Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Inspiring Negativity: Butler and Trouble

Banksy 'No Ball Games'

“Hence, I concluded that trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it” (GT vii)

So writeth Judith Butler in the introduction to Gender Trouble.  Here, she tells us that when she was a youngster she gained her first “critical insight into the subtle ruse of power” (Ibid.).  What insight?  That authority threatens you with trouble, even puts you in trouble, in order to keep you out of trouble.  Like when a parent spanks a kid for climbing a high wall, because the kid might get hurt.

Butler goes on to apply this notion of “being in trouble” to identity, and specifically to gender (for a blog dedicated to these aspects of “being in trouble” check out Trouble).  Her analysis is bangarang, and worth checking out, but this quote also inspires me on a general level.  First, it suggests to me that I should accept that I am “all up in it,” in so many ways.  I am enmeshed in webs of power: society, family, history, etc.  There’s no way to avoid it.  And the networks that I find myself in are troubling and put me into trouble (from Walmart to sexism to my dry skin).

However, it’s the second part of the quote I like most–how best to make trouble, what best way to be in it.  My position in these webs of power gives me a certain power, a way to make trouble.  It’s like gravity.  NASA aside, I can’t escape it.  But without it I could not run, sit, or bungee jump.  Gravity limits me, but it also puts me in a position to take action.

What I like about Butler’s expression is the sense of mischievousness and playfulness I get from thinking this in terms of “making trouble.”  What does it mean to view my power and freedom in terms of “making trouble,” in terms of play?  If trouble is indeed unavoidable, we should accept it and have a little fun, n’est pas?

What is the best way for you to make trouble?


  1. The best way to make trouble? Try living with fidelity toward the interruption.

  2. Speaking of trouble. I met Ray Lamontagne at my local brewhouse last weekend!

    Ideally, I’d like to make trouble in the classroom by offering other intellectual options for young college students. Illustrate to them that the fork in the road has multifarious tines. Knowledge and shedding our ignorance always gets us into trouble.

    PS your post reminds me of something my delinquent childhood friend’s father always told him. “The trouble with trouble is that it starts out as fun.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.