This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

'Unstable Subjects': Gender and Agency in Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9




Whitaker, Laura

Type of Degree





The work of Judith Butler raises important questions about subjectivity, and calls for a reconception of the subject as unstable. This instability is the result of the disruption of the sequence of desire following from gender, following from sex. It is also a result of the notion that all subjects are constituted through a heterosexual matrix, a matrix by which the point of entry is normative gender behavior. To vary one’s behavior in the face of this matrix is to risk being thrust “outside,” but also, paradoxically, to gain agency as a political subject. Butler argues that the only way for the subject to exercise agency is through the variance of performance within constituting discourses, and also the occupation of multiple roles. Though Butler insists on the agency of the destabilized subject, she has never explained precisely how this agency is possible to the satisfaction of her critics. Thus, in order to investigate Butler’s notion of agency for the destabilized subject, her ideas surrounding this theme are contextualized within Cloud 9, which is perhaps Caryl Churchill’s best known work. Through cross-casting and the challenging of gender normative behavior, Cloud 9 sheds some light on Butler’s concept of agency. By reading Butler through Cloud 9 and, Cloud 9 through Butler, one is able to interrogate the process by which the destabilized subject gains and exercises agency.