A role model, that’s someone to look up to – isn’t it?
At least that’s the image we have of role models, of so-called „idols“: people we all seem to look for from time to time in our lives and in certain phases of our lives. Often, or so it is at least depicted, these are initially parents or siblings whom we „emulate“. But at some point, it seems, we turn away from them and „do our own thing“, looking for new role models that resonate more with our current lives and from which we can gain more strength.
But when I took the train to Berlin last Friday for Judith Butler’s lecture for the FG Geschlechterstudien 10 year anniversay, I started to think. I am someone who likes to claim to be one of the biggest fans of Judith Butler in the world. Of course I know that a) I am not the only one and b) that Butler and poststructuralism, and thus my favourite philosophical theory, would not like this idolisation at all. But why exactly do I find Butler so great? Why do I travel through almost all of Germany to see her for the third time now? Why do I have a picture of her, Simone de Beauvior and Michel Foucault hanging above my desk? It must be „more“ than a little bit of daily motivation, „more“ than empowerment like it happens for me through Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel — or not?
I would count Butler, Foucault and Beauvior among those people who continue to encourage me in the goals I have set myself for myself and for my work. Mom and Dad, of course you are one of these people ( 😉 ), as well as my past and present bachelor, master and dissertation supervisors, colleagues, Carla from fem4scholar, without whom I would not have dared to talk to another role model, Ulrike Auga, on Friday, and so many more.
But the question remains. Why do I take a train to Berlin for 5 hours? Why do I sit down in a stuffy room with another 1000 people, yes, why are there even 1000 people here to listen to „any“ professor from Berkely? What makes Judith Butler more than just an extraordinary philosopher and pioneer of our time? What other similarities does she have with my tutors, why do I want to be like her? Why does her signature in my notebook motivate me to go further and further? Especially at the university, an area in which I — and many others — despite our enthusiasm for our work, are over and over confronted with external constraints, lack of support and too little assistance. It can’t just be because of her intelligence and her talent for lecturing — of course all aspects that should appeal to me as an academic.
When I am asked why I have decided to pursue the path at university, for example by friends who are considering whether or not to start a PhD, I usually answer:
„In my opinion, there are three aspects of working at the university. I think you should like two of them, or better still, love two of them, but I do love the three of them:
1. researching, 2. writing¹ and 3. teaching.“
And exactly this third aspect, that of teaching, must be embodied by any of my role models. By this I don’t just mean giving „classical“ seminars or lectures and thereby „teaching“ or even „explaining“ something to others, but the will and enthusiasm to generate new questions, perspectives and points of views in exchange with others. This is the only way to question existing knowledge and develop new ideas. For this reason, points 1, 2, and 3 are actually inseparable and (should) be interwoven and reflected upon in academia.
For some, this may sound like poststructuralism. Well, it is. The constant questioning, the constant criticism, even of one’s own standpoint, one’s own theory, that is poststructuralism. A theory that assumes from the outset that it can never be complete, that it can only be expanded and improved through the constant uncovering of its limits and exclusions — and precisely through criticism, a criticism that can precisely arise in exchange with others. Does that mean that poststructuralism has finally managed to permeate me completely? I do not think it has. I think it is merely the theoretical and preliminary consideration, interpretation and legitimisation of my demands on my work, whether it be in fem4scholar, En-Gender!, this blog, my research, my seminars, Delta, within my feminist circles and activities or at home, when I argue with my father about politics — in other words, in my whole life. It’s about exchange, because only exchange especially across borders, may they they be of disciplines, cultures, gender or language, is what can bring us forward.
Perhaps this is a suitable definition entailing my mother and my doctoral supervisor. After all, what are role models with whom one cannot talk? Who never change? Who put themselves on a pedestal? I would say: the opposite of Judith Butler. I think there are no students, none of the interested people which have been there on Friday evening whom she wouldn’t have taken seriously as a conversation partner. Everyone was able to approach her. And this is exactly what makes her our role model!
¹: Of course I agree that the compulsion to publish, which is brought to the extreme at the universities, is actually completely unhelpful to writing „itself“ (Michael Billig, 2013). For this reason I am happy to extend this point: Medialisation of the researched, be it through presentations at conferences, publications, blog posts, newspaper articles and talk show appearances — depending on what suits you better and without feeling the international neoliberal pressure of academic careers.