This post is a response to an article I read on Reality Sandwich which argues for Psychedelic Studies justification as an interdisciplinary academic field due to its close relation with queer studies. However, I feel my critique is viable for any of the various abuses composed from the snatched dwarf fruit of queer theory, particularly Judith Butlers concept of gender performativity.
Performativity is important in that it is a critique of decisionism, a philosophical position that argues that authorities or aggregate “social contract” style decisions maintain legitimacy by the nature of their authority, rather than semantically in the specifics of their decree, or through empirical checks against implementation. Gender is performative in that a gender binary is a construct rather than a concrete relationship between biological sex organs and being. This claim importantly shows the context of a gender binary which punishes those who fall outside of it, not simply that a willful individual is capable of shattering this entire context through their actions.
The petitio principii committed in discussion of “performativity” in post-modern discourse lends itself consistently to this misapplication. A queer or performative turn is not some Yakov Smirnoff joke which simply inverts what we take for granted. There is still a grounding in reality, or what Heidegger calls a disclosure of a world. Kompridis splits disclosure into a pre-reflective and reflective disclosure, the latter being aligned with performativity to some degree, in that it reinterprets and alters a pre-reflective or “given-ness” of belonging to a specific historical period. The importance of the context one is altering through their action is not simply an important factor, it is a factor that renders the discourse intelligible at all. “Becoming” as the Heraclitian condition of being is insolubly linked to what it overcomes, it is conditioned and not determined by its historical being.
The solipsistic argument for performativity argued for time and time again by those unable to rectify their position without reverting to such sad lengths leaves a gap as wide as the discourse of “reason” in modernity: namely in ignoring that reason itself is a historically developed and contingent element. Without an account of historical activity and its current existence as a historic context/totality, we leave room for real disaster in denying people the right to organize around experiences of violence that align along lines of gender, or race. This is not an “essentialist” claim, it is one that locates sites of violence and reacts to them through inter-subjective and embodied resistance. The misuse of performativity could also be critiqued as a form of liberalism that results from what Habermas calls “dramaturgical action”, an action which communicates an element of the subject performing rather than between acting agents.
Also the extreme reliance on the word “essentialism” has become the easiest indication that someone is trying to misuse queer theory for something nefarious.