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94 Elissa Marder Avital Ronell’s Body Politics There is no natural, originary body: technology has not simply added itself, from the outside, or after the fact, as a foreign body. Or at least this foreign and dangerous supplement is “originarily” at work and in the place of the supposed ideal interiority of the “body and soul.” It is indeed at the heart of the heart. —Jacques Derrida, “The Rhetoric of Drugs” In Your Ear “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn how to read with your ears.” In a certain sense, one might begin by saying “she told us so,” but perhaps we did not hear her well enough. For a long time now, over many years and in her many important works ranging from the early Dictations to the most recent Test Drive, Avital Ronell has been trying to open our ears to the ramifications of the politics of the body. Recent events in world history and science are only confirming what she has been telling us all along. Before AIDS, terrorism, drugs, information technology, and viruses were on everyone’s lips, she was tuning in to the ways in which the question of the body opens up onto politics, ethics, religion, and war. Throughout her remarkable corpus (which is, as I write, very much alive), she has continued to show that the body calls for thinking. But to say that the body calls for thinking does not mean that the body invoked here is thinkable in any simple sense; it is not an object of thought but rather a mode, frequency, and tonal field that can only be read to the extent that it is heard. Such thinking, Ronell tells us, begins in your ear. And, indeed, in her inimitable voice, Ronell prefaces The Telephone Book with the following challenge and appeal to the reader: “Your misi -viii_1-256_Davi.indd 94 4/10/09 3:14:32 PM 95 Avital Ronell’s Body Politics sion, 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.”1 Ronell’s direct address to the reader is an invitation and a warning, as “reading with the ears” is inherently risky: it is always both a promise and a threat. As she herself elucidates, such a reading actively “engages the destabilization of the addressee” by scrambling known pathways of sense and sound, cutting off common connections, suspending meaning. Likewise, in her reading and writing practice, Avital Ronell opens her ears to the challenge of receiving the unconscious determinations and overdeterminations of contemporary politics and culture. She engages in an analytic practice of listening for “that which resists presentation.” Drawing upon literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, Ronell attends to the white noise of popular and unpopular culture in order to forge new lines of communication. And her texts open up a new form of analytic reading that sets forth an ethics, a politics, and a practice of “performative intervention” for which one might be tempted to invent the neologism: “techno-analysis.” At stake is nothing less than the future. As she puts it in the opening pages of Finitude’s Score: “If I am in the position of giving you anything—and this is not clear to me—I know that one cannot hope to give anything but the future.”2 The gift of the future depends upon the ability to hear the repressed strains within the history of thought. The effects of these repressions are embodied everywhere in the materiality of daily life in all its registers. The history of what has not been thought but that calls for thinking secretes its traces and produces symptoms, effects, pathologies, waste products, and technological appliances in its wake. When, therefore, Avital Ronell picks up the telephone in The Telephone Book, she takes up the task of showing that the question concerning technology is inextricable from the challenge of opening up the body as a question. To open up the body as question entails acknowledging that the “body” is not the silent “other” of thought but rather its medium, its very condition of possibility. Although she had already put the concept of the body to work in Dictations: Haunted Writing, in...


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