December 17, 2006

Charles Ray’s Art,

Entrapment, Fear of Conversion, Judith Butler, and the Palm Beach County “Social Disease.”



Dear Journal,

The police entrapment incident I reported on December 14, 2006 has caused me to start thinking about sexual identity and cultural restrictions placed on individual’s identities, and the policing of sexual identity. Not for the first time, I wondered how often artists like myself have dealt with the issue. You know of my own concerns about identity and sexual identity. I have written about them extensively in the past. Entries in this journal concerning sexuality and identity can be found as far back as 2003. Be that as it may, I’ve decided to revisit some of these concerns in the attempt to understand how it is politically feasible for Palm Beach County to spend millions of dollars per year in the attempt to regulate sexuality at a time when property taxes in the county have jumped 80% in the past 5 years, causing middle-working-class families to flee South Florida.

First, I need to discuss Judith Butler’s feminist ideas concerning identity, sexual identity, and cultural imprinting of sexual identity in her books, Bodies That Matter, 1993, and Gender Trouble, 1990. She discusses the “performance” of sexuality and its limitations, and she claims that sexuality and gender are personal traits acquired from the culture in which one lives, the result of a process over which neither the individual nor society has much control. Rather, normative behaviors accumulate through a process described by Michele Foucault and others in which institutions and discourses acquire the power to prescribe normative human behaviors over time (I will look at Michele Foucault in another entry.). Thus, according to Butler, effeminate behavior is like a surface patina acquired from the culture. It is not necessarily the prerogative of either sex. It is a prescription for behavior that is taught to one sex. If a person of the other sex adopts that prescription as his own, his behavior is seen as transgressive.
Butler describes this process of cultural inscription in great detail and calls it the “reformulation of the materiality of bodies.” It is a complex process in which the individual learns to know himself or herself through the teaching of the culture in which he or she lives. Knowledge of self materializes when the individual receives powerful structures from the culture. These structures are acquired by individuals as they are performed in a daily routine. The routine and structure as received from the culture are not conscious. No persons decide in advance what these routines and structures are to be. They are developed in an oral tradition, in writing and discourses between and among many persons. Over time they become increasingly pronounced in the cultural milieu. Butler states that the entire process favors the heterosexual over any/other/all sexual identities. Furthermore, she indicates that identity, gender identity, and sexuality are understood to be similar in Western culture.

...but rather that the subject, the speaking “I” is formulated by virtue of having gone through such a process of assuming a sex; and (5) a linking of this process of “assuming” a sex with the question of identification, and with the discursive means by which the heterosexual imperative enables certain sexed identifications and forecloses and/or disavows other identifications (Butler 3).


Thus, Butler assumes that sexuality is similar to identity and that the “heterosexual imperative” delineates and limits individual identity. There are other feminists who also write about cultural inscription of sexuality, among them Luce Irigaray, the subject for still another journal entry.

I will continue with a look at Charles Ray’s Oh Charley, Charley, Charley! and how it relates to the feminist work of Judith Butler and police sexual profiling in Palm Beach County in my next journal entry.


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