Saturday, April 9, 2011

An Interpretation of Derealization

“ …certain lives are not considered lives at all, they cannot be humanized, that they cannot fit any dominant frame for the human…” ( Butler 34).

These are Judith Butler’s words in regards to her conception of derealization of the human. As we studied in class, this process of derealization causes some humans to not even fit in the category of human beings because they are not recognized as being a human being. However, here is what I find confusing about this idea of derealization: can someone be more “real” and grievable over the time causing him or her to transform into being ungrievable and move into the category of unreal? Also, is it possible to be born ungrievable and then move into becoming “ real” and considered to have a life that is grievable? I am not sure if Butler means this conception of derealization as a process that can change overtime or if it is a definite placement outside the limits of humanity.

Franz Fanon’s theory about “ The Gaze” led me to wonder about the extent and limits on Judith Butler idea of derealization and the reality of the human. "The Gaze" for Fanon is the objectifying look or "The Gaze" that Fanon received that placed him into the category of an object. Thus, “ The Gaze” itself is the look that objectifies another person and takes away his or her subjectivity just through a look, without any words. “The Gaze” causes Fanon to be seen as an object by the other person. Objects are not considered humans therefore, Fanon is outside the realm of human because of this objectification. Thus, as Fanon move from the category of human to the category of object, does that equate in any way to Butler’s conception of derealization?

Also, throughout the chapter on “Violence, Mourning, and Politics”, Butler states, “The “I” who cannot come into being without a “you” is also fundamentally dependent on a set of norms of recognition…” ( 45). Therefore, because of the lack of recognition of Fanon as a human and just an object eliminates true recognition for him as well leading him go through derealization.

I might be interpreting Butler’s idea of derealization and qualification for ungrievability incorrectly. It may not be a life process that can move you from being unrecognized and ungrievable to recognized and grievable or vice versa. Butler might be claiming a person is born into the state of derealization and cannot escape or transform away from this state. Thus, with the example of Franz Fanon’s "The Gaze"in mind, do you think Butler’s derealization is a reversible transformation or a permanent state of being?


  1. First of all, your interpretation of Butler’s argument in the context of Fanon’s theory of 
“The Gaze” sounds spot on to me. Just like “The Gaze,” the process of derealization also tends to be a silent means of objectifying. I had noticed that Butler used the phrase “the gaze” in her essay too (“The body implies mortality, vulnerability, agency: the skin and the flesh expose us to the gaze of others...” (26)). Perhaps that’s just coincidence, but it certainly seems that Butler is invoking Fanon as well as Foucault into her argument about derealization.

    On an individual level, I think derealization is reversible. In class, many of us argued that we would not deny the fact that civilians in Iraq are worthy of just as much grief and attention upon death as US soldiers. Even though the lives of the Iraqis are derealized by the hegemonic power of the media and government to leave simply leave them out of the dominant discourse, effectively making their lives “unreal,” we can take a quick casualty statistic and imagine the individual lives that make up the number. While the life stories we craft may be completely fictitious, I think our capacity to do this reflects our individual ability to re-instill humanity and life into people belonging to a group or category in which they previously constituted a mere number. However, I think Butler is more concerned with the derealization that takes place on the part of the broader society. Derealization of people on the part of governments is more dangerous because there is no clear individual whose mind needs to be changed. And when the linguistic modes of objectification are done more subtly or by omission from discourse, there is no derogatory term that we can publicly shun from our speech and explain why it is inappropriate to use. Without an overhaul of the current social order, would simply introducing previously derealized lives into our dialogue really change anything?

  2. I agree with Shannon, and also agree that derealization is reversible. I think that since someone being a grievable soul depends so much on other people, if someone is accepted, understood, loved, whatever, by other people then they in theory have the capacity to become a grievable soul. I think in the same sense, people can lose that connection to others, and in some way lose their status as a grievable soul. Although, I do not completely agree with the idea that someone is completely ungrievable. I think that being such depletes one of a level of humanity, and I'm not sure that I inwardly like that idea so much. I also like Shannon's point about the derealization of a more broad part of a society, and am not sure exactly how one could go about fixing that.


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