Judith Butler’s Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy is an extremely philosophical essay that asks many questions that challenges the reader to look within themselves to search for their own interpretation of what they believe the answer to be. The first statement that Butler opens with is, “What makes for a livable world is no idol question”. This statement almost seems like a question directed to the reader. I believe that people interpret what they believe would make their lives bearable differently.
What I may seem bearable for my own life may be unbearable to another’s. It is up to the individual to decide for themselves.
Butler continues by saying, “It becomes a question of ethics when someone from a position of power decides what makes other people’s lives bearable.” To me, the question of what makes my own life bearable is my family. Other people may have different responses to that question. It is not up to one person to decide for others what they can live and can’t live without.
I interpreted this concept to mean that no one should tell another person who they should love or what can make their lives livable because it is different for all of us. There is no simple answer, therefore no one should be in the position to tell other people how to live their lives.
Butler finds something in common that we all share. We all grieve the lives of someone we have lost. We are all vulnerable to the pains and desires that our bodies feel for other bodies and we are all alike in that sense. Mourning is a feeling that everyone goes through when we lose someone and we all go through it in different ways. No one can tell you how to mourn or what is the correct way to mourn just as no one should tell you what makes your life livable. We all experience emotional ties to feel a sense of self and once that is taken away we lose a part of ourselves. Butler claims that we undo each other or else we are missing something.
I agree that having close relationships with people make us weaker. We are vulnerable when our feelings get in the way of our judgments. We find ourselves wanting to protect our loved ones with our lives and wanting to make sacrifices for them that we otherwise would not make for strangers. That is also what makes human ties and bonds so special. We have the ability to love passionately and grieve deeply. These extreme emotions are what make us human and make our lives worth living. No one person can say they have superiority over another because they live their lives how they see fit and correct for everyone else.
Butler goes on to say that ecstasy is a way to view how we live besides ourselves. The notion of ecstasy is a way to describe our passion or grief. When politicians talk about rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, they are talking to the group as bounded beings who all share the same distinct qualities. Yes, they share the same lifestyles, but to look at them as a whole excludes what makes each individual unique and what passions and hardships tears them from their being. Our bodies are how gender and sexuality are revealed to others, but the categorizing of these specific groups of people excludes so much more information about them that we will never know.
Butler is saying that we need to strive to get away from being subjected as just humans. This notion does not make much sense because our culture does not view this idea as a normal thought. In order to fully understand a group of people who have been stereotyped, you have to view each individual as not only human, but a being that houses a broad spectrum of emotions that leads to ecstasy that makes them feel beside themselves. There is so much to a person and we often find ourselves limiting their capabilities by subjecting them to a specific term. Butler is challenging the way society views people who have been stereotyped by explaining that there is much more to any given person than meets the eye.