Imagined Space

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Imagined Space

Orah Minder

Both Judith Butler and Teresa De Lauretis respond to Foucault's theory of the subject as a product of discourse. Lauretis asks, in the first chapter of her book Technologies of Gender, entitled The Technology of Gender, "How do changes in consciousness affect or effect changes in dominant discourses" (Lauretis, 16)? Lauretis concludes her essay with a suggestion that a subject has the agency to change the ideology of gender when she moves between the space contained by the gender-discourse and "the space-off, the elsewhere, of those discourses" (Lauretis, 26). In the introduction to her book The Psychic Life of Power; Theories in Subjection, Butler addresses similar questions as she compares Foucault's notion of the origin of the subject to that of Freud and Nietzsche. Butler concludes that while the nature of the subject is that which fails to be the perfect image of ideology, the subject is free to interpret its own failure. Subjects, according to all three of these theorists, emanate from discourse. Each theorist, however, inscribes an agency, a capacity to wield power, into the fabric of the subject's being.

To live within discourse, is to exist as an image of discourse. Lauretis suggests that to inhabit "the space-off" is to refuse to be contained in the representational language of discourse. This "space-off" effects ideology by maintaining a proximity to it, but simultaneously refuses to be controlled within it. Lauretis suggests, "a movement from the space represented by/in a representation, by/in a discourse, by/in a sex-gender system, to the space not represented yet implied (unseen) in them" (Lauretis, 26). In this way, Lauretis does not contradict Foucault's notion that the nature of discourse is not something from which one can escape. "The space-off" is defined according to its relation to the space from which it is "off:" the marginal space, however, is marginal because its refusal to be contained within ideological representation.

Lauretis writes of the need to "walk out of the male-centered frame of reference in which gender and sexuality are (re)produced by the discourse of male sexuality" (Lauretis, 17). Female sexuality is articulated through the discourse of male sexuality. In order for female sexuality to free itself from the restriction as that which is only in relation to men, women must inhabit the "space-off" of the discourse of male sexuality. Through the habitation of space that is in reference to- but not contained by- the representations of the gender ideology, subjects change ideology. By allowing themselves to be coherent to the ideology, but not contained within its language, those that inhabit the "space-off" compel the ideology to refocus its gaze beyond the space that it contains.

Although, according to Lauretis' model, the subject may be initially produced by the discourse as a representation, her action as a representation reforms the discourse through which she came into being. Although one's existence may always be in relation to ideology, one's ability to fill the space of contact (between the discourse-space and "off-space") with tension signifies the malleable quality of discourse. Ideology, similarly, consists only of the repetitions of its initial presentation. Ideology, therefore, exists only as the sum of these representations. In this way, both the subject and the ideology are in constant evolution around the space of their contact.

In the introduction to The Psychic Life of Power, Butler similarly writes of the malleable quality of ideology formation. She writes,

The subject is compelled to repeat the norms by which it is produced, but that repetition establishes a domain of risk, for if one fails to reinstate that norm 'in the right way,' one becomes subject to further sanction, one feels the prevailing conditions of existence threatened (Butler, 28).

The inevitable failure of the reproduction yields something that is marked into being by its failure to be a perfect mimicry. The subject is that which can never be fully integrated into ideology. The subject, therefore, is always other to ideology and inhabits this marginal space despite efforts to fully translate itself into discourse language. While Butler characterizes this space outside the prescription of ideology as "haunted by an inassimilable remainder, a melancholia that marks the limited of subjectivation" (Butler, 29), it is through the inability to move from the periphery of ideology that the subject defines the inside space of the ideology. While Lauretis' model describes a subject that seeks to inhabit marginal space, Butler's subject is propelled by the desire to escape this semi-outside.

The nature of Butler's subject is, therefore, that which unwillingly reforms ideology. While the earlier works of Michel Foucault focus on the formation of the subject by discourse, in an interview entitled Sexual Choice, Sexual Act included in the Ethics; Subjectivity and Truth, Foucault focuses on the subject's ability to change discourse. He says,

There is no question that a society without restrictions is inconceivable, but I can only repeat myself in saying that these restrictions have to be within the reach of those affected by them so that they at least have the possibility of altering them (Foucault, 148).

While the subject does not inhabit the space from where the restrictions are generated, Foucault, here, insists that he does have the potential to influence this space. In this way, through the passive role of being that which is "affected" by ideology, the subject holds "the possibility of altering" that through which he comes into being.

Butler, contrarily, intensifies the subject's role in relation to ideology by stating that the subject does not merely hold "the possibility of altering" (my emphasis), but rather, is that which alters. Foucault's subject, rather, must choose to participate in the act of influencing ideology. Since the subject is produced by discourse, according to Foucault, he will inhabit the internal space of discourse, unless he is expelled to the margins or chooses to move there. To be internal to a discourse is to be a passive agent with the potential to alter the affect of ideology upon itself.

Similar to Lauretis' image of the "space-off" as the space external to- but always in relation to- discourse, Foucault talks in the same interview about the inextricable bind that ties to subject to culture. The subject is that which is restrained by culture; and culture is that which restrains the subject. The flux of influence to which Foucault refers in the previous quotation, speaks of a change in the dynamic of power between the two components. Lauretis does not imagine in The Technology of Gender a culture that holds subject so tightly within itself that it disallows all movement into marginal space. Foucault, however, fears such a culture. He says,

The important question here, it seems to me, is not whether a culture without restraints is possible or even desirable but whether the system of constraints in which a society functions leaves individuals the liberty to transform the system. Obviously, constraints of any kind are going to be intolerable to certain segments of society (Foucault, 147).

The image of a discourse that dominates the subject to the point at which the subject is absolutely passive, harkens back to Foucault's earlier works that seem to ignore the potential activity of the subject: focusing, rather, on its passive role.

According to Foucault, the constraint-dynamic between culture and its subjects inevitably creates unsatisfied subjects. The question of whether there can be a culture whose subjects are all fully satisfied and, therefore, unrestrained within the culture, is foolish. The most dangerous culture, Foucault says, is the one in which there is no resistance: not because the culture has stopped restraining its subjects, but rather, because the subjects have stopped exercising their potential for activity. While release from restraint is unrealistic, Foucault suggests a movement against culture- a resistance to culture- as the best method of easing the burden of this influence. While culture is that which constrains its subjects- that which seeks to pacify that which it creates- any activity of the subject resists culture.

In Ethics, Foucault emphasizes the importance of the subject to refuse to be absolutely passive. While the subject is always subject to- in relation to- its culture, Foucault speaks of the potential for action as something that must be maintained. Foucault's subject is, therefore, that which must choose to be active. Butler's subject, contrarily, is that which is doomed to a moving existence in its constant repeated attempts to become passive. For Foucault, when a subject stops regarding culture as that which constrains, it looses its potential for activity. A subject must regard itself as constrained in order to come into action. Once the subject regards itself as such, it must continually choose to move into marginal space.

In contrast to Foucault, Butler accounts for the nature for the subject as that which embodies contrary movements. For Butler, subject comes into being by failing to be the intent of culture. The impulsive movement of the subject is to reform itself: to remedy the failure that produced it. Butler emphasizes, like Foucault, the self-reflexive action of the subject. While the self-reflection of Foucault's subject is the ability of the subject to regard itself as that which is constrained by culture, the self-reflection of Butler's subject is the subject's acknowledgement of itself as that which fails. Butler writes,

Freud and Nietzsche ... both account for the fabrication of conscience as the effect of an internalized prohibition ... whether the doubling back upon itself is performed by primary longings, desire, or drives, it produces in each instance a psychic habit of self-beratement, one that is consolidated over time as conscience" (Butler, 22).

The nature of the "self-beratement," however, is not coded into the nature of the subject. The subject realizes itself, through self-reflection, as that which fails to be the image of ideology. The subject may, however, in so realizing, decide to move from that image instead of toward it. While the failure to be the image of ideology may incline a subject to attempt to be ideology, the same failure may incline another subject to move farther from that image. While every act of Butler's subject is an act of "self-beratement" the direction in which this beratement is directed differs according to subject. Butler's notion of "self-beratement" is merely the realization of the self as a failure. Consequent action after this realization is not inscribed into the subject. Butler's subject, therefore, like Foucault's, is one that chooses.

When subjects choose the direction in which they move, ideology, according to Foucault, Butler and Lauretis, is changed. This turning away from discourse yields a new vision: the landscape of the "off-space." Foucault speaks in the quoted interview of, "The prospect that gays will create as yet unforeseen kinds of relationships" (Foucault, 153). The "off-space" is space that has yet to be seen. The subject's pleasure is released when he turns his gaze to space-imagined.

Butler, Judith The Psychic Life of Power; Theories in Subjection Stanford University Press Stanford, California, 1997

De Lauretis, Teresa Technologies of Gender; Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction Indianna University Press Bloomington, 1987

Foucault, Michel Ethics; Subjectivity and Truth ed. Paul Rabinow trans. Robert Hurley and others The New Press New York, 1994

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