Gender Trouble
August 14, 2018 7:39 PM   Subscribe

What Happens to #MeToo When a Feminist Is the Accused? After a year long Title IX investigation, NYU Philosophy professor suspended Avitall Ronnell for the coming academic year for sexually harassing a male graduate student. A number of feminist scholars, including Judith Butler, have announced their support for Professor Ronell in a letter. The letter cites the "international standing and reputation" of Professor Ronell, and accused the victim of waging "a malicious campaign against her." Zizek also signed the letter.

An 11-month Title IX investigation found Professor Ronell, described by a colleague as “one of the very few philosopher-stars of this world,” responsible for sexual harassment, both physical and verbal, to the extent that her behavior was “sufficiently pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of Mr. Reitman’s learning environment.” The university has suspended Professor Ronell for the coming academic year.

Gothamist writeup here.

Brian Leiter's blog post, with a link to the letter.

Chronicle coverage.

Zizek's Zizekian explanation.
posted by MisantropicPainforest (130 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, shit.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 7:45 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


Slavoj Žižek is a complete joke.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:53 PM on August 14, 2018 [27 favorites]


It’s almost as if it’s a terrible idea to cross professional boundaries with people over whom you have power, because they may not feel like they can tell you when they don’t like it. What a fascinating new idea that we haven’t all been discussing for like the past 40 years. Gosh, maybe consent gets complicated when there are unequal power dynamics or something!

Every single person who signed that letter should be ashamed. Her international reputation is not a defense.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:11 PM on August 14, 2018 [152 favorites]


If every professor who tried to fuck a student lost their jobs and the apologists who cover for the student-fuckers lost their jobs, it would be a good start.
posted by tclark at 8:18 PM on August 14, 2018 [96 favorites]


I just finished re-reading Naomi Alderman’s The Power and this was first on the front page immediately after. Bit of a Philip K Dick reality-slip moment there, especially with the photo in the article.
posted by sixswitch at 8:20 PM on August 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


he also shared dozens of emails in which she referred to him as "my most adored one," "sweet cuddly Baby," "cock-er spaniel," "baby love angel," and "my astounding and beautiful Nimrod.

"I woke up with a slight fever and sore throat,” she wrote in an email on June 16, 2012, after the Paris trip. “I will try very hard not to kiss you — until the throat situation receives security clearance. This is not an easy deferral!” In July, she wrote a short email to him: “time for your midday kiss. my image during meditation: we’re on the sofa, your head on my lap, stroking you [sic] forehead, playing softly with yr hair, soothing you, headache gone. Yes?”

That seems pretty obviously inappropriate and indefensible behaviour towards someone who is a subordinate.

She added that she did not realize he was so uncomfortable until she read the investigators’ report.

So, even if it was true that she didn't realize he was uncomfortable with her behaviour (and I'm definitely not saying that I believe her on this) that would be an excellent example of why you don't behave this way towards subordinates. When there is a power differential people are not necessarily going to feel able to push back when their boundaries are crossed. Their discomfort may even cause them to play along in an attempt to defuse the situation and regain some level of control.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:29 PM on August 14, 2018 [79 favorites]


I don't know why all these sites don't list all the signatories to the letter. From the Word document:

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor, Department of Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley, President-Elect, Modern Language Association (2020)
Emily Apter, Julius Silver Professor of French and Comparative Literature Chair, Department of Comparative Literature, New York University
Catharine Stimpson, University Professor, New York University, former Dean of the Graduate School
John T. Hamilton, William R. Kenan Professor of German and Comparative Literature Chair, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University
Isabelle Alfandary, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Présidente de l assemblée collégiale du collège international de philosophie, Paris
Jean-Luc Nancy, Professeur émérite, Université de Strasbourg
Edward J. Sullivan, Helen Gould Sheppard Professor of the History of Art Institute of Fine Arts - Deputy Director, Department of Art History New York University
Geoffrey Bennington, Asa G. Candler Professor of Modern French Thought, Emory University; Chair, Department of Comparative Literature
Laurence Rickels, writer and professor, European Graduate School; Visiting Professor, New York University
Pierre Alfari, Professor, Paris School of Fine Arts
Peter Connor, Professor of German, Barnard College
Manthia Diawara, Professor of Cinema Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University
Denis Hollier, Department of French Literature, Thought, and Culture, New York University
Christopher Wood, Professor and Chair, Department of German, New York University
Susan Bernstein, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Brown University
Cathy Caruth, Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Cornell University
Cynthia Chase, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Cornell University
Jonathan Culler, Distinguished Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Cornell University
Diane Davis, Professor and Chair, Department of Rhetoric, University of Texas-Austin
Hent de Vries, Paulette Goddard Professor of the Humanities, New York University
Bernhard Siegert, Professor for the History and Theory of Cultural Techniques Bauhaus University Weimar
Joan W. Scott, Professor Emerita, School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study
Hans-Christian von Herrmann, Professor of Literature, Technical University Berlin
Suzanne Doppelt, writer and photographer, Paris; faculty, European Graduate School
Rudiger Campe, Professor of German, NYU and Frankfurt an der Oder
Vincent Broqua, Associate Professor of French at the University of Paris Est Créteil
Christopher Fynsk, Dean and Professor, European Graduate School
Elizabeth Rottenberg, Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University
Antje Pfannkuchen, Associate Professor of German, Dickinson College
Emanuela Bianchi, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Literature New York University
Mina Cheon, faculty, Maryland Institute College of Art
Michael G. Levine, Professor of German, Rutgers University
Paul North, Professor of German, Yale University
Elissa Marder, Chair, Department of French and Italian, Emory University
Nicola Behrmann, Associate Professor, German Languages and Literatures, Rutgers University- New Brunswick
Kristina Mendocino, Mellon Assistant Professor of Humanities and German, Brown University
Jeffrey Wallon, Professor of Comparative Literature, Hampshire College
Francois Noudelmann, Professor of Philosophy, University of Paris VIII
Jesus Mario Lozano Alamilla, Professor of Music, Universidad de las Americas Puebla, Mexico
Sam Weber, Professor of German, Northwestern University
Peter Fenves, Joan and Sarepta Harrison Professor of Literature, Department of German, Northwestern University
Shoshana Felman, Woodruff Professor of Comparative Literature and French, Emory University
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor, Columbia University
Slavoj Zizek, Distinguished Professor, Humanities Institute, University of London, Global Professor, New York University
Marc Redfield, Chair, Department of Comparative Literature, Brown University
Peter Szendy, David Herlihy Professor of Comparative Literature and Humanities
Anselm Haverkamp, Professor emeritus NYU and Honorary Professor of Philosophy, Ludwig Maximilians-University Munich/ Germany
Barbara Vinken, Chair of Romance Languages, Ludwig Maximilians-University Munich, Germany
Arno Böhler, Professor University of Vienna, Department of Philosophy and University of Applied Arts Vienna
Susanne Valerie Granzer, Professor, University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna
Elizabeth Weed, editor, differences, former director, Pembroke Center, Brown University
posted by reductiondesign at 8:48 PM on August 14, 2018 [33 favorites]


That was an astonishingly tone deaf letter. Aren't philosophers supposed to be wise, thoughtful, hip to the zeitgeist etc?
posted by fshgrl at 8:52 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm so disgusted by the letter and the way her supporters are discussing it. It's like a through-the-looking-glass gender-flipped version of all the vile crap that's been dished out in so many previous cases when it was a man who had behaved wrongly.

And the bit about "how dare he try to use Title IX to take down a feminist"… as someone who works in academia, in a department that responds to sexual harassment reports, I'm not sure if I want to spit or kick an inanimate object or what.
posted by Lexica at 8:56 PM on August 14, 2018 [71 favorites]


I don't know why all these sites don't list all the signatories to the letter.

At least one of the professors named apparently never agreed to sign the letter.
Among the more than four-dozen names appearing on this version of the letter was that of Edward J. Sullivan, an art-history professor at NYU. He told The Chronicle by email that when he had become aware his name was included, he had asked that it be removed.

"The author was totally unauthorized to add my name to the letter," Sullivan wrote. "I have brought it to her attention. I know nothing further about this affair."
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:59 PM on August 14, 2018 [48 favorites]


> Among the more than four-dozen names appearing on this version of the letter was that of Edward J. Sullivan, an art-history professor at NYU. He told The Chronicle by email that when he had become aware his name was included, he had asked that it be removed.

What the fuck? How many "signatories" does the letter actually have, then?
posted by reductiondesign at 9:08 PM on August 14, 2018 [20 favorites]


This is a great twitter thread from Anna Fore Waymack, a medievalist who works on 14th-century rape allegations...
posted by TwoStride at 9:10 PM on August 14, 2018 [29 favorites]


Also Judith Butler is currently president of the Modern Language Association, one of the largest professional academic associations, and I pretty much feel like organizing this letter invalidates her ability to lead with any kind of authority or fairness.
posted by TwoStride at 9:12 PM on August 14, 2018 [51 favorites]


oh that list. i studied with 3 profs on it in my failed philosophy days and i wanna let them know they should feel bad
posted by dis_integration at 9:14 PM on August 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


To basically restate what kozad said above, I hate that this is likely to be used as ammo by misogynists, because what it really points to is that institutionally-enforced power imbalances are a tool for abusers to take advantage of those who are comparatively disempowered by the institution in question. This case doesn’t undermine the notion that male privilege is a traditional and predominant such axis, it just shows that there are many such axes and that any system that builds a rigid hierarchy on the basis of any such axis and gives its benefactors excessive power over the lives of other participants is fundamentally broken and coercive. Unsurprisingly, the benefactors here have banded together. The takeaway is no group should have that amount of power over another.
posted by invitapriore at 9:15 PM on August 14, 2018 [80 favorites]


Aw, man, not Christopher Wood!

There is a natural uneasiness here, knowing that institutions will always be willing to go much harder against women than against men when such charges are brought, and that conservatives in particular will be eager to push them in bad faith, finding it a win-win situation for them though they don't give a damn about the principle or the victim. But, as far the evidence made public has shown, this is not the edge case to fight that out over. And the rhetorical choices of the letter are terrible.

Waymack's tweet thread linked above is excellent.
posted by praemunire at 9:17 PM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Super disappointed in the folks on the list.
posted by feckless at 9:20 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Aw, man, not Christopher Wood!

I hate reading these kinds of letters and cringing as I come across scholars I know or once admired...
posted by TwoStride at 9:21 PM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


If every professor who tried to fuck a student lost their jobs and the apologists who cover for the student-fuckers lost their jobs, it would be a good start.

(and suddenly, there were enough jobs for all the graduating phds...)
posted by kaibutsu at 9:27 PM on August 14, 2018 [144 favorites]


The simple saw in these situations, to believe the victim, is not diminished by the fact that some people say he isn’t a good writer or had sour grapes or whatever. Where have we heard all those arguments before?

That letter is gross. This just underscores for me the distance between the picture of academia one gets from the outside, reading the books and articles people write and pondering their ideas, and the reality of it on the inside. Universities are very political places and prestige is the currency of power and it seems to me like the woman accused here is a hotshot and her friends are closing ranks to defend her. Seems like a really tone deaf move on their part to get involved at all. And of course Zizek has sensed a moment to be a contrarian and charged right in there.
posted by mai at 9:44 PM on August 14, 2018 [13 favorites]


Lieter is a douchebag, but the letter is... not good, and this whole thing is crap on a personal level because I know, have studied with, and very much respect 3 of the letter's signatories, and have crossed paths with a few others -- and I know, have studied with, and very much respect Avital. This is the kind of thing I desperately would like not to believe, because of course it diminishes her (and the tone-deaf defenders) in my eyes, and that sucks. I would love to be able to say that I know her well enough to say that she couldn't do something like this, but I don't know her that well, and even if I did I couldn't make a claim like that; even saints commit sins. I would be so relieved if some incontrovertible evidence came out that the accusations were fraudulent, but... yeah, that doesn't look too likely. So I have to go with my principles and admit that someone who has meant a lot to me has done some pretty bad things to at least 1 person, and she should face the consequences of that. And the people defending her should at the very least do some serious thinking about their goddamn rhetoric.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:16 PM on August 14, 2018 [34 favorites]


“We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation,” the professors wrote.

Note that that doesn't say, "she would never make a student feel uncomfortable or take advantage of her power over them." It doesn't say, "I have never seen her be unprofessionally affectionate with a student." It doesn't say, "she is ethically devoted to the concept of informed consent."

Interesting twist on this one, though: there's no sex involved.
Professor Ronell kissed and touched him repeatedly, slept in his bed with him, required him to lie in her bed, held his hand, texted, emailed and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate. Mr. Reitman is gay and is now married to a man; Professor Ronell is a lesbian.

Professor Ronell, 66, denied any harassment. “Our communications — which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment — were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications...”
Emphasis added. Refusing to work with him is what clinches this as "abuse" rather than "miscommunications and inappropriate flirting."

...as they saw it, Mr. Reitman was using Title IX, a feminist tool, to take down a feminist...

Reitman was using a feminist tool to take down an abuser, which is what it was made for. I have no doubt some abusers are feminists, and am absolutely certain that some abusers will claim to be feminists.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:18 PM on August 14, 2018 [68 favorites]


How can it even be a question whether this behaviour is acceptable!?
By making the "but I'm a lesbian" argument she's forgetting the first lesson feminists teach about sexual abuse if any kind... It's not about sex, it's about power.
Ugh.
posted by chapps at 10:28 PM on August 14, 2018 [36 favorites]


The takeaway is no group should have that amount of power over another.

That doesn’t seem like a realistic goal to me. I think the current system (there are rules for power imbalanced relationships, follow them or face consequences) have a better chance, or would if we were only more proactive about enforcing them.

A friend of mine met her husband at Borland when he was her director. After two dates they went to HR to sign romantic involvement paperwork, after four or five more they found a way to transfer her to a different management chain. This stuff is tractable if everyone is up front about it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:30 PM on August 14, 2018 [13 favorites]


How can it even be a question whether this behaviour is acceptable!?
By making the "but I'm a lesbian" argument she's forgetting the first lesson feminists teach about sexual abuse if any kind... It's not about sex, it's about power.
Ugh.


It does give one some insight into why men always say the same stupid shit when accused. The situation has a natural script.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:35 PM on August 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


When Al Franken was accused, I had about a week of self-work to get through "but he's on my team and the other team doesn't fight fair" until I could work back to "burn it all down."

At this point I am hitting the fast forward button to instant "asshole, dump them" every time I hear this shit now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:57 PM on August 14, 2018 [30 favorites]


(correction-- she said "queer woman" not lesbian-- but the principle is the same).
posted by chapps at 11:10 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also what does it mean to worry that Title IX is used against feminists? Surely we feminists all know that some of our political movement are *also* jerks? And have.none of these signatories ever encountered someone who they thought was amazing but then turned out to be abusive behind closed doors? I mean it's a hallmark of abusive people isn't it?
posted by chapps at 11:13 PM on August 14, 2018 [13 favorites]


it's not inconsistent to say two things at once; 1) anyone, regardless of politics, can be an evil asshole in private, but also 2) in the aggregate, one's politics does matter, and some worldviews are worse than others.
a person with publically feminist, humanist views can be a powermad asshole in their private life, but that doesnt mean the feminist political viewpoint is necessarily diminished for it.
when religious or philosophical communities 1 or 20 or 100 or 1000 years ago found out that their priest or healer or elder had molested or abused someone, it was not expected that the entire ideology should be called into question. i mean, literally yesterday PA issued a report on priest molestation, and the church receives just another finger wag. the thousandth time. and that's just one example among countless.
dont get me wrong; people who value human rights damn well should hold themselves to a higher standard than the hierarchies of the past did. but we can excommunicate an asshole without an excess of handwringing, given the historical points of comparison.
posted by wibari at 11:52 PM on August 14, 2018 [12 favorites]


a person with publically feminist, humanist views can be a powermad asshole in their private life, but that doesnt mean the feminist political viewpoint is necessarily diminished for it.

Calling them hypocritical rather proves the validity of the viewpoint they are accused of betraying, while their individual participation and contributions come under scrutiny with the intent of ascertaining the presence or nature of any corruption.

That letter is a terrifyingly accurate portrayal of the kind of power that is being wielded over someone in this situation and every single person signing it should have known better.
posted by Revvy at 12:24 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


Between the Ruby Rose harassment and this story, it must be woman bites dog week.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:27 AM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


Slavoj Žižek is a complete joke

That's the Žižek!
posted by flabdablet at 2:01 AM on August 15, 2018 [18 favorites]


If you wanted to give the alt-right shitheads a pile of ammunition a mile high to use to bolster their arguments that #metoo is about 'us vs them culture wars' than it is about real-world fairness and equality you couldn't have come up anything better.

What were these idiots thinking? Could they not hear themselves?
posted by pharm at 2:10 AM on August 15, 2018 [14 favorites]


> she's forgetting the first lesson feminists teach about sexual abuse if any kind... It's not about sex, it's about power.

Exactly, and while you didn't intend the double meaning, that also works if sex is replaced with gender.

It doesn't help to tream Avitall Ronnell or Cristina Garcia or whoever as if they're some kind of special cases. Power corrupts men and women alike, and there will be more men and more women accused over the coming months and years. Many more men than women? Of course. For now.

#MeToo is still very young. It will be better once we get past men-are-monsters-who-should-be-replaced-by-women, as if that's the takeaway, and actually start treating this as two different, serious, problems: (1) there are too many men, proportionately, in positions of power; and (2) human beings in positions of power too often abuse those positions.

It's the unfortunate historical concurrency of these things, plus anger, that fuels the lazy conflation. Until we have real fairness and equality in representation, the powerful assholes will be overwhelmingly men. If and when we reach that, however, of course we'll have just as many female assholes. It's the dark side of human nature.

(I realize this is not the most popular viewpoint in the current zeitgeist, but I like to tell myself it'll age well, and in the meantime, I definitely ain't running for any political office. Ever.)
posted by rokusan at 2:16 AM on August 15, 2018 [51 favorites]


Slavoj Žižek is a complete joke

At least with modern Unicode fonts you can set his name properly. I had to hack together custom fonts (or kern back the accents on top of the Zs) just to typeset essays that referenced him.

Of course women in positions of authority do this. I thought everyone knew. When I was young I got this sort of thing - nowhere near as extreme, but certainly the emotional manipulation stuff, the pseudo-sexual - all the time.

People tell themselves that they're good and that what they want is natural so they don't see why they shouldn't want it, so if they have the power they just take it, and if there's no push back, then there's nothing wrong.

It's a function of power. Power doesn't not do these things if you change the genders (or the sex or the orientation or the race, come to think of it), it just does them differently.
posted by Grangousier at 2:34 AM on August 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


Every single person who signed that letter should be ashamed. Her international reputation is not a defense.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:11 PM


well, as colleagues, they are more affected by a firing of the abusive professor, so i do feel that they have some justification for weighing in, more than we do on a message board, because they have to live with their workplace situation.

if the metoo conversation can be a discussion about fair workplaces, the reputation is relevant to the discussion, although yes, i agree that it is also a dodge. any solution is going to have to take the colleages opinion into account.

it's sad that they signed that letter, but they should sign a letter.

see the 'guardians' actors letter on wanting to continue to work with their director. what co workers say about the person's general behavior in the workplace is relevant to creating good workplaces.
posted by eustatic at 2:36 AM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am of the opinion that when people who should know better- who do know better- defend obvious and awful wrongdoers of this sort, it is in many cases because they identify more readily with the accused than the accuser and imagine themselves in the position of the accused.

With that in mind, I am deeply suspicious of the signatories of this letter.

(Also, Judith Butler?! That's tremendously disappointing.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:37 AM on August 15, 2018 [28 favorites]


Žižek is of course a complete obstacle to any kind of progressive present, let alone future, and similarly Ronell's work has always been wildly overrated, obscurantist garbage. So even beyond the (IMO crystal-clear) ethical principle at work — that you do not excuse behavior in your allies you would condemn in your ideological enemies, and that ought to be condemned coming from anyone — it mystifies me why anyone would rush to their defense.

I hope to god this is not the hill this shard of the left chooses to die on. So much credibility and moral authority will be squandered, to protect so little of value.
posted by adamgreenfield at 2:44 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


(Uh, dark kudos for the post title, too.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:05 AM on August 15, 2018 [10 favorites]


For folks who have studied under or with the people who signed this letter, it would be a great idea to write them and let them know what you think. The fact that this is going to be used as ammo by misogynists doesn't mean that these people should be defended—in fact, this wagon-circling is exactly why it is going to be used that way. They should know that even their allies find this hypocritical and disappointing. Just because the genders are reversed from 99% of the cases where this kind of harassment happens doesn't mean that the power differential is gone, and these scholars should be smart enough to know that. What they are doing here is showing their true colors, by basing their actions not on principles of equality and fairness but on who they see as "one of them." They should know what people think of that, especially people who would normally be inclined to respect them and look up to them.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:09 AM on August 15, 2018 [42 favorites]


Professor Ronell kissed and touched him repeatedly, slept in his bed with him, required him to lie in her bed, held his hand, texted, emailed and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate.

Wow. This isn't even borderline stuff. This is blatant, flagrant, and serious enough that Ronnell ought to never work in a position of authority over anyone else again. There is, there can be, no excuse for that of behaviour. And if I were employing anyone who signed that open letter, I'd be seriously investigating disciplinary proceedings for suspension, to try and send a message counter to the one they're sending.
posted by Dysk at 3:37 AM on August 15, 2018 [22 favorites]


Like, whether you are abusing your students or not, by signing a letter like that one you create a hostile environment for your students, sending a message that their complaints, their being abused or harassed is secondary to the reputations of their abusers. It has what I really have a hard time imagining to be an unintentional chilling effect.
posted by Dysk at 3:44 AM on August 15, 2018 [59 favorites]


Here's a very interesting twitter thread with some thoughts on the issue from @ft_variations ("fuck theory"). Note that it isn't intended to be a fully formed response, just okay here are some things...
posted by taz at 3:47 AM on August 15, 2018 [18 favorites]


From that link:

The Times makes it sound like the letter from Butler et al. was written in response to Ronell's suspension. It wasn't. It was written *before* the investigation, before action had been taken, and before any of the signatories had seen any of the evidence or read the allegations.

I'm not sure if that's better or worse. Probably worse - it makes it clear that de details or reality of the case don't matter. Ronnell is one of them, and that's enough, even if nothing else is known.
posted by Dysk at 4:03 AM on August 15, 2018 [22 favorites]


Something that this incident underscores for me is that the problem in our society isn't men per se—it's patriarchy. The patriarchy was created and is perpetuated by men, but when women gain access to its power structures they become capable of all the same kinds of abuses. The fact that that condition—a woman in power—is comparatively rare does not make this less true, nor does the fact that women's power is usually circumscribed and context-dependent in a way that men's is not. Where power exists, it will be abused, and there will be people who defend its abuse.

The problem is not men, or women either for that matter. It is power, power over other people, that is the problem. Some way, somehow, we must end it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:03 AM on August 15, 2018 [40 favorites]


well, as colleagues, they are more affected by a firing of the abusive professor, so i do feel that they have some justification for weighing in, more than we do on a message board, because they have to live with their workplace situation.
The only they should be demanding is due process. Everyone deserves a full investigation, the ability to critically examine the evidence, etc. but not the ability to end it or escape the consequences.

Signing a letter for anything else says that you either don’t care about abuse or share the abuser’s beliefs, and in either case should be grounds for questioning whether the signer should have any position of authority where something similar is possible.
posted by adamsc at 4:03 AM on August 15, 2018 [10 favorites]


All assuming that the signatories actually signed the letter, of course.
posted by XtinaS at 4:44 AM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


An unexplored point but may be relevant: this case went forward probably in part because the accused was less likely to fear retaliation. NYU grad students are unionized. When we formed our union, providing some outside support for harassed grad students was one of the goals.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:45 AM on August 15, 2018 [59 favorites]


All assuming that the signatories actually signed the letter, of course.

Several of them have confirmed their signing the letter, and doubled down on its content. Given that the controversy around the letter has been rolling for a couple of months now, and that most (if not all) of the signatories have been contacted by various press outlets for comment, it would be odd if there were more people whose names had been erroneously included who have not taken the time to point that out.
posted by Dysk at 4:52 AM on August 15, 2018


God, fucking academia. This just highlights for me why I'm so glad to be out of that world: the pervasive belief that a person's work is the only thing that matters, and thus excuses any behavior. It's no surprise to me, for example, that Gayatri Spivak signed this letter; I know for a fact that, despite building a career on work examining relations of power and domination, she treats the people who work for her like absolute shit.

In particular, the power relations between an advisor and a grad student are so extreme as to basically guarantee this kind of abuse. I can't think of another situation in which a single person has the power to bar someone from an entire profession.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:37 AM on August 15, 2018 [44 favorites]


Sexual harassment isn't "sexy harassment," and the sexual orientations of the harasser(s) and victims are largely irrelevant to its legal status as a form of workplace discrimination.

That said, there's an ugly cultural history of harassment of gay men by primarily straight women.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 5:47 AM on August 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


I think that the post should be changed to reflect Ronell is not an "NYU philosophy professor" but teaches at NYU in German and Literature. It would be fine to call her an "NYU philosopher" because many people refer to her in that way, but she mostly does not engage in philosophy as practiced by the NYU philosophy department and is not on the faculty there. This is also reflected in the fact that most of the signatories to the letter defending her are not themselves philosophy faculty.

I think this is important because philosophy departments have had many public and private issues with sexual harassment over the years, more than their fair share, and it is important to recognize that whatever happened in this case didn't happen under the purview of that department, which is almost certainly the finest philosophy department in the world.
posted by Kwine at 6:11 AM on August 15, 2018 [9 favorites]


As a former student and class auditor of Prof. Ronell, my initial response was: “Quelle surprise.” She certainly had/has a stable of sycophants and favorites, and was sometimes brutal responding to students on the outs in class. I remember a few cringeworthy takedowns of people that came out of left field. I was never intellectually rigorous enough to enter the inner circle, but I am not surprised at her behavior in private from what I saw in public.

The letter is the bigger issue for me. It was rash and sloppy, and I hope the signatories’ students let them know that it was unacceptable. I agree the letter does create a hostile environment for their students. It’s execution reflects poorly on their intellectual rigor.

Maybe this will clear some ceiling space in academia for new blood in comp. Lit and critical theory if these aged signatories are shamed enough to retire from University life.
posted by Roger_Mexico at 6:24 AM on August 15, 2018 [27 favorites]


#MeToo is still very young. It will be better once we get past men-are-monsters-who-should-be-replaced-by-women, as if that's the takeaway

Other than right-wing reactionaries like Andrew Sullivan and Bari Weiss who have spent gallons of digital ink grossly misrepresenting movements like #MeToo, who is actually saying this? The vast majority of public support for the movement has phrases it with much of the same words, but a completely different emphasis, i.e. "men who are monsters should be replaced." And, I should note, not replaced just by women, but by any diverse and marginalized voices that are currently under-represented in the entertainment industry.

and actually start treating this as two different, serious, problems: (1) there are too many men, proportionately, in positions of power; and (2) human beings in positions of power too often abuse those positions.

Again, this is what it's about, and has been since the beginning. Practically no one is going around saying all men are monsters who need to be replaced en masse, and the movement is not (as the backlash is trying to portray it) a bunch of rabid man-haters out to destroy male representation entirely. Indeed, there has been an enormous amount of support for men like Terry Crews and Anthony Rapp for speaking out against their harassers/abusers.

It's the unfortunate historical concurrency of these things, plus anger, that fuels the lazy conflation.

As I mentioned above, the lazy conflation is almost entirely from people with anti-feminist and bigoted viewpoints trying to stoke a backlash against the movement. That should be obvious by now, considering that the people most excited to turn this into a culture war are the MRAs/MGTOW/incels, various -gaters, and their fascist "alt-right" fellow travelers. Outside of academia (and apparently by many inside it as well), the response among feminists has been: yes, this was sexual harassment; yes, it's fine that a male victim is depending on Title IX; and no, being a woman and/or LGBTQ and/or proclaiming yourself feminist does not mean you automatically get a pass.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:53 AM on August 15, 2018 [26 favorites]


The letter is the bigger issue for me. It was rash and sloppy, and I hope the signatories’ students let them know that it was unacceptable. I agree the letter does create a hostile environment for their students. It’s execution reflects poorly on their intellectual rigor.

My worst professors always reminded me of Bill O'Reilly. If someone had a good point and was inclined to make it to them, the prof still had the ability to shut the discussion down and throw the student off set. Anyway, I doubt many current students of these professors will bring this up in class.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:28 AM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


...see the 'guardians' actors letter on wanting to continue to work with their director. what co workers say about the person's general behavior in the workplace is relevant to creating good workplaces.

Sure - a good workplace for their equals. Abusive people can be very charming, very friendly, very helpful to everyone but their targets. I'm sure most of us have worked with people who were absolute monsters to their underlings but put on a congenial face for their bosses and contemporaries - same sort of deal.
posted by Stonkle at 7:41 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've RTFA and this whole thread, and I have no idea who this Zizek person is, other than one of the signatories to the letter. Can somebody explain why he matters?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:42 AM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


At this point I am hitting the fast forward button to instant "asshole, dump them" every time I hear this shit now.

God, me too. You know what? It's pretty fucking easy to treat other people like actual people, and not abuse your power over them. This should be a baseline, and never get hand waved away by "her work is so valuable" or "he's such a good speaker" or whatever. Fuck your work treat people like people.
posted by graventy at 7:47 AM on August 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


And the bit about "how dare he try to use Title IX to take down a feminist"… as someone who works in academia, in a department that responds to sexual harassment reports, I'm not sure if I want to spit or kick an inanimate object or what.

Of course, Hugo Schwyzer was an academic "feminist" as well. ("Fun" homework for anybody who wants to do it: go find out what any of the letter signatories had to say about him in 2014.)
posted by tobascodagama at 8:02 AM on August 15, 2018 [7 favorites]


I hope the NYTimes will check to see if all the signers actually consented.

Student alleges harassment, University investigates, faculty member suspended. It's the last bit that is uncommon. Universities routinely, at every level, dismiss allegations of harassment with hand-waving.

Yeah, it will be held up by assholes to try to somehow discredit women, feminism, #metoo. In some ideal ivory tower, some journal would try to look at this mess, understand it, understand the players. Good luck with that.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Of course, Hugo Schwyzer was an academic "feminist" as well. ("Fun" homework for anybody who wants to do it: go find out what any of the letter signatories had to say about him in 2014.)

He was one of the first points the folks at LGM made in their discussion of the matter.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:24 AM on August 15, 2018 [6 favorites]


...I have no idea who this Zizek person is... Can somebody explain why he matters?

No-one can do that.
posted by Segundus at 8:30 AM on August 15, 2018 [34 favorites]


It is power, power over other people, that is the problem. Some way, somehow, we must end it.

What, end power itself? I can't imagine how that would be possible.

What I do think is possible is designing social structures and systems that are alert to asymmetries in power, demand genuine accountability of those entrusted with power over others, and require meaningful acts of restoration from those found to be abusive with the power they do enjoy.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:30 AM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


What, end power itself? I can't imagine how that would be possible.

You don't have to imagine. There are plenty of discussions available on the subject.

“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
--Oscar Wilde
posted by Revvy at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2018 [11 favorites]


If you wanted to give the alt-right shitheads a pile of ammunition a mile high to use to bolster their arguments that #metoo is about 'us vs them culture wars' than it is about real-world fairness and equality you couldn't have come up anything better.

If #metoo is to mean anything at all, then this can't be any kind of a consideration. Not to invalidate the sentiment, it is absolutely a real concern and there will be fall out, but it shouldn't, can't, inform what happens in this case. No special pleading. That's the same bullshit academics have used to cover up for generations. It has to end completely.
posted by bonehead at 8:38 AM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the link to the Twitter thread, Taz. It's a great read... A sort of pallette cleanser after reading the rest of it!
posted by chapps at 9:16 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I detest gang-up support letters. It is such a PR tactic of misdirection, and often spinning by proxy. It is appeal to authority mob, nothing more. Stop meddling and let there be an investigation unimpeded.

People can use a label "feminist", but if they are doing the same thing to others as they claim is being done to them, they are hypocrites, not feminists. There is no excuse for it. Who had priests wear morality crowns until they were exposed for being abusers.

Feminism could very well end up being the same way if people enable predators to wear that movement as a mask.

It doesn't matter what kind of movement you have, if let unchecked, it becomes a cover and a mask for people to deflect attention from their own bad deeds. Let's get ahead of that problem before it nullifies progress.

What happens to #MeToo is a woman is revealed to be a predator? Nothing because if the masked predators -- regardless of gender and label -- are exposed and dealt with, it shows the power of the movement, and that yes, women are strong enough to practice what they preach. No one is off limits, and that is a relief.

Equality means just that -- equality. Women should be treated no differently than men, and that includes being called out on the carpet for disreputable actions.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:35 AM on August 15, 2018 [11 favorites]


That said, there's an ugly cultural history of harassment of gay men by primarily straight women.

there is a history of harassment, both verbal and overtly physical, by members of both those groups against members of the other in a way that is very much not tilted in just one direction. talking about it as unidirectional -- from either direction -- is often pointed to by members of both groups as a continuing excuse for perpetrating more of it as a sort of balance-righting exercise. that is not a real excuse and wouldn't be even if the cultural history really was unidirectional. but even if you weren't implying that it is, I want to note explicitly that it's not.

(the other common excuse for it involves acknowledging what I just said, but taking it to mean that straight women and gay men are in some ways 'the same' because of solidarity & partial privilege, and because of being held in contempt and deprived of rights by a lot of the same people, and that therefore it's ok. as if assault and harassment are ok between equals. this is just as bad and false an excuse, I oppose it absolutely. and it is also another reason the hamhanded metaphor of 'punching' up down or sideways is so unequal to the task of analyzing anything important. you shouldn't actually punch anybody. it doesn't stop being a crime just because you judge that they can take the punch.)

anyway the argument that Ronell couldn't have done something so terrible as sexual harassment or sexualized threats/professional coercion because she belongs to an identity category that excludes sexual attraction to her victim, that can be wrapped up in a lot of theoretical packaging but it serves a practical function identical to the excuse straight men always fall back on when caught: she wasn't even hot, how could you think I'd be attracted to that? it ridicules the victim by calling them conceited or delusional while trying to make the discussion's focal point the perpetrator's pleasure. Did I have a good time doing it? and what is the victim's sexual market value to me? are the most important things to perpetrators but should not be of similar interest to other parties.

plus of course you can enjoy sexually humiliating people you are not sexually attracted to. plus you can sexually humiliate, belittle, or harass people while thinking you're showing nothing but platonic affection, as legions of young women with older male supervisors can readily attest: appropriating to yourself an attitude of teasing intimacy while in an unacceptable relationship for it is already a power play and a classic test to see how far the other person can be pushed, what they can be made to tolerate. and everybody on the signatory list as well as the alleged perpetrator knows all of this and could probably articulate it at great length.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:36 AM on August 15, 2018 [47 favorites]


“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
--Oscar Wilde


That's definitely not an Oscar Wilde quote, or is that the joke and I'm missing it?
posted by betweenthebars at 9:53 AM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's probably something that meme'd itself in the 1980's or so but a lot of quotation lists credit to Wilde in error.
posted by Karmakaze at 10:13 AM on August 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


It seems absurd and sickening that this abuser is only punished by a year's suspension. These were criminal acts committed against a person in her charge over an extended period of time. I am baffled by the idea that someone who has done that should keep their job or their employability.
posted by howfar at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


rokusan: #MeToo is still very young. It will be better once we get past men-are-monsters-who-should-be-replaced-by-women, as if that's the takeaway

zombieflanders: Other than right-wing reactionaries like Andrew Sullivan and Bari Weiss who have spent gallons of digital ink grossly misrepresenting movements like #MeToo, who is actually saying this?

Well, it's certainly a sentiment I've seen expressed many times here on Metafilter. I've taken it as a combination of hyperbolic venting and understantable hotheaded overreaction—no doubt to give way to more nuanced views once the anger cools—but I've seen many comments here expressing the "all-men-are-monsters" viewpoint. I let them slide because they're not exactly hurting me and I don't want to police women's anger, but they're around, and they color the way I interact here. I was a little wary about posting my previous comment for instance, and am still a little surprised that I didn't get flamed for it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:29 AM on August 15, 2018 [21 favorites]


a person with publically feminist, humanist views can be a powermad asshole in their private life, but that doesnt mean the feminist political viewpoint is necessarily diminished for it.

Yes, thank you!


well, as colleagues, they are more affected by a firing of the abusive professor, so i do feel that they have some justification for weighing in, more than we do on a message board, because they have to live with their workplace situation.

One of the most disillusioning things about academia is that, despite all the wonderful ideas, people are still people, and life is still life. One gets put into positions where different values get pitted against each other, where sometimes something that you never would have done before seems like the best action. And, of course, being part of an institution, being in a position of power, changes you, usually for the worse. The politics are ugly, and as the sinking ship goes down due to decreased funding, corporate influence, etc., it's only going to get worse.

The Times makes it sound like the letter from Butler et al. was written in response to Ronell's suspension. It wasn't. It was written *before* the investigation, before action had been taken, and before any of the signatories had seen any of the evidence or read the allegations.

I think this is somewhat significant, at least in terms of giving some context as to why some of these people would have written a letter like this. Many of the people in the letter -- pretty much all of the women, and probably a number of the men -- were targets in academia for a long time. Butler & Spivack, for example; they are big names now and have enough power so that few people in the field could touch them, but for many years the established academics tried to run them out. Ronell too, despite her connections to famous people like Derrida. Academia is still dominated by white men today, and it was even more so when they were first coming up; queer women have a nightmare of a time, and its somewhat remarkable that someone like Butler or Ronell could ever get to the positions they now hold.

So, what I'm saying is: many of them have a sense of paranoia, not entirely unwarranted, about their positions in institutions that they think are at best indifferent to their presence. I can see how, before knowing the specifics or even before there was an investigation, just hearing something like "a disgruntled former student is trying to get Avital fired," they would jump to the conclusion that there's a political campaign being waged against her; I mean, there almost certainly have been campaigns, personal and political, against her and many others on the list.

But, that's still "jumping to a conclusion" before they knew any facts, and even if they had been right, the letter they wrote was crap. That some (most?) have stood by it after the investigation and details were known is extremely, extremely disappointing, to say the least.

I've RTFA and this whole thread, and I have no idea who this Zizek person is, other than one of the signatories to the letter. Can somebody explain why he matters?

Zizek is an extremely prolific left-wing philosopher. His work basically derives from Hegel, Lacan, and Marx. He writes a lot on film, pop culture, current events, but he also writes a lot of long, dense, philosophical tomes.

He's controversial for a number of reasons. He works in the continental tradition, so analytic philosophers regard most of what he says as nonsense. Chomsky dislikes him, too; they differ fundamentally on their understanding of language and human human nature, among other things. The Sokal-hoax types, like analytic philosophers, regard anything vaguely "post-modern" as total bullshit.

He's at his best when he's writing pure philosophy. I still think Sublime Object of Ideology is a great book. He's dense, but actually FAR easier to read than someone like Ronell, IMHO. His pop culture and film writing can be interesting too, although he tends to be somewhat superficial, making grand claims -- mostly using bits of films and pop culture to explain his philosophy, rather than vice versa. When he jumps into current events he gets into trouble. He is an admitted contrarian, and he sometimes seems to get a bit of joy out of taking what seem like perverse stances, especially from a liberal democratic point of view. And he often pops off without having most of the information, so he looks like a stupid dick. But, even here, he sometimes has some good insights, or at least offers something to think about. I always enjoy reading his work, and I think that at the very least he's useful as opposition against which to clarify your own thoughts about an issue. YMMV.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:33 AM on August 15, 2018 [21 favorites]


Thanks, that helps a lot.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure if that's better or worse. Probably worse - it makes it clear that the details or reality of the case don't matter. Ronnell is one of them, and that's enough, even if nothing else is known.

My first thought on seeing the signatories on that letter was "That's practically the entire faculty of the European Graduate School!"

My second thought was "Yeah, she needs to lose her job over this."

My third thought was just amazment at how reliably Žižek can be counted on to be the poster child for pompous, ugly, academics.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:41 AM on August 15, 2018 [12 favorites]


No, it's not unidirectional. But in this case, we're talking about Ronell who first of all, sexually harassed and sexually assaulted Reitman, and Ronell who argues in her defense that we're misinterpreting "florid and campy" subcultural norms. Ronell's own words quoted by the NYT:
Our communications — which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment — were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities (emphasis added)
The narrative spun here evokes at least 50 years of stereotypes in which gay men are down for mock-sexual behavior with women who intersect with their communities. Yes, in the bigger picture "camp" is used to justify a lot of sexual abuse of women and other men, including Anthony Rapp and Terry Crews. But in this case, we have a woman taking full advantage of that stereotype to justify and rationalize her behavior. Unfortunately, she's not unique, and it's not a "punching sideways" thing to point out that's exactly what she's doing here.

tl;dr: Camp shouldn't be anyone's excuse for creepy behaviour.

Re Oscar Wilde: Janelle Monae definitely said it, in a way that's probably relevant here.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:43 AM on August 15, 2018 [13 favorites]


Well, it's certainly a sentiment I've seen expressed many times here on Metafilter.

It wasn't expressed in this thread, nor is it not generally a popular opinion in #MeToo threads here. More relevant is that it's not representative of #MeToo in any way, shape, or form. It's a contrarian strawman that buys into the dumbest "well I've seen some folks say all men must die so most of them actually believe it" stereotypes of feminists.

Look, let's be clear: the reality is that it's feminists--including many on this site--that have fought for gender- and orientation-neutral laws and education around sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. It's been feminists who have been working on ensuring that victims and survivors have a voice. It hasn't been a smooth or unanimous process, but it has been far better than the MRAs and anti-feminists who have been worse than useless in trying to bring equality to the world. To turn around and be say that feminists are a bunch of over-reacting hypocrites based on a bunch of MRA-type propaganda from right-wing bigots,and which isn't even close to being a true depiction of #MeToo or related movements, actively hurts that goal.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:58 AM on August 15, 2018 [25 favorites]


Re Oscar Wilde: Janelle Monae definitely said it, in a way that's probably relevant here.
Do you mean the Janelle Monae who was born in 1985 and would have been 10 the first time the quote was attributed to Wilde?
posted by Revvy at 11:26 AM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


I believe the point was "since we can't definitively attribute this to the person to whom it is usually attributed, why not cite this other person who definitively did say a slightly different version of it in an awesome song?"
posted by tobascodagama at 11:36 AM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


I didn't say it originated with Monae, just that her development of the idea beyond a soundbite is likely relevant to discussions about power-with vs. power-over mentioned in this thread.

But Ronell's attempt to gaslight both Reitman and the public by positioning him as a gay adult who was down for it and that's just some LGBTQ cultural norm that we're being prudes about is hitting a bit too close to my own experiences as a survivor, so I'm not all that into the metafilter norm of having other agendas read between the lines of text today and should bail out.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:52 AM on August 15, 2018 [16 favorites]


That Twitter thread is great. After reading the article, I just keep thinking about all those people in Hollywood who will not criticize Woody Allen because of his art. I am not saying that what the professor did is equal to what Woody Allen has done. But it was not OK. I am not a professor but I did fuck a few professors as an undergraduate and that was not OK either. My excuse was youth; the professors I fucked did not have that excuse. And neither does this particular professor. It baffles me that anyone would believe that the quality of an individual’s work, the flavor of an individual’s politics, and/or an individual’s gender or sexual orientation somehow makes that person immune to inappropriate and abusive behavior. We have, I don’t know, roughly a gazillion examples demonstrating that such is not the case. The folks who signed that letter need to get with the fucking program. The abusive professor is being held accountable to some extent; I hope the signatories hear from students and others loudly and clearly why their own behavior is so problematic.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:23 PM on August 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


To turn around and be say that feminists are a bunch of over-reacting hypocrites based on a bunch of MRA-type propaganda from right-wing bigots,and which isn't even close to being a true depiction of #MeToo or related movements, actively hurts that goal.

With a reaction like this I can't imagine why anyone would feel "a little wary" commenting here.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 12:30 PM on August 15, 2018 [12 favorites]


[We're not driving this thread off the cliff of "here's what this says about Mefi" or "Mefi is like ____". Enough.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:48 PM on August 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


by signing a letter like that one you create a hostile environment for your students, sending a message that their complaints, their being abused or harassed is secondary to the reputations of their abusers.

Or maybe you just reflect an environment that is already established. One of the depressing things about all these cases is that you think, if this one ultimately came to light, how many cases were suppressed and kept secret? I hate what that says about the world we live in.
posted by Segundus at 1:17 PM on August 15, 2018 [6 favorites]


Ronnell was suspended for just a single year, which is a slap on the wrist for sexually harassing someone for many years. No wonder Reitman is taking legal action against NYU.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:34 PM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


> the power relations between an advisor and a grad student are so extreme as to basically guarantee this kind of abuse. I can't think of another situation in which a single person has the power to bar someone from an entire profession. -- Ragged Richard

Maybe the military? Though not in quite the same way.

And, yes, the fact the military is very full of similar abuses of power supports your bigger point.
posted by rokusan at 3:00 PM on August 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I had a series of post-graduate student housemates back when I lived in the Bay Area. While none of them complained about sexual harassment or abuse (thank goodness), three of the four male housemates I had described working situations that sounded abusive in one or more ways. Every time I expressed alarm about their hours, their working conditions, or the crazy-sounding demands made by their advisors/bosses, it was explained to me that this was the system and they were but helpless pawns until they finished their programs and got the references they so needed to get on with their lives and careers. I had forgotten that until just now. Not trying to derail, just realising that abusive conditions in general must be common for many graduate students so sexual harassment must be common as well.

I hate this timeline.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:13 PM on August 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


Not trying to derail, just realising that abusive conditions in general must be common for many graduate students so sexual harassment must be common as well.

This has been my experience and the experience of most grad students I know.
posted by halation at 4:06 PM on August 15, 2018 [14 favorites]


#MeToo, just like this, and that's all I feel comfortable saying. I bet you she's sharing this article right now.
posted by avocet at 4:52 PM on August 15, 2018 [17 favorites]


I'm seeing some feminists really double down on defending Ronell's "campiness" defense and I simply refuse to believe that the content of her emails constitute academic-professional discourse with a subordinate no matter how you slice it. Like, "cock-er spaniel" is not how you address someone in a professional setting, even if you are also friends, especially when one of you as all of the power and the other has none.
posted by TwoStride at 5:24 PM on August 15, 2018 [12 favorites]


You know, the fact that that letter was written before the investigation and suspension actually provides a handy filter, if you're trying to sort out which of the signatories might be most heinous.

Because right now, with much more knowledge of the situation, each one of them has this ideal opportunity to back away from the letter. So we'll see whether ethics or ego wins out, case by case.
posted by rokusan at 5:59 PM on August 15, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm super disappointed and grossed out to see some names that I recognize on that letter. I'm also immensely relieved to not see some names that could have been on there.

I'm really curious to hear what Sara Ahmed [twitter] has to say about this. She left her position at Goldsmiths out of protest over the university's failure to handle similar problems, and she's now working on a research / book project around complaints and (academic) institutions. She is, however, likely to be connected to lots of signatories to that letter…

(Also: #metoo, in somewhat different, fragmented ways.)
posted by LMGM at 7:34 PM on August 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


Wow. I am just incredulous at this wagon circling.
posted by Samizdata at 8:22 PM on August 15, 2018


It also amazes me how some of these people end up shooting themselves in the foot by resorting to insults as soon as someone threatens them. The incoherence of his writing? If he was that bad, why did she even decide to work with him? Makes her look like even more a fool.
posted by Samizdata at 8:35 PM on August 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yup. In no universe is it okay to prey on a person because of their flaws, alleged or actual. That is malarkey.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:51 AM on August 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


"The Slovenian Marxist philosopher and cultural critic is one of the most distinguished thinkers of our time. Žižek achieved international recognition as a social theorist after the 1989 publication of his first book in English, "The Sublime Object of Ideology“. He is a regular contributor to newspapers like “The Guardian”, “Die Zeit” or "The New York Times“. He has been labelled by some the "Elvis of cultural theory“ and is the subject of numerous documentaries and books."

Ugh, never heard of this dude before but this blurb at the end is cracking me up with all the bullshit above it. I hope I never hear from this turd again, what a miserable fucker.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


not a Zizek expert or even a fan particularly, but this makes sense ...

Basically, he is funny and charismatic in a holy-shit-is-this-guy-for-real? kind of way. He is also ridiculously prolific (largely because he tends to more or less repeat long passages verbatim in several different publications).

In the late 1980s, Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy made a huge splash in continental philosophy and Marxist circles for its combination of "post-structuralist theory" (mainly Derrida) and Gramscian Marxism. Not long after that, Zizek's The Sublime Object of Ideology was published in English, and many of the same folks who were excited about Laclau and Mouffe became excited about Zizek's combination of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Leninist Marxism. (As an aside, as far as Zizek's books go, The Sublime Object is one of the better ones by far.) I'm by no means a Zizek expert, but my genuine sense is that that book brought him to the attention of portions of the English-speaking world, and basically once you start paying attention to him it's a bit hard to stop because he is so willfully weird, because he loves to be polemical, and because he enjoys adopting prima facie absurd positions (usually, on inspection they turn out to be substantially less absurd but also not terribly interesting)--a bit like how it's hard not to look at an accident on the highway.

[...]

I guess in the end what I'm trying to say is that, while I don't think he's an idiot (neither do I think he is a genius by any stretch), I think that for the most part his popularity comes down to style rather than substance. He happened to come on the scene in the Anglophone world at an opportune moment, and he has ridden his "charisma" quite a long way. The only person I am aware of who takes him very seriously and tries to engage with his work in a more or less rigorous way is Adrian Johnston. You might check out Johnston's Zizek's Ontology. If that doesn't convince you that there is any substance there, then I doubt that anything will.

posted by philip-random at 11:01 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure about that link that taz posted. The points about the fucked up nature of the academic star system are correct, but then the suggestion that deconstruction as a theory is the root of such abuses of power seems more than a little stretch, especially since they offer little support. There's this little bon mot:

If an editor wants to pay for it, I'm happy to write a historical essay linking the Ronell incident to a mis-en-abyme / signifying chain of very, very similar incidents in the history of deconstruction.

Which strikes me as a way to get out of having to actually prove your point by acting too cool and busy. Yeah, apparently Derrida displayed predatory behavior too, but that's him as a person, not the philosophy, imho.
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:33 PM on August 16, 2018


The accused has responded to the nytimes piece. Translation from German paper Die Welt.

/shrug /sigh
posted by polymodus at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2018


It's a cleverly written reply. It almost makes you think she might not be as bad as all that.

Then I went back to look at the emails the NYTimes say they have. I cannot square any kind of lessening of blame with the following at all:

“I woke up with a slight fever and sore throat,” she wrote in an email on June 16, 2012, after the Paris trip. “I will try very hard not to kiss you — until the throat situation receives security clearance. This is not an easy deferral!” In July, she wrote a short email to him: “time for your midday kiss. my image during meditation: we’re on the sofa, your head on my lap, stroking you [sic] forehead, playing softly with yr hair, soothing you, headache gone. Yes?”
posted by Dysk at 1:56 AM on August 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


This morning Verso tells me they put all Žižek titles on 50% off.
posted by doctornemo at 8:03 AM on August 17, 2018


This defense has also been posted recently.

Some key points:
The Title IX investigation took place over eleven months, during which Ronell had no opportunity to confront, question, or cross-examine Reitman regarding his allegations.

I don't think that it is standard procedure for the accused to cross-examine their accuser.

No evidence was found of sexual contact, which Reitman had alleged took place in Ronell’s Paris apartment in May, 2012 (prior to his attending NYU as a graduate student), and during Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012.

[...]

Reitman alleged that while staying with Ronell during his visit to Paris in May, 2012, he was the subject of repeated and unwanted sexual contact. Shortly after this stay, Reitman gave her a gift of a book by André Gide, a renowned gay writer. His inscription reads: “For my most wonderful Avital, indeed we would always have Paris for yet another aspect of our own private musical “Grapheme” – tenderly – always – ever – Nimrod Paris 12.5.12.”

Two years later, in 2014, Reitman also emailed her about his beautiful memories of their time in Paris together: “Sending tender love and kisses, I too remember and reminded of our beautiful scenery in Paris – vivid and always occurring I send you music, love, and kisses.” (11/21/2014).

This email is flatly inconsistent with his claim of sexual contact.


Do these emails from him undermine his claims? I don't know, tbh, because I don't entirely trust my judgement in this case. But, I think they complicate matters, a bit.

Reitman alleged further sexual contact in October 2012, when he insisted that Ronell stay with him for two days during Hurricane Sandy, while her apartment was without power or water. The Report found his allegations unproven and, by definition, not credible.

[...]

Reitman also submitted “medical records” to the Title IX investigators in an attempt to corroborate his claims. These were incomplete, unilaterally redacted by him and, bizarrely, some records were in his own handwriting. The investigators found the medical records of “questionable reliability,” calling the truth of his allegations into serious question.


This is very odd, and I don't know what to make of it at all.

Reitman’s allegations of stalking were based on Ronell’s regular and frequent communications and in-person meetings with him. The Report disagreed, again contradicting Reitman’s version of events, and found that each of them had frequently initiated such emails and, in fact, the correspondence was mostly related to their working relationship.

Reitman’s allegations of retaliation against Ronell - - that she negatively impacted his professional career since his graduation from NYU in the spring of 2015 by actively thwarting his job prospects - - were also determined to be unfounded. Reitman had never made a complaint, so there was nothing for Ronell to retaliate against. Further, Reitman admitted that Ronell actually helped him secure two post-graduate positions.

The Title IX Report found that in her emails to Reitman, Ronell used pet names and made statements of an intimate nature, which they determined to be unwanted by Reitman, and were violative of NYU’s sexual harassment policies. However, these emails were written in a particularly non-sexual context, and an even cursory review of Reitman’s emails to Ronell show that if he was not initiating, then he was at least encouraging the type of language he later claimed constituted harassment. Ronell, a lesbian, describes the correspondence between herself and Reitman, who is gay, as largely gay-coded, with literary allusions, poetic runs and obviously exaggerated expressions of tenderness that were often initiated and returned by Reitman. Her emails to him contain nothing of a sexual nature, and examples of Reitman’s emails to Ronell include the following:

“Mon Avital, beloved and special one... I don’t know how I would have survived without you. You are the best, my joy, my miracle. Sending you infinite love, kisses and devotion, your – n.” (6/29/13);
“Thank you most darlingst. On this rainy day I too hold you and thank you for everything”. (12/6/2014);
“Sweet Beloved, I was so happy to see you tonight, and spend time together. It was so magical and important, crucial on [sic] so many ways. Our shared intimacy was a glorious cadence to our time in Berlin. Thank you for these moments of togetherness and utter and pure love!...Infinitely, - n” (1/17/2015);
My beloved Avital, Just sending you infinite kisses and love. Thank you for your being my most precious blessing. Loving, your – n. (3/16/2013);
“Beloved...Missing you and loving you ! – n” (2/4/2015);
“Baby. It was so wonderful seeing you today. You looked wonderful...I miss you
terribly and await seeing you already...”(2/13/2015);
“Honig most, dearest one...Sending love and misses. Je t’embrasse”.
(03/19/2015); and
“Dearest, I have not heard from you all through this oriental trip...Please drop me a line to let me know you are well, I have been worried about you...hugs, n”. (7/29/2015). [Written after Reitman received his doctoral decree].

Almost all of the emails from Reitman included a request to review and edit his writings. He had chosen Ronell as a luminary in his field and was clearly exploiting her in that regard. Indeed, in his acknowledgments section of his (unpublished) thesis he wrote: “I thank Avital’s teaching, careful reading, sensitive support...and her unremitting listening to all my whims.” (10/15/2015).


Assuming these messages from Reitman are legit -- again, I'm not sure what it says about the situation except that it is clearly complicated. On the other hand, accusing him of exploiting her? I don't know, maybe, but it seems like a cheap shot. Still, from what I know of Avital, she does give an extraordinary amount of time and effort to helping her students.

The Title IX investigators then conjectured based solely on these emails, that unwanted non-sexual physical contact may have occurred. In fact, there was no such physical contact between them.

Witnesses with personal knowledge of Reitman and Ronell (including colleagues, students and co-workers of the relatively small NYU Department of German), and of their academic and public appearances, uniformly and categorically refuted any indication or observation of any untoward sexual or harassing conduct between them. On the contrary, many witnesses relate conversations with Reitman in which he praised Ronell and who testified to his pursuit of her time and attention.

[...]

On June 29, 2013, Reitman wrote to Ronell: “Mon Avital, beloved and special one, I only now relieved (sic) your beautiful and exquisite message...I thank you for your infinite understanding and sensitivities which are always beyond measure, all of which I reciprocate with tenderness and love. I thank you so much for walking me through this catabasis [descent]. I don’t know how I would have survived without you. You are the best !!! I love you so much. You are the best, my joy, my miracle. Kisses and devotion always. Yours – n.”

Yet, shortly thereafter, Reitman sent an email to Gregory Lennon (unknown to Ronell) dated July 20, 2013 stating: “Tomorrow, I see the monster.”

On further occasions, he wrote to others referring to Ronell as “witch”, “evil”, “psychotic”, “bitter old lady” and other derogatory terms, while simultaneously bubbling over with effusive affection in his communications with her.


Did he call her monster, witch, evil, etc. because she was harassing him? Or did he always dislike her?

Further undermining his claims, is that Reitman, over a period of three and one-half years, never once complained to anyone at NYU about Ronell’s alleged harassment. Nonetheless, Reitman stated to the Title IX investigators that he had complained to the Chair of the German Department and the administrative assistant in the Department, but they each denied such complaints..

Reitman never availed himself of NYU’s well-publicized procedures for complaints of sexual harassment, crafted to allay such conduct and shield complainants from retaliation. Reitman, who claimed to be the subject of almost “daily” acts of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact by Ronell, failed to make a single complaint until August 2017 - - two years after he secured his doctoral degree and only then, when he was unable to secure a tenure- track position.


Not reporting in a timely manner is not a reason to dismiss someone's claims. But, and again I'm not sure about my objectivity here, the timing of his accusations does seem odd.

I also saw something, supposedly from Leiter's blog (but I couldn't find it there), with one former student/colleague saying that they weren't surprised because Ronell cultivates this atmosphere in all her classes, and another former student/colleague saying the absolute opposite, that he'd never seen anything of the sort in any of the lectures, etc. he'd been to with Avital. So, there's that.

I know a lot of people -- mostly former students of Avital, like me -- who are 100% supporting her. I wish I could be as certain that she's innocent. :(
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:33 PM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, I don't think it's inconsistent that he disliked her (or disliked her harrassment) and thought she was terrible but felt that he needed to match the tone of her creepy emails in order to stay in good favor, particularly if he was struggling with his work. All of which is to say that this "defense" still doesn't paint Ronell in a good light and is not doing her any favors.
posted by TwoStride at 7:56 PM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Almost all of the emails from Reitman included a request to review and edit his writings.

That doesn't seem like an indictment to me, so much as an indication that the emails on Reitman's part had a professional function. It makes the idea that he was playing along because he felt he had to more compelling, not less.
posted by Dysk at 12:59 AM on August 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Well as per Avital's own teachings, "To leave things open and radically inappropriable than admitting we haven't really understood is much less satisfying, more frustrating... and more necessary, I think." She goes on to says this outlook is ethically better. (Examined Life, 2008)
posted by polymodus at 1:41 AM on August 18, 2018


On Zizek: I think that for the most part his popularity comes down to style rather than substance.

This is popularity in general, in my experience. It's a big problem with the way people are wired, that we tend to like other people for superficial reasons rather than substantive ones. It enables all kinds of abusers to get into positions of power.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:23 AM on August 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Here is a PDF of Reitman's lawsuit, which contains more details, all pretty damning if true. Unfortunately, the blog publishing it is using this as an excuse to target feminists and feminism as hypocritical, rather than putting the blame where it should be, on structural imbalances and abuses of power.

Which also brings me to something that's bothered me about the way this controversy is being framed: "What happens to #MeToo when a feminist is accused?" Well, Avital isn't a feminist. I mean, in her personal politics and beliefs, sure, but her scholarship has nothing to do with feminist theory. She works on male writers like Dostoevsky, Heidegger, Nietzsche, Kafka; she doesn't write about gender or sexuality. Some signatories on the defense letter could be placed in the feminist/gender studies camp, but that's not what Avital's work is about. So framing this as a "feminist" scholar being taken down by a "feminist" tool -- which is the narrative that both defenders and accusers are pushing -- isn't accurate. It seems like a tactic to try to make the situation even more pertinent to the contemporary moment.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:12 AM on August 18, 2018 [11 favorites]


I mean, I don't think it's inconsistent that he disliked her (or disliked her harrassment) and thought she was terrible but felt that he needed to match the tone of her creepy emails in order to stay in good favor, particularly if he was struggling with his work. All of which is to say that this "defense" still doesn't paint Ronell in a good light and is not doing her any favors.

Right. I've read a number of things lately about how forcing the victim to respond in a certain way is typical of such kinds of power abuse; it serves as cover for the harasser's actions and allows them to pretend it is consensual and deny wrong-doing down the line.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:35 PM on August 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


c.f. Jian Ghomeshi
posted by tobascodagama at 3:45 PM on August 18, 2018 [3 favorites]




It should be doubly frustrating because the fact that the university backtracked from its original decision after the letter… signals that it doesn't care about protecting people and doing the decent thing; it's nevertheless acting for its own interests, min-maxing NYU's wealth and status/rankings like any other faceless corporate machine.
posted by polymodus at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2018




[comment removed - bringing up things other people favorited is sort of the opposite of focusing on the topic.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


Asia Argento, a #MeToo Leader, Made a Deal With Her Own Accuser

I can't deal. While #MeToo has improved some of the discourse for survivors who are not women, it's still not where it needs to be and I have nearly 30 years experience expecting the worst in terms of sensationalism, victim-blaming, rationalization, and minimizing. I just can't deal with this back-to-back.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:37 AM on August 20, 2018


UPDATES:
  • Sorta-not-quite apology from Judith Butler re: signing on to the letter of support for Ronell.
  • Insightful read on this controversy from Corey Robin (FaceBook), emphasizing how a lot of the legal complaint is about psychic abuse, exploitation, & manipulation, rather than being limited to sexual abuse.
  • An anonymous copy-paste account from a grad student (FaceBook) at NYU in Ronell's department. I recognize that it's not ideal to circulate anonymous sources, but as a former grad student I understand why this sort of testimony would be impossible otherwise…
posted by LMGM at 4:25 PM on August 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


That letter from Butler had me muttering "oh, ya fuckin' think?" repeatedly as I read it.
In hindsight, those of us who sought to defend Ronell against termination surely ought to have been more fully informed of the situation if we were going to make an intervention.
Ya think?
we ought not to have attributed motives to the complainant
Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.
we should not have used language that implied that Ronell’s status and reputation earn her differential treatment of any kind. Status ought to have no bearing on the adjudication of sexual harassment.
Glad you've remembered that. Late is better than never, I guess?
posted by Lexica at 4:48 PM on August 20, 2018 [5 favorites]


I find this a good summary--complete with more evidence of many prominent scholars still, damningly, refusing to back down, at the La Review of Books.
posted by TwoStride at 6:38 PM on August 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


One bright part in this barrel of shit, Billionaire Boys Club earns $618.00 arcoss 11 theatres on opening weekend. $126.00 on opening day.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:01 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh, since I can't help screaming at twin voids about this, Slavoj Žižek said “a pattern of eccentric rhetoric, which was so excessive precisely because it was based on the understanding that there is no actual sex involved.” Which is just wrong on multiple levels. As I said above, sexual harassment isn't sexy harassment, it's sex discrimination. And creating a hostile environment through the liberal use of sexual comments is a form of sex discrimination regardless of whether one chooses to have sex. And the lawsuit also alleges that Ronell sexually assaulted Reitman.

Nevertheless, it probably should be said that not only are your students not your romantic partners, but they're also not your Gay Best Friend(tm) either, and that's another relationship that can be horribly problematic due to heterosexism.

And on Argento, the apologia that boys can't be sexually assaulted except by people like Spacey (and even then, there's doubt) is less than it was even five years go. But the fact that we still need to explicitly say that consent matters here fucking tastes like ash and copper. Why is it even a debate point?
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


In both cases, there's a lot of gender essentialism/determinism that isn't being addressed.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 9:46 AM on August 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


For me these two messages


On June 29, 2013, Reitman wrote to Ronell: “Mon Avital, beloved and special one, I only now relieved (sic) your beautiful and exquisite message...I thank you for your infinite understanding and sensitivities which are always beyond measure, all of which I reciprocate with tenderness and love. I thank you so much for walking me through this catabasis [descent]. I don’t know how I would have survived without you. You are the best !!! I love you so much. You are the best, my joy, my miracle. Kisses and devotion always. Yours – n.”

Yet, shortly thereafter, Reitman sent an email to Gregory Lennon (unknown to Ronell) dated July 20, 2013 stating: “Tomorrow, I see the monster.”


are in no way contradictory - they show what he was having to do to survive the situation, and his awareness of the power she had over him.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:34 AM on August 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's such a strange detail to have included, and the bit accusing Reitman of "exploiting" Ronell by asking her to do her job is just as off the wall. I strongly suspect the author (who may, of course, be Ronell) believes that the sort of abuse of power manifested in Ronell's treatment of her victim is only what is due to someone of her station.
posted by howfar at 11:51 AM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I thought this was excellent and really moving: KBURD: Caliban Responds.

As I have read these senior queer critics, I have wondered about the place of moral clarity and about freedom practices.

Audre Lorde writes,

Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. (“The Master’s Tools”)

I am arrested by “the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences,” by the promise of sociality that it conjures.

As I read Duggan and Halberstam and the coterie that has gathered around them, mostly of senior, tenured scholars in queer studies and feminism, I wonder what forms of affiliation and exclusion are at work. I wonder, also, about the practices of identification at work and what those practices need as their unthought, perhaps unthinkable, so that a posture of white woundedness can claim the high theoretical and moral ground.

posted by TwoStride at 5:28 PM on August 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


Insightful read on this controversy from Corey Robin (FaceBook), emphasizing how a lot of the legal complaint is about psychic abuse, exploitation, & manipulation, rather than being limited to sexual abuse.

The Chron republished Robin's remarks on Monday. One of commenters there points to this 2007 piece on Ronell's relationship with Derrida, a relationship which, if not characterized by sexual demands, appears to have made similar emotional demands. Closer to the topic at hand, the piece also details the way Derrida protected a colleague facing disciplinary charges over his own alleged harassment.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:23 AM on August 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


> I thought this was excellent and really moving: KBURD: Caliban Responds.

I was just coming here to post that! It is indeed excellent... and it's by Keguro Macharia (name the author, people!).
posted by languagehat at 2:09 PM on August 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


> I find this a good summary--complete with more evidence of many prominent scholars still, damningly, refusing to back down, at the La Review of Books.

That is indeed good, and I thank you for posting it, though now I've lost respect for Jonathan Culler (“I certainly don’t regret signing, because I don’t believe the accusations of sexual misconduct. Professor Ronell certainly does write over-the-top emails, as all her correspondents know.”). And it's by Jon Wiener (name the author, people!).
posted by languagehat at 2:14 PM on August 26, 2018


Andrea Long Chu : I Worked With Avital Ronell. I Believe Her Accuser.
posted by Pendragon at 2:44 AM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]


That Chu essay is fantastic, especially this passage:

Structural problems are problems because real people hurt real people. You cannot have a cycle of abuse without actually existing abusers. That sounds simple, which is why so many academics hate it. When scholars defend Avital — or “complicate the narrative,” as we like to say — in part this is because we cannot stand believing what most people believe. The need to feel smarter is deep. Intelligence is a hungry god.
posted by Cash4Lead at 5:25 AM on August 31, 2018 [6 favorites]


> That Chu essay is fantastic

Seconded; it's well written and utterly convincing (of course, as a former grad student I didn't need much convincing). I was going to quote the same paragraph, so instead I'll share this passage:
Avital conducts herself as if someone somewhere is always persecuting her. She learned this, I imagine, in graduate school. No woman escapes the relentless misogyny of the academy. The humanities are sadistic for most people, especially when you aren’t a white man. This is understood to be normal. When students in my department asked for more advising, we were told we were being needy. “Graduate school should destroy you,” one professor laughed.

The irony is that those who survive this destruction often do so at the cost of inflicting the same trauma on their own students. Avital, now a grande dame of literary studies, who Reitman alleges bragged to him of a “mafia”-like ability to make or break the careers of others, still feels persecuted. She makes it the job of those around her to protect her from that persecution: to fawn, appease, coddle. The lawsuit against her reads as a portrait, not of a macho predator type, but of a desperately lonely person with the power to coerce others, on pain of professional and psychic obliteration, into being her friends, or worse.
Thanks, Pendragon!
posted by languagehat at 5:33 AM on August 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm sure curious about this one.
Once she’d become the head of the German department, she had her secretary announce in a departmental meeting that in the German department no student’s written work would any longer be acceptable unless it cited Derrida and Ronell.
- BERND HÜPPAUF, A witch hunt or a quest for justice: An insider’s perspective on disgraced academic Avital Ronell
posted by jeather at 2:56 PM on September 8, 2018 [5 favorites]


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