January 27, 2013
Here is the beginning of my January 27 Sunday entry in my Sex Journal. I am reluctant to give more than one page of today's journal, because it seems I'm getting a little too esoteric, in this entry, for a mere blog. But, if you enjoy this kind of material, do please "comment" on it, and I will include more like it.
Judith Butler claims that one does not need ontology to sustain ethical and political reflection, or, at best, only an austerely minimal one. This immediately caught the attention of Stephen K. White, Professor in the Department of Political Science, Appalachian State University and editor of the journal, "political Theory," because he is the author of Sustaining Affirmation: The Strengths of Weak Ontology in Political Theory (Princeton University Press, 2000) and, of course, other books. And this in turn catches the attention of your humble journalist because Jstor Online Subscriptions offers a service where they alert you when someone you have marked appears in their data base, and that, in my case, applies not only to Judith Butler, who no doubt appears in your files also, but Stephen K. White, too.*
Judith Butler, the world-famous creator of Gender Trouble (N.Y.: Routledge, 1990), makes as her postmodern ministry questioning (and, usually, dismissing) those ontological notions which, before her, have been uncritically accepted. In her words she "interrogates the construction and circulation" of pre-linguistic-turn philosophical beliefs, notions, foundational principles. Well, we should all do this, and, if we did, there would be no uncritically accepted beliefs. As I liked to tell my students the six years I taught in my seventies, "If everyone thinks the same, someone isn't thinking."
Butler's greatest interest, of course, is gender, which is why all the above gets into Sex Journal. And, to her credit, she taught us that if these ontological notions are not contested then previous but questionable truths about gender sneak into our being without being interrogated. And, as she proves in Gender Trouble, once you question them, they show themselves as merely shadows on the wall, beyond contestation in other words.
Of course, intellectually, Dr. Butler's all-embracing theory is itself an unquestioning ontology, which is why, perhaps, postmodern thinking subverts all universal truths. Nevertheless, Stephen K. White has come up with an Ontology that is not so "strong" that ideas can't be if not foundational at least acceptable; he calls this "weak ontology." You can see how useful what you probably thought a very narrow journal entry would prove!
*Stephen K. White, "As the world turns: Ontology and Politics in Judith Butler," Polity 32:2 (Winter, 1999), 155-177. Ontology, from the Greek "onta," (the things of this world, as in Augustine's words, "Love calls us to the things of this world," in time producing Richard Wilbur's finest book of poetry), ontology = being; as in the scientists', "Ontogeny recapitulates ontology."