The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection

Front Cover
Stanford University Press, 1997 - Philosophy - 218 pages
12 Reviews
As a form of power, subjection is paradoxical. To be dominated by a power external to oneself is a familiar and agonizing form power takes. To find, however, that what "one" is, one's very formation as a subject, is dependent upon that very power is quite another. If, following Foucault, we understand power as forming the subject as well, it provides the very condition of its existence and the trajectory of its desire. Power is not simply what we depend on for our existence but that which forms reflexivity as well. Drawing upon Hegel, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, and Althusser, this challenging and lucid work offers a theory of subject formation that illuminates as ambivalent the psychic effects of social power.

If we take Hegel and Nietzsche seriously, then the "inner life" of consciousness and, indeed, of conscience, not only is fabricated by power, but becomes one of the ways in which power is anchored in subjectivity. The author considers the way in which psychic life is generated by the social operation of power, and how that social operation of power is concealed and fortified by the psyche that it produces. Power is no longer understood to be "internalized" by an existing subject, but the subject is spawned as an ambivalent effect of power, one that is staged through the operation of conscience.

To claim that power fabricates the psyche is also to claim that there is a fictional and fabricated quality to the psyche. The figure of a psyche that "turns against itself" is crucial to this study, and offers an alternative to describing power as "internalized." Although most readers of Foucault eschew psychoanalytic theory, and most thinkers of the psyche eschew Foucault, the author seeks to theorize this ambivalent relation between the social and the psychic as one of the most dynamic and difficult effects of power.

This work combines social theory, philosophy, and psychoanalysis in novel ways, offering a more sustained analysis of the theory of subject formation implicit in such other works of the author as Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" and Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.

  

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Review: The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection

User Review  - Joseph Sverker - Goodreads

This might not be any of the more 'famous' books by Butler, but if one wants to get an insight into a width of Butler's thinking, then this is certainly a book that is necessary to get acquainted with ... Read full review

Review: The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection

User Review  - Colin - Goodreads

i wish i could take a seminar just on this book and all the texts it discusses Read full review

Contents

Introduction i
16
Stubborn Attachment Bodily Subjection
31
Circuits of Bad Conscience
63
Subjection Resistance Resignification
83
Conscience Doth Make Subjects of Us All
106
Melancholy Gender Refused Identification
132
Commentary on Judith Butler by Adam Phillips
151
Psychic Inceptions
167
Notes
201
Index
217
Copyright

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References to this book

Power: A Reader
Mark Haugaard
Limited preview - 2002
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About the author (1997)

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of many works, including "Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity"; "The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection"; and "Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative,

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