A critique of Paul McCarthy’s Sailor’s Meat, Sailor’s Delight

Paul McCarthy, Sailor’s Meat (Sailor’s Delight), 1975. Courtesy of MoMA, New York.

The performativity of gender cannot be understood as synonymous with ‘performance’ or ‘theatre’, which is indeed related to a range of physical behaviours that embody a ‘gender’ through a spectrum of body patterns. However, gender performativity is by no means autonomous acting of the body; it is not a category of acts that are conducted by the body which is perceptible and has a profit-avoiding choice. The reason is that the position of a ‘naturalised body’ is related to a self-governing, self-unifying aspect of the subject. For gender performativity, the gender is not derived from the body itself but is proffered by what is inflicted on the body. The ‘natural body’ is a naturalised effect of societal discourses — a body as the signified which is a result of the discursive and linguistic construction by a variety of performative utterances that within the existing patriarchal society. In this sense, how the political potential of subversive theatrical performance such as parody and drag be contextualised in an artwork could be perceived as aggressive and radical and how to view it without being inculcated a patriarchal and sexual/gendered stereotypical imperative and a part of the consolidation of hegemonic discourses.

About the author:
Zhuanxu Xu is a Being, essayist and artist who are currently studying in the MFA Fine Art programme in Goldsmiths. Hen (a gender-neutral personal pronoun) investigates in sex/ gender-related issues and movements, possesses adequate antagonism towards societal discourses.

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