Commonplace Book (2017)


Joyce sat silent a while considering her verdict. She assumed a dictatorial and grown-up manner as she turned to Jeanne to deliver it. "You shall say," she declared, "that you hit a little girl two years younger than yourself. That's a new sin, and it's quite a bad one too. And it's true. You can add that you're far too proud and that you need more humility. That do?"

Jeanne paused to consider whether this did not sound too sinful. Stealing apples, even imaginary apples, was so much milder than hitting a companion. Yet it was nobler to shoulder the heavier and truer sin, even if it mean t along penance. She nodded, but showed no enthusiasm.

"And you, Marguerite, you can say that you can't overcome your greed, and that you asked for three helpings of potatoes at supper, pretending you hadn't had any yet. How d'you like that?"

Marguerite agreed eagerly; she liked her new sin. Any sin was better than having to steal a silly pocket handkerchief just because you happened to be two years short. Also it was almost true. She had tried to obtain a second helping of jam on Sunday by pretending that her saucerful had been stolen; she failed, and now she remembered the incident. . . . Gratefully she threw her arms round Joyce's neck and hugged her.

Olive Moore
Celestial Seraglio (1929)


I think he was a lonely person . . . which in those days I certainly was, and he compartmentalized his life. One friend would be in that compartment, another friend in that compartment, and I think lonely people do that—I think Dr. Johnson did it—and I noticed a similarity to myself, and I was attracted to [Hugh Kingsmill]. And he had a philosophy that attracted me very much, about will versus imagination. It made all my laziness seem rather imaginative.

Michael Holroyd
quotation in Regina Marler's Bloomsbury Pie (1997)


[Paul Veyne's] influence on what I have written here is pervasive. As for what motivated me, it is quite simple; I would hope that in the eyes of some people it might be sufficient in itself. It was curiosity—the only kind of curiosity, in any case, that is worth acting upon with a degree of obstinacy: not the curiosity that seeks to assimilate what it is proper for one to know, but that which enables one to get free of oneself. After all, what would be the value of the passion for knowledge if it resulted only in a certain amount of knowledgeableness and not, in one way or another and to the extent possible, in the knower's straying afield of himself? There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all. People will say, perhaps, that these games with oneself would better be left backstage; or, at best, that they might properly form part of those preliminary exercises that are forgotten once they have served their purpose. But, then, what is philosophy today—philosophical activity, I mean—if it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not in the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known? There is always something ludicrous in philosophical discourse when it tries, from the outside, to dictate to others, to tell them where their truth is and how to find it, or when it works up a case against them in the language of naive positivity. But it is entitled to explore what might be changed, in its own thought, through the practice of a knowledge that is foreign to it. The "essay"—which should be understood as the assay or test by which, in the game of truth, one undergoes changes, and not as the simplistic appropriation of others for the purpose of communication—is the living substance of philosophy, at least if we assume that philosophy is still what it was in times past, i.e., an "ascesis," askesis, an exercise of oneself in the activity of thought.

Michel Foucault
The Use of Pleasure (1984, trans. 1985)


Those of us who trace our roots back to the continent of Africa are spread across every country on earth. As we proceed upon the specific and difficult tasks of survival in the twenty-first century, we of the African Diaspora need to recognize our differences as well as our similarities. We approach our living influenced by an African mode; life as experiences to be learned from rather than merely problems to be solved. We seek what is most fruitful for all people, and less hunger for our children. But we are not the same. Particular histories have fashioned our particular weapons, particular insights. To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other's vision as well as the weaponries born of particular experience.

Audre Lorde
"Showing Our True Colors" (1991)


Most simply stated, our usual way of listening overlooks or rejects the otherness of the other. We rarely listen to what makes a story as told by another person unique, specific to that person alone; we quickly assimilate it to other stories that we have heard others tell about themselves or that we could tell about ourselves, overlooking the differences between he story being told and the ones with which we are already familiar. We rush to gloss over the differences and make the stories similar if not identical. In our haste to identify with the other, to have something in common with him, we forcibly equate stories that are often incommensurate, reducing what we are hearing to what we already know. What we find most difficult to hear is what is utterly new and different: thoughts, experiences, and emotions that are quite foreign to our own and even to any we have thus far learned about.

Bruce Fink
Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners (2007)


We still tend to think that if we stop certain actions, an ecology will right itself and return to homeostasis. But perhaps that is not the case. Negative action might not be enough. It might take positive actions to create a new ingression. What if on the actual Earth, as on this fictional [Robinsonian] Mars, there is no ecology? What if there is only an unstable nature, a progressive selection, here on Earth, too? What if it was a matter of continuous conscious adaptation through experimental variation via the détournement of existing forms?

McKenzie Wark
Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (2015)


The first question philosophy asks, at its origin, the initial and initiatory movement of thought and individuation, indeed of everything that is or could be asserted about rationality—this first question, which is perhaps not philosophy's "first question," is not the question of being. . . . It is not about the law nor power, nor certainly about poetry. This first question that is not the first question (being generally made secondary) regards teaching.

And teaching is not simply the first question asked by philosophy; it is philosophy's practice . . .

Bernard Stiegler
"What Is Philosophy?"



I tend to use affect in a generic sense . . . as a category that encompasses affect, emotion, and feeling, and that includes impulses, desires, and feelings that get historically constructed in a range of ways (whether as distinct specific emotions or as a generic category often contrasted with reason)—but with a wary recognition that this is like trying to talk about sex before sexuality. I also like to use feeling as a generic term that does some of the same work: naming the undifferentiated "stuff" of feeling; spanning the distinctions between emotion and affect central to some theories; acknowledging the somatic or sensory nature of feelings as experiences that aren't just cognitive concepts or constructions. I favor feeling in part because it is intentionally imprecise, retaining the ambiguity between feelings as embodied sensations and feelings as psychic or cognitive experiences.

Ann Cvetkovich
Depression: A Public Feeling (2012)


The rumination that follow arose in response to America's war on terror . . .

I started from the conviction that there is no response to war. War is a cruel caricature of what in us can respond. You cannot be answerable to war.

Yet one cannot remain silent. Out of the imperative or compulsion to speak, then, two questions: What are some already existing responses? And, how respond in the face of the impossibility of response?

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
"Teror: A Speech after 9/11"
An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2012)


Few people who seek out a therapist have any real idea at the outset what the therapeutic process involves. . . . Generally speaking, people tend to think that, once in therapy, you talk about what went on since you last spoke to your therapist—in other words, that you recount your day or week, your feelings and thoughts about this person or that, and so on. . . . 

None of this is, however, of interest in psychoanalysis, and the question that arises is how to take patients from their everyday notions about what to do in therapy to the point of genuine analytic work. The early part of analysis involves a kind of explicit and not-so-explicit pedagogy.

. . . The analyst is not a friend who will exchange stories or secrets, lend books or tapes. There is no point trying to amuse him or her with entertaining stories or jokes, since the analyst will not be amused. And though the patient believes certain parts of his or her story to be the most significant, the analyst seems to be paying attention to something else.

Bruce Fink
A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis (1997)


[The man in this photograph] is called in German and Italian Führer or Duce; in our own language Tyrant or Dictator. And behind him lie ruined houses and dead bodies—men, women and children. But we have not laid [this] picture before you in order to excite once more the sterile emotion of hate. On the contrary it is in order to release other emotions such as the human figure . . . arouses in us who are human beings. For it suggests a connection and for us a very important connection. It suggests that the public and private worlds are inseparably connected; that the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and the servilities of the other. But the human figure even in a photograph suggests other and more complex emotions. It suggests that we cannot dissociate ourselves from that figure but are ourselves that figure. It suggests that we are not passive spectators doomed to unresisting obedience but by our thoughts and actions can ourselves change that figure. A common interest unites us; it is one world, one life. 

Virginia Woolf
Three Guineas (1938)


Here we arrive at something of a crisis point for what one might call the romantic left. This current wants a totalizing critique of technology more than of capital, that would ground its rejection of techno-modernity on a claim to something prior to or outside of it: on being, on nature, on poetry, not the body, on the human, or on communism as event or leap. But the problem is that the attendant closing of thought to science and technology now plays into the hands of climate denial. That the Carbon Liberation Front is changing the climate is a knowledge that can only be created via a techno-scientific apparatus so extensive that it is now an entire planetary infrastructure. To reject techno-science altogether is to reject the means of knowing about metabolic rift. We are cyborg, making a cyborg planet with cyborg weather, a crazed, unstable disingression, whose information and energy systems are out of joint. It's a de-natured nature without ecology.

McKenzie Wark
Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (2015)


There is a double reading of Spinoza: on the one hand, a systematic reading in pursuit of the general idea and the unity of the parts, but on the other hand and at the same time, the affective reading, without an idea of the whole, where one is carried along or set down, put in motion or at rest, shaken or calmed according to the velocity of this or that part. Who is a Spinozist? Sometimes, certainly, the individual who works "one" Spinoza, on Spinoza's concepts, provided this is done with enough gratitude and admiration. But also the individual who, without being a philosopher, receives from Spinoza an affect, a set of affects, a kinetic determination, an impulse, and makes Spinoza an encounter, a passion.

Gilles Deleuze
Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1970, 1981, trans. 1988)


. . . to perceive texture is to know or hypothesize whether a thing will be easy or hard, safe or dangerous to grasp, to stack, to fold, to shred, to climb on, to stretch, to slide, to soak. Even more immediately than other perceptual systems, it seems, the sense of touch makes nonsense out of any dualistic understanding of agency and passivity; to touch is always already to reach out, to fondle, to heft, to tap, or to enfold, and always also to understand other people or natural forces as having effectually done so before oneself, if only in the making of the textured object.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (2003)



It is difficult to give up an idea of one's life when one has lived one's life according to that idea. We learn not only that consciousness of unhappiness is achieved but also how such consciousness puts us in touch with the world; allowing a world to pierce a seal, what I call the happiness seal. So much inequality is preserved through the appeal of happiness, the appeal to happiness. It is as if the response to power and violence is or should be simply to adjust or modify how we feel; for instance, by transforming a social relation of exploitation into a personal feeling of empowerment.

Feminism: how we break through a happiness seal.

Sara Ahmed
Living a Feminist Life (2017)


I had everything I needed except my edition of The Complete Poems which I had left with a friend in Paris. Not that it mattered: just before the British Council Library in Rome had closed for the summer I had taken out several volumes . . . of Lawrence's letters and they would keep me going for a while. I had a biography to check dates, copies of a few of the novels . . . It was perfect. . . . It would have been helpful to have had my edition of The Complete Poems with me but it was not indispensable to my beginning the study. The important thing was that I had this chunk of uninterrupted time with no distractions. . . . I was more concerned about not having my edition of The Complete Poems which, for my purposes, was probably the single most important book of Lawrence's, without which I would be able to make only very limited progress on my study of Lawrence, such limited progress, in fact, that it would be scarcely worth starting. . . . Suddenly that book of poems which, until two weeks previously, had been by my side constantly for two months and which I hadn't even opened in that time . . . seemed indispensable to any progress.

Geoff Dyer
Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence (1997)


Everybody knew the song:

Bas ek baar mera khan maan lijiye
But just this once, my love, grant me my wish

That courtesan's song, or at least that one line, could have been the anthem for almost everybody [all the demonstrators and protestors] in Jantar Mantar that day. All those who were there were there because they believed that somebody cared, that somebody was listening. That somebody would grant them a hearing.

Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)


. . . while traditional literary criticism (likes its American cousin, 'New Criticism') was drawn to the text as an organic whole, the phenomenology of the classroom tends to suggest the impossibility of approaching any text longer than a haiku in other than fragmentary or pointillist ways.

Ben Knights
Pedagogic Criticism: Reconfiguring University English Studies (2017)


There are many ways of describing the materials I bring together in this book: companion texts and feminist classics are just two possible ways. The materials are books, yes, but they are also spaces of encounter; how we are touched by things; how we touch things. I think of feminism as a fragile archive, a body assembled from shattering, from splattering, an archive whose fragility gives us responsibility: to take care.

Sara Ahmed
Living a Feminist Life (2017)


Then I may tell you that the very next words I read were these—"Chloe liked Olivia . . ." Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.

. . . the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners . . . she will be born. As for her coming, without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.

Virginia Woolf
A Room of One's Own (1929)


If then women are not a swarm of ephemeron triflers, why should they be kept in ignorance under the specious name of innocence?

Mary Wollstonecraft
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)


It was the only place in his world where he felt the air made way for him. . . . And so, at the age of fifteen, only a few hundred yards from where his family had lived for centuries, Aftab stepped through an ordinary doorway into another universe. . . . Aftab became Anjum.

Arundhati Roy
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017)


There was something hanging over all of us. Sometimes I wanted it all to be a dream—the missal flung at the étagère, the shattered figurines, the brittle air. It was too new, too foreign, and I did not know what to be or how to be.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus (2003)


She wasn't my friend. She wasn't here to fight for me. Or love me. She was just as powerless, another daughter being sent back to her mother in disgrace. My thanks felt foolish under the glare of this truth. Girls with fire in their bellies will be forced to drink from a well of correction till the flames die out.

But my tongue stirred anyway. I stepped into view and threw something of my own.

Lesley Nneka Arimah
"Redemption" (story)
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (2017)

Commonplace Book (January 2018)

Teaching Theory, Beginning Theory