The university as an infinite game: Revitalising activism in the academy

Using the ‘infinite game’ metaphor to think about radical inclusion in the University:

Te Ipu Pakore: The Broken Vessel

An article by Niki Harré, Barbara M Grant, Kirsten Locke and myself on academic activism in the Australian Universities’ Review (September 2017):

We offer here a metaphor of the university as an ‘infinite game’ in which we bring to life insight, imagination, and radical inclusion; and resist the ‘finite games’ that can lead us astray. We suggest that keeping the infinite game alive within universities is a much-needed form of academic activism. We offer four vignettes that explore this further: our responsibility to be ‘critic and conscience of society’ and how that responsibility must also turn inwards onto our own institution, the dilemmas of being a woman with leadership responsibilities in an institution that proudly shows off its ‘top girls’, the opportunities we have as teachers to ‘teach the university’ and be taught by our students, and the contradictions we face as activist scholars in our relentlessly audited research personas. We…

View original post 20 more words


Full Access: “Imagining Foucault. On the digital subject and ‘visual citizenship'”

One of the most exciting features in Foucault’s work is his analytics of power in terms of forms of visibility. It allows for a reflection on the conditions of seeing and thinking, thus triggering a seemingly paradoxical move: locating the limits of our perspectives entails simultaneously transgressing these limits. In a way, we decipher our own blind spot. Approaching Discipline and Punish through this perspective brings us to identify the digital subject as a characteristic figure of our time. In contrast to its disciplinarian counterpart, it appears to be an active, though not necessarily political subject. The notion of visual citizenship will help us to go a step further and figure out what it could mean to challenge today’s surveilling gaze.

Link: Imagining Foucault. On the digital subject and “visual citizenship”

New book: The Quantified Self in Precarity: Work, Technology and What Counts

Forthcoming book from Phoebe Moore:


My next book is about to come out. Published by Routledge, this is the summation of about four years of work I have been doing on the quantified self at work. The Quantified Self in Precarity: Work, Technology and What Counts is the state of the art text on how technology and the use of technology for management and self-management changes the ‘quantified’, precarious workplace today.

Humans are accustomed to being tool bearers, but what happens when machines become tool bearers, where the tool is seemingly ever more precise in its calculation about human labour via the use of big data and people analytics by managements? Data, as quantified output, is treated as a neutral arbiter and judge, and is being prioritised over qualitative judgements in ‘agile’ key performance indicator management systems and digitalised client based relationships. From insecure ‘gig’ work to workplace health and wellness initiatives in office work…

View original post 1,335 more words

Sloterdijk on autonomous fantasies



“As soon as one concedes the self-immunizing, individual-space-creating purpose of ‘originality,’ or rather of micromanic competency (extending to kitsch and delirium), the constitutive avoidance of reality evident in most human utterances, even a certain degree of hallucination, can be taken as indicating the successful installation of individuals and small groups in their own self-will. Those who are original wear self-woven garments.” (emphasis mine)

– Sloterdijk, Foams. Spheres III. p. 240

Nietzsche’s critique of Stoicism

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 7.14.46 PM

I’ve been taking my time wading through the different sections of the recently published Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition. This collection is excellent for getting an overview of where the scholarship is on Stoicism is right now, from Ancient Greek and Roman sources to the contemporary Stoic revival.

It goes without saying that, as a non-specialist, I was initially drawn to this publication because there has been a popular revival of Stoic philosophy, especially in the past few years. I’ve covered some of this trend in earlier posts. My entry on Tim Ferriss and Tara Brach focused on how Eastern meditation was being blended along with Stoic philosophy in order to produce a version of Mindfulness ready-made for Bay Area entrepreneurs. The Ferriss-Brach hybrid (blending Buddhist meditation techniques with Stoic techniques drawn from Seneca’s Letters to Lucilius) has the goal of redefining success in a post-Jobsian era. the-tao-of-senecaWhereas Steve Jobs expressed the era of complete devotion to the perfect product at the expense of healthy relationships and fulfillment in life more generally, the new Silicon Success strategies emphasize a centered frame of mind that balances personal productivity and group work in order to maximize one’s influence on potential followers. Stoic Mindfulness is good for business because its emphasis on self-control and happiness mitigates awry emotions, producing an entrepreneur who is now free to hack themselves to perfection while simultaneously establishing a carefully constructed bond with potential followers. “Always Hinged” could be their slogan.

This mindful approach to success has seen some push-back recently, which I’m going to briefly summarize. I should probably clarify here that I don’t necessarily subscribe to any of the critiques below. In fact I personally practice a form of meditation that combines elements from a variety of traditions, including mindfulness training. Yet I find the critiques below to be a helpful reminder that there’s more than one way to understand this self-hacking trend.

The Will Davies critique: My entry on Ferriss and Brach brought in Will Davies’ The Happiness Industry in order to summarize the gist of most Foucault-inspired critiques of Mindfulness. Basically, the complaint against our culture’s obsession with Mindfulness (whether in the form of CBT, Stoicism, Buddhist, or Transcendental meditation) is that it epitomizes “neoliberal ethics,” a phrase that refers to the expected mode of living in a world that has been completely taken over by free market ideology. In such a world, the risk has been transferred from governments and corporations over to individuals. As individuals become more exposed to risk, we become sicker creatures, and yet it’s also our responsibility to dig ourselves out–to pull ourselves up by our own psychological bootstraps. Davies’ critique is quasi-Marxist inspired. His proposed alternative to individual mindful techniques is a communitarian ethos, one that doesn’t get much play in popular media.

A Nietzschean critique: That brings me back to The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition, because Michael Ure’s “Stoicism in nineteenth-century German philosophy” offers a fascinating critique of contemporary Stoicism by way of Nietzsche. Since a flurry of recent self-help books have re-packaged Stoicism as Western mindfulness, Nietzsche’s commentary feels strangely relevant.nietzsche1882

In order to appreciate Nietzsche’s critique of Stoicism (and, by extension, a Nietzschean critique of Western mindfulness more generally), it should be noted that during his middle period he actually embraced Stoic elements. Ure points out that Nietzsche was especially drawn to the Stoic ethic of eudaimonism (living in such a way as to maximize personal fulfillment) as a counterpoint to the “communitarian ethos” of modern political philosophy. A crude way to put this would be that Nietzsche saw Stoicism as offering a strong individualism in contrast to herd morality.

In ancient Stoic philosophy Nietzsche believed he had found a salutary reminder of an ancient ethic based on pride in oneself and love of fate that stood in sharp opposition to the self-contempt and hatred of this world that he saw as the basis of Christian and secularized versions of Christian ethics. (583)

Nietzsche’s critique of Christianity is probably outdated. As Sloterdijk suggests in Rage and Time, 20th-century Christianity pivoted away from a life-denying “otherwordly” emphasis and more or less embraced a “thiswordly” ethic. But Nietzsche’s vision of Christianity is beside the point right now. What matters is the basic opposition he draws between Stoic eudaimonia and modernity’s collective ethic. The result is that Nietzsche “pinpoints and affirms the general Stoic ideal of rational self-sufficiency through independence of all externals” (583). Furthermore, for Nietzsche, this quasi-detached ethic of “going negative” is what aligns Western Stoic philosophy with Eastern Buddhist meditative techniques.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In the 1880s, according to Ure, Nietzsche re-evaluated Stoicism as he developed his own philosophy of the will to power. As he increasingly pressed for an embrace of risk, chance, and periodic self-transformation in dynamic response to those elements, Nietzsche began to criticize Stoicism’s “extirpation of the passions and idealization of tranquil self-control”. He came to dislike the entire Western project of rationalism, which he saw as less an expression of strength than one of “fear of chance and risk”. The alternative, for Nietzsche, is to intensify the passions and ride the rollercoaster of pain and pleasure to a higher form of joy–an experience of life more intense than balanced happiness. This higher joy, Ure explains, “hinges on maintaining our vulnerability to chance”.

One way of reading Nietzsche’s later rejection of Stoicism is that he criticizes what the self-help industry now calls mindful techniques (esp. negative visualization) because such practices ultimately provide a buffer of indifference rather than intensifying exposure to chance. The mindfulness industry is based on integration and balance, and the “untimely” message of Nietzsche is that we might need to occasionally interrogate those virtues.

However, it’s also true that, in a sense, Nietzsche advocates an “integration” of sorts with his will to power. But Nietzsche’s integration works through active differentiation and selection rather than suspending judgment. The main target of his critique is how integration is achieved.

Knausgaard signed books ebay auction, mask included


I was searching for an English translation of a Karl Ove Knausgaard novel last week when I stumbled across this auction for a set of his My Struggle autobiographical series, Books 1-5, signed no less.

My Struggle Books 1-5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Signed)

It also includes a “life-sized” image of his head. It’s basically a picture of him cut out and glued on a popsicle stick:


The seller states:”The winner will receive a life-size ‘Karl Ove Knausgaard’ mask provided at the pre-publication [of Book 5] event in London – a great collector’s item!”

Then: “I am happy to provide pictures of the signing to the winning bidder.”

The whole thing sounds kind of bizarre to me, especially because Knausgaard is a famous introvert.

I’m tempted to bid.



Karl Ove Knausgaard on Death

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.43.09 PM
Jogging with Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book II

After hearing quite a bit of hype, I tried reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book I about a year ago. I found the first 50 pages or so fascinating; yet every subsequent read became shorter and shorter, until I finally gave it up.

But since then I’ve heard even more about Knausgaard and recently felt the pressure to give his work another shot. This time, instead of laboring over my screen, I opted for the audiobook version. This proved decisive. Listening to his novel, A Time for Everything, was a treasure. I quickly followed that up with My Struggle, and now I’m mostly done with My Struggle: Book II. Knausgaard rambles in such a patient yet meaningful way that listening to–rather than reading–his autobiographical sketches becomes almost meditative.

One of the reasons I’m drawn to his work is that his neo-Romanticism offers a kind of antidote to our American fascination with progress and the futurism of Silicon Valley. Listening to My Struggle feels almost like a guilty pleasure, like a lost time that modernity will always try to cover up, and in some cases for good reason. Yet his style of thinking helps me think about other material that I come across in a new way.

Here’s a passage I listened to while running in the Boise foothills:

Death makes life meaningless because everything we have ever striven for ceases when life does, and it makes life meaningful too, because its presence makes the little we have of it indispensable, every moment precious. But in my lifetime death was removed from our lives, it no longer existed, except as a constant item in all the newspapers, on the TV news and in films, where it didn’t mark the end of a process, discontinuity, but, on account of daily repetition, represented, on the contrary, an extension of the process, continuity, and in this way, oddly enough, had become a source of our security and our anchor. A plane crash was a ritual, it happened every so often, the same chain of events, and we were never part of it ourselves. A sense of security, but also excitement and intensity, for imagine how terrible the last seconds were for the passengers . . . everything we saw and did contained the intensity that was triggered in us, but had nothing to do with us. (175-76)

These thoughts originate in Knausgaard’s reflections on his Dostoevsky reading. He mulls over the distance between Baroque death, Dostoevsky’s grotesque yet compelling figure of a redeemed humanity that has fallen into nihilism, and then the way modernity has triumphed over death in an artificial, abstract manner—”in my lifetime death was removed from our lives.” The reproduction of death in the news, on film, and through the technology of the internet has made it routine. Death at a remove.

What struck me about this passage is that in it Knausgaard critiques the same indifference towards death that the modern revival of Stoic philosophy values. Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus are practically triumphant in the Bay Area right now, in part because they offer a Western correlate to Buddhist indifference. One of the core components is indifference towards one’s own death. “Death is nothing frightening,” Epictetus reminds Stoic practitioners in his Manual for Living.

The Stoic effort to become negative–to become free from externals–is attractive for sated consumers and entrepreneurs alike. Yet looking at modernity’s neo-Stoicism through the eyes of Knausgaard suggests that this indifference is enabled, or even compelled, by data collection. It’s big data that makes plane crashes a ritual, a routine that can be algorithmically determined. This ritualization of death begs for indifference.

Does that make the Stoic revival noble, or naive?