What are we to make of the bizarre story of Avital Ronell and Nimrod Reitman? She’s a superstar deconstructionist professor at New York University, teaching in the German and comparative-literature departments. He’s a graduate student who came to NYU to be her advisee. In 2017, two years after getting his PhD, Reitman claimed that Ronell had stalked him, sexually harassed and assaulted him, and sabotaged his job search. After an 11-month Title IX investigation, the university found Ronell guilty of sexual harassment, both verbal and physical, and punished her with a one-year suspension without pay.
Ronell denies everything. To me, her hundreds of histrionic e-mails read like a humorless novel of obsessive passion. Not so, she claims; they were lighthearted fun “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.” Well, all you queer Israeli academics out there, do you address your grad students as your “sweet cuddly baby” or warn them that “‘I love you too’ does not cut it darling,” if they fail to respond with sufficient enthusiasm?
The truth behind the charges and countercharges isn’t easy to discern. I’ve read Reitman’s 56-page legal claim against NYU, which he’s suing—reportedly for millions of dollars (according to his spokesman no amount has been specified)—and came away thinking that if even one page is true, she was way over the line. Her constant demands—for attention, affection, time, loyalty, reassurance—seem unhinged: “I am a bit weepy and confused, a normal aftermath I suppose, and also a response to the separation from you…. But I will try to gain some ground with a visit to shrinky-winky.”
The photo in the upper left is a still from Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. What is its relevance to the story? Just that deconstructionists prefer to discuss the periphery, so here's something for them to discuss when they try to evade the issue at had. The choice of photo was made during the latest meeting of our department of academic Schadenfreude.-- DL
Click here for the full article ("Power in the Ivory Tower") as posted yesterday (Aug 29) in The Nation