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49 Susan Bernstein Conference Call: Ronell, Heidegger, Oppen I do not understand The Telephone Book. But how could one understand it? It begins: Warning: The Telephone Book is going to resist you. Dealing with a logic and 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. We have attempted to install a switchboard which, vibrating a continuous current of electricity, also replicates the effects of scrambling.1 The Telephone Book cannot call for understanding the way a clearly delineated object might ask for it. But this much I can glean: Heidegger answered a (telephone) call that involved him in Nazism. As we know, he never clarified or theorized how this involvement might be related to his thinking and thus closed off the passageway from history to philosophy. In the same way, he denies the apparatus of the telephone—that is, the imbrication of the technological device of the telephone in the ontological investigation of “receiving the call of conscience” in Being and Time, for example (The Telephone Book, 5–6). Without going into an in-depth i-viii_1-256_Davi.indd 49 4/10/09 3:14:23 PM 50 susan bernstein analysis of these particular issues and questions, I want to focus on the telephone. “Why the telephone?” The Telephone Book asks. “In some ways it was the cleanest way to reach the regime of any number of metaphysical certitudes. It destabilizes the identity of self and other, subject and thing, it abolishes the originariness of site; in undermines the authority of the Book and constantly menaces the existence of literature. It is itself unsure of its identity as object, thing, piece of equipment, perlocutionary intensity or artwork . . .” (9). The telephone connects yet separates its two ends, just as it connects the ontic and the ontological in the question of the “call” in Ronell’s treatment of Heidegger. The Telephone Book is a network, held together not by its binding but by its switchboard: that is to say, ALSO by its binding, its binding that is the telephone. The Telephone Book is and is not about the telephone. “To trace these calls, the condition of a long distance that speaks, and the many toxic invasions waged by telephone, it seemed necessary to start with the absolute priority of the Other to the self, and to acknowledge the constitutive impurity that obliges a self to respond to its calling . . .” (10). The apparatus ensures impurity; the ontic priority of the telephone call taints the ontological call of conscience, or the transcendent call to make philosophy. These are conjectures, messages I thought I heard while attempting to read The Telephone Book. Most important, as I pick up the receiver I acknowledge the priority of the other and am indebted—to Ronell, the telephone , and the Telephone Book. What is reading Ronell? The Telephone Book is barely “legible” but sets up an infinitely complex interworking of texts, problems, questions, readings, and so forth. I heard a telephone ringing and the call of conscience, the strange connection and dehiscence between these two things, solidified in the classically black apparatus that used to be the telephone. I heard a double sense of telephone, a synecdoche, Ronell writes, always more and less than itself. I strained to trace immense and vast readings of Heidegger’s text that came to serve as a condition of possibility for further readings. Among the most obvious, I came across Heidegger in the neighborhood of someone on the telephone—this time a poet. To reconfigure the relation between the telephone and the call, the ontic and the ontological, perhaps to do so it is necessary to look beyond the bounds of Heidegger himself to a poetic interlocutor. Dichten and Denken, we know, form a pair that are “the same,” yet dwell in their difference. Ronell has written about this beautifully in her article, “On the Misery of Theory without Poetry: Heidegger’s Reading of Hölderlin’s ‘Andenken’”: “When he attempted to give a face to the cobelonging of poetry and thought,” she writes, “Heidegger said that poetry stretched upward, toward evanescent i-viii_1-256_Davi.indd 50...


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