End of Story
Avital Ronell (USA), philosopher, has taught comparative literature and philosophy at Berkeley. She currently serves as chair of Comparative literature at New York University and as the Jacques Derrida Chair of Philosophy and Media at the European Graduate School in Switzerland.
Loser Sons : Politics and Authority (University of Illinois Press, 2013)
I tend to mix it up, tracking or creating static on the lines of thought, switching genres in midstream, clearly taking pleasure when it becomes necessary to destroy the phenomenological “I.” Some of my work begins in the mode of story-telling, with a fable, what Derrida calls a “true fiction.” My motivations are various: sometimes I revert to fiction in order to establish a kinship network, disruptive and improbable, that lets me put the contre in the rencontre, the gegen in the Begegnung, provoking some energy of friction as I go up against my themes and motifs and rogue philosophemes. I like the gang formation and the problems in establishing turf. Most often, to avoid excessive turf wars, I summon a spectral colloquy of friends and pretend relatives. I still play house, even if the stakes have mutated to the House of Being—our relation to language. In order to analyze the staggeringly “dry” work of Husserl I decided to follow the lead of my friend, Kathy Acker, when she wrote Great Expectations and pirated other literary works, stole entire passages and titles. Following the dictum of her best buddy, Burroughs, who said, “Steal everything in sight!” Kathy pillaged, looted, restyled in a way that slaloms relentlessly between literary and philosophical poles of meaning.
For my part, I practice affirmative dissociation. Prompted mostly by a Nietzschean will to fiction and love of masks, I “fake it ‘til I make it,” assuming shrewd yet fragile identities, rotating signatures, reappropriating for myself syntactical maneuvers and rhetorical feints. In sum, I could say about my practice that I am a living, writing anacoluthon—always disturbing expectations, great or miniscule. The reasons behind the chronic shifts and pathologically appointed hideouts are not difficult to fathom. A victim of the deconstructive imposition, I boast no power-pumped, stabilizable self, and so must reinvent my personae at every turn, often slipping into promiscuous, outrageous aliases that have little to do with the shy and polite, highly socialized—if not national socialized creature that I have been forced to explore. I can be very childish.
By today things have changed. I have changed. The child parts have been taken in hand, the head of the household expects, Hölderlin-style, a level of sobriety. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has emphasized sacred sobriety when taking on Heidegger’s engagement with technology. Sometimes, the sequencing peculiar to technology points one to an atopos, an “unWhere,” as the great poet, Celan would say, where stories cannot be told or properly located, or only can leak out in unthematizable ways, according to new protocols of unreadability. For instance, (I apologize for the overload, for the condensation that, let’s face it, even Freud would not tolerate), my attention was called to the national investment in TV after WWII, where transgenocidal rage was channeled into endless crime and police stories that covered the unsayable, allowing TV—as a blind witness, a neutral gleam—to absorb the historical shock and to diffuse the interruption of an unassimilable history. With the advent of broadcast networks and their compulsive topoi, corpses henceforth could be massively produced within thematizable segments, aligning dead bodies that TV learned to show without having to mourn, yes, TV was henceforth able to produce corpses that did not need to be mourned. Yes, the bodies kept coming on endless repeat, rerunning through a history that could not be mastered but needed constantly to switch to allegorical channels. I saw in this phenomenon an ethical hiatus: media technology took over the role of counting the unmournable losses. In a sense, the telephone was traded in historically for the TV as the media-technological plug and one transferential system for another (one’s ears during the war had been trained on the alternating broadcasts of Wagner and the Führer)—this switchover to TV carries with it an entire politics, as well as an entire rhetoric of drugs (the ear was addicted, now the eyes transfixed by a neutral gleam). The question of ethical limits arises not only within a spectrum of technological choices, but opens the dossier on the deconstitution of the subject. With television I raised a question, linked closely to traumatic erasure: are we responsible for what we watch or almost watch? What does it mean “to watch” in the age of technology, ranging from binoculars to bifocals to visors, to the microscopic gaze to state surveillance or even to watching one’s weight or watching your friend’s back—I tuned my thoughts Jenseits, Beyond the PP, with its implicit 12-step program and the additional channel installed by psychoanalysis, the one he mutes with a silencer and calls the death drive. I tried to find the signal, to track the death drive that motors the media technological incursion.
Stories, for me, often are circuited through a medial grid and help to keep things fresh, if not altogether insolent. The turn to media technology has its own storyline, pertaining mostly to a German-based scuffle with academic norms. – Led by Friedrich Kittler in Germany, imported and distorted by me in the US, the engagement with media-tech represented an off ramp that many of us took to get a breather from the monumental monotony of the main highway of university transmission systems, and for some of us this detour was an existential necessity as well as a matter of intellectual probity. Who could tolerate another uninterrogated recap of Goethe’s dependency on Charlotte von Stein or the real story behind Werther’s Leiden or Emilia’s wrong turn and how she landed on Werther’s suicide desktop—the positivist details for which normal, straight and boring Wissenschaft was responsible, though it never went there, preferring instead to clean up Goethe’s act and Lessing’s deviancy with manicured, objectivist prose. We couldn’t take it any more, some of us, so we split. Still, there were custody battles. We were, some of us, not about to renounce Werther or any of the children soaked with tears, blood-drenched, gender-fragile: our children of German literature. They had to come along for the ride if they were to be sprung from the aura-sapping, deadly zones of regulated scholarship. So we thought, some of us.
The supplement of fiction, in tandem with media technological invesntiveness, allowed us to scramble the master codes, attack the sovereignty of the book and desecrate, where necessary, pernicious grammars of authority. It was our way of hacking in full view of disbelieving witnesses into the institution and reconfiguring the future of the archive. This was the way we conducted guerilla raids, some of us, on the cognitive regimens that oppressed us—dumbing us down, we feared, by the day, by the lecture, by the conference minutes. And so we entered a danger zone, eroding files, interrupting complacencies, immunizing the world from oppressive traditions involving knowledge storage and diffusion and somehow even shaking up the prerogatives of sexual difference, though, undeniably, studies in the neighborhood of technology still, in some cases, brandish masculinist idols, by which I mean to indicate the survival of figures and habits of gender assignments, including with the Turing Test, even as the advent of genderless or rather gender-free, like caffeine-free, configurations had begun to assert themselves. In one of my reflections I have wondered why there are so many cowboys in cyburbia—but that’s another story, requiring another access code. I admit that I enjoyed riding the inexorable wave of the technological incursion. The technomania of recent decades links science and fiction. In some respects, perhaps drawing to a close, the complicity of the scientific disposition and story-teller’s thrill of invention now calls upon us to offer a sober reflection of where we have been, what we’ve missed or miscalculated, our history of hyperbolic hopes and overextended tropes—but also of tremendous creativity, insight and political insistence.
Cette ressource est publiée dans le cadre de la quatrième saison du festival "Mode d'Emploi", organisé par la Villa Gillet.
Pour citer cette ressource :
Avital Ronell, "End of Story", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), janvier 2015. Consulté le 04/10/2023. URL: http://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/end-of-story