Thursday, June 14, 2018

Prestigious signatures

An ugly episode in academia: a Title IX investigation of Avital Ronell, followed by a letter supporting her, signed by prominent academics, that reads like an effort to decide the case. The Chronicle of Higher Education describes the situation. The letter (a version has been posted online) acknowledges that those who have signed have “no access to the confidential dossier” of the complaint against Ronell. Still, the signers “seek to register in clear terms our objection to any judgment against her.” The letter trades, blatantly, on academic prestige:

There is arguably no more important figure in literary studies at New York University than Avital Ronell whose intellectual power and fierce commitment to students and colleagues has established her as an exemplary intellectual and mentor throughout the academy. As you know, she is the Jacques Derrida Chair of Philosophy at the European Graduate School and she was recently given the award of Chevalier of Arts and Letters by the French government.
I will quote something I wrote in 2007, when a story came to light about Jacques Derrida’s attempt quash a sexual harassment charge against a friend and colleague:
Injustice in this situation would seem to me to be the use of academic power and prestige to influence the resolution of a harassment charge.
That goes for this situation as well.

Ronell knows something about prestigious signatures. She was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article about the Derrida case:
“Toward the end of his life, he enjoyed the same status as Aristotle among the ancients, and every perception of injustice was routed to his desk,” said Avital Ronell, a Derrida protege who teaches at New York University. “Even as he was crawling with fatigue, he put himself in the service of those seeking his help and needing the strength of his prestigious signature.”
Very strange: by 2009, that passage, which lives on at several websites, had disappeared from the online article. And today, neither Derrida nor Ronell can be found in the Times archives. Stranger still: this afternoon, they can be. But this article is still missing.

[In a 2007 Chronicle article (behind the paywall), Ronell describes Derrida’s friend and colleague in less than noble terms: “‘This guy had nothing better to do than to ask Jacques for help.’”]

comments: 2

The Arthurian said...

"Very strange: by 2009, that passage, which lives on at several websites, had disappeared from the online article. And today, neither Derrida nor Ronell can be found in the Times archives."

Yeah. I always remember the Rollerball movie (1975) where James Caan's character went to the global library in Geneva to look something up, but they had misplaced the Middle Ages.

That line from that movie was like a premonition of the internet. erhaps, though, Winston Smith, who corrected history for a living, is a better foreshadowing.

Michael Leddy said...

I thought this sort of thing only happened in Borges stories. And in the much darker 1984 way. The guess I will offer: Ronell asked that her comment be removed from the article. Perhaps she wasn’t aware that she was on the record. Perhaps she disputed the rendering of her words. Perhaps she saw a contradiction between what she said and the much less generous comment (“this guy”) she offered to The Chronicle.