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1 Diane Davis Introduction warning: The Telephone Book is going to resist you. Dealing with a logic and a topos of the switchboard, it engages the destabilization of the addressee. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn how to read with your ears. In addition to listening for the telephone, you are being asked to tune your ears to noise frequencies, to anticoding, to the inflated reserves of random indeterminateness—in a word, you are expected to stay open to the static and interference that will occupy these lines. —Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book Madame Bovary travels the razor’s edge of understanding/ reading protocols. In this context understanding is given as something that happens when you are no longer reading. It is not the open-ended Nietzschean echo, “Have I been under­ stood ?” but rather the “I understand” that means you have ceased suspending judgment over the chasm of the real. Out of this collapse of judgment no genuine decision can be allowed to emerge. —Avital Ronell, Crack Wars Reading Ronell. The simple title names an arduous task—a “mission,” we could say—that is already underway, in medias res, skipping the preliminaries . But what would it take to begin? How might one approach an oeuvre explicitly designed to “resist you,” to get “you” to question what it means to read anything at all? To open a work by Avital Ronell is, in a sense, to eavesdrop on a fundamentally dissymmetrical Conversation1 in which “your” addresser is first of all an addressee occupying a space of troubled reception: “Writing,” she writes, always takes place “at the behest of another , and is, at best, a shorthand transcription of the demand of this Other whose original distance is never altogether surmounted.”2 The call from the Other to which Ronell’s writing responds traverses an irremediable distance, coming through neither clearly nor cleanly. Whether AR figures herself as an operator taking calls or a secretary taking dictation, the lines i-viii_1-256_Davi.indd 1 4/10/09 3:14:13 PM 2 diane davis of that communication are rattled by static and disruption and noise—onto which her ears remain sharply trained. Her transcriptions—what “you” are given to read—trace with exceptional precision the complex, and each time singular, trajectories of understanding’s withdrawal. What AR addresses to “you,” that is, are not simply identifying and identifiable appropriations but a sense of the inappropriability of meaning: what her writing gives you to read is already a reading, which by definition resists subsumption into a smooth interpretive scheme. So if “your mission” is to read Ronell, you will need first to perk up your ears, to adjust and hone what Derrida describes as “the most tendered and most open organ, the one that, as Freud reminds us, the infant cannot close.”3 The tropological substitution, an ear for an eye, signals a shift from the relative security of that which can shut or turn away to the extreme vulnerability of that which cannot. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra warns, for example, that the ear, a wide-open portal, can be invaded and taken over by the voice of the state through its educational systems, which take “you” by the ear, compelling it to grow disproportionately. “Having become all ears” for the state, ideological ears, Derrida writes in his reading of Zarathustra, “you transform yourself into a high-fidelity receiver, and the ear—your ear which is also the ear of the other—begins to occupy in your body the disproportionate place of the ‘inverted cripple.’”4 “Inverse cripples,” Zarathustra explains, are human beings “who lack everything, except the thing of which they have too much—human beings who are nothing but a big eye or a big mouth or a big belly or anything at all that is big.” In this case, at issue is “your” big ear—“An ear! An ear as big as a man!”5 —which has morphed into a hi-fi receiver synced to an ideological machine, for which “you” become a loudspeaker. But this is not the ear you will need to read Ronell; this is not a reading ear. “Your mission” will require an altogether different mode of reception and another ear, a trained and discriminating ear that has been finely tuned to what no ideological discourse—be it The State’s or The Revolution’s— can abide: “noise frequencies,” “anticoding,” “the inflated reserves of random indeterminateness.” To “read with your ears”: to...


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MARC Record
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