The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.I know. Nightmare. Butler is, I think, a pretty bad writer: convoluted, difficult to read, repetitive, all in all, HARD WORK. Interestingly, though, she did see fit to respond to her award in a surprisingly lucid article in the New York Times. Her argument went like this:
The role of scholars in the humanities is to 'question common sense, interrogate its tacit presumptions and provoke new ways of looking at a familiar world.' When scholars use language in unexpected and difficult ways, people who read what is written are forced to stop in their tracks and rethink ideas and worldviews that they've always taken for granted. Common sense often stops us rethinking these assumptions: common sense used to say it made sense for women to be denied the vote, for black people to be slaves to white people. The whole point of writing the sort of text that Butler writes is to challenge the stories we tell and the ordinary language we use, which stops us seeing the world differently.
I don't think I agree. Plenty of people have changed the way we see the world by using language simply and effectively; by telling surprising stories or using ordinary words in extraordinary contexts. Bad writing matters because it effectively walls off academia from the rest of the world, and allows people to think that what happens in universities doesn't matter. It does, not least because things that are thought in academic contexts go on to shape the world in subtle but profound ways. Part of my reason for writing this blog is, I think, to see whether it's possible to communicate difficult ideas in less difficult ways, though how successful I am is probably for you to say.
Photo credit: the Frankfurt School on Flickr. Remind me to tell you one day about the lesbian phallus (not as much fun as it sounds, I'm afraid).