Michael Lucey on “Gender in Translation”


Michael Lucey is a Professor of French and Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley. He specializes in French literature and culture of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. He also teaches regularly about nineteenth and twentieth-century British and American literature and culture, the novel in particular. Other areas of interest include sexuality studies; social and literary theory; cultural studies of music.

Michael Lucey will take part in the “Gender in Translation” Dialogue at the University of California, Berkeley, on December 10th, 2015.
Access Michael Lucey’s presentation “Translating Sexuality Contextually” online.

-> What triggered your interest in Gender Studies?

I would say that as I became more and more interested in literary and other cultural artifacts, and more and more interested in studying how they work and what they do, I began to think about how certain literary works offer an experience of gender and sexuality. I realized that sometimes literary works are conceived as instruments of analysis of the way gender and sexuality function at certain times within certain cultures, and I became fascinated to try to understand why cultural artifacts such as literary works could turn out to be such refined instruments for analyzing sexuality or gender – often more refined than the instruments than exist in other disciplinary contexts.

-> According to you, has the reflection on Gender Studies evolved over the past years, if we consider the publication of “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler (1990) a reference point?

I think of “Gender Trouble” as a really important text, a landmark of a certain moment in the history of an evolving discipline. I think of it as paired with “Bodies that Matter” from a few years later. In these books, Judith Butler reread and rethought in an amazingly productive juxtaposition a number of feminist theorists (Beauvoir and Irigaray, for example), a number of theorists of sexuality (Freud, Foucault, and Wittig for example), and a number of philosophers (including Austin and Derrida). This elegantly performed juxtaposition created a whole new idiom in which to conduct thinking about sexuality and gender in their relation to both social and psychic worlds. So we could say that those two books were really innovative in the way they took up a lot of previous work – a fair amount of work from France, in fact. Certainly, the study of gender and sexuality has gone on evolving since then.

-> The operation “Gender in Translation” as it has been conceived originally tries to put into perspective French and American approaches to Gender Studies. Does this distinction still seem relevant to you? Why?

There are certainly more places in the world than just France and the United States where the study of gender and sexuality is important. And even within France, or within the United States, there are variable and sometimes incompatible perspectives on the meanings and values associated with gender and sexuality. Because gender and sexuality exist as social forms and social facts, they will be culturally and historically variable, and this means that translation will always be part of conversations on these topics. The conversations between France and the United States are themselves part of a larger set of conversations.

-> Could you define the specificity of your approach to Gender Studies?

You will notice that my responses always refer to gender and sexuality. In fact, I am interested in the interrelation of different kinds of sociological variables, so I don’t think gender and sexuality exist in the absence of other variables we might mention such as age, religion, ethnicity, race, regional, national, or other geographic affiliations, and many more. The literary works that interest me the most are often powerful analytical tools because they have found ways to be attentive to the multiple interrelations of these many variables.

-> Does your research in the field of Gender Studies bear a civic and/or political engagement? Is this an important aspect for you?

Politics is centrally about representation, about being represented, about the kinds of representations we make and the kinds of representations that are made of us. So it wouldn’t be unfair to say that working in sexuality studies and gender studies is about working for representations that are more just and about contributing to struggles against oppression and domination.

-> As a scholar/artist/thinker/curator/…, what does the title “Gender in Translation” evoke for you?

I work a bit as a translator along side my work as a scholar and cultural critic. In both kinds of work I am interested in thinking about what is implicit within language and what it would mean to translate the implicit structures that enable the transmission of meaning and value. Sometimes, when people are inattentive to the implicit, possibilities for communicating and for thinking end up stymied.


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