Tuesday 18 September 2007

A Eustonian in a po-mo world

Spare a thought for the poor Eustonian academic trying to get by in a world still governed by po-mo certainties. The other day I received an invitation to this event:

Sexual Politics: the limits of secularism, the time of coalition

Tuesday, 30 October 2007 at 6.30 in the Old Theatre, LSE, Houghton St.
London, WC2A 2AE

This lecture considers the conditions for coalition that might exist
between religious and sexual minorities focusing on different forms
of state coercion.

Speaker: Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, University of California, Berkeley

Now I can't be sure, but I'd hazard a guess that the 'religious minorities' Judith Butler wants to coalesce with are not Mormons or evangelical Christians. And it seems unlikely that (feminist though she is) the seminar will find Butler lending support to 'sexual minorities' in Muslim countries who fear -rather than seek alliances with - the forces of religion. After all, she's on record as saying that she's 'not sure that the burka states identity any more definitively than an excellent dress by Christian Dior' and that it's simply a 'means through which cultural belongings are signified or, rather, means through which that signification is attempted' - rather than an instrument of women's oppression. Butler is one of those 'well-meaning' Europeans and Americans criticised by Marieme Marie Lucas 'who imagine that they are paying respect to "Muslims" by adapting to such a uniform,' but who in doing so 'simply bow to modern far right forces working under the cover of religion and that manipulate Islam to their political benefit.'

(And I forgot to mention: Butler thinks Hamas and Hizbollah are 'part of the global Left')

Po-mo cultural criticism, of the kind represented by Judith Butler, having long ago grown tired of class, and having been fascinated in turn by ethnicity, then gender and sexuality, is now in love with the new kid on the block - religion. Religious zealots - especially if they come across as radical and anti-western - represent a new kind of mysterious 'Other' that can make a certain kind of cultural critic go weak at the knees (just as Islamism possesses a dangerous attraction for some far left political activists). Never mind that the 'religious minorities' that Butler seeks to court are aggressively, not to say violently hostile to the feminist and gay rights agenda that she has espoused in the past: I'm sure that little contradiction can be glossed over with a bit of po-mo theorising.

So what to do? Of course, one should really go along to seminars like this in a spirit of open-mindedness, prepared to listen and then ask difficult questions, even if you're the only one doing so. But do you really want to put yourself in that position (again), and isn't it easier to keep your head down? And then, it happens so often: last year I received an invitation to what promised to be an interesting lecture at the LSE by Tariq Modood - until I noticed that the event was to be chaired by...Madeleine Bunting.

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