Rule Thyself/Read Together

Just Do It

One of the unexplored concepts for a themed blog or tumblr or twitter account or…—anyway, a concept which lays fallow for reasons that will quickly be made clear—would have a title something like “read together.”

To explain: the upsides of being in my location in a global division of labour that nominally assigns me the task of reading books and articles, and writing down my thoughts about what I have said cannot be overstated. Among the downsides is living in a professional community that is continually, constantly training me in the habit of using the passive voice; another is that the same voracious curiosity which undergirds the satisfaction I draw from my work is also a constant source of frustration insofar as I am forced, in trying to make my way from the reading to the writing, to leave interesting thoughts by the way side. And nothing is more frustrating than having to abandon an apparent parallel, a subtle link, between two sources. Part of the recipe of being a successful academic, apparently, lies in cultivating a boundless curiosity while curating a strict discipline over the paths we allow it to take us down. A capacity for caprice, certainly, but also the prudence to almost never exercise it.

The tone of “read together” would thus be imperative: it would offer two excerpts from my reading online, in a tone of invitation, and with an implied plea for the reader to do something with materials that I am sure could produce insight if only their relation to one another were fully explored. So, for example, from a masterful review of the issues raised by the trial of Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s famed “blade runner,” for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp:

The full citation from Corinthians tattooed on Pistorius’s upper back reads:

I do not run like a man running aimlessly;
I do not fight like a man beating the air;
I execute each stride with intent;
I beat my body and make it my slave
I bring it under my complete subjection
To keep myself from being disqualified
After having called others to the contest.

The line about making my body my slave is not in most translations from Corinthians, nor is subjection described as ‘complete’. Pistorius was raising the stakes. He was also punishing, or even indicting, himself.

And, from a shorter piece on the causes of the recent rise in injuries in the NFL:

Advertisements are now composed entirely of jump cuts between rippling bodies yelling, barking, testifying to some endless purgatory of reps, sets, and routines. Menacing homilies about commitment linger on screen to be joined by this model of shoe or that style of gear. “Every single day,” we hear Tom Brady chant stoically, “every single day,” as his image, multiplied a thousandfold by technology, drills relentlessly with itself, perfectly in sync, in a macabre echo of authoritarian spectacle.”You are the sum of all your training,” Under Armour threatens us, before urging, finally, at the end, “Rule Yourself.” In its unalloyed praise for the eternal necessity of discipline, the sports commercial is a worthy heir to Puritan austerity. Excess physique is grace rewarded. Lean muscle is proof that God loves us and wants us to be strong.

See? There is something there. There is also, at a stretch, a cute echo back to the molding of the self in the academic life, in that “Rule Thyself.” But I tell myself I have other places that I must direct my energies, so let me just quote from Horkheimer and Adorno:

It is not merely that domination is paid for by the alienation of men from the objects’ dominated: with the objectification of spirit, the very relations of men—even those of the individual to himself—were bewitched.

No doubt somebone, somewhere, is already putting these pieces together. After all, somebody is always one step ahead, better prepared, more disciplined. That’s why we have to keep training, right?

What we think they should want

TH_Alienation Effect_Brecht glasses

I am informed by a colleague that in 1963, Arthur Laing, then Canada’s minister responsible for Indian policy, asserted that, “The prime condition in the progress of the Indian people … must be the development by themselves of a desire for the goals which we think they should want.”

Which we think they should want.

This is of course awful, an expression of the sentiment that makes it fair to describe the policy of the Canadian state as “cultural genocide.” I am reminded of Brecht’s poem, “The Solution”:

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Also awful, however, is how much pleasure I take in this quote. Not because I agree with it at all, no. Rather, one of the virtues (if it can be called a virtue) that I have cultivated as I gradually come to identify myself as an academic, is this affection for pieces of evidence that provide the perfect example of some process or dynamic or force, even if that process is the name of what is going wrong with the world. Such pristine, self-contained cases. It is hard not to be drawn in by the sense of the universal in the particular (especially when, as here, it is about universalizing one kind of particular, and annihilating another).


Why so little attention in conversations about neoliberalism to where this is all happening? What about land and territory? As in, when it came to the VW emissions scandal, what planet exactly did these high-level executives think they were going to move to?

Your point about the role of space and place in neoliberalism is spot on. What is fascinating about the reading I’ve been doing about financial imaginaries, and their slow diffusion into […More] ‘ Annihilation ‘

Don't ask your female students to babysit

If you supervise a graduate student, or a student doing an honours thesis, the offer to do some research assistance for you can be an attractive proposition. If your student is lucky, he or she may actually get to do research in this research assistant job, for which he or she will get almost vanishingly small credit but through which, at least, he or she may actually learn things that are valuable to their development […More] ‘ Don’t ask your female students to babysit for you ‘


I am participating in a reading group on neoliberalism, or perhaps on “what we talk about when talk about when we talk about neoliberalism.”

Here is Hayek, within two contiguous pages (50-51) of his most-famous work, The Road to Serfdom:

“The intellectual history of the last sixty or eighty years is indeed a perfect illustration of the truth that in social evolution nothing is inevitable but thinking makes it so.“ “Far from being appropriate only […More] ‘ Unthinkable ‘

Hic Sunt Rhodus

The long-lasting word is the dead word, the long-knowing text a text of dead words, ordered. To arrange the words in ways that do our bidding, we snuff out life so they lay just where we leave them. Wherefore: only ordered words may matter. Therefore: orders issued, to mean just what we bide them mean. All unwanted, crawling, shifting, walking words, lest meanings placed so carefully escape the thoughts in which we place them. And […More] ‘ Hic Sunt Rhodus ‘


Waverly Station Scaffolding, CC-BY-SA

When my son asks “when will I ever have to know how to calculate the area of a triangle?” what do I say?

You could tell him, for one, that this might be the wrong question to be asking about his math homework, that while there is a good chance he won’t have a job where he has to do this precise calculation very often, that it’s nonetheless probably worth practicing it anyway, that […More] ‘ Triangles ‘