WIP: Automated Responses/Pedagogies of Vulnerability

I’ve been thinking, reading and writing about pre-data/digital histories if we are to take seriously the task of decolonizing, then how do we go about it? While I am remotely not there yet, reading a poem from a book on the criminalized tribes of India and a mention of the “automated” responses by some of the Chhara community members to policemen questions got me thinking about a certain level of automation with which we approach places and people of power. Depending on who that “we” is, I am thinking back to my mother’s constant reminder to me as we approach the passport office, the biometric ID office, the police station for passport verification, the bank for account verification. Her reasoning (to my very Brahmin outspoken female self) is “why create trouble?” Why create complications and extra questions when a certain automated performance (not a fake one yet a deliberate gestural confirming one) can achieve the desired result? These are pedagogies of compliance, keeping the larger goal in mind.
As I build my thoughts out more I want to save this piece (http://spheres-journal.org/the-difference-that-difference-makes/) by Maya to read for later. I guess what I am trying to work out is: apart from locating the knowledge/power nexus sedimented in colonial disciplinary formations as well as administrative tools, how do I offer a theorization of the postcolonial state and governmentality and lay out a responsive, alternate program for decolonizing/re-orienting all things datafication that attacks and disrupts extant forms and local configurations of social power in different national, regional, local contexts? Big ask but at least we have to start by unpacking the liberal, rights-based discourse that assumes (and also works) in Western contexts at least when the focus is on contemporary AI systems (or, counterquestion: “is the data reliable at all?”). The other benefit to such a shift (towards re-examining institutions and social, political, racial power that prepares the ground for certain kinds of classificatory practices to flourish or realize goals) is that it allows for a reframing of the AI agenda for the global South. In some sense, the imagination of current AI research is to look for automation, datafication, signs of what “typically looks like AI” but in contexts beyond the North. To me, that is also a kind of extractivism or a narrow approach that refuses to attend to social geographies unless and until they are enrolled in what we have already decided “AI looks like”. So, a shift towards 1) colonial/colonizing legacies in administrative apparatus (as pre-data histories), 2) assessing the potential for exacerbating violence and a speculative, politically committed investigation of how any AI implementation can ameliorate, not simply be attuned to harms or “bias” and hence then 3) extending and reworking the agenda for AI justice or Justice after AI in global South to include these things in the agenda is important.

So the two things I want to write going forward: 1) pedagogies of compliance, automated responses for smooth living before and through digitalization…2) articulating the differential relationships of colonial and post colonial state-subjects to arrive at the harder question of “what AI can do for India” for instance, that is OBVIOUSLY not predicated upon some imagination of the nation as an economic machine (https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/india-news-who-owns-the-republic/302681)…

Other things I want to read before I write more:

A World Without Wizards: On Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

Tag Groups are my latest jam

The very reason why I thought an academic career was cool was because somehow I found myself researching digital and social media phenomena and also found audiences or fellow interested people who seemed to think that my questions and interests were important. At least that is how I managed for a long time, to continue researching B- and C-grade Bollywood cinema. It did not make a lot of sense to my parents but I guess even they thought that if someone else deemed this worthy research then maybe it  was? Not just in terms of scholarly interest and especially, having removed myself from the B- and C-grade world (I was arguably too close, too much of a fan to have anything interesting to say about it), the very reason why I found myself researching subcultures was because I happened to dabble in them. Unironically. This was all pre reddit and 4chan so a lot of it happened on good old online fora, mailing lists, later Orkut and then a little bit on Facebook but most of it on Twitter.

Twitter subcultures, especially the hashtagging subcultures (#pwnd) have probably been better written about than other contemporary textual/linguistic subcultures and based on what I can tell, of my lived experience of a decade on twitter, the arrival of gifs hasn’t taken away from hashtagging. Its latest wave would include the appropriation of African-American linguistic cultures (for instance, “spilling the tea” but this wave can be summed up in the rise of “woke” as a tag). What was I doing amidst all of this? My dedication to shitposting only increased in the past decade. Perhaps it is the natural trajectory of someone who does so much wordplay and thrives so much on daily punning that I’ve had real people ask me in a mix of amazement and disgust if I just made it up or have a book somewhere. Passion and personal investment are the foundational blocks of any research, even if it involves studying social media subcultures. You can’t merely be an observer or a lurker. You probably enjoy and understand a lot of the phenomenon to want to write about it. My only research contribution stands in the form of Facebook Groups for social search (as research but also as having started a group that does *this* for 100,000 people). No biggie. Post this group-creation and social group wave, I lost interest in Facebook in terms of its creative, subversive potential as a world. I was also already deactivating and quitting Facebook for long periods of time to wean myself off this privacy-defying monster.

But then one day, in a post-Trumpian world, I was suddenly recommended an oddly funny group, definitely not based on my past activities. Or maybe I saw the group name appear as a response to a post on another group? I don’t remember. That is how I stepped into the world of ‘tag groups’, something that I have been swimming in for the past year now. I suppose certain kind of tag groups are a sub-group of Leftbook or Weirdbook [1, 2, 3] that is a broader umbrella world of pages, polls, events in the flavor of weird. No point me describing these to you, you could just read these articles that give great examples of all of these. What caught my attention after I got recommended my first weird Group (something these articles also note) is that most of them are private. Once you send a join request, *most* have 3-4 questions, almost always about whether you are transphobic and whether you would ever dox a group member or follow them to their private profiles and message them. That probably tells you how niche, sophisticated or queer-friendly Left this subculture is. But once you’ve entered, the topicality is almost never about politics per se. For instance, a sampling of groups that I have been recommended ( I always join all my recommended groups): 1) Now the group will perform the piece “dragging the OP” In C minor. 2) wait a minute this is not flavortown where the heck am i, but also these group names are often then responses to other group posts. People respond to a group post by tagging other groups whose names are the responses to the post (for instance, in response to a post on the “stop with the fucking letterboards” group, someone’s comment will literally be, “stop making that fucking face” or “a lot of words were said but none made sense” and both these responses are groups!). If all of this sounds weird and makes you go “<shrug> okay”, we are after all, talking about…weirdbook. This has kept me returning to facebook whenever I go there to post rental, sublet and furniture sale ads. Why this features on my occasional research reports blog is because I’d love to explore how ‘tag groups’ started, how they came to inherit the same rites of passage (no transphobia, no doxxing…) and how anyone gets their first recommendation of a ‘tag group’. That’s where my interest in Facebook Groups is at 🙂

Week 7: Race and/as Technology (?)

For this week, I read Wendy Chun’s introduction to an edited special issue on ‘Race as Technology’. I was trying to find scholarship that speaks to the interaction of caste identities and digital technologies for my writing but was unable to find a solid piece that inaugurates this discussion.

I also re-read Prof Philip’s chapter from ‘Tactical Biopolitics’ on the implications of digitizing traditional/indigenous agricultural knowledge in India. She points out that the two communities (agriculture and indigenous rights activists on the one hand and free software enthusiasts on the other) that meet to digitize traditional natural knowledge bring their expertise to the dialog but despite that, both remain uncritical about the reconfiguration (or the reticular/ontogenetic) of knowledge as it gets encoded into new formal avenues. She says:

Traditional knowledge, by virtue of being entered into database fields that fix the “traditional” as static, is detemporalized in a precise recording at a particular historical moment. How are we to include a dynamic understanding of it unless we acknowledge the ongoing construction of tradition? What knowledge status would be then accorded to, say, the patent claims of a University of Mississippi researcher who might now draw extensively upon this database in order to devise new pharmaceuticals or pesticides, but stabilizes these compounds in a lab, and thus satisfies the novelty and originality requirements?
What fields should such databases contain? What narratives (of rationality, innovation, usability, testability, repeatability) must be applied to so-called traditional knowledge in order for it to fit the fi elds? How is authorship attributed, and in what ways does such an attribution cathect a messy contextual system with the bildungsroman narrative of solo scientific discovery and individual genius?

externalized via a classic analytical model which sees scientifi c knowledge as separate and
unique, is here “taken care of” by the new apolitical technology of databases.

It is precisely this “fixing” of knowledge – its codification, representation and then its simultaneous, continuous life as “in-forming” the governance of life that needs critical attention. In that sense, merely housing indigenous knowledge in digital containers will not automatically solve problems of authorship, patent fights etc.

Quickly jumping back to Wendy Chun’s piece, she does a similar exercise in thinking through the two categories of race and technology where, while keeping open the question of refurbishing race as a concept at all, she show how race (as doing, as how races does or operates and what it does to the world) is a technology. She illustrates this through the examples of segregation (as a visual and spatial technology), blood (as epidermal technology) and compares the shift from biological to cultural reasons for constructing the racial other. She ends the essay with this quote that I found particularly useful for my own work (in thinking through what we might want to do if we ask for a critical project on the ethics of caste-ing technology):

Race as technology thus problematizes the usual modes of visualization and revelation, while at the same time making possible new modes of agency and causality. Importantly, it displaces ontological questions of race — debates over what race really is and is not, focused on discerning the difference between ideology and truth — with ethical ones: what relations does race set up? The formulation
of race as technology also opens up the possibility that, although the idea and the experience of race has been used for racist ends, the best way to fight racism might not be to deny the existence of race but to make race do different things.

Finally, I am still thinking/reading on the transferability of race theory to caste because they both are built on a different conceptualization of the body (albeit both unwanted bodies). There are some obvious similarities to the public experience of both (discrimination, exploitation as labor, representation) but I want to be more careful with this.

Week 6: Different positions on caste enumeration

This week, as a follow up to Prof Philip’s paper on the debates around caste enumeration, I read a variety of short articles written after the MIDS  (Mysore Institute of Development Studies) seminar on counting caste in census. I briefly summarize them here.

In the opening article, Prof Durgam Subba Rao invokes colonial anthropology and how the census was traditionally a colonial instrument. He mentions the works of William Hunter, J.H Hutton Herbert Risley, and Edgar Thurston who all research caste for the British administrators. Rao says that caste is modern India is often an alternate name for poverty,  suppression, boycott, superiority, domination, social status and honor. Similarly within colonial caste studies, in order to grasp at the object “caste”, a caste name was also compounded with descriptions of caste-occupations, purity, neatness, endogamy, marriage practices and so on.

Clubbing this insight with a point that K Satyanarayana makes in his article in the same issue of Anveshi, the author says that in counting caste (as mandated by the Supreme Court of India), India will have to legally acknowledge caste as a category. To elaborate, and this point is made by multiple authors in the issue, caste in independent India comes into public discourse in very specific ways only – legally caste (akin to gender, race, religion, sexual orientation etc) is seen as a disability, administratively within welfare schemes, identifying ST and SC castes is primarily done to promote the redistribution of national resources and finally, since in any domain where caste is recorded, only the castes of ST and SC populations are recorded, and not each and every caste (“forward” and “backward”), the implicit understanding remains that those in charge of “running” the nation continue to be the invisible and un-enumerated others, their caste privileges not ever rendered visible. The last point is made by Satish Deshpande and Mary John who, then, along with others in the debate emphasize the need to also evaluate what instruments could really capture the fluidity of caste, the problems with equating caste groups as OBC or BC (backward classes –  identified based on socio-economic deprivation) across North and South India and finally reckoning with the political stakes and vote bank interests in supporting caste census. Deshpande and John list objects to caste census as primarily moral (should we do it), pragmatic (is it even possible) and technical (how do we produce usable/accurate information).

Without elaborating their positions here, I want to reflect on nuggets from the articles.

For instance, Subba Rao ends his article by saying that, “it is a scientific principle that quantitative transformation will increase power. This quantitative transportation may lead to a qualitative change that will accelerate BC consciousness.”

Not only Subba Rao but also Deshpande and John argue that the pragmatic and technical concerns are not valid because of technological progress (handheld devices to record data, easily searchable catalogs, the possibility to cluster homologous caste descriptions as families and sub-groups).

Here, VK Nataraj’s article, the only one opposing caste census  is worth looking at. Nataraj argues that there are solid instances of misinformation in on-ground data (both deliberate and also otherwise), hinting at caste enumeration as a political exercise of mobilization itself. Since caste (drawing on Anand Teltumbde), unlike race is not as self-evident in physiological characteristics and is both socially reproduced and leveraged depending on who one is speaking to (caste as described for matrimonials vs caste described at a social gathering etc); the moment to count and fix caste identities is obviously not going to be a mere exercise in capturing “truth”.

Taking off from this debate, I am currently reading Christopher Pinney’s article on the photographic construction of caste and tribe as well as Dirks’ book Castes of Mind. However, the gaps I am locating pertain to Nataraj’s argument that caste was pivotal in public sector employment and post-liberalization, the public sector has ceased to be the main source of employment. I couldn’t find work on caste in corporate India and then how caste is recast as ancient, political while technologies

Week 5: Response on caste, race and tech platforms

For this week’s readings, I read the draft paper sent by Prof Philip on caste census and digital technologies in India. In the paper Prof Philip touches upon the political problems with counting/quantifying/enumerating caste in the Indian context and how many progressives in fact argued that not codifying caste (along with socio-economic status) would allow for the term’s discursive grip to loosen over the Indian public sphere (where reading caste in last names is very easy and almost unavoidable). Although a similar argument could be made on the Right arguing that counting caste only renders its effect more visible.

Before going into the paper’s larger argument about what digital technologies might do for the revival of the caste census, I think that Prof Chandler’s lecture last week gave me a lot to think about the sheer tenacity of categories such as ‘race’ and ‘caste’ (whether they can be refurbished at all or what do they do semantically for those who stand upon them to talk through them).

In the direction of tech design, a paper that I revisited to think about my own work is this seminal paper by Tarleton Gillespie on technology ‘platforms’ (2010) and what does it mean to talk about a digital space as a ‘platform’ rather than a network (an older favorite in terms of spatial metaphors about the digital). This paper argues that the word ‘platform’ exists as a “discursive resting space” and perhaps deliberately so because then a platform can claim to be an important intermediary (“youtube is the enabler of global video-sharing”) and simultaneously claim to be a mere intermediary with no liability (“uber merely shows you rates based on algorithmic calculations and market demand”). Now, if we step away from the discursive jiu-jiutsu surrounding calling something a platform or rather pick on one of its material/architectural/electoral meanings (stable surface to stand on) and use the platform metaphor to look at caste, we can see how categories of caste and race both afford similar ambivalence (or multivalence) in terms of anchoring multiple and even politically antagonistic discursive and material moves on the part of those who use the category.

The analogy (tech platform to identity as platform) definitely needs more thought because of course one cannot shun or control an identity position like one can stop participating on a tech platform but these multiple readings helped me open up the politics of “instituting” and materializing a term through which several claims are held together at once.

Week 3 Response

For Week 3, I list here the things I read for my own project and some other comments from the articles on W E B Dubois and race. For my own project I have been reading along the lines of caste/race and its enumeration within digital technologies for the purposes of vocational training and employment specifically. Prof Philip had sent me her paper on the revival of the caste/tribe census in India and how its assembling might shape pervasive information infrastructures and public life at large.

A quote from her paper:

“The power of technological infrastructures to shape human practices becomes more powerful over time, because after the debates, discussions, and conflicts that accompany their initial shaping and acceptance have been resolved, and the consensus institutionalized or instrumentalized in a bureaucratic form, these assumptions — full of the politics and social norms of their time — become invisible, sliding into the background of everyday bureaucratic information systems.”

It got me thinking about non-human agents (namely infrastructure) as political agents albeit not in an object-oriented ontology way but in the sense that racist monuments, badly built bridges, locked doors are extremely powerful mediating objects that long outlive their makers and original projects. And as Bowker and Star and Philip say (I am paraphrasing), the sheer act of infrastructuring is one of shaping the possibilities of racial, caste and gendered futures. I want to think more about this as we proceed.

From Dubois articles:

“Say what we will of England’s rapacity and injustice, (and much can be said) the plain fact remains that no other European nation—and America least of all—has governed its alien subjects with half the wisdom and justice that England has. While then the advance of England from the cape to Cairo is no unclouded good for our people, it is at least a vast improvement on Arab slave traders and Dutch brutality”

Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049 and its futurism

As the film hobbled to yet another slow and beautiful yet painfully obvious sequence, I wondered to myself,

“What is it with remakes?”

(Not my image, sourced from Goog Img for noncommercial use)

I just finished watching the Blade Runner reboot yesterday and am still processing how disappointed I was about it. I am not sure what I went in expecting from a sleeper cult classic’s remake but I even chose to watch it in Imax. The cinema student in me was definitely excited to figure out what the remake even intended to – pay homage to the original, refresh generational memories lest we might forget Dick or maybe update all the techno-futuristic visions since we’ve come so far since the last one.

Since the film has already done poorly on its opening weekend and received its fair share of criticism (it really is spectacular and stunning to look at, every frame is so beautiful but it’s terribly slow, indulgent and inconsistent in many ways), I won’t go into details as such. But I think why I was really disappointed was because the film seemed like it had no soul of its own (it was well, a replicant). The first time I encountered Blade Runner, set in its own time, I didn’t have to worry about it as it was not a temporal or geographic future I could ever share. One of the key things they teach you while studying science fiction texts is that the future portrayed is in fact the future of our present, that most futuristic fiction builds on, negates, resists and responds to the pasts and presents that might exist. That makes the giant Japanese megacorp landscape of sci-fi seem more purposeful, makes you pay attention to set design, costume design, references to popular culture and political events. It doesn’t always have to be so, I am not sure one can ready Jodorowsky’s films with equal confidence, but Blade Runner isn’t meant to be absurdist. Especially the reboot takes itself so seriously, it is littered with Renaissance bodies, nostalgia about paper records and a general resigned acceptance of not-real beings (mostly women) as a part of our times.

Since I didn’t watch the original Blade Runner in its time, it was perhaps easier to look back at its vision of futurity as a symptom of its present. But the new Blade Runner is in my time, also very close to my place (Los Angeles) and I just had such a hard time enrolling into the vision of an always raining Los Angeles that looks like the most generic Japan/Chinatowns of Hollywood, neon, bilingual in all its public signage but also where non-white actors were doing most of the speaking. And I don’t mean it in a representational way only but it made me wonder – if, according to the film’s cityscape, the LA of the future has been conquered by Asians, if most women characters in the film look extremely techno-orientalistic, then what are the Asians of the future doing? Where do they live, how did they let the future get so grimy, does the squalor and decay of the place speak of its new owners? And why do these Asians never make a real appearance in the film? Now, that’s the temporal/technological update that I would’ve loved to see in the new BR. Technology isn’t only about changing the way drones look. I personally also think that the film forgot to update its notions of how data flows, how surveillance happens and what that might mean for human/machine relationships.

In short, by the last sequence, I was thoroughly confused and irritated. Since I am not a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek or don’t actively participate in Marvel vs DC discussions, I didn’t think too much of their constant reboots. It also made me mad for a split second because between netflix/hbo and movie studios, science-fiction production has become a recursive saga of Americanism – an endless stream that produces and contains all futures of US techno-power and imperalism, occasionally adapts stories from elsewhere but continues to loop them back into familiar sci-fi formats with mostly white characters as protagonists. I am no expert on sci-fi consumption per se but I had to write this because I remember being thrown off by Skyfall (why was Bond going retro, where were the cool gadgets?!) But as the New Inquiry review beautifully sums it up, and I think this holds for a lot of other mainstream franchises,

Star Trek and Star Wars are now backward-looking reruns, and the future recedes into the distance; science fiction is about how the present continues forever. The biggest change between 1982 and 2017 is that we don’t even remember what the future used to look like.

In fact, imagine if future LA is indeed an Asian-dominated urban sprawl and they watch this film with the same amusement and irony with which we approach Disneyland today? The fact that thew new Blade Runner has no future of its own, largely borrows the past-future of the original and still tries to veer away from its logical conclusions (a cop who can join the revolution, a woman with less than 10 minutes of screen time who is the real hero of the film), was disorienting in the least. I still feel that while one can remake a cult classic film, the *cult* wasn’t in content or story but rather the intersection of storytelling and its own present. I am also sure that those who haven’t watched the first might actually leave wondering what was so radical about the first one to begin with.

New Summer, New Internship, New Language

This summer I am interning with Microsoft’s India Development Center in Hyderabad. To recap, since the past year’s failed efforts at procuring funding (NSF and other) to do an oral histories’ study of South Asian migrants in Silicon Valley, I have completely shifted gears to looking at technology and productivity. Building on earlier ridesharing work, especially the stuff in India (yes, I am yet to publish it argh), I’ve been increasingly interested in futures of work for India. It aligns somewhat with corporate and government initiatives to connect the next 500 million people (further segmented into low-income, low-literacy, mobile-only, deskless, field-working, urban educated mass, depending on where you talk about them). So, here’s the thing you should know. As a South Asian scholar in US academia, if you are lucky, fellow brown academics will immediately alert you to the pitfalls of doing area studies and ICT4D research (area studies limits you as a “native expert” and you could spend a lifetime reporting on facts; ICT4D of course has a problematic developmental agenda and patronizing poor uneducated people to compute them as market opportunities). But, if like me, you began as skeptical of these and a lover of all things STS (“why this” and “do we even” being central questions), then doing research on technologies transforming work in India can be very troubling. It’s sort of hard to reconcile the two worlds and my personal opinion is that it’s harder if you’re a native researcher. I cannot or don’t have the anthropologist’s alienation – these are my people, I am them, I myself do jugaad (rolls eyes) and I have always known of infrastructure as broken and pace/promises as tentative. So, to report on these facts or to report on the failure of techno-governance (for instance Aadhaar as oppressive panoptic surveillance) feels like a low-hanging fruit and a strawman to me. I’ll tell you why. I’ve done this exercise for a fair bit and I appreciate the critical commentary on any techno-developmental initiative but then, especially in India where our research cultures are not so well-aligned with implementation and again product and policy development happen elsewhere (in places you wouldn’t always suspect, not “systemetically” by researchers – I mean there’s a different ecosystem), a lot of critical research and journalism can both be informing an international audience but also not be “consumable” (a word I learned this summer 😛 ) by those who make change happen. So, I was curious, I wanted to finally do research for large-scale deployment, I wanted to see who in a tech corporate setting is really empowered to make the “change” decisions (designer, product manager, engineer – who leads it?) and there’s so much I’ve learned already! There’s also that continuing thread about how do we (as non-Western researcher/citizens who (must) have political stakes in their countries’ growth) think, write and build for the future of work that isn’t latching onto received dystopian and utopian visions of AI/ML/whatever other buzzword. More on this later.

Lesson of the first month in a product-driven tech team: PPTs work and now I see why (haha). Mind you my confessions here are for those like me (those who like to pee on every optimist designer and “maker”‘s parade). I can totally see why and how whiteboard-writing, presentations and post-it notes work as organizational communication, the kind of audiences they circulate between (think of words like lean, design thinking, verticals, opportunities) and of course, the temporal rhythms they manage. Again, without saying too much, ain’t nobody got time for weeks worth of deep-dives, iterative research or even “rigor” the way we signal and understand it in academia. A lot of this might be obvious to anyone who’s done design research but as someone who’s moved from semi-archival cinema studies to ethnography and then some more to walkthroughs across a diverse class of respondents, there’s a lot of impostor feeling to work through on a daily basis.

If you’re wondering what project I am working on, here’s a short publicly available clip of ‘Project Sangam’, a learning and job discovery platform for blue-collar workers.

I’ll try to make this a monthly thing.

Writing for Myself

The human skin is an artificial boundary: the world wanders into it, and the self wanders out of it, traffic is two-way and constant.  – Bernard Wolfe, Limbo

(Quote found at the beginning of Andy Clark’s wonderful book ‘Natural Born Cyborgs’, available to read for free here)

Perhaps as many would agree, writing, academic or otherwise, that begins on a personal note, a vignette or some observation, is more accessible or personable than otherwise. It’s also an inspiration to me because it shows how there are ways of thinking about the world through really intimate and daily experiences. Clark’s book does it well and so does Josh Berson’s ‘Computable Bodies’, a book I recently finished. I’d met Berson briefly when he visited and lectured at the anthropocene conference at UCI but I only got hold of his book now. He begins by reflecting on a foot injury and how it made him reflect on his body as a long-time Yogi and broadly on instrumentation.

He offers ways of thinking about quantification of self that also reminded me of the quote I began with. Somewhere in the beginning Berson offers a definition/demarcation of ‘experience’ as an act of “folding the world inward” (I am paraphrasing, please forgive me) which for me, was a really liberating way of thinking about myself, my work, the “machine takeover” and how to grip it without losing oneself. While I try to keep this blog’s entries about research, researching against a backdrop of hyper-awareness of exploitative academic structures, a general sense of deficit and constraints marking every walk of life, a pervasive feeling among my peers (and me) to justify our relevance – it’s really exhausting. It’s not new at all. And, some cope with it better than others do. But even when we cope, when we barely manage to get an internship to cover summer’s worth of livelihood or when we fail to get that grant, resulting in fifteen thousand words that produced no money (mind you, it’s worse than not having written any because then it’s the beginning of a path to fine-tuning till you land the money) – there’s a spectral presence of devaluation, the constant fear of having not produced value that in fact drives much academic writing in my own life.

Against that dominant feeling, to encounter works (such as Berson who begins a book on quantification with his own journey coping with depression) that offer relaxation, that in some ways confront and normalize a little bit of what is our time and a little bit of writing that isn’t responding to a trend is incredibly healing. That kind of writing can heal.

So I am just going to list a bunch of reading that I hope to get through in summer that I’ve sniffed as the healing kind, the kind of writing that might make us embrace the ongoing flitting worlding of the self and the selfing of the world, not all of which we can admit to:





As a side note, so much of writing/thinking that is meant to guide us through the world is in itself produced in so much anxiety and precarity, it is making me think about more sustainable ways to continue doing what I’ve sort of embraced as a near-future career. Sigh.