In 1987, three years before Gender Trouble made her the most famous feminist philosopher in the United States, Judith Butler published a book on Hegel's dialectic of lordship and bondage and its impact on 20th-century French thought. The book had nothing to say about bondage in the recreational sense and, aside from a few pages at the end about Julia Kristeva and Simone de Beauvoir, was mostly indifferent to questions of sexuality. It is sexual politics that has generated Butler's present celebrity, however, which no doubt helps explain the republication of the Hegel book - unchanged, except for an astringently self-critical new preface - but does not guarantee that it will be read. Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in 20th-Century France is often overlooked in accounts of Butler's career, especially polemical ones. It is the one book left unmentioned, for example, in last year's much-discussed broadside in the New Republic by Martha Nussbaum. To catch Butler in the act of not thinking about sex is no doubt less interesting to her more gladiatorial critics than skewering her for her deconstructive sins. Some will certainly find it inconvenient that, as this book reveals, her anti-identity politics was shaped more by Hegel than by Derrida.
LRB 2 November 2000 | PDF Download