Uncritical Practice


Avital Ronell giving a seminar on “Authority”, or better yet, against authority, at the night session of the European Graduate School. Photograph by Lotu5

From The Nation:

A broader window into the corner of academia that is “theory” is provided by the defenders of Ronell. In May, some 50 prominent academics signed a pro-Ronell letter that was sent privately to NYU’s president and its provost. Co-written by the renowned philosopher Judith Butler, the letter asserted that some of its signers found Reitman “malicious” and stressed Ronell’s achievements and fame. It even invoked Jacques Derrida, the founder of deconstruction, who once tried to stop the sexual-harassment investigation of a colleague. That these smarties thought they could e-mail hundreds of academics about signing the letter without having it leaked tells you the kind of bubble they live in. (Butler has since expressed regret for portions of the letter.) As others have pointed out, Ronell’s defenders sound a bit like the friends of Harvey Weinstein: He’s made so many great movies. That’s just Harvey being Harvey. Those actresses were no angels. As the novelist Chris Kraus put it recently: “Those outside this world don’t seem to realize that Reitman—or any PhD student at NYU—is hardly an innocent.” Really? Any PhD student?

I understand that the general project of deconstruction is the analysis and dismantling of conscious and unconscious structures of power. How odd, then, that these professors could see domination operating everywhere except the one place they could actually do something about it: in their own relations with students.

“Power in the Ivory Tower”, Katha Pollitt, The Nation