Thursday, December 13, 2007

McWhorter, Ladelle. "Review of Cressida J. Heyes' SELF-STRANSFORMATIONS: FOUCAULT, ETHICS, AND NORMALISED BODIES." NDPR December 8, 2007.

Heyes, Cressida J. Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies. Oxford: OUP, 2007. Deeply informed by both contemporary feminist theory and Michel Foucault's genealogical method and analytics of power, Cressida Heyes' Self-Transformations presents an extended consideration of a set of bodily practices that are increasingly common in North America, namely, sex reassignment surgeries and related sex-transformational regimes, dieting for the purpose of weight-loss, and cosmetic surgeries such as face-lift, liposuction, gastric bypass, and rhinoplasty. The book's discussion of these practices is interesting, nuanced, and politically sensitive. Heyes does an excellent job of reviewing the academic debates surrounding them and explicating the objections that many feminist social critics have made to them. But she doesn't stop there. She also critically, yet sympathetically, examines the claims and reports of those who take up these techniques and technologies and use them in their own projects of self-transformation. And she even goes so far as to take up one such practice herself, enrolling for a ten-month stint in Weight Watchers. Her descriptions in every case are vivid and compelling, and her prose is clear and honest, as well as often quietly amusing. Despite the book's straightforward tone, concrete examples, and relatively simple style, however, its thesis and themes are importantly complex. Its central issue is not whether these various techniques for altering the human body are repressive or, on the contrary, self-expressive; the central issue is not whether feminists should endorse these practices or condemn them and have them outlawed. In this book, detached moral judgment is displaced, and a different kind of ethical discourse comes to the fore. Heyes is concerned about normalization and the foreclosure of freedom it portends, and she is clear and adamant that these practices are normalizing, sometimes in the extreme. But as a student of Foucault she rejects both a sovereign account of selfhood and the notion that power is external to selves and primarily prohibitive, and thus she resists the feminist temptation to see trans men and women, recidivist dieters, and candidates for cosmetic surgery as mere dupes or victims of the normalizing sexist ideologies and institutions that they at times recite and inhabit. . . . Read the rest here:

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