On Power and Aporia in the Academy: A Response in Three Parts
Amy Elizabeth Robinson
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  1. This would be a good occasion to reread Martha Nussbaum’s devastating article on Butler (the presumed author of the Ronell letter). The defense being mobilized on Ronell’s behalf is essentially based on the idea that the emails were simply subversive acts of irony, a postmodernist game, parodic efforts, nothing to be taken seriously; after all, she “defines herself as,” or “is,” a lesbian, and everyone knows that she would never do what she has been accused of doing — her reputation is of the highest order. The reality is that Ronell, in her writings, has long specialized in vacuous game-playing, arguably a horrible symptom of the decline of the humanities in this country — and this is exactly what Nussbaum focuses on in her take-down of Butler.
  2. “The idea was to somehow testify.” An additional word should be said here about the hypocrisy of the academic network of power to which both Ronell and Butler belong — a network that defends Ronell as an ironist, but that stood by in silence when a literary scholar was prosecuted for criminal satire in a court in New York. In fact, one of those who signed the Ronell letter, Catharine Stimpson of NYU, actively participated in that prosecution, by literally testifying in a court of law on behalf of the “victim” of the criminalized texts — another academic with a big, self-made reputation. For Stimpson and apparently the other individuals who signed the Ronell letter, it’s important to protect Ronell, a member of the network, but a defenseless parodist who isn’t part of the group can, and should, be jailed for impugning the reputation of an NYU department chairman. Shame on the entire group of individuals who signed this letter, and on all those who have turned a blind eye to the damage they’ve done over the years, including through inaction and passivity, to the cause of justice and the humanities alike.
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