Flexner Book Club Blog

2011 Mary Flexner Lecturer: Judith Butler

The Right of Recognition

I will be the first to admit that “Desire, Rhetoric, and Recognition in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit” left me confounded and frustrated.  I share Steph’s sentiments when it comes to this reading and often ask myself the same questions about feminist theory; is work that is inaccessible to most people divisive or helpful to the gender equality “movement”?  Feminist theory has always been greatly complimentary to my grassroots work and activism, but even more so, my grassroots work gives greater meaning to my study of feminist theory.  If I weren’t able to use theory as a sounding board and checkpoint for my work, in order to examine my experiences and beliefs from a renewed or completely different perspective, I would probably completely shy away from it.

I think that’s why I had such a hard time reading “Desire, Rhetoric, and Recognition in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.”  I struggled to connect the verbose text to my lived reality.  Judith Butler’s later work is relatively easy for me to dissect and relate to—it’s on a plane that I am familiar with, gender and queer studies—but I am far from comfortable with “the continental philosophers.”

Despite my intellectual discomfort and furrowed eyebrows throughout this reading, I noticed a possible relationship between desire/recognition and what Butler is currently working on; Butler describes that she will “consider further the gendered regulation of the field of appearances, i.e. who can be heard or seen, who can lay claim to rights of recognition and legal protection, and what forms the implicit limits of audibility and visibility within a particular public sphere” (http://news.brynmawr.edu/?p=8412).

In conjunction with the basis of Butler’s current work, I read desire and recognition in “Desire, Rhetoric, and Recognition in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit” as primary elements to the process of social nascence.  “Striving to become coextensive with the world, an autonomous being that finds itself everywhere reflected in the world,” describes the experience of being recognized by the world through desire (76). 

With my Butlerian thinking cap on, I sensed connotations of social construction and systems of power in the process of “regulation of appearance” and the “right of recognition” in public spheres.  In other words, perhaps our journeys of “self discovery” are merely reflections and rearrangements of what is already before us.  Are we limited to recognition through preexisting projects of identity?  Is that why desire is almost insatiable, because its fulfillment is limited insofar as we are recognized by and can appear in structures of power?  Lastly, is that why middle school and high school were so tumultuous?  (Don’t worry, I’ll refrain from asking that at the Flexner lectures’ question and answer sessions).

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