The telephone book: technology--schizophrenia--electric speech

Front Cover
University of Nebraska Press, 1989 - History - 465 pages
5 Reviews
The telephone marks the place of an absence. Affiliated with discontinuity, alarm, and silence, it raises fundamental questions about the constitution of self and other, the stability of location, systems of transfer, and the destination of speech. Profoundly changing our concept of long-distance, it is constantly transmitting effects of real and evocative power. To the extent that it always relates us to the absent other, the telephone, and the massive switchboard attending it, plugs into a hermeneutics of mourning. The Telephone Book, itself organized by a "telephonic logic," fields calls from philosophy, history, literature, and psychoanalysis. It installs a switchboard that hooks up diverse types of knowledge while rerouting and jamming the codes of the disciplines in daring ways. Avital Ronell has done nothing less than consider the impact of the telephone on modern thought. Her highly original, multifaceted inquiry into the nature of communication in a technological age will excite everyone who listens in.

The book begins by calling close attention to the importance of the telephone in Nazi organization and propaganda, with special regard to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. In the Third Reich the telephone became a weapon, a means of state surveillance, "an open accomplice to lies." Heidegger, in Being and Time and elsewhere, elaborates on the significance of "the call." In a tour de force response, Ronell mobilizes the history and terminology of the telephone to explicate his difficult philosophy.

Ronell also speaks of the appearance of the telephone in the literary works of Duras, Joyce, Kafka, Rilke, and Strindberg. She examines its role in psychoanalysis—Freud said that the unconscious is structured like a telephone, and Jung and R. D. Laing saw it as a powerful new body part. She traces its historical development from Bell's famous first call: "Watson, come here!" Thomas A. Watson, his assistant, who used to communicate with spirits, was eager to get the telephone to talk, and thus to link technology with phantoms and phantasms. In many ways a meditation on the technologically constituted state, The Telephone Book opens a new field, becoming the first political deconstruction of technology, state terrorism, and schizophrenia. And it offers a fresh reading of the American and European addiction to technology in which the telephone emerges as the crucial figure of this age.

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Review: The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech

User Review  - Leonard Houx - Goodreads

Ronell's The Telephone Book combines philosophy with literature and graphic design, in a disorienting, challenging mix. It's like a Derridean The Medium is the Massage. Some of it is annoying and ... Read full review

Review: The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech

User Review  - Seth - Goodreads

This is a re-read sparked by a conversation with a dear friend up in San Francisco. We were discussing books and he mentioned a book "that was unlike any other book (he'd) ever read". I said the only ... Read full review


The Bio 302
Electric Portraits 300
Canadasein 321

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About the author (1989)

Avital Ronell is an associate professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book, Dictations: On Haunted Writing (1986), treats Goethe's invention of remote control in writing.