Funny and Cute

Who schedules a dance class for two-year-olds from 6:15 to 6:45 pm? When do they think two-year-olds go to bed?

Klara is in the 3-4-year-old group from 4 to 4:30 because she starts her bath time at 7 and simply wouldn’t enjoy such a late class. Especially since it’s a 24-minute drive.

In the funny and cute news, I explained to Klara that Mamma is Ukrainian and Papa is Russian. We practiced the words, and she liked them.

“So Klara, are you Ukrainian or Russian?” I asked.

Klara gave me a look I usually reserve for the particularly hopeless students.

“I baby,” she said. “Klara is baby, Mommy.”

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Today’s Muselmänner

A very good quote from The Burnout Society that is very representative of what the book is about (if not of the low quality of the translation overall):

In this society of compulsion, everyone carries a work camp inside. This labor camp is defined by the fact that one is simultaneously prisoner and guard, victim and perpetrator. One exploits oneself. It means that exploitation is possible even without domination. People who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, or burnout syndrome develop the symptoms displayed by the Muselmänner in concentration camps. Muselmänner are emaciated prisoners lacking all vigor who, like people with acute depression, have become entirely apathetic and can no longer even recognize physical cold or the orders given by guards. One cannot help but suspect that the late-modern animal laborans with neuronal disturbances would have been a Muselmann, too—albeit well fed and probably obese.

As I said before, none of this is particularly new. These ideas have been worked and reworked by many people for over two decades. But it’s all about finding convincing and pithy ways of delivering the ideas, and The Burnout Society definitely does that. I’ve seen people who don’t even tangentially belong to the academia quote this book on Facebook, and that’s a very good sign because it means the book is getting read by people who are not conducting research.

Book Notes: Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society

Readers say they want more reviews of the hot new books in philosophy, so here is one I just finished.

There is no reference point for the modern subject other than the Self. In our pursuit of complete freedom, we have done away with any limitations imposed by morality, norms, expectations and definitions that exist outside of the Self. The Self is the only source of the truth for an individual.

This drive towards complete self-referentiality – “I am what I say I am, and don’t you dare try to define my experience, my identity, and my way of being” – aims to create perennially lonely, uprooted subjects that are extremely useful to the fluid economy. The subjects themselves pay for their bristly freedom with loneliness, anxiety, depression, and a constant sense of exhaustion that they can’t even fully explain to themselves:

In social networks, the function of “friends” is primarily to heighten narcissism by granting attention, as consumers, to the ego exhibited as a commodity.

Depression, says Byung-Chul Han, is pervasive in modern technological societies which have dismantled the disciplinary societies that Michel Foucault analyzed. The modern “entrepreneurs of their own lives” aren’t controlled, disciplined or punished by an external institution or figure of authority. They have interiorized the disciplinarian and have invited him to inhabit their inner lives.

It’s wrong, Han argues, even to refer to the late-modern achievement-society subject as a subject. The more correct word would be “a project.” One has to treat oneself as a constant project of enhancing productivity, and mete out punishment and discipline to oneself.

The obvious freedom from any outside constraints that we enjoy obscures for us the sad truth that we have dismantled the prison walls only to bring them inside ourselves. Our world is that of a constant auto-aggression for the sake of the freedom from any external constraints. That auto-aggression results in what we call depression.

This is a valuable, if very repetitive (especially for such a slim volume), book. Be forewarned, though, the English translation stinks. The translator intersperses the text with parenthesised German words he finds complicated, and that interrupts the flow of the text. People say that the Spanish translations of this author are much better, which is why he’s super popular in Spain. Another reason, of course, is that Spain and Germany have a very intense cultural exchange both in fiction and in philosophy.

Beef Noodles

“Beef noodles!” the grocery bagger exclaims. “Wow! That’s the first time I see something like this. What aisle did you get them in? Are they actually made of beef??”

“These are beet noodles,” I explain, feeling sorry to dampen his entusiasm.

I think somebody should invent and patent beef noodles because there seems to be demand.

Quirky Sells

Nobody perceives being in a category of “extremely rare” in Myers-Briggs as embarrassing or negative, do they? To the contrary, it makes one feel good to hear that one is part of a tiny group of 0,8% of women on the planet. We definitely don’t inhabit the world where one is comforted by the news that one is so typical and normal that one belongs to the 89% of the folks in the world. (Except, of course, for disturbed individuals who, given the right disorder, might love such news).

Not only is quirkiness the thing to sell on the shrinking job market of the fluid, it is also helpful to strengthen the vision of oneself as so different from others that no real connection can be hoped for.

The Feminist Dream

The feminist dream these days is to be in a situation where the brave feminist can’t communicate above the level of a 5-year-old. And it’s declared openly and smugly.

I always wondered, why don’t people feel ashamed to share such pathetic stories with the world? I understand it’s the oversharing culture where breadth covers up a complete absence of depth. But by God, will these chatty, twittery, smug professional victims ever just shut up?