First, there was the buildup. Then, Judith Butler was here! Now, she is gone. The College’s website bears witness to the actuality of her visit, but all those months of personal involvement with her appearance on campus now seem like a dream. And while at times, in the process of parsing Butler’s writing, it seemed like a nightmare, I’m glad I accepted the challenge of being one of the Flexner Lecture bloggers.
In preparing for my regularly scheduled blogs, I engaged with the most difficult pieces of writing I have encountered since taking philosophy courses in college. I think the writing was even more challenging for me than the political science textbook I studied from my junior year—in France. Struggling with a long passage in The Judith Butler Reader, I would often rant to the room around me, “Speak English!” and “Really? That’s a word??!”
It wasn’t just the difficulty. A small piece of my frustration stemmed from having been assigned certain chapters to read. Not since grad school had I been in that situation. While I was interested in Butler’s theories, I felt a little put upon. I have selected what I read for the last few decades, and it felt very odd to have my reading options decided for me.
The impact of Butler’s work is indisputable. Her writing has influenced the work of our office and guides us still: we have obligations to support individuals, to minimize their precarity and to endorse their visibility and right to appear. Butler additionally challenges us to not just support individuals, but also to encourage the formation of “queer” alliances.
Yet, it is not only I and my office that are impacted by Butler’s time on campus, but the whole community. The worth of the Flexner Lectures is partly in extending the influence of the chosen lecturer. While this has been the aim in years past, this year, with the blogs and with so much excitement surrounding Butler’s visit to campus, there was truly a feeling of broad impact.
So while the whole experience still seems a bit like a dream, I feel encouraged to know that Butler happened here. And that her visit is likely to have an ongoing impact on our community.