Avital Ronnel and the Idiot / the stupid

http://www.egs.edu/ Avital Ronnell, Professor of German, comparative literature, and English at New York University, where she directs the Research in Trauma and Violence project, and has also written as a literary critic, a feminist, and philosopher. Public open lecture session given at the European Graduate School, Media and Communication Studies Department Program in 2008. EGS, Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Europe.

Ronell was born in Prague to Israeli diplomats and was a performance artist before entering academia. She studied with Jacob Taubes at the Hermeneutic Institute at the Free University of Berlin, received her Ph.D. under the advisement of Stanley Corngold at Princeton University in 1979, and then continued her studies with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous in Paris. She joined the comparative literature faculty at the University of California, Berkeley before moving to NYU. She is also a core faculty member at the European Graduate School. Themes of her work include technology (Test Drive, Telephone Book) and Stupidity/Idiocy. In addition to her own writing, she has produced English translations of Derrida's work.

Ronell's work in The Telephone Book focuses on three themes: technology, schizophrenia and electric speech. The book begins with a sustained examination of Heidegger's involvement with the (Nazi) National Socialist Party of Germany. Early in the book she describes it as a gesture of anti-racist activism. It proceeds through a history of the telephone, looking at the structure of "the call", as in Heidegger's "call of being", and applying that form to various subjects. A close friend of Derrida's, Ronell's work is heavily informed by the strategy of deconstruction, using close readings and looking at the play of language to find the marginalized group or idea that is pushed out from the center. In this work Ronell demonstrates the complexity of "the call" and its presence throughout contemporary culture including technology, psychology and art. In the book, the rejects the authoritarian position of the author and instead refers to herself as the "operator" of the text.
Crack Wars focuses on Madame Bovary, looking at addiction to literature and comparing it to addiction to drugs. She describes the work as being a political gesture against the hysteria of the "racist" war on drugs. It begins with a wide survey of literary discussions of intoxication, including Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Benjamin and more. The book proceeds by looking closely at Heidegger's descriptions of want, wishing and "being towards".
The Test Drive examines the underlying logic of contemporary scientific discourses and their ethical and political implications. It does so by focusing on the idea of "the test" as a basis for discovering knowledge.

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