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Giving an Account of Oneself$
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Judith Butler

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780823225033

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: March 2011

DOI: 10.5422/fso/9780823225033.001.0001

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TWO: Against Ethical Violence

TWO: Against Ethical Violence

(p.41) TWO: Against Ethical Violence
Giving an Account of Oneself

Judith Butler

Fordham University Press

This chapter turns to psychoanalysis and to the limits the unconscious imposes on the narrative reconstruction of a life. Although we are compelled to give an account of our various selves, the structural conditions of that account will turn out to make a full such giving impossible. The singular body to which a narrative refers cannot be captured by a full narration, not only because the body has a formative history that remains irrecoverable by reflection, but because primary relations are formative in ways that produce a necessary opacity in our understanding of ourselves. An account of oneself is always given to another, whether conjured or existing, and this other establishes the scene of address as a more primary ethical relation than a reflexive effort to give an account of oneself. Moreover, the very terms by which we give an account, by which we make ourselves intelligible to ourselves and to others, are not of our making. They are social in character, and they establish social norms, a domain of unfreedom and substitutability within which our “singular” stories are told. The chapter makes eclectic use of various philosophers and critical theorists in this inquiry. Each theory suggests something of ethical importance that follows from the limits that condition any effort one might make to give an account of oneself. Following from this, it is argued that what we often consider to be ethical “failure” may well have an ethical valence and importance that has not been rightly adjudicated by those who too quickly equate poststructuralism with moral nihilism.

Keywords:   Hegel, I, You, recognition, judgment, psychoanalysis

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