SORAAAD BookNotes with the Bulletin: Darlene Juschka, Political Bodies/Body Politic: The Semiotics of Gender

By Matt Sheedy

Political Bodies/Body Politic: The Semiotics of Gender (2009) by Darlene Juschka, offers a rich analysis that traverses several academic fields, including gender studies, semiotics, cultural theory, and religion, among others, as well as multiple historical periods, such as ancient Greece, early modern France, and the contemporary United States. Seeking to better understanding and challenge the logic of gender/sex ideology, one of Juschka’s primary tasks is to contest the notion of gender as a “discrete object” that is somehow separate from social and political bodies, from its various sites of production. As she writes,

My interest is to better understand how gender/sex is coded in the modern world, and how particular discourses such as history, evolutionary biology, primatology, medicine, and popular culture in the novel, film, and art are central to the discursive formation of gender/sex. This discursive formation, I have argued and continue to argue, is then deployed through myth, ritual, and symbol providing gender/sex with a concreteness and reality that is, as any good Marxist would contend, mystified. (133)

Perhaps most interesting is how Juschka draws on such thinkers as Roland Barthes and Bruce Lincoln, among many others, to show how myth, ritual and sign-symbol—categories that are familiar in the study of religion—are primary for how human beings imagine their social worlds. As she puts it, “myth, ritual, and sign-symbol are integral to the construction of systems of belief and practice in the majority of social formations.” (19) What this suggests is not merely a way of engaging gender/sex on the level of discourse and its’ various sites of production (e.g., the novel, film, warfare, possession rituals, etc.) but also of engaging “religion” as a relational category whose meaning (i.e., what it signifies or is meant to signify) is always and already contested within the social realm, as a form of ideology and as a narrative that mediates between the metaphysical and the biological domains (e.g., between symbols and rituals).

All in all, Political Bodies/Body Politic offers both a provocative study of the construction and deployment of gender/sex and a fruitful approach for challenging ideology of all stripes, as well as a way of contesting notions of “religion” as a category that somehow stands on its own, apart from the bodies that shape it.

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