On Testing, Torture, and Experimentation

A conversation with Avital Ronell about the philosophical and cultural motivations for testing


Fields of Knowledge
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions



Aaron Levy


University of Illinois Press and the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


25% Formal - 75% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "On Testing, Torture, and Experimentation: The Test Drive," a conversation and book launch with scholar Avital Ronell on Wednesday, March 15, 2006 from 6:30-8:00pm. Avital Ronell will engage Eduardo Cadava and Jean-Michel Rabaté in a wide-ranging conversation about the philosophical and cultural motivations for testing today, followed by the launch of The Test Drive, Avital Ronell's new book, courtesy of The University of Illinois Press.

To know something, and to know that it is true, has never been a simple matter of recognition and assent. Instead, increasing numbers of tests of ever increasing complexity have been established to determine and constitute what is true, probable, or verifiable. In particular, higher education is perpetually involved in tests--tests about tests, and in the creation, assessment, refinement, and justification of tests--so much so that some critics argue that education has become obsessed by tests. On the evening of 9-11, no less than the President of the United States said: "We are being tested." What propels this incessant drive to test? What can satisfy it? What is the subterranean history of its effects? Please join us at Slought for an exciting analysis of the ubiquity and pervasiveness of testing today.

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Avital Ronell is a professor of German, English, and Comparative Literature at New York University, where she taught an annual fall semester seminar with Jacques Derrida. She originally studied at the Hermeneutics Institute in Berlin with Jacob Taubes, earned her doctorate at Princeton University, and then worked with Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous in Paris. She has published widely on German and French literature and philosophy, psychoanalysis, mutant French theory, feminist hermeneutics, and the essence of technology, and continues to churn out a breathtaking range of rigorously deconstructive rereadings of everything from technology to the Gulf War, AIDS, opera, and addiction. Her works include Stupidity (2003); Finitude's Score: Essays for the End of the Millenium (1994); Crack Wars: Literature, Addiction, Mania (1992); The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (1989); and Dictations: On Haunted Writing (1986).

Eduardo Cadava teaches in the English Department at Princeton University. His publications include Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (1997), Emerson and the Climates of History (1997), Who Comes After the Subject? (co-edited with Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy; 1991), Cities Without Citizens (co-edited with Aaron Levy; 2004), and And Justice for all? The Claims of Human Rights (co-edited with Ian Balfour). He is currently finishing a collection of essays on the ethics and politics of mourning entitled Of Mourning.

Jean-Michel Rabaté, a Senior Curator at Slought, is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania since 1992, and has authored or edited twenty books on Modernism, Bernard, Joyce, Pound, Beckett, Lacan, Derrida, psychoanalysis and literary theory.

"[Avital Ronell] is the foremost thinker of the repressed conditions of knowledge..."

-- Jean-Luc Nancy

"Whether you mean to prove that you can do it, or we are driven by what Maurice Blanchot calls 'the trial of experience,' and he submits himself endlessly to Nietzsche's loyalty tests, or she is a runaway replicant whose human factor is being scrutinized, or the sadistic coach has us revving up for an athletic contest; whether you are entering college, studying law, or trying to get out of an institution; whether they are giving you the third degree; whether you are buffing up on steroids, or she had unprotected sex, or he doesn't know what he has but he's fatigued and nauseated; whether they have to prove their mettle or demonstrate a hypothesis or audition for the part, make a demo, try another way, or determine paternity; whether you roll back to the time of the Greeks who first list their understanding of basanos, or to the persecution of witches and press forward to push out the truth in the medium of torture and pain: it seems as though everything - nature, body, investment, belief - has needed to be tested, including your love. What is the provenance of this need to torture, to test? A link between torture and experiment has been asserted ever since Francis Bacon; yet, what has allowed acts and idioms of testing to top out as an essential and widening interest, a nearly unavoidable drive?"

-- Avital Ronell, The Test Drive