Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

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?


So everybody is Myers-Briggsing these days, and I decided to try it out, too. Turns out I’m in the same category as Elon Musk and a bunch of really distasteful politicians, so thank you very much for that. But the description of me they gave me is very flattering:

It’s lonely at the top, and being one of the rarest and most strategically capable personality types, Architects know this all too well. Architects form just two percent of the population, and women of this personality type are especially rare, forming just 0.8% of the population – it is often a challenge for them to find like-minded individuals who are able to keep up with their relentless intellectualism and chess-like maneuvering. People with the Architect personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy.

I definitely like being rare. But I’m afraid the test tells everybody they are rare. Hey, did anybody take the test and was told they are not rare? I’m just curious.

It’s a nice test, though. See this part about me:

Architects are simultaneously the most starry-eyed idealists and the bitterest of cynics, a seemingly impossible conflict. But this is because Architect personalities tend to believe that with effort, intelligence and consideration, nothing is impossible, while at the same time they believe that people

are too lazy, short-sighted or self-serving to actually achieve those fantastic results.”

That’s totally me. And Elon Musk.

And sorry for long quotes but this one is very good:

Architects radiate self-confidence and an aura of mystery, and their insightful observations, original ideas and formidable logic enable them to push change through with sheer willpower and force of personality. At times it will seem that Architects are bent on deconstructing and rebuilding every idea and system they come into contact with, employing a sense of perfectionism and even morality to this work. Anyone who doesn’t have the talent to keep up with Architects’ processes, or worse yet, doesn’t see the point of them, is likely to immediately and permanently lose their respect.

I wouldn’t say I radiate the aura of mystery, although I’d surely love to. But the rest is true, and we all know it. Especially my new buddy Elon.

The test also says Elon and I are arrogant, judgmental and clueless. I don’t know about Elon but it’s definitely true about me. I perceive these adjectives as compliments, so that tells us something.

Here is the link to the test.

The Mystery of Mysteries

Does anybody know why all new book releases in the mystery genre happen in February and August? It’s clear why most important episodes in a TV show air in February. But what is it with books? It’s so annoying to have nothing to read all year and then to get inundated with half a dozen 400-page mysteries in one week.

P.S. The ones I read are not really mysteries. It’s the police procedural genre.

Protected: What Bugs Me

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Gender Differences

A very young teacher assistant at Klara’s school last week: “Look at how quiet they are! It’s because they are all girls. I know it’s not fashionable to say any more but these differences exist.”

Me: “Erm. . . This one here is Leo. This is Luke, and this one is Max. The other four are, indeed, girls.”

The kids this age are so unaware of gender that I can’t convince Klara that the father of her friend Kara is a father and not a mother. The fellow has long, thick hair, so she’s convinced that means he’s a mommy. The fact that he also has a handlebar mustache is not making a difference to her.

People who say that their child “identified as” male or female at 18 months are crazy.

No Sunshine

Klara talked to her Dad on Skype and he sang her their favorite song “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.”

After the conversation, Klara was singing, “No sunshine, she’s gone. . .” Then she turns to me and explains, “No sunshine. It’s not warm. I no need sun screen.”

Guessing Race

People say we need to cite more women of color in our scholarship. I have a practical question. I can guess who’s a woman from the scholar’s name. How can I figure out if she’s of color? In Hispanic studies, the name is useless in this regard.

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