Performative Acts and Gender Constitution,? Judith Butler argues that gender is not stable or essential but is instead established through the repetition of culturally recognizable gestures. In other words, what we call gender is not an expression of an essential identity, but a system of social signs that create the illusion of gender through repeated performative behaviors.
For this essay, you will use Butler?s theory of gender performance to analyze a song, music video, or performance clip by David Bowie. You may choose any song, video, or performance you like, including those we have discussed in class and those that Auslander analyzes. You will need to develop an argument about the text you choose and how it represents gender, sexuality, and/or identity. How does Bowie challenge narratives of authentic identity? In what ways does he trouble gender and sexuality as stable, readable, expressive categories?
To help focus your paper, choose one passage from Butler?s essay to use as a lens through which to read Bowie. Think carefully about which of her key points will help you develop a unique argument about the song or video you have chosen. Do not expect that Butler?s arguments will match Bowie?s performance neatly. You should be as interested in ways Butler?s arguments can?t account for everything, because those limits can help you extend and complicate her arguments and understand how they can be adopted in other contexts
You will need to write careful, analytical descriptions of the musical text you choose to discuss. Auslander?s essay can serve as a useful model for this. When he discusses Bowie?s songs, he close reads the lyrics and describes the mood that the instrumental arrangement and Bowie?s vocal style contribute to the meaning. For performances, he carefully describes Bowie?s costumes, hairstyles, gestures, and interactions with other performers on stage. Consider the way these various elements contribute to your interpretation of the text and convey that information to your reader.