Judith Butler Talks Zionism, Rhetoric

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One of todays most daring and divisive intellectuals recently graced campus with her presence. On Wednesday, Feb. 13, students packed Memorial Chapel to maximum capacity to hear Judith Butler speak. Butler, a post-structuralist philosopher who rose to fame in the early 90s for her contributions to feminist and queer theory, provided what was for many an introduction to her studies in two other fields: Jewish philosophy andrhetoric.

Butler delivered a lecture entitled Martin Bubers Two Zionisms and the Question of Palestine, drawing on Bubers 1948 essay to elucidate contemporary concerns over what she sees as the current Zionist project. The lecture addressed the implications of a Zionism based on ethics, as opposed to one based on the acquiescence of deserved goods, these models implementations throughout the history of modern-day Israel, and the roles the legacies of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism play in suchconsiderations.

Butlers views on Judaism and Israel are hard to pin down conventionally without engaging with her theoretical work. She identifies as a member of the Jewish faith and attends the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland, CA, but is strongly opposed to many aspects of contemporary Israels actions and has been variously identified as post-Zionist andanti-Zionist.

However, Butler expressed reluctance to embracelabels.

I prefer to [provide] a story rather than a category, Butler wrote in an email to The Argus. I come from a strong zionist community in the [United States], and became critical of zionism starting in my early twenties….I am now working for what can only be called a post-zionist vision at this point in history. Perhaps at another point in history, I would be called a zionist, or even call myselfthat.

The lecture was organized and funded by the Center for the Humanities (CHUM) in conjunction with the Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificate as part of the formers Monday night lecture series and the latters In Theory lecture series. Yet Butlers presence on campus was not restricted to Wednesdays talk: she also facilitated a faculty workshop, participated in a video interview with President Michael Roth, and dined with several students from the humanities departments and the online journalPYXIS.

The CHUM and Theory Certificate invited Butler to speak at Wesleyan following the controversies that arose after her reception of the Theodor W. Adorno Prize in 2012. Many protested the decision to grant Butler that honor given the content of her latest book, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique ofZionism.

According to Director of the CHUM Ethan Kleinberg, those criticisms seemed to warrant furtherdiscussion.

The members of the Theory Certificate and myself were talking about the ways that, in the criticism of Professor Butlers stance, it was often the case that people would be criticizing her work as a theorist, or the language she used, or the thinkers she chooses to work on, Kleinberg said. We thought that was a weird conflation of the academic discussion and theorists as opposed to the politicalstance.

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Judith Butler Talks Zionism, Rhetoric

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