Archive, Lectures

Avital Ronell


“The Disappearance of Authority”


In her book Loser Sons: Politics and Authority, Ronell writes: Something that still holds us hostage, authority has for all intents and purposes disappeared: it has even eaten away at [Hannah Arendt’s] title, “What is Authority?” “In order to avoid misunderstanding,” she begins her famous essay, “it might have been wiser to ask in the title: What was–and not what is–authority? For it is my contention that we are tempted and entitled to raise this question because authority has vanished from the modern world.” For me, the disappearance of authority functions as a figure for democracy in crisis–a way of describing the panic that prevails within the powerful motifs of sociality, alterity, relation. Authority’s disappearance in itself calls for a speculative forensics, particularly since the presumed eclipse of authority is not complete but haunts and hounds human relations, holding things together by nothing more substantial than vague historical memory starts.

Avital Ronell is University Professor of the Humanities and a professor of German, English, and comparative literature at New York University, where she co-directs the Trauma and Violence Transdisciplinary Studies program. She is also Jacques Derrida Professor of Media and Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. She is the author of Dictations: On Haunted WritingThe Telephone BookCrack WarsFinitude’s ScoreStupidityThe Test Drive; and Fighting Theory.

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