Partnership, Compulsion, and Risk

As Butler so succinctly writes in “Bloodchild,” “[t]here is risk… in dealing with a partner” (26). However, there is also risk in not dealing with a partner. Here I define a partner as any person with whom one has a relationship with, not exclusively a sexual or romantic relationship. Isolation from other humans is considered torture, and pushes people to their psychological limits. In prison, which I’ve spoken about in previous blog posts, being put in segregation means staying in the same tiny cell for 23 hours a day with no chance at genuine, meaningful human contact. Isolation is extremely commonly used as a means for punishment for even the smallest infractions—and long-term isolation is used for those that have a reputation for physically violence towards others.

Since isolation is not an option (or at least, a popular option) for those who are not forced into isolation, there is risk that must be handled accordingly. This compulsion humans have to connect with others means that there is risk in even the smallest minutia—and language itself is encoded in small acts of violence. This can be seen in politeness politics, such as intruding on someone’s positive or negative face in order to request something or make a claim. Humans have created features of language in order to offset hierarchies that we have created through this same language, such as using politeness particles or changing the grammar of the inquiry. In response to politeness tactics, the recipient will often change their position on this newly created hierarchy in order to level the playing field.

Since (most) humans live in contact with others, we establish, reproduce, and modify new and temporary hierarchies in everyday speech and actions. We do this so naturally and efficiently that it is encoded in culture and is an established norm that has consequences if not followed. Butler’s concept of the Human Contradiction that is seen in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy governs our every interaction.

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