I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all
oppression and shame,
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men at anguish with
themselves, remorseful after deeds done,
I see in low life the mother misused by her children, dying,
neglected, gaunt, desperate,
I see the wife misused by her husband, I see the treacherous seducer
of young women,
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love attempted to be
hid, I see these sights on the earth,
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny, I see martyrs and
I observe a famine at sea, I observe the sailors casting lots who
shall be kill’d to preserve the lives of the rest,
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon
laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these-all the meanness and agony without end I sitting look out
See, hear, and am silent.
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…
When searching for an open access version of Cotton Mather’s Theopolis Americana, I ran across this wonderful archive of American Studies texts, housed by the Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. One of its intriguing features is a visual map of who’s accessing the material:
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.
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…
“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)
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.
A few years ago (around 2012) I started following research updates published by the Brookings Institution. That dropped off when my interests drifted elsewhere. Then more recently I’ve been looking for political podcasts with some heft; I searched for the Brookings Institution once again.
I’m glad I did. Their Oct. 30 podcast event, “The Future of Land Warfare,” offers a roundtable on…the future of land warfare. The main interlocutor is Michael E. O’Hanlon, whose book, The Future of Land Warfare, argues for a build-up a conventional U.S. forces in order to prepare for future (and ongoing) conflict. He sees this as a correction to the present trend towards de-militarization (although he does laud Gen. Allen & the White House for its unprecedented coalition-building breakthroughs).
What I found most interesting about the podcast, however, is Gen. Petraeus’ comments. He more or less backs O’Hanlon’s call for an increased military presence; at the very least, they both agree, it creates deterrence. But Petraeus’ key addition to the discussion is that land forces in the future should be made up of what he calls “pentathlete soldiers”. I did a quick web search and found that he’s been pushing for this since at least 2007. Basically, a pentathlete soldier is different from a conventional Army soldier in the range of skills they’re expected to deploy. These future soldiers should be able to respond not only to conventional warfare, but also humanitarian crises, outbreaks, disasters, etc.
The trigger for any given scenario would be global instability. This is key. “Instability” is more general than traditional “warfare,” and this lack of specificity means that a pentathlete soldier must adapt to many different circumstances–the context here determined by shifting geo-political configurations. As world revolutions emerge and submerge at a faster rate, and as national boundaries are increasingly disrupted by globalizing forces, future soldiers must become high-performers.
This emphasis on varied high performance, capable of adapting to unforeseen instability (i.e., risk), is fascinating because it offers a strong military parallel to the emphasis on adaptation and varied skills in the economic arena. Just as the increasing instability of conventional domains demands that soldiers become more plastic, more “athletic” in their training, so must potential workers (students) view education as risk-minimization training, wherein they too learn skills varied enough to survive multiple economic cycles.
However, what stands out in this comparison is that there’s a strong spatial (strongly geographical) component that’s driving the demand for pentathletes. Petraeus explicitly makes such a connection in the “Future of Land Warfare” discussion. It’s as though the new geography is creating new military subjects.
But the economic instability leading to demand for entrepreneurial risk-taking seems rather non-spatial. It’s a matter of economic ebbs and flows rather than spatial alterations.
There’s much more to the podcast. Do check it out.