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Loser Sons

Loser Sons: Politics and Authority

Avital Ronell
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Loser Sons
    Book Description:

    There are sons who grow up unhappily believing that no matter what they do, they cannot please their fathers. These are the loser sons, a group of historical men as varied as President George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, and Mohammed Atta. Their names quickly illustrate that not only are their problems serious, but they also make serious problems for others, expanding to whole nations. When God is conceived and inculcated as an angry and impossible-to-please father, the problems can last for generations. In Loser Sons, Avital Ronell draws on current philosophy, literary history, and political events to confront the grim fact that divested boys become terrifying men. Looking beyond our current moment, she interrogates the problems of authority, paternal fantasy, and childhood as they have been explored and exemplified by Franz Kafka, Goethe's Faust, Benjamin Franklin, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Hannah Arendt, Alexandre Kojeve, and Immanuel Kant. Shockingly honest, Ronell addresses the implications of her insights directly to her readers, challenging them to think through their own notions of authority and their responses to it.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09370-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface. Wrestling a Bad Object
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. Introduction. Tiers of Childhood and the Defeat of Politics
    (pp. 1-18)

    History, no doubt, can bear me out on this: to the extent that the world can be gathered into relatable narratives, it exposes us to the unconscious contrivances of those who cannot beat back a more or less covert portfolio of psychically induced flops. Today I want to visit with the blood-soaked losers among us, whether they are still on the take or drawing interest from a more or less forgotten legacy of world-encompassing disturbance. I feel a duty to complicate the very notion of loser, even though there seems to be a fair amount of consensus about the distinguishing...

  5. Chapter 1 What Was Authority?
    (pp. 19-34)

    Neither powered up by a solid sense of (or even desire for) legitimacy, nor a control freak with regard to the possibilities of comprehension, I abide with the weaker neighborhoods of thought, where things do not always work out or offer the narcissistic comfort of landing in the vicinity of secured sense. This time, in order to get a running start on the motif of the loser son, a pervasive world-denting irritant, I am going afterauthority, a problem that has attracted relatively weak bolsters and, for the most part, only tentative interventions. Yet, the problem before us has preoccupied...

  6. Chapter 2 The Household of Authority
    (pp. 35-66)

    Before continuing the reflection on authority, it may be useful for me to reintroduce myself at this juncture, if only for the purpose of offering some contextual prompters and a much-needed roadmap. I would have preferred to relegate this portion of my unfolding commentary to a quiet zone. The place from which one writes, however, is not always indifferent to the topic at hand. Authority, as political motif or theoretical axiom, surfaces in these pages neither as an obsession to which I might be considered strangely partisan, nor does it appear as easy intellectual prey. I find, moreover, that I...

  7. Chapter 3 Archeophilia, Panic, & Authority
    (pp. 67-105)

    A tactically sidelined delegate from the Lutheran assembly or party line, she comes in from a slightly different texture of concerns and reading habits. Hannah Arendt shows up late in 1958. Prepared to set a refurbished agenda, she publishes the searching essay “What Is Authority?” Taking up the relay, she expresses anguish over the noticeable disappearance of authority. Her investment in the runaway itinerary of authority takes on different tonalities and sets another type of intention than that of her predecessors. Nonetheless, Hannah Arendt, too, tries her intelligent hand at resuscitating authority. Having browsed the history of theoretical engagements with...

  8. Chapter 4 The Good Loser: Kafka Sends Off a Missive to Father
    (pp. 106-130)

    Without fail, writing looped back to the submissiveness stipulated by childhood. The experience of surrender had its unstoppable velocities from day one and carried the day, every day, seeing the leveling effects of childhood into political majority. The thought of “becomings” was dashed from the start. One was stunted—except, possibly, for the sudden assault of an occasional metamorphosis. For Franz, in any case, the writer was hard-pressed to stand up straight, to shake off an iron grip that was pushing down, it seemed, from above—or maybe from within. Like the aphonic call in Heidegger’s work, an obligating menace...

  9. Chapter 5 The Battle of Wills: On Being Cheap
    (pp. 131-154)

    The brothers, as we said, were nonstarters, though their ghostly extinction prevails over much of the domestic front. They mark a kind of nonorigin, phantom predecessors that allow Franz to slip into the Löwy name. Only sister Elli manages a success story among the siblings. Ottla, the other sister, kept the fight going where Franz capitulated quickly. Elli, she breaks away. However success is hemmed in by the Kafkan “almost”: “Elli is the only example of the almost complete success of a breaking away from your orbit.”¹ A little firecracker backed only by a loser beginning, she suddenly pushed ahead...

  10. Chapter 6 On the Unrelenting Creepiness of Childhood: Lyotard, Kid-Tested
    (pp. 155-174)

    From Socrates’ predatory urges to Locke’s invention of the “Ideot” or Hegel’s racist assignments—for the moment I shall take this no further—philosophy has demonstrated a need to impound those who could not speak for themselves, who had not reached a certain legislated majority. Under the reign of Locke, Hume, and Condillac, empirical philosophy assembled the figure of the idiot in order to put some reality behind established hypothetical assumptions.¹ The idiot pinned down the first folds of language in the essays on human understanding. Made to stand for an epoch, lost to civilization, of originary memory the idiot...

  11. Chapter 7 Was war Aufklärung?/ What Was Enlightenment? The Turn of the Screwed
    (pp. 175-180)

    Trained on the three monotheistic religions, Lyotard frequently reverts to Abraham on instant replay in order to score a number of crucial theoretical points. In his essay “Emma: Between Philosophy and Psychoanalysis,” Emma, as the figure that deals out the wound of sexual difference, gets set up alongside Abraham as his improbable partner and counterpart. What binds the unlikely couple? Both Emma and Abraham are staggered by a mode of address that they integrate only minimally, if at all. Tiny and disabled, they are traumatically called up by a force or voice or prod that cannot properly land in or...

  12. Index
    (pp. 181-184)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-186)