Mimesis as Cultural Survival: Judith Butler and Anti-Semitism

Bell, Vikki. 1999. Mimesis as Cultural Survival: Judith Butler and Anti-Semitism. Theory, Culture and Society, 16(2), pp. 133-161. ISSN 0263-2764 [Article]

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Focusing on Judith Butler's highly influential work on gender, this article draws attention to a certain feminist inheritance of an emphasis on mimesis and imitation that resonates with the ways in which theoreticians responded to the calamitous events of essentialist politics and versions of belonging that were central to the political vision of Hitler's National Socialism and to the events of the Second World War. The intention is to point to this trajectory, to give Butler's work a genealogy that traces the notion of mimesis back into work which employed the concept within socio-theoretical responses to anti-Semitism, in order to initiate a discussion of mimesis in a new contemporary agenda. The question of mimesis in this new agenda is significant in its reutilization of the concept in a way that moves the focus away from assumptions of the repressed natural process that underpinned Adorno and Horkheimer's thesis, and towards the complex manoeuvres of continued performances and continued `tradition', away from judgements of authenticity and towards the reasons why people maintain certain embodied subjectivities. Such a perspective raises the questions of generational relations, of foreclosed possibilities and of affective attachments to identity that reach beyond the Nietzschean sense of a wounded attachment. A focus on the responsibilities and pressures of `cultural survival' seems fruitful as a guiding concept in this exploration of the connections between identification, affiliation and the power contexts within which mimesis, as a form of repetition or `citation', occurs.

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21 Sep 2015 12:03

Last Modified:

04 Jul 2017 14:14

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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