A Lot of Questions

I like to ask questions, lots and lots…and lots of questions. A few years ago, I read a novel that was composed entirely of questions, all 165 pages of it. I enjoyed the process of reading it; it opened up by brain and thinking in new ways. When I stumbled upon the large number of questions that I had composed as part of my summary of coursework at Emory, I decided to post it here as one of my accounts. 

Summary: Coursework at Emory / Fall 2002

As I started thinking about my doctoral exams, I put together a summary of my coursework and its significance for my dissertation. I’m really glad I did this! It’s great to be able to look back on this summary and remember some of the key things that I studied. I summarized each class and then divided it up into relevance to my larger project, key questions and other thoughts. Here is a long list of questions that were inspired by my Emory coursework:

What kind of assumptions does the theorist/writer make when she presents herself as “the” authority? How can a theorist take herself and her audience seriously while presenting her ideas as one way among many? What kind of techniques can the theorist use in order to grant her audience some authority? What types of responsibility do/should the theorist and her reader have?

How should we define theory? How does a theorist practice theory? In what ways is the practice of theory exhausting? In what ways is the practice of theory and the project of critical thinking larger than the individuals that practice it? What is the goal of theory/theorizing? What are critical theorists attempting to change with their theories? To transform society or to enable all individuals to recognize their own capacities? How does it relate to practice? Who has access to theory? What does it mean to be a theorist? What is the relationship between the theorists and others? Who can be a theorist?

What function/role should critical thinking play in feminist politics? Can it be a foundation in itself? Should I continue to place such emphasis on the term risk or should I focus on another word for describing this? Why should I promote risk as the best way in which to describe this process? What will help me to ground this project? What could serve as the foundation of my thoughts on risk? Who should I put Butler in conversation with in this project?

What are the differences between tactics and strategies? In Sandoval’s essay she discusses the tactics that are employed in order to use different theories. What does it mean to strategically or tactically use theories/ideas? This fits in with my directed reading for Cindy. How is Butler/irigaray employing tactics, strategies? What is the significance of describing these in such ways? Another question: How useful is pragmatism for my project? What are the drawbacks of pragmatism?

Where does textual authority come from? What can stand as a foundation for feminist ethics? Some of the key questions that came out of the paper are: Does Butler’s radical democracy provide us with a substantial enough vision, one that can encourage and sustain political thought and action? How does Butler account for the connections between individuals? How does Butler’s work allow for large-scale contestations? How can she talk about systems of oppression? Why does Butler focus exclusively on the negative aspects of politics? Can we think about the process of radical democracy and its contestation in positive terms? How do develop our judgments in the process of politics? How exactly do we keep our political terms open? What does the difficult work of perpetual contestation look like?

Is it really enough to say that we need to keep our politics open? Is Butler’s project compelling enough to provide the hope that feminists need in order to continue to engage in politics? If politics (and normative visions) are so radically open, how do we have accountability to it? And, through what process are we able to commit to these fluid terms?

What is cultural translation? How do feminist engage in this difficult process? What does it really mean to take difference seriously? What is the hard work of translation? Does Butler do this in any of her work? How can we put Butler in conversation with Morrison or Hill Collins? How can Butler’s project, or one similar to hers, allow for creativity, imagination, improvisation? (See Welch’s other book and West’s essay on improvisation)

Is contestation, questioning a male/masculine practice? Are there other ways in which to envision the practice of critique? Risk? Contestation? How is it expressed in some other writers? How is critique practiced? Must it be in language?What is the role of critical thought in all of this? What is the relationship between theory and practice? What is the critics relationship to others? Who can be a critic? What are her goals? [these questions are very similar to the ones that I raised in the critical theory class]

Must contestation always result in these series of deaths? Is contestation always a battle? What is the tradition of contestation that comes out of Nietzsche? Again, are there other ways in which to understand contestation? Is critique a masculine, violent, individualistic pursuit? What is the goal of transformation? Will contest critique eventually result in madness?

How can we redefine courage as sustaining life instead of dying? How does having and practicing courage connect with theorizing, writing, critiquing? What is a courageous act? How are heroes connected to communities? Must heroes be isolated from the community? How are politics practiced within theoretical feminist writings?

Where does the capacity to critique come from? Who can be a critic? What values, virtues do theoretical critics/rebels practice, promote? How does JB practice troublemaking in her work? Does she go beyond promoting troublemaking to practicing it? Does description of critique privilege the practice or the actor [this is an interesting point that I just considered. Could it be that the practice of critique is a practice, one that is centered on activity and not actors? It is not controlled by individuals, but taken up by them. I think these ideas fit in with my earlier studies on identity. But I wonder if my focus on the virtues of critique place the emphasis on the critic again. Actually, I am trying to redefine these virtues to demonstrate the ways in which they are not focused on individuals, but on communities.] How does the body/bodies fit into this description of critique? How is troublemaking practiced by real bodies and what effects do troubling practices have on those bodies?

What is freedom? How can we bring the work of Butler and black feminists pragmatists into conversation? Is Butler practicing a radical notion of negative freedom? How does freedom connect with my larger project? How can it be applied to my thoughts on feminism, the theorist, difference within feminism?

What role does the reader play in Butler’s work? If Butler uses a rhetorical strategy to disrupt the reader, how does her writing style reflect this? Does she critically mime philosophical discourse in order to expose its weaknesses or, does she do something else? How does she use language to challenge her readers?