Excitable speech: Judith Butler, Mae West and sexual innuendo
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Failler, Angela. “Excitable speech: Judith Butler, Mae West and sexual innuendo.” International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies 6 (1-2) (2001): 49-62. DOI: 10.1023/A:1010189906905.
Working with Judith Butler's Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, this essay pursues a series of questions on the performativity of speech acts, using sexual innuendo as an example. As performed by the provocative American playwright and classic Hollywood film star, Mae West, sexual innuendo provides an instance of “excitable speech” that allows for the exploration of speech as a site of political resistance. The questions that frame this discussion are as follows: How are vulnerability and agency produced in speech? What are the foreclosures or censors at work in producing speech and the speaking subject? What constitutes the “force” of the performative speech act? How is the speech act repeatable? And do these conditions leave room for Butler's notion of linguistic agency, where the speech act works to undermine linguistic conventions through resignification? Finally, the essay offers queer readings of Mae West in order to demonstrate the concept of “discursive performativity,” which underpins Butler's argument.