Butler on Whitehead


My introduction to the brand new article in „Butler on Whitehead:  On the Occasion“:

Sigridur Gudmarsdottir:  Coming Out with Butler and Whitehead: Opacity, Apophasis and the Phallacy of Misplaced Closetness

If I claim to be a lesbian, I “come out” only to produce a new and different “closet”. The “you” to whom I come out now has access to a different region of opacity.      Judith Butler[i]

Life refuses to be embalmed alive.                                                     A. N. Whitehead[ii]

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.                                                                       Matthew 27:51-53

For Christians, the open grave at Easter signifies the end of death and sin and the emergence of Christian identity as God´s children through the revelation of Christ. Religious language and rituals exercise what Butler calls “binding power”, discursive power of convention, citation, repetition and performance.[iii]  Power that binds together can also be detected in some symbols of contemporary culture, such as the recent image of  „the closet“  in gay and lesbian circles. For gays and lesbians, the open closet signifies the emergence of queer identity and the end of secrets and lies, revealing one´s sexual orientation  and allowing one to live according to that subjectivity in the public sphere.

In this article, I read the biblical narrative of resurrection as a coming out story. Since the Christian mythos is one of the most privileged  theo/philosophical Grand narratives of the West, I argue that queering  the tomb/closet may launch epistemological shifts that reach far beyond the limited and self-regulatory borders of theology. By positing the tomb as  a closet and the symbol of resurrection as a coming out story, I intend to accomplish three tasks. First, focusing on the rented veil,  split ground and weird bodies in Matthew 27, I want to use the queer theory of Judith Butler to ponder how the tomb/closet functions as a shaper of Christian identity in relation to binaries such as nature/culture and sex/gender.  Second, I want to ponder the ontological and relational depth of such religio-sexual speech acts by consulting the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. In his work on ontology and naturalism Whitehead questioned the classical binaries of nature and culture and offered an alternative cosmology of inclusivity and reciprocity, or what Roland Faber refers to as „a nondualistic language of universal relationality“ (Faber 2008, 280). Thirdly, I will let the queer notion of closets as affirming and negating speech inform a theological exloration into the texts of resurrection in recent discourses on Judith Butler and theological language. Thus, I am suggstion using Butler´s queer language conjoined with Whiteheadian relationality to transgress exemplary epistemologies of Christian closets.


[i] Butler, Judith, “Imitation and Gender Subordination”, The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader, Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale, David M. Halperin, London, Routledge, 1993, p. 309.

[ii] Whitehead, Alfred North, Process and Reality, New York, The Free Press, 1978, p. 339.

[iii] Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex,” New York and London, Routledge, 1993, p. 225.

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