chapter  11
36 Pages

When Performing Gender Is Nonconforming

The Need for Archives in the Practice of Theory
WithKatherine Arens

This chapter questions how modern scholarship on gender performance treats premodern archives challenging contemporary norms. An archive of texts representing gender in the eighteenth century provides case studies for gender performance in the elite classes: the castrato soprano Farinelli (1705–82), as represented in Charles Burney’s 1773 The Present State of Music in France and Italy, and the cross-dressing Chevalière d’Éon (1728’1810). Elias’s Court Society (1975), Kantorowicz’s King’s Two Bodies (1957), and Sacheverell Sitwell’s Southern Baroque Art (1924) are then juxtaposed with this archive as addressing performativity in ways beyond much contemporary scholarship. This juxtaposition is used to reexamine Judith Butler’s idea of gender performance as a political intervention, revealing it as radically presentist interested in neither recapturing accounts of premodern identity performance nor recognizing the historicity of the French theory from which she drew (principally Foucault, Kristeva, and Wittig).