Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies (Studies in Feminist Philosophy)
Cressida J. Heyes
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Heyes' monograph in feminist philosophy is on the connection between the idea of "normalization"--which per Foucault is a mode or force of control that homogenizes a population--and the gendered body. Drawing on Foucault and Wittgenstein, she argues that the predominant picture of the self--a picture that presupposes an "inner" core of the self that is expressed, accurately or not, by the outer body--obscures the connection between contemporary discourses and practices of self-transformation and the forces of normalization. In other words, pictures of the self can hold us captive when they are being read from the outer self--the body--rather than the inner self, and we can express our inner self by working on our outer body to conform. Articulating this idea with a mix of the theoretical and the practical, she looks at case studies involving transgender people, weight-loss dieting, and cosmetic surgery. Her concluding chapters look at the difficult issue of how to distinguish non-normalizing practices of the self from normalizing ones, and makes suggestions about how feminists might conceive of subjects as embodied and enmeshed in power relations yet also capable of self-transformation.
The subject of normalization and its relationship to sex/gender is a major one in feminist theory; Heyes' book is unique in her masterful use of Foucault; its clarity, and its sophisticated mix of the theoretical and the anecdotal. It will appeal to feminist philosophers and theorists.
stubborn and elusive goal. (Is the ﬁt body “natural” in today’s sedentary cultures? A body fortiﬁed with vitamin supplements? A body that has been operated on to restore “normal” functioning?) To be sure, bodily inscriptions range vastly in their physical consequences—getting a tattoo is not the same deal as SRS. But in a deeply technological world, analysis must begin from the fact that the “natural body” is an unknowable, ﬁctive entity. In this vein, instead of simply rejecting body modiﬁcation
abusers; Lori was labeled a “witch”; Candace was “Beeker” or “Big Bird.” Not only the class bully is at fault here: for example, Evelyn’s elevenyear-old daughter wrote in to the show complaining that her single mom was letting herself go. On the one hand, then, participants are clearly responding to intersubjective pressures, and want to impress former critics and loved ones with their new look. On the other hand, family members must be careful not to imply too strongly that their loved one is
interactive scene of address in which it is called forth (Butler 2005). In interview-based research, women choosing cosmetic surgery often stated that they faced opposition from family members who felt that the desire to make oneself look different was disloyal to one’s biological ancestry (“That’s the family nose you’re getting rid of ”); or who were nervous about risks and complications; or who felt that a partner’s desire to change her body must reﬂect dissatisfaction with her relationship (“I
cycle of success and failure, in direct contradiction of its own rhetoric of permanent, lasting happiness through weight loss, so cosmetic surgery promises a transformation the adequacy of which it will later deny. As Covino puts it, “If the appeal of the beauty industry seems insuperable, it is because it so directly addresses the problem of this specter [of abjection], interpellating the human core of physical pain and habituated desire” (2004, 108). Feminists should think through and encourage
guts at the barre” or “pliés and pies,” they averred.17 All of these components were present in the program, but it also had a number of unintended and unanticipated threads. The men know that they want to make themselves over; doing ballet is for them, whether they like it or not, a kind of quasi-voluntary gender change. They must audition, demandingly, for the right to be in the ﬁnal group of eight, so, in theory, all those selected have already made a commitment to the project. They do not