Judith and Wendy

I don’t remember if I said this before in this space but I can’t get over how Judith Butler is the high priestess of fluidity and her wife Wendy Brown is its fiercest critic in the Zygmunt Bauman and Dardot/Laval way. Opposites attract, I guess.

It’s truly unfair that Butler is so much more famous while the clearly more talented Brown has had to trail her all over the world as an unwanted spousal hire.

Butler’s writing is notoriously indigestible. She writes in the style of, “the subjectivation of the dialectic of this range of ontological categories subverts the hermeneutics of the absolutes which, as we all know, is profoundly onomastic.”

Wendy Brown, on the other hand, writes like normal people. A random quote:

Once about developing intelligent, thoughtful elites and reproducing culture, and more recently, enacting a principle of equal opportunity and cultivating a broadly educated citizenry, higher education now produces human capital, thereby turning classically humanist values on their head.

This is still academic writing, obviously, but it’s not incomprehensible. Another one, again, completely random:

Both persons and states are construed on the model of the contemporary firm, both persons and states are expected to comport themselves in ways that maximize their capital value in the present and enhance their future value, and both persons and states do so through practices of entrepreneurialism, self-investment, and/or attracting investors.

And yet her rah-rah-fluidity, nobody-knows-what-the-hell-my-endless-sentences-mean wife is much more famous.

Have I ever reviewed Wendy Brown on the blog? She’s very relevant to our discussions of fluidity. And if somebody is looking for an accessible variation on Bauman, she’s great.


10 thoughts on “Judith and Wendy”

  1. You have never mentioned Wendy Brown before.

    As for Butler, I would never dare to use her as a secondary source since the style you reproduced is incomprehensible and would demand too much from me for too little return. I did study some excerpts about gender from her and hated her writing style.

    Have you written about the connection between fluidity and “Trespasser” by Tana French? You called her Broken Harbor a crisis novel, while The Tresspasser was defined as a mere entertainment here:


    A stupid question: what I am searching for is what you call crisis novels, right?


  2. Wendy Brown—reminds me of another book I hated! Her Walled States, Waning Sovereignty was one of the worst books I’ve ever read. (I bought it because I expected it to be good.)

    It was clearly written, as you say, but it was just a lot of theorizing that not only wasn’t supported by reality, it was contradicted by it, as Brown herself offhandedly sort of admits near the end.

    The book was so bad, I actually thought Brown must be a spousal hire.

    I’ve only read one book by Butler (not in gender), and while it was mostly way over my head because I’m not familiar with the tradition she’s working in, I felt it was written with intellectual honesty and good faith. I especially liked that when Butler engaged in speculation she clearly marked it as such.

    Anyway, sometimes good scholars write bad books. Not drawing any general conclusions here about Brown (like I did immediately after reading that book!) or contradicting anything you wrote above. But that’s my experience.


  3. I have the impression that Wendy Brown is highly respected in her field, political science, even though she’s not “famous” like Judith Butler. I liked her book, States of Injury, which is an interesting critique of identity politics.


      1. Brown’s ideas about identity are actually somewhat similar to Butler’s, I think. Brown argues that in affirming our identities, we become deeply attached to the “wounds” that we experience due to these identities (she refers to identities as “wounded attachments”). So what do we do? We ask the government to intervene and protect us, or if you’re on a college campus, you ask the university administration to punish those students and/or professors who are considered “bigots.” The result? Greater state power, or an expanding university administration with diversity czars. Brown’s notion of “wounded attachments” is similar to Butler’s idea about how a sense of melancholy is a core element of subjectivity.

        In States of Injury, Brown makes a rather amusing observation about the prose of Catharine MacKinnon in the latter’s work on pornography. But I still really love MacKinnon–she’s one of the few feminists left who dare to think and say that prostitution is not a fun or liberating choice for the women who are prostituted.

        One more thing about Butler. Martha Nussbaum wrote a brilliant article criticizing Butler’s work on gender. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it before. Here’s a link: https://newrepublic.com/article/150687/professor-parody


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