Introduction: Troubled Vision

  • Emma Campbell
  • Robert Mills
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Trouble, in its more conventional deployments, betrays a range of negative associations. It communicates a sense of worry or annoyance (“That’s the trouble”), a state of being blamed (“She’s always getting into trouble”), diagnoses of ill health or malfunction (“She’s got heart trouble”), or a more than usual amount of exertion (“I had real trouble finding you”); the word also often designates moments of political and social unrest or cultural disorder (“The trouble spilled out onto the streets”). So when Judith Butler appropriates the term in the context of gender, in her by now classic study Gender Trouble, she self-consciously goes against the grain of conventional usage, by suggesting the fruitful and dynamic possibilities of trouble—its place in practices of subversion and moments of rehabilitation.1 The argument she makes is that gender is a product of discursive repetition, a process that provides the opportunity both for the naturalization of gender, in the context of performative citationality, and for its subversion, in the context of parodic re-presentation.


Gender Identity Blind Spot Trouble Vision Visual Encounter Medieval Text 
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  1. 1.
    Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990), esp. the discussion of trouble in the Preface, pp. vii–viii.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, ed. and trans. H.M. Parshley (London: Jonathan Cape, 1953), p. 1Google Scholar
  3. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), esp. pp. 23–33.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    See, for instance, Henrietta Leyser, Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England, 450–1500 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995), who makes precisely such a remark in the context of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, p. 3.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 137; see also the extended discussion of drag in Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 121–40, 230–33.Google Scholar
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    Butler, Bodies That Matter, esp. pp. 224–30; Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (London: Routledge, 1997)Google Scholar
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    The classic film theoretical account of the “male gaze” is Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6–18, reprinted in Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 14–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. an articulation of comparable views with respect to art history can be found in Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference: Femininity, Feminism and Histories of Art (London: Routledge, 1988)Google Scholar
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    Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emma Campbell
  • Robert Mills

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