of power one gets a split between the institution and the 'multicultural group.'
The act has to unexpectedly call into question the structure of power and democratize the means by which goods are distributed.
The lack of such questioning is what allows works by artists of color to be exhibited in expensive galleries in New York City while public art institutions are failing.
Butler is not saying that the state is bad: there are many different types of state formation. We could think about more radically democratic state formations which inaugurate modes of self-governance which are less paternalistic and undermine paternalism.
Part of this has to do with the 'NGO-ization of social movements.'
Equal distribution is not the same as the problem of justice. A benevolent paternalistic authority can take away what it gives. Against Schmitt, this may not be inevitable.
Those Westerners who say we should have intervened in Uganda to save the life of gay activist David Kato are making a paternalistic gesture.
The apparent self-deconstruction of the paternalistic sovereign can become a moment of the addition to the power of the sovereign.

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