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Chapter 1 What Was Authority? Aggressive coexistence. Neither powered up by a solid senseof(orevendesirefor)legitimacy,noracontrolfreakwithregardtothe possibilities of comprehension, I abide with the weaker neighborhoods of thought,wherethingsdonotalwaysworkoutorofferthenarcissisticcomfort oflandinginthevicinityofsecuredsense.Thistime,inordertogetarunning start on the motif of the loser son, a pervasive world-denting irritant, I am going after authority, a problem that has attracted relatively weak bolsters and,forthemostpart,onlytentativeinterventions.Yet,theproblembefore ushaspreoccupiedatleasttwostronglypoisedgenerationswhosemembership has tried very hard, and in vital ways, to stare down authority, question authority,mime,repel,usurp,diminish,lend,orcommandauthority.Iwant thesetypesandtendenciestoapproachthebench.Theyrequireanddeserve a hearing, whether or not they have proven to be rebellious or in egregious complicity with the outer limits of the authoritarian imposition. To get a provisional grip on what continues to elude while claiming thought—whyisthereinjustice?whatholdsauthority?wheredoesithurt?—I liketotraveldifferentkindsofreflectivezonesthatsharewithphilosophya sense of vigorous probing but often, despite all good intentions, come with outdated passes or with papers that appear to be even more de-authorized by current practices than philosophy itself. A running start. At first glance, every attempt to get ahold of authority ’s meaning and historical rootedness in institutional practice seems encumbered by the poverty of means to arrive at its essential qualities or range.Theoristsofamoderncast,includingAlexandreKojèveandTheodor Ronell_Text.indd 19 2/3/12 10:12 AM 20 What Was Authority? Adorno,takerecoursetoscalesandchartsandothercomputationalhazards in order to get the point across that one remains susceptible to and in need of authority; from Hannah Arendt to Giorgio Agamben, the Roman scaffolding is brought back into view in order to expose what authority almost was, or is still about to be. Descriptions flood the arena and, for the most part,accruetothecolumntallyingupreasonsforthenecessityofauthority, ratingthecalamitousconsequenceofitsdecelerationoroutrightextinction. The grandeur of authority, its nearly auratic claims, appears to have held things together, having pushed away from more violent shores of human governance.Thecollapseofauthority,thesuccessivedemotionsofthe“big Other,” God and State and other mostly masculinist idols, put a fracture in being. In consequence, we are still crawlingaroundwiththelesionscaused by the affronts of a faux authority trailing its miserable representatives. Kojève derives ontic samples of authority from the workable fiction of divine authority. Adorno goes so far as to study the bulk of hives-inducing authoritarian qualities lodged at the very core of American democracy. He demonstrates the dangers posed by high scorers of the F-scale, referring in his study to the fascisoid markers consistently lighting up among more or less normal citizens interviewed, Claude Lanzman–style, by his team of researchers. The gap between the character of authority on the one hand, and the “authoritarian character” on the other, is not so wide as it may seem, yet each player in these constellations has a different investment in themodalitiesofauthority,itsinevitablebreachesorintractablenecessity. Strangely,yetpertinently,thequestionofauthority—supposingitisstill or has ever really been a question—takes us back to earliest childhood, to states of hapless dependency and prepolitical need. No one likes to admit it, yet domination by God-the-Father or dad the father, although in close complicity with maternal runs of interference or, in highly determined chronicledspurts,motherlysupersession,continuestopumpthemachineof stillunrelentingeffectsofauthority.Whetherornotoneautobiographically hadadaddy-mommyincubatororthesignifierhangingoverone’shead,one had a relation from day one to authority. One counted, before being able to count,ontheauthorityofthosewrappingone’stushandfillingone’smouth. According to Melanie Klein’s assessment of the way things were from the get-go, one feared the authority even of the breast; coming at one, it gave a realsenseofapersecutorytankage(fromthestart,onehadtoworkatloving one’s mother, at promoting the “good breast”). Myopeningsetofquestions,simpleatthispoint,harnessesNietzschean energy:Whatbecameofauthority’sholdoverearlychildhood(orchildhood’s way of holding onto authority), whether well rated or poorly dispatched, Ronell_Text.indd 20 2/3/12 10:12 AM 21 What Was Authority? whether structuring or debilitating and both? How do we score authority in what looks to be a postpolitical world, where we are faced with the essential finitude of the political? Do we need it, or can authority be disposed of by the purposeful anarchy of questioning? Is it the case that the exercise of authoritycanstaveofftyranny,ordoesitspeculiarstamina,onthecontrary, prepthetyrannicalstranglehold?Butauthoritydoesnotbelongtotheclass ofactionorsyntaxofbeingthatcanbe“exercised,”thatis,inanysignificant way flexed, handled. It belongs to an entirely different scale of showing and being. In effect, it comes along silently, with minimal fuss and even less melodrama. It asserts itself with few words and low phenomenological maintenance. Still, how does it show up on our scanners and what kind of bitemarksdoesitcontinuetoleaveonourpoliticalbodies?Inwhatwaydoes authority,whichnotoriouslywithdrawsfromthoughtandshunsostentation, allow an approach? In order to wrestle with archaic sovereignties and specify those more original formations that have led to the stagnation of something like a politically progressivist momentum, it is helpful at times to visit with what passes for...


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