Judith Butler, norms, unreachable horizons

Horizons are ideal boundaries that can never be reached. We have to oscillate between twin horizons. We can approach a horizon forever but never reach it; there is always something coming next. We draw a distinction between here and there.

Cultural norms can also be seen as unreachable horizons. In discussing the performance of gender, Judith Butler wrote,

The performativity of gender presumes a field of appearance in which gender appears, and a scheme of recognizability within which gender shows up in the ways that it does. . . . Recognizing a gender depends fundamentally on whether there is a mode of presentation for that gender, a condition for its appearance; we can call this its media or its mode of presentation. As much as that is true, it is also true that gender can sometimes appear in ways that draw upon, rework, or even break with established conditions of appearance, breaking with existing norms or importing norms from unanticipated cultural legacies. Even as norms seem to determine which genders can appear and which cannot, they also fail to control the sphere of appearance, operating more like absent or fallible police than effective totalitarian powers. Further, if we think more carefully about recognition, we have to ask, is there a way to distinguish between full and partial recognition, and even a way to distinguish recognition from misrecognition? The latter proves quite important to consider given that recognizing a gender very often involves recognizing a certain bodily conformity with a norm, and norms are to a certain extent composed of ideals that are never fully inhabitable. So, in recognizing a gender, one recognizes the trajectory of a certain striving to inhabit a regulated ideal, one whose full embodiment would doubtless sacrifice some dimension of creaturely life. If any of us “become” a normative ideal once and for all, we have then overcome all striving, all inconsistency, all complexity.

Judith Butler (2015). Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, 38-39.

To become a normative ideal would be to reach a horizon, but horizons are unreachable. There is always something coming next.

A couple of more thoughts. . . To recognize is to observe. So, there must be an observing system. Systems recognize events as belonging to themselves; the event is included in the system.

In order for a gender to appear and be recognized, it must have a “media” or “mode or presentation.” We might call this a symbolically generalized communication media.

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