Jacques Derrida Chair and Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.
Avital Ronell (b. 1952) is the Jacques Derrida Chair and professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS, as well as University Professor of the Humanities and Professor of German, Comparative Literature, and English at New York University.
Her research and theoretical contributions extend across the fields of literary studies, philosophy, feminist theory, technology and media, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, ethics, and performance art.
Born in Prague to Israeli diplomats, Ronell emigrated to New York in 1956. She completed a Bachelor of Arts at Middlebury College, and then went on to study with Jacob Taubes and Hans-Georg Gadamer at the Hermeneutics Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin. Ronell returned to the United States and continued her studies at Princeton University, where, under the supervision of Stanley Corngold and with a thesis entitled The Figure of Poetry: Self-reflection in Goethe, Hölderlin, and Kafka, she received a PhD in Germanic languages and literature, in 1979. After completing her doctorate, Avital Ronell moved to Paris in order to study directly with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous. After her years of study in Paris, she assumed a number of professorships at various universities in the United States, including the University of Virginia, the University of California, Riverside, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1995, she returned to New York to assume her post at New York University. Avital Ronell has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and fellowships, including: Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Fellowship (1981–1983), American Cultures Fellowship (1991), Research Fellow Award (1993), and the University of California’s President’s Fellowship (1995–1996). Further, she has served as chair of the Division of Philosophy and Literature and chair of the Division of Comparative Literature at the Modern Language Association, from 1993 to 1996.
In 2009, the Centre Pompidou invited her to hold a series of conference performances with artists and philosophers such as Pierre Alferi, Werner Herzog, Judith Butler, Laurence Rickels, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Suzanne Doppelt, among others. The project went under the title: Selon… Avital Ronell (According to… Avital Ronell).
In October 2015, Ronell was presented with the prestigious insignia of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture.
As one of the first English translators of Jacques Derrida’s work, Avital Ronell is widely credited as one of the primary figures introducing his work to English speaking audiences—and American academia more specifically. While Derrida is certainly the over-whelming influence on Ronell’s work, she is in constant dialogue with a number of philosophers and theorists, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, or Maurice Blanchot, to name but a few. While her work is often considered as deconstructive, Derridean, Heideggerian, post-feminist, post-structuralist, or psychoanalytic, Ronell’s thinking and writing works beyond these labels remaining utterly singular and thoroughly transgressive.
Ronell’s texts are remarkable both for what they say and for the extraordinary way in which they say it. As in her most infamous book, the Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (1989), Avital Ronell seeks to undermine and “address,” through direct intervention, commonly held views of the addressee and the author. Exploiting typography, Ronell’s texts seem to explode from the page. Illegible in instances, the texts mimic the dislocating and alienating nature of the fractured telephone conversation questioning the role of both author and reader.
Among Avital Ronell’s significant works are: Dictations: On Haunted Writing (1986), Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania (1992), Stupidity (2001), The Test Drive(2005), The ÜberReader: Selected Works of Avital Ronell (ed. Diane Davis, 2007), Fighting Theory (with Anne Dufourmantelle, trans. Catherine Porter, 2010), Schriften zur Literatur: Essays von Goethe bis Kafka (trans. Marc Blankenburg, 2012), and Loser Sons: Politics and Authority (2012).
In her first book, Dictations, Ronell tells us that she “has never entertained any illusions concerning the objective nature of scholarship, no matter how tedious or dusty it can appear to be.” Each of her works goes after a seemingly recognizable and knowable signifier (Goethe, the telephone, the drug addict, the television, the test, the greeting, stupidity, etc.) but then tracks it so closely that it quickly becomes unrecognizable, exceeding its object-status, overflowing itself as a concept. Explicitly breaking with scholarly tradition, a tradition that values mastery and certitude, Ronell engages her “object” of study at the level of its finitude, of its radical singularity.
In Stupidity, for example, Ronell begins with the concept of stupidity, tracking it through poets and novelists and philosophers and literary/critical theorists, and pre-schoolers—but the closer she gets to it, each time, the more it exceeds itself as a concept. The closer she brings us to it, the more unknowable it appears. It is thus that Ronell, as she puts it in Loser Sons (19), “abide[s] with the weaker neighborhoods of thought, where things do not always work out or offer the narcissistic comfort of landing in the vicinity of secured sense.”
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that there is no imperative to understand in Ronell’s work; clearly, her work is driven by that imperative. It’s just that what goes by the name “understanding” gets a radical update in her work inasmuch as she determines not to wipe out (objectify) the “object” of this “understanding” in the very rush to pin it down and define it. The link that academe posits and propagates between rigor and certitude (the former leading to the latter) gets busted in Ronell’s works, which are always incredibly rigorous and theoretically sophisticated interruptions of certitude. As she notes in an interview in JAC , she approaches her “object” of inquiry not as a police officer going after a suspect but in detective mode, turning in her badge and assuming a different rapport with the truth, one that involves breaking with standard (academic) procedure in order to remain attuned to finite singularity, in order to refrain from infinitizing finitude (as she put it in Finitude’s Score: Essays for the End of the Millennium, 1994).
Another striking aspect of Ronell’s work is its attentiveness to the materiality of language—that is, to the sound, shape, size, beat or rhythm, etc. of the words themselves. Words inevitably go AWOL, bagging their referential duty and going off on their own, connecting not to the idea they are supposed to represent but to other words—and making all kinds of “noise” while they’re at it. Ronell affirms this noise, amplifies it, and asks us in The Telephone Book to learn hear it by learning to read with our ears. If a foundational approach to language acknowledges that the word negates the actual “thing” in order to bring an operational concept into being (which implies a triumph for the subject over the “world,” for “meaning” over “chaos”), Ronell’s nonfoundational approach embraces a language that goes on to obliterate the concept, too, by ignoring and/or exceeding it, sparking a proliferation of meaning in discourse. From this perspective, it is language that triumphs over the concept, including the concept of “the subject,” infinitely and indiscriminately breeding meanings that detach from the writer’s intentions and that remain inappropriable to any single interpretation. Ronell embraces the materiality of language very explicitly, cranking up the noisy texture of the words themselves through wildly unconventional page design and an in-your-face typographical performance. Inasmuch as it showcases language’s double negation, this textual performance amounts to a destructive affirmation—or an affirmation of destruction—no doubt about it. Still, Ronell’s work steers clear of “undeveloped pronouncements of nihilism,” and in Stupidity she reminds her readers of the “Heideggerian distinction between destruction and devastation.” “Destruction,” she says, “involves the force of a critical clearing and does not imply the shell-shock stoppage of devastation”(p. 122). In the opening pages of Finitude’s Score, she more thoroughly sketches out this distinction: whereas devastation “has to do with a fundamental shutdown,” a “pathological” drive toward “a telic finality or fulfillment or the accomplishment, once and for all, of a Goal,” destruction, Ronell says, is “a decisive doing away with that which, already destroyed, is destructive in its continuance. To the extent that it is possible only on the basis of a new and more radical affirmation, destruction, moreover, has pledged itself to the future” (Finitude’s Score xiii).
Ronell’s work is relentlessly destructive, relentlessly turned toward futurity, and it throws its disorienting smack in the name of what she calls “responsible responsiveness.” Whatever the topic at hand, Ronell’s overarching concern is with an “ethics of decision” for this postfoundational era—an era in which all the transcendental navigation systems are down: “To the extent that one may no longer be simply guided—by Truth, by light or logos—decisions have to be made.” It’s only in certitude’s interruption that meaning’s inappropriability is exposed; and it’s only in that exposure that an ethics of decision becomes available: as Ronell reminds us, “no decision is strictly possible without the experience of the undecidable” (Crack Wars 58).
 “Confessions of an Anacoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics.” With D. Diane Davis. JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory. 20.2 (2000): 243-281.
Ronell, Avital. Foreword to Chronicle of Separation: On Deconstruction’s Disillusioned Love, by Michal Ben-Naftal. Fordham University Press, 2015. ISBN: 0823265803
A rouge preface
Ronell, Avital. “A rouge preface,” Preface to The Making of a Terrorist : On Classic German Rogues, by Jeffrey Champlin. Northwestern University Press, 2015. ISBN: 0810130106
Ronell, Avital, Introduction to SCUM Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas. Verso, 2004. ISBN: 1859845533
Our Narcotic Modernity
Ronell, Avital. “Our Narcotic Modernity.” In Rethinking Technologies, edited by Verena Andermatt Conley and Peter Andermatt. University of Minnesota Press, 1993. ISBN: 0816622140
Support Our Tropes I: Reading Desert Storm
Ronell, Avital. “Support Our Tropes I: Reading Desert Storm.” In Rhetorical Republic: Governing Representations in American Politics, edited by Frederick M. Dolan and Thomas L. Dumm, 13-37. University of Massachusetts Press, 1993. ISBN: 0870238469
Ronell, Avital. “Namely, Eckerman.” In Looking After Nietzsche (Suny Studies in Intersection : Philosophy and Critical Theory), edited by Laurence A. Rickels. State University of New York Press, 1990. ISBN: 0791401561
The Sujet Suppositaire: Freud and the Rat Man
Ronell, Avital. “The Sujet Suppositaire: Freud and the Rat Man.” In On Puns: The Foundation of Letters, edited by Jonathan Culler, 115-139. Blackwell, 1988. ASIN: 0631158944
Doing Kafka in the Castle: A Poetics of Desire
Ronell, Avital. “Doing Kafka in the Castle: A Poetics of Desire.” In Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance: Centenary Readings, edited by Alan Udoff, 214-235. Indiana University Press, 1987. ASIN: 0253317096
Ronell, Avital. “Goethezeit.” In Taking Chances : Derrida, Psychoanalysis, and Literature (Psychiatry and the Humanities, Vol 7), edited by Joseph H. Smith and William Kerrigan, 146-182. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988. ISBN: 0801837499
The Response of Ulysses
Ronell, Avital, trans. “The Response of Ulysses,” by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. In Who Comes After the Subject? edited by Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy, 198-205. Routledge, 1991. ISBN: 041590360
The Ear of the Other: Autobiography, Transference
Ronell, Avital, and Peggy Kamuf, trans. The Ear of the Other: Autobiography, Transference, by Jacques Derrida. Edited by Christie McDonald. University of Nebraska Press, 1988. ISBN: 0803265751
Devant la loi
Ronell, Avital, trans. “Devant la loi,” by Jacques Derrida. In Kafka and the Contemporary Critical Performance: Centenary Readings, edited by Alan Udoff. 128-149. Indiana University Press, 1987. ASIN: 0253317096
Ronell, Avital, trans. “A Peine,” by Jacques Derrida in Mèmoires: For Paul De Man, edited by Jacques Derrida. The Wellek Library Lectures at the University of California, Irvine. Columbia University Press, 1986 ISBN: 023106232X
All Ears: Nietzsche’s Ontobiography
Ronell, Avital, trans. “All Ears: Nietzsche’s Ontobiography,” by Jacques Derrida. Yale French Studies 63 (1982): 245-250.
The Law of Genre
Ronell, Avital, trans. “The Law of Genre,” by Jacques Derrida. Glyph: Textual Studies7 (1980): 202-229.
Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker
Ronell, Avital, Carla Harryman, and Amy Scholder, edited by Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker. Verso, 2006. ISBN: 184467066X
Stormy Weather: Blues in Winter
Ronell, Avital. “Stormy Weather: Blues in Winter.” The New York Times, February 2, 2013.
Have I Been Destroyed? Answering to Authority and the Politics of the Father
Ronell, Avital. “Have I Been Destroyed? Answering to Authority and the Politics of the Father.” Differences Vol. 21, No. 1 (2010): 48.
L’ind̐ưelicatesse d’un interminable fondu au noir
Ronell, Avital. “L’ind̐ưelicatesse d’un interminable fondu au noir.” Europe : revue litt̐ưeraire mensuelle Vol. 88, No. 973 (2010).
Chroniques – Sans Commentaire
Ronell, Avital, and Marcel Detienne. “Chroniques – Sans Commentaire.” Commentaire Vol. 32, No. 127 (2009): 765.
Nietzsche Loves You: A Media-Technological Start-up
Ronell, Avital. “Nietzsche Loves You: A Media-Technological Start-up.” Discourse Vol. 31, No. 1-2 (2009): 161-179.
Untread and Untried: Nietzsche Reads Derridemocracy
Ronell, Avital. “Untread and Untried: Nietzsche Reads Derridemocracy.” DiacriticsVol. 38, No. 1 (2009): 158-171.
Ravages de l’impossible
Ronell, Avital. “Ravages de l’impossible.” Europe : revue littéraire mensuelle Vol. 86, No. 949 (2008): 274.
Surrender and the Ethically Binding Signature: On Johnson’s Reparative Process
Ronell, Avital. “Surrender and the Ethically Binding Signature: On Johnson’s Reparative Process.” Differences Vol. 17, No. 3 (2006): 129.
Special Topic: On Poetry – On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Holderlin’s “Andenken
Ronell, Avital. “Special Topic: On Poetry – On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Holderlin’s “Andenken.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America Vol. 120, No. 1 (2005): 16.
Koan Practice or Taking Down the Test
Ronell, Avital. “Koan Practice or Taking Down the Test.” Parallax Vol. 10, No. 1 (2004): 58-71.
The Testamentary Whimper
Ronell, Avital. “The Testamentary Whimper.” The South Atlantic Quarterly Vol. 103, No. 2/3, Spring/Summer (2004): 489-499.
Proving Grounds: On Nietzsche and the Test Drive
Ronell, Avital. “Proving Grounds: On Nietzsche and the Test Drive.” MLN Vol. 118, No. 3, April (2003): 653-669.
The Experimental Disposition: Nietzsche’s Discovery of America (Or, Why the Present Administration Sees Everything in Terms of a Test
Ronell, Avital. “The Experimental Disposition: Nietzsche’s Discovery of America (Or, Why the Present Administration Sees Everything in Terms of a Test).” American Literary History Vol. 15, No. 3, Autumn (2003): 560-574.
The Uninterrogated Question of Stupidity
Ronell, Avital. “The Uninterrogated Question of Stupidity.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer (1996): 1-19.
Video/Television/Rodney King: Twelve Steps beyond the Pleasure Principle
Ronell, Avital. “Video/Television/Rodney King: Twelve Steps beyond the Pleasure Principle.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies Vol. 4, No. 2 (1992): 1-15.
Support Our Tropes II (Or Why in Cyburbia There Are a Lot of Cowboys)
Ronell, Avital. “Support Our Tropes II (Or Why in Cyburbia There Are a Lot of Cowboys).” Yale Journal of Criticism 5, Spring (1992).
Opera and Technology: Scoring on the Telephone
Ronell, Avital. “Opera and Technology: Scoring on the Telephone.” 1-800 2, Spring/Summer (1991): 40-45, 55, 63-65.
The Walking Switchboard
Ronell, Avital. “The Walking Switchboard.” Substance 61 (1990): 75-94.
The Worst Neighborhoods of the Real: Philosophy-Telephone-Contamination
Ronell, Avital. “The Worst Neighborhoods of the Real: Philosophy-Telephone-Contamination.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 1 (1989): 125-145.
Starting from Scratch: Mastermix
Ronell, Avital. “Starting from Scratch: Mastermix.” Socialist Review Vol. 18, No. 2 (1988): 73-85.
The Differends of Man
Ronell, Avital. “The Differends of Man.” Diacritics 19, Fall-Winter (1988): 63-75.
Hitting the Streets: Ecce Fama
Ronell, Avital. “Hitting the Streets: Ecce Fama.” Stanford Italian Review 6 (1988): 119-140.
Ronell, Avital. “Street Talk.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 11, Fall (1986): 105-131.
Taking it Philosophically: Torquato Tasso’s Women as Theorists
Ronell, Avital. “Taking it Philosophically: Torquato Tasso’s Women as Theorists.” MLN 100, April (1985): 599-631.
Sutura Goethei: L’Articulations Freud-Goethe
Ronell, Avital. “Sutura Goethei: L’Articulations Freud-Goethe.” Cahiers Confrontation12, Autumn (1984): 131-140.
Queens of the Night: Nietzsche’s Antibodies
Ronell, Avital. “Queens of the Night: Nietzsche’s Antibodies.” Genre 16, Winter (1983): 405-422.
Entretien (ruealisue par ̐Eric Aeschimann),
Ronell, Avital. “Entretien (ruealisue par Eric Aeschimann).” La Nouvelle revue française 593 (2010): 189.
Interview with Avital Ronell
“Interview with Avital Ronell” in Examined Life. Directed by Astra Taylor. Zeitgeist Films, 2010. ASIN: B002VBQEEW
Flaubert en Amérique: Entretien avec Avital Ronel
Ronell, Avital, and Wald Lasowski. “Flaubert en Amérique: Entretien avec Avital Ronell.” Europe Vol. 89, No. 983 (2003): 209-222.
Confessions of an Anocoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics
Ronell, Avital, and Diane Davis. “Confessions of an Anocoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory Vol. 20 No. 2 (2000): 243-281.
Avital Ronell: On Hallucinogenres
Ronell, Avital, and Gary Wolf. “Avital Ronell: On Hallucinogenres.” Mondo 4 (2000).
Ronell, Avital, and Alexander Laurence. “Avital Ronell.” AltX, 1994.
Ronell, Avital, and Andrea Juno. “Avital Ronell.” Re/Search: Angry Women 13 (1991): 127-153.