Judith Butler 1 – Homonationalism 0

21 Jun

By Tavia Nyong’o

Ironically, the very reasons I gave Berlin Pride a pass this year — rampant commercialism, body fascism, and apolitical torpor — are the reasons I wish I had now been there to see Judith Butler turn down the organizer’s Prize for Civil Courage. Delivered in German to a surprised but delighted crowd, Butler’s scathingly political remarks rained on the parade of complacency with her pointed barbs against anti-immigrant and anti-muslim racism.

While the press focused on her critique of commercialism (which, truth be told, can hardly hold a candle to the corporate crassness of your average Pride event in the US nowadays), they had a much harder time bringing into focus her critique of homonationalism, which she also delivered in a longer talk at the Volksbuhne on Friday evening. They also neglected to mention the organizations she cited as deserving the recognition she declined (Gays and Lesbians from Turkey, lesbische Migrantinnen und Schwarze Lesben, Reach Out and SUSPECT) in what might be the new definition of a politically efficacious speech-act from an intellectual: ceding the platform granted you by the celebrity system and professorial authority in an act of humility and solidarity with those whose work is ignored and scapegoated rather than rewarded and encouraged. In a sense, declining an award for civil courage was the only way of possibly displaying such courage under these circumstances.

The drone of vuvulezas and eery recrudescence of German flag-waving occasioned by the World Cup may quickly drown out this strategic strike against Pride-as-usual. But, due to the exigencies of Pride’s coincidence with that other spectacle of homoerotic nationalism (watch men watching the games and you will see what I mean), there is an opportunity to build momentum through the breach Butler opened has up.

Mainstream Pride was moved a week earlier because of the all-powerful World Cup schedule, but the alternative Transgeniale march — anti-commercial, filled with trans- and feminist politics and at least aspirationally anti-racist and inclusive of queers of color — stayed on the traditional “last weekend in June.” Next weekend also sees a big conference on queer studies and anti-capitalism at the ICI, a sort of anti-Ladies Auxiliary to the Big Boys doing Real Theory at the Volksbuhne the same weekend.

So it seems like the spirit of queer discontent is not going down without a fight. Pride avoiders of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your rainbow chains!

UPDATE June 23rd: Click here to read an English translation of Judith Butler’s speech.

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25 Responses to “Judith Butler 1 – Homonationalism 0”

  1. jo novelli June 21, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    i’ll be very happy to read the translation! i think this move was phenomenally important. thanks for this post, i’ll share it with colleagues here… in the desert.

  2. Gus S. June 21, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    Danke schoen for this, Tavia. I’d also like to see a translation of the remarks of the organizers in response to Butler’s speech.

  3. college student June 21, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    I am very much looking forward to the forthcoming translation. Thanks for taking the time to do that work for us who don’t speak German. :-)

  4. sarah Schulman June 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    A Couple of questions:

    1. Did she accept the award intending to decline- or did something happen after the acceptance that made her change her mind and decline?

    2. Is this a general critique of these kinds of events and organizations, or did CSD do something specific? If so, what was it?

    Thanks

  5. Digger June 21, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    I am also looking forward to the translation! Thanks for posting this.

  6. leoshan June 21, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    I love the title of this post!

  7. Laura June 22, 2010 at 6:05 am #

    I don’t think it was a general critique at all – Butler was specifically critiquing the organizations involved with Berlin Pride who help to create and perpetuate racist ideas about people of colour, reinventing homophobia and transphobia as an ‘immigrant problem’, which as a direct impact on immigration law and the safety of people of colour living in majority white countries.

  8. sarah Schulman June 22, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    Yes, I understand the problem- In an English language radio interview she said that “men” who are among the “coordinators” of CSD did specific things that made the prize unacceptable. It would be helpful and informative to know the precise actions- just to have the facts. Thanks

  9. jo Novelli June 22, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    @sarah
    will you please post a link to that radio interview? i’d like to listen.

  10. Debanuj DasGupta June 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    This is a great link and piece. I am glad the work and organizing of queer immigrants, anti-violence organizers is now enmeshed with queer academic imagination and practice (at-least with critical thinkers). Exciting times!

  11. minghan June 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    she said something about a few organizers saying something that was racist, but the organization never apologized nor distanced itself from those racist remarks. she would probably have a lot more to say about all these pride parades in general, but i think here she was referring to the berlin gay parade specifically…

    great article by the way! “Pride avoiders of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your rainbow chains!” :)

  12. Jim Brashear June 23, 2010 at 5:46 am #

    Here’s a link to an English translation:

    http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/i-must-distance-myself/

    • Jim Brashear June 23, 2010 at 6:00 am #

      But now I want a translation of what the creepy guys with angel wings said after Butler. It got them a few middle-fingers from someone in the front row. Wings of Desire gone wrong, gone to hell?

      P.S. I like how Judy sounds in German.

      • bullybloggers June 23, 2010 at 9:30 am #

        The gist of his comment was: See? No one can claim Pride isn’t political … see we invited Judith Butler and see how political she was! BTW The angel wings were the weird “theme” of Pride: you were invited to come wearing some or, even better, BUY them at Pride. Another corny reason I had stayed away. –Tavia

  13. Prince Jei June 23, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    Creepy guys with angel wings: ‘Jan Salloch und Ole Lehmann could think of nothing better than blanketly refuse any charge of racism and attack the ca. 50 queers of colour and allies who had come out in Butler’s support: ‘You can scream all you like. You are not the majority. That’s enough.’ The finale was an imperialist fantasy matched by the backdrop of the Brandenburger Tor: ‘Pride will just continue in its programme… No matter what… Worldwide and here in Berlin… This is how it’s always been and will always be.’ (see http://nohomonationalism.blogspot.com/2010/06/judith-butler-refuses-berlin-pride.html)

  14. marc June 24, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    re: creepy guys with angel wings: one of them, Jan Solloch, is one of the directors of CSD. He’s the one who tried to shut up the Butler supporters, repeating the choice phrase: “You are not the majority.” It was as if he felt a need, post-Butler’s speech, to retroactively confirm the racism (and stupidity) she attributed to CSD. As if queer politics and critical democratic thought hasn’t taught us that the rights of the MINORITY are those to exercise and protect, not those of the MAJORITY.

  15. Sunderhaus June 24, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    A lovely gesture, but “politically efficacious”? Please. If you think next year’s Berlin Pride will be devoid of, or even limit, commercialism, “body fascism,” or homoerotic nationalism than you’ve never been to any Gay Pride parade in an advanced industrial nation.

    • Tavia June 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

      Fair enough. But the efficacy I’m hoping for isn’t about changing Pride: it is about galvanizing a new dialogue between intellectuals and activists on the left.

      • Sunderhaus June 24, 2010 at 9:07 pm #

        “Galvanizing a new dialogue”? Oy. The prose, it HURTS! Galvanize away, and I hope it FEELS fulfilling to do so, but please be cautious as to the political efficacy of intellectuals like Butler. I recall the fervor with which she launched an attack on Rorty and his ilk as “Left Conservatives” in the mid-90s, just as Gingrich was ascendant and Clinton began to show his true triangulatory colors.

        There’s a tendency for queer theorists to believe, a la Carl Schmitt’s “Political Romanticism,” that they are actually politically relevant, and not mere literary theorists. ‘Tis but a scholarly solipsism.

  16. Gus S. June 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    I actually find “relevance” to be a largely obfuscatory term, homogenizing a diverse set of potential points at which academics engage various publics–in pedagogy, in writing both in and outside academia, and, yes, in the occasional odd event like this one in Berlin. In my understanding, what Tavia is doing here is not saying “We queer academics are politically important” but rather drawing attention to an occasion through which queer academic intellectuals and queer activists might help *each other* look beyond the routine patterns of thinking and strategizing that they/we inevitably fall into.

  17. Jack Fertig June 25, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    Being relevant is like being honest, beautiful, generous, or of high moral character. If you really are you don’t have to say so. People know it. And the more you insist you are, the less likely it’s true.

    Don’t prattle on about relevance. Show me results and accomplishments.

    b.t.w… Butler’s speech rocks, and thanks for posting the links here!

    • Tavia June 25, 2010 at 6:30 am #

      Thanks Gus and Jack. And, Sunderhaus, it occurs to me I have been presupposing we’ve all read: http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/celebrating-refusal-the-complexities-of-saying-no/
      I think it’s actually time to move on from debating the intricacies of the performative speech-act (I know, I know, I started it) and instead look for ways to support the queer of color organizing in Berlin that might be galvanized (or might be stigmatized and scapegoated) as a result of all this attention. At least that is where my interest lies.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    [...] We at Tenured Radical are conflicted on the subject of July 4. We are not nationalists, much less homonationalists, whatever our critics might assert (although we will cop to being homos.) And yet, July 4 is one of [...]

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    […] Misrecognition and Capitalism: A Response to Judith Butler’ NLR  I (228): 140-149  http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/judith-butler-1-homonationalism-0/. Hughes, A and Witz (1997) ‘A Feminism and the Matter of Bodies: From de Beauvoir to Butler’, […]

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