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Friendship as a Way of Life

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This week we will discuss Kathy Goes to Hell...On the Irresolvable Stupidy of Acker's Death by Avital Ronell

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 19:00
2141 Broadway, 94612 more
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Dear those who I hope to become future friends, 

Poor scheduling kept me from attending the first meeting on Foucault, and sickness will prevent me from present discussion today. However, I felt obliged to write up some sort of recap with a few questions about Ronell's rather touching piece on Acker: 


Summary and Elucidation of Ronell’s Title

The title betrays the spirit of the text. “Kathy Goes to Hell”: at no point does Ronell explicate theoretically why Kathy Acker’s destination is “hell,” but the double entendre is clear. We have our attention called to the ambiguity of emotions of which Freud spoke through the paradigmatic example of the coincidence of love and hate. Ronell is describing where her lost friend could be imagined to dwell post mortem by the petty, resentful bearers of familial, university-sanctioned, repressive values who Acker hated and who hated her. But there is also a (playful?) bitterness in Ronell, a powerless imperative to her deceased friend and mistress, to “go to hell.” When we are told that “travelling for Acker was linked to reading” (13), we see the complex operation of mourning and melancholia in Ronell in the last sentence: “Ugh. Your unbearable red cunt: how you were and weren’t re(a)d” (33). In other words, how you are and aren’t gone, how you have and have not went going, how the disgust and desire around your coming into my life already indexed you having gone, departed, even in your deathly presence. At the call of a departed friend, Ronell is obliged to think about and thank her for the work- (whether or not it works)- of survival, ueberleben, that excess of continued living in the face of the death of a friend who both is- (in narcissistic fashion)- and is not- (in the mode of radical alterity and isolation)- herself (26-27). In the “good” or “exemplary” Nietzschean friendship defined by community without transcendent communion and the prefiguring of the future in the present (22, 29), the question “to be or not to be” is “in any case dead” because the radical Heideggerean own-ness of our isolated death is paradoxically already lived and to some extend shared through our friend and the finitude with which they confront us (32, 23). Inversely- (and in no way reciprocally)- while Acker’s death had already been present to and excessive of her life shared in friendship as a work-gift to Ronell, her existence as a friend also has not arrived, “even after her departure” (29). This is one way of figuring the “irresolvable stupidity of Acker’s death”: it is something which Ronell can feel ethical injustice toward while also seeing a new kind of non-equitable justice or liberation in it (20-21); it is a death which renders the sur-viver incapable of truly surviving, suspended and torn asunder, “lacerated,” and “morcellated” like the deceased body of Acker in “so-called life”- an “idiot” of sorts. Ronell is left stuttering, unable to start or finish, while still communicating an experience and deeply concerned non-understanding of her friend (28) which moves the reader and invites us to think of and thank our friends for the incomprehensible situation into which they accompany and force us of a “purposiveness without purpose,” of a tense ambiguity of bitter labor and loving gift.  



-          How is the “vulgarity” of the “I” a “problem due to friendship itself”? (26). What does this text teach us about the “I”, including and beyond the “ego” desire for a “synchronicity of death” (18) and how the friend comes to be inequitably valued by the I more than the I values itself, in the preference for the act of loving over the fact of being loved (31)?

-          Is the quasi-impossible position of “the friend” in this text, like “democracy or the historical experience of justice” which have not yet arrived even after having departed (29), something to be celebrated and adored all the greater for the non-understanding and “permanent translating practice and tender holding pattern” it engenders (28)? Ought we, and if so, how can we, recall and create new modes of friendly community which are healed- (while steering clear of “fascistic bonding rituals”)- of the irresolvable splittings, lacerations, pathologies, ambiguities, and impasses which characterize the kind of friendship Ronell outlines according to a deconstructionist logic of “with-without-with”? 


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