A Study of Subject’s Plight in David Henry Hwang’s M.Butterfly

Conference: The Asian Conference on Asian Studies (ACAS2022)
Title: A Study of Subject’s Plight in David Henry Hwang’s M.Butterfly
Stream: Comparative Studies of Asian and East Asian Studies
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Luming Zhang, Washington University in St. Louis, United States


According to Foucault, the philosophy is an ethical philosophy concerning individual existence; individuals under the influence from historical knowledge and power relations tend to constrain their true self by the external normalization in respects of power, sexuality and ethics. In this way, they constitute standardized subjects in case of being marginalized but forget who they really are. As a result, they will easily fall into the plight where the standardized subject confronts the true self. Thereby, Foucault advocates that individuals live aesthetically as who they really are by taking care of the true self and resisting the subjectivation external normalization causes. Bases on this theory, this paper attempts to explore Foucault’s aesthetics of existence in M. Butterfly. First, it begins with how the historical knowledge and power relations Gallimard and Song learn separately in their background cause the constitution of their standardized subjects. Then, it analyzes how they manage to be the standardized subject by internalizing the external normalization in their sexual relationship, during which they fall into the plight where subject is in conflict with their true self. Lastly, the different endings of two protagonists are discusses in details. Gallimard, conceited and stubborn, ends up his life while Song, intelligent and flexible, chooses to come back to his true self. Through such a creative ending, Hwang makes a powerful response to the issues of how to deal with gender, identity and the relationship between east and west.

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