Cross-cutting the livid residue – Lecture by Claire Finch on gender’s residue, sex, and textual dissidence in the rot of language

Gender is performance. But how does it perform? On the occasion of the Medienhaus Lectures 2021 at Berlin University of the Arts, Paris based writer and researcher Claire Finch re-visited the queer-feminist notion of gender’s performativity. We publish the lecture together with an introduction by Annika Haas, who co-organised the two-day conference together with Henrike Uthe.

Claire Finch is a writer and researcher whose work samples queer and feminist theories as a way to intervene in narrative. Their recent projects include „I Lie on the Floor“ (After 8 Books, 2021), „Lettres aux jeunes poétesses“ (L’Arche 2021), „Kathy Acker 1971-1975“ (Editions Ismael, 2019) and their translation into French of Lisa Robertson’s „Debbie: An Epic“ (with sabrina soyer, Debbie: une épopée, Joca Seria, 2021).

Introduction by Annika Haas

Regarding the notion of performing gender, Claire Finch intervened into a common misunderstanding of the concept coined by Judith Butler right in the beginning of their lecture stating that “it’s not about acting, but more about interrupting the idea of what it means to be an actor, to be a self, to have a body […]”. In turn, even what has been called the “assigned sex” presented itself as “the residue, the result of citing re-citing gender gender gender as the body gets all solid in repetition”. Tackling this issue, Finch’s contribution to the conference motto “Performance? Performance. Performance!” was an exercise in stretching, bending, loosening and cross-cutting the identities that form and solidify in bodies and “the residue of sex and language” respectively. This exercise is physical, emotional, sensational and text-based, all at once. Finch proposes to utilize strategies like plagiarism, body functions like vomiting, technologies like sex toys, and last but not least language for what they broadly understand as “textual intervention” into the livid residue of our bodies and in order to cross-cut their identities.

In this way, seemingly separate spheres and practices in themselves – e. g. writing and using sex toys – creatively begin to inform each other. Considering for example, as Finch remarked, that “[y]ou can attach a sextoy to any part of the body and transform that part of the body into a sexual surface” not only decenters sex and the gendered body. It also inspires textual strategies: “What happens when we think of the sextoy as a textual graft, if we perform the same decentering and reorganizing operations on form, as we do on the body?”

Making these connections by translating and transposing concepts and practices from one medium and form into another and thus allowing for mutual interventions – e. g. of the body or the sex toy into the text and vice versa – is what drives their practice, as Finch underlined in the discussion that followed the lecture and that left the audience with an inspiring task: To develop further dissident strategies with their bodies and tools of their choice in order to practically do these things that we say we want to do in theory.

Annika Haas is a media theorist and works as a research associate at the Institute for History and Theory of Design of Berlin University of the Arts (UdK). She completed her PhD on Hélène Cixous’s philosophy and embodied writing practice. Annika’s practice at the intersection of art and theory includes art criticism and experimental publishing.

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Imagination of a gender system that consists of only two categories, male and female. Assignment beyond which is only allowed, if at all, only as a deviation from the norm – hides the following: gender, sex, desire, performance.

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the personal idea of one‘s own gender and one‘s own gender role. Within society, gender is the concept according to which we classify various ideas such as social status, gender presentation, role in society, life planning and sexuality into the gender categories.

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