Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble has been one of the most influential theoretical works of the past twenty-five years. Both within and without philosophy, it is a touchstone for discussions of subjectivity and identity of all kinds. In her writings, and in conversation, Butler has made clear her indebtedness to the phenomenological and existential tradition, while revising it within a poststructuralist framework. In this article, I explore just one strand of that indebtedness by comparing the performative account of gender identity, which she offers in Gender Trouble, with the imaginary personages which form the basis of Sartre’s account of individual and social identities. I suggest that some of the problems encountered by performative accounts are a consequence of this inheritance.
Kathleen Lennon is emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Hull. Her most recent books are the monograph Imagination and the Imaginary (Routledge, 2015) and the co-edited volume Embodied Selves (Palgrave, 2012). She is currently working on a monograph on old age co-authored with Paul Gilbert.