Thursday, April 17, 2003

I wanna be a "deconstruction slut" like Avital Ronell

I was searching through ctheory and came across an interesting article - When Bad Girls Do French Theory by Joan Hawkins - about an argument that erupted in class while discussing an article by Avital Ronell. A male student had dismissed Ronell as a "deconstruction slut" and other male and female classmates argued that it was a sexist and anti-intellectual comment to make, when controversial male authors had not been so dismissed. The professor, and author of the paper, asks "Who exactly gets to do theory in a patriarchal society? What kind of women can perform theory in a libidinally charged academic space? And what kind of theory can they perform?" (I think these are important questions, and ones whose answers impact me as a woman and as an academic - but more on that some other time.)

The part that interested me the most was the discussion on deconstruction:

"In terms of theoretical performance and performativity, there's always been something sexually transgressive and feminine -- sluttish, if you will -- about deconstruction. Emphasizing the technologies of meaning -- meaning as a process rather than as a fixed, immutable entity -- deconstruction configures its analysis around the playful slippages between words, allusions, multiplicities and proliferations (or promiscuities) of nuance. It legitimates "loose connections." In that sense, it's linked to what Baudrillard terms "seduction," and what Ronell -- following Baudrillard -- calls "deviant forms of knowledge" (...'the Other to so-called 'science') that have been historically associated with women; it perpetrates "uncanny technologies...which break up classical taxonomies of knowledge and suspend what we think we know."

This is exactly what I love about deconstructionist philosophies - and partly why I do not object to the characterisation of Ronell and would also gleefully apply it to Derrida, for example, in a small attempt at gender-fucking. A related post-structuralist (i.e. rhizomatic) approach is taken by Patricia Lather when she articulates what might constitute a voluptuous validity.

I really enjoy the politics and ethics of these types of ontologies and epistemologies, and I consider Avital Ronell to be a truly remarkable scholar. My favourite of her books has been Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech - which IMHO should be required reading for anyone who has a serious interest in technology and people. But I haven't read her last book - Stupidity - and it does sound promising as "the foremost thinker of the repressed conditions of knowledge, with the Nietzschean audacity characteristic of her thought, probes the philosophical no-man's land of stupidity."

[UPDATE 17/04/03: Jason informs me that comments like that are precisely why people can't stand deconstructionists. I'm the first to admit that I've always assumed that it would kind of suck to hang out with people like Avital Ronell, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray or Hélène Cixous - in part because they are so brilliant and serious. But I'm also convinced that such women are especially threatening to the more oppressive canons of Western history and culture - and that earns one few friends (even if it makes one a hero in the Books of Anne).]

But here is how Salon describes her and the book: "Avital Ronell, the post-structuralist theorist perhaps best known for the naked photos of herself in the Re:Search "Angry Women" collection, had a book out last year called, simply, "Stupidity." (It wasn't clear whether she was for or against it.)"

Clearly, there is something about Ronell's writing that unsettles and disarranges some people. And I suspect it's not outrageous to suggest it has something to do with advocating types of voluptuous knowledge, in and for a world of bodies that refuse to be contained. (The reviewer doesn't appear to have known what to make of her lack of *exact position*.) Sure, she was a hero of mine when I read about her in one of my (oft-cited) teenage holy books, Angry Women, but it has only been in the past five years or so that I have come to understand the political and ethical implications of her thinking. Now she supports me academically, as well as intellectually.

Interesting interviews with Ronell include Confessions of an Anacoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics and can i... (a 3-minute video edited by aras ozgun from an interview with avital ronell by arno bohler and susanne granzer).

(And as a parting thought, I remember the saying that "a whore sleeps with everyone, whereas a slut sleeps with everyone but you." ;)

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