Butler Judith Excitable Speech A Politics of the Performative 1997
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Butler Judith Excitable Speech A Politics of the Performative 1997

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A Po~itics of the Performative 
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&quot;This sober and subtle work draws us into the dark heart of a world wh~r~ Wllrd~ l~= ~ 
images enrage, and speech is haunted by hate. Butler intervenes brilliantly in an ari;Cj · ·~ 
that tests the limits of both legal claims and linguistic acts. She explores the link b;,.c;; . ~ 
'reasons' of state and the passions of personhood as she meditates on utterance as a::·~= ~ 
incitement, excitement, and injury. There is a fine urgency here that expands our i:_,-- ~ 
sta_ndin~ of the_ place of the 'affective' in the realm of public events.&quot; ~HomiB:·'-:\u2022· · ~ 
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&quot;Judith Butler has brilliantly challenged us to rethink our conventional ideas about the .,,_,~--
of speech. As is to be expected of Butler, Excitable Speech is original, witty, and iucidly 
argued. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned with the politics of free 
speech.&quot; -Oruci/la Cornell, Rutgers University School of Law 
&quot;If to speak is to act, what follows? In this shrewd and compelling book, Judith Butler takes 
up the thorniest problems of our day concerning the relation between speech and action, 
such as hate speech, pornography, and the military's policy that makes a declaration of 
homosexuality a punishable act. Her analyses are brilliant engagements that refuse to 
oversimplify and that show us that politics requires serious thinking.&quot; 
-Jonathan Culler, Cornell University 
&quot;Flag burning and cross burning; pornography and coming out; racial taunts and AIDS educa-
tion; using 'race blind' : this book will provide constitutional and legislative debates about 
regulating these forms of 'injurious speech' with a brilliantly nuanced analysis of language as 
action. Butler has provided us with a sustained demonstration that we should fill in the moat 
that separates law schools from the human sciences, and quickly.&quot; 
-Janet E. Halley, Stanford Law School 
&quot;In this relentlessly intelligent analysis of hate speech, Judith Butler proposes a speech act 
theory of verbal injury that is not dependent on the grammar of accountability. Cautioning 
against recourse to state speech to regulate hate speech, Butler argues that, since naming 
constitutes as well as devastates, injury cannot be cleanly and legalistically separated from 
recognition. This gives hate speech so much power to wound, but also what opens a space 
for turning misnaming to new purposes. There is never a slack moment in this brilliant book~&quot; 
-Barbara Johnson, Harvard University 
Judith Butler is Chancellor's Professor in the departments of Rhetoric and Comparative 
Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also the author of Gender Trouble 
and Bodies That Matter, co-author of Feminist Contentions, and co-editor !with Joan W. 
Scotti of Feminists Theorize the Political All are available from Routledge. 
8 ~ 29 West 35th Street 
i=! New York, NY 10001 
~ 11 New Fetter Lane 
ISBN 0-415-91588-0 
~ 11111111111111111111111111111111 il1~1111~1r 
1Excitable Speech 1 
A Politics of 
the Performative 
Judith Butler 
New York & London 
Published in 1997 by 
29West 35th Street 
New York, NY 10001 
Published in GTeat Britain by 
11 New Fetter Lane 
London EC4P 4EE 
Copyright© 1997 by Roudedge 
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper. 
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utifued in 
any fOrm or by any electronic. mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter 
invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or 
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. 
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Butler, judith P. 
Excitable speech: a politics of the performative I Judith Buder 
p. em. 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 0-415-91587-2 (he.) - ISBN 0-415-91588-0 (pbk.) 
I. Oral communication-Social aspects. 2. Hate speech. 3. Speech acts (Unguistics). 
4. Language and languages-Political aspects. I. Tide. 
P95.54.B88 1996 
302.2'242-dc21 96-33054 
for Maureen 
I contents; 
Acknowledgments vii 
On Linguistic Vulnerability I 
1 I Burning Acts, Injurious Speech 43 
2 I Sovereign Performatives 71 
3 I Contagious Word: Paranoia and 
&quot;Homosexuality&quot; in the Military 103 
4 I Implicit Censorship and Discursive Agency 127 
Notes 165 
Index 183 
I Acknowledgments 1 
This project could not have been completed 
without the generous support of the University 
of California Humanities Research Institute 
located on the Irvine campus, and a Faculty 
Research Grant from the Humanities Division at the 
University of California at Berkeley. I also thank Wendy 
Brown, Robert Gooding-Williams, Joan W Scott, Diana 
Fuss, Hayden White, Morris Kaplan, Horni Bhabha, Janet 
Halley, Robert Post, and Drucilla Cornell for responding 
with useful comments to parts of the manuscript in process. 
I alone remain responsible for not heeding all their important 
suggestions. I also thank Dave Wittenberg, Valerie Ross, Jane 
Malmo, and Gayle Salamon for their research assistance. As always,. I 
thank Maureen MacGrogan for her versatile and generous editorial 
Most of all, I thank my students at UC-Berkeley and at the 
Dartmouth School for Criticism and Theory during the summer of 
1995 for indulging my thinking and showing me directions to take I 
otherwise would not have seen. 
Chapter One appeared in (:ritical Inquiry 23:2 (Winter: 1997), and 
Chapter Two appeared first in Deconstruction is/in America: A New Sense 
of the Political, ed. Ansehn Haverkamp (New York: New York Univer-
sity Press, 1995) and was reprinted in Performativity and Peiformance, 
eds. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Andrew Parker (New York: Rout-
ledge, 1995). 
&quot;Infelicity is an ill to which all acts are heir which have the general 
character of ritual or ceremonial, all conventional acts:' 
&quot;There are more ~ys of outraging speech than contradiction 
I Introduction 1 0 N 
When we claim to have been injured 
by language, what kind of claim do we 
make?We ascribe an agency to language, a 
power to injure, and position ourselves as the 
objects of its injurious trajectory. We claim that 
language acts, and acts against us, and the claim 
we make is a further instance of language, one 
which seeks to arrest the force of the prior instance. 
Thus, we exercise the force of language even as we 
seek to counter its force, caught up in a bind that no act 
of censorship can undo. 
Could language injure us if we were not, in some 
sense, linguistic beings, beings who require language in 
order to be? Is our vulnerability to language a consequence of our 
being constituted within its terms? If we are formed in language, then 
that formative power precedes and conditions any decision we might 
make about it, insulting us from the start, as it were, by its prior power. 
The insult, however, assumes its specific proportion in time. To be 
called a name is one of the first forms of linguistic injury that one 
learns. But not all name-calling is injurious. Being called a name is also 
one of the conditions by which a subject is constituted in language; 
indeed, it is one of the examples Althusser supplies for an understand-
ing of &quot;interpellation:'