[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic

Introduction: Constructing the Materiality of the Body

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

While nobody would deny that the body is the stuff of concrete physical matter, the materiality of the body is another matter altogether. The materiality of the body which determines how we are orientated toward the world, both in material as well as psychological terms, is very much determined by our location. Katherine Hayles argues that "Embodiment is akin to articulation in that it is inherently performative, subject to individual enactments, and therefore always to some extent improvisational. Whereas the body can disappear into information with scarcely a murmur of protest, embodiment cannot, for it is tied to the circumstances of the occasion and the person" (Hayles 1993: 156). She notes that the dominant culture provides abstract models that inscribe cultural practices but it is in their enactment that incorporating practices materialize which enculturate the body. Since practices of incorporation are "always performative and instantiated, they necessarily contain improvisational elements that are context speciffc." Practices of incorporation "perform the bodily content; inscribing practices correct and modulate the performance. Thus incorporating and inscribing practices work together to create cultural constructs" (Hayles 1993: 157-58)).

In a further elaboration of the inscribing and incorporating practices, the feminist philosopher Judith Butler has shown the materiality of the body is a construction that emerges out of a field of power that shapes its contours, marking it with sex and gender. Butler points out that we need to rethink the very meaning of construction and the grammatical structures that we use when we talk about construction. For her, it is "neither a single act nor a causal process initiated by a subject and culminating in a set of ffxed effects. Construction takes place not only in time, but is itself a temporal process which operates through the reiteration of norms" (10). To describe the materiality of the body as a construction in Butler's theorizing, then, is not to resort to linguistic determinism or cultural constructivism. We take it for granted, she notes, that somebody, or in more recent formulations, something, (e.g. Culture, Discourse or Power), does the act of constructing. In the first we resort to metaphysical daims assuming there is a subject that exists prior to any socio-cultural induction and in the latter we forfeit the agency of the subject and replace it by a surrogate agent. Rejecting both claims, Butler describes the materiality of the body arising in a matrix of power relations, so that the agency of the subject comes after and not prior to the materiality of the body emerging through a process of enactment. By reformulating the very meaning of construction and locating it not only in time but also describing it in terms of a temporal process, Butler reveals the constructed nature of naturalized states of sex and gender. The performance of gender is a constant reiteration of the regulatory norms and it is in the performance of these norms that the materiality of the body emerges. In so far as the materiality of the body arises from the performativity of the regulatory norms, it has similarities to theatrical performance -- with a difference that in the latter actors come before the role whereas in the performance of the dominant norms due to the naturalization of roles, the actors become the roles. Whereas Butler focuses mostly on the performativity of gender, her theory of the materiality of the body achieved through the performativity of gender could also be applied to the specificity of race, ethnicity and class. Bodies thus not only perform gender, they also perform race, ethnicity and class.

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes