Powering Down on Authority is Avital Ronell’s response to Witte de With’s invitation for her to reflect, in lengthy essay form, on the questions of power and authority in our time. Ronell has a long history of examining questions of authority and this essay is in large part a summary of years of research. It is also a daring speculation on – and perhaps even an active example of – often overlooked dimensions of democratic practice, such as desire and jouissance.
Observing the absence or myriad crises of authority in our time, Ronell asks us to consider “the disastrous consequences of relinquishing authority, be it that of God or nation-state, or of all that is insinuated by the trickledown divinity of the work of art,” but she does not rush in to fill the void. Rather, her essay takes up the question of authority with characteristic wisdom, wit and a spirit of adventure, traversing the thought of Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Alexandre Kojève, Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jacques Derrida. Along the way, she arrives at a fork in the road where Philosophy, Psychoanalysis and Politics diverge, precisely over the question of authority and the role of the Father as authority’s irrepressible cipher. She lingers here long enough to consider the broader implications of the intellectual battles, which she navigates in the academy, on the hopes and horizons of contemporary democracy.
Ronell did the bulk of the writing in the fall of 2011, (ironically) just as Hurricane Irene raged in her now-native New York, threatening and delivering power-failures. This highly charged atmosphere is palpable in her electric prose, as are the currents of history, which continue to shape our daily affairs. Indeed, the recent democratic upheavals sweeping the Middle East and the emergence of the Occupy Movement in the trans-Atlantic sphere can be considered afresh here as developments defining authority’s multifaceted crisis.
Such stylistically effervescent writing is notoriously difficult to translate and, in this task, Witte de With Publishers has been very fortunate to collaborate with Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, a PhD student of Ronell’s at the European Graduate School, who also generously facilitated the introduction to his professor and colleague. Alongside Powering Down on Authority, Witte de With Publishers thus proudly presents Autoriteit de macht ontnemen, the first translation of Avital Ronell’s work into the Dutch.