On Not Knowing

This episode of High Theory is an edited recording of a book launch event with Emily Ogden for her new book On Not Knowing: How to Love and Other Essays (U Chicago Press, 2022).

The online event took place on Thursday 7/14/22 at 1pm ET.

On Not Knowing is a suite of personal essays on the value of not knowing. Each begins with the phrase “How to” – “How to Catch a Minnow”; “How to Give Birth”; “How to Elude Your Captors.” Rather than the defensiveness of willful ignorance, this collection celebrates the defenselessness of not knowing yet—possibly of not knowing ever. Ultimately, this book shows how resisting the temptation of knowingness and embracing the position of not knowing becomes a form of love.

In the episode she talks about the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, David Russell’s book Tact: Aesthetic Liberalism and the Essay Form in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Princeton UP, 2019), Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless NightsBrian Blanchfield’s Proxies (Nightboat Books, 2016), and the biblical Book of Revelations.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu

Standpoint Theory

Soham Sen talks about standpoint theory, a method of understanding the ways in which individual and collective experience influence public discourses. He begins from its origins in the civil rights movement and in the innovations of feminist thought, and follows it up with a discussion of its efficacy in understanding contemporary media. 

Soham Sen is pursuing his Masters in the Department of Communication Studies and is the Assistant Course Director of Public Speaking at the College of Media & Communication. His area of research includes border rhetoric and negotiation of immigrant identity , postcolonialism, and performance studies.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu

Digital Lethargy

In this episode of High Theory, Tung-Hui Hu talks with Júlia Irion Martins about Digital Lethargy, as part of our High Theory in STEM series. As a modern ailment, digital lethargy is a societal pathology, like earlier forms of acedia, otium, and neurasthenia, but also a disease of performing selfhood within the disposable identities of contemporary, digital service work. In this episode, Tung-Hui Hu makes the argument that digital lethargy helps us turn away from the demand to constantly “be ourselves” and see the potential of quieter, more ordinary forms of survival in the digital age such as collective inaction.

In the episode he discusses Heike Geissler’s Seasonal Associate (Semiotexte/Native Agents, 2018, trans. Katy Derbyshire). He also references the film Sleeping Beauty (dir. Julia Leigh, 2011), Douglas A. Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Anchor, 2008), Heike Geissler’s Seasonal Associate (Semiotexte/Native Agents, 2018, trans. Katy Derbyshire), and Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (Penguin Random House, 2020). Other mentions include the artist Aria Dean and scholar Achille Mbembe.

Tung-Hui Hu is a poet and scholar. His new website has the best domain ending: tunghui.hu He is a 2022-23 Rome Prize Fellow in Literature at the American Academy in Rome and an associate professor of English at the University of Michigan. His book on this topic, Digital Lethargy: Dispatches from an Age of Disconnection (MIT Press, 2022), will be published on October 4

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu


An echo is a sonic reflection of an emission bouncing back to its origin, which if delayed long enough sounds like a response. The echo of one’s voice is constitutively not one’s voice, and therefore gives an uncanny impression. Amit Pinchevski talks about the myths, metaphors, and materialities of echoes, the subject of his recent book.

Amit Pinchevski is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of By Way of Interruption: Levinas and the Ethics of Communication (Duquesne University Press, 2005) and Transmitted Wounds: Media and the Mediation of Trauma (Oxford University Press, 2019), and Echo (MIT Press, 2022).

Image: Echo Wall, Temple of Heaven, Beijing, 1987 by Nathan Hughes Hamilton, the original available here.

Finding Your Purpose

This episode is the edited version of a live event held on June 17 2022 to celebrate the launch of Finding Your Purpose: a Higher Calling Workbook for Justice-Oriented Scholars in an Unjust World.

Higher Calling is a project for everyone who decided to become a scholar because they believed in the mission of higher education, and specifically, for everyone who saw participating in and working for higher education as a way to turn the pursuit of justice into a career. It aims to help you understand how to better align a career in academia with your sense of purpose; how to recognize when your purposes are no longer served by academia; how to pursue scholarly purpose outside of an academic career; and when and how to fight back against the broken system which is higher education in the United States.

At times, one may wonder if the compromises are too great, the labor conditions untenable, or the barriers to doing meaningful work too high. This project aims to help you navigate these moments alone and in community through essays, exercises, and rituals.

You can download the workbook here.


Hannah Alpert-Abrams organizes the Visionary Futures Collective, and writes about labor, technology, and higher education.

Matt Cohen is a professor of English and scholar of Early American literature at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Sonya Donaldson is a professor of English and scholar of Africana studies at New Jersey City University.

Quinn Dombrowski is an academic technology specialist and digital humanist at Stanford University.

Carter Hogan is a writer and new trans folk musician based in Austin, Texas.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu


In this episode of High Theory, Troy Vettese talks with us about neoliberalism.  It turns out the neoliberals aren’t actually a secret cabal of dastardly villains, but a group of right wing public intellectuals who want to be taken seriously by the academic establishment, and who have been remarkably successful in reshaping the world in their image. 

In the episode, Troy references the work of Quinn Slobodian, Philip Mirowski, and Dieter Plehwe on the history of neoliberalism. They have written a book together on the Nine Lives of Neoliberalism (Verso, 2020). He also points out that the Mont Pelerin Society, the “secret society” of the neoliberals, which isn’t so secret at all, has a website: www.montpelerin.org 

Troy recently co-authored a book with Drew Pendergrass called Half-Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics (Verso, 2022). They also made a game, in collaboration with some super cool game designers, where you can make your own plan to avoid ecological catastrophe. You can find it at play.half.earth

Eco-Marxists are a rare breed. Troy Vettese is an environmental historian, who writes about animal studies and energy history in addition to penning proposals to save the world. He received his PhD in 2019 from NYU and is currently a Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow at the European University Institute. He also has very curly hair. 

This episode’s image is a figure in ISOTYPE, a picture language popularized by a socialist planner named Otto Neurath, who appears in the book and the episode. It is taken from a statistical world atlas made by Neurath, held by the David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries, and available in a digital form through archive.org.

Property Technology

In this episode of High Theory, Erin McElroy talks with Nathan Kim about Property Technology. This is the first episode in the High Theory in STEM series, that tackles topics in science, technology, engineering, and medicine from a highly theoretical perspective.

Not only is “property technology” a term for digital tools and other methods used by landlords to track and dispossess tenants, but property itself is a technology. In the episode, Nathan references Erin’s article “Property as Technology,” in which they write that “property itself has long served as a technology of racial dispossession, constituting a palimpsest for the contemporary gentrifying moment.” You can read the whole article here: McElroy, Erin. “Property as technology: temporal entanglements of race, space, and displacement.” City 24, no. 1-2 (2020): 112-129. <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13604813.2020.1739910>

Erin McElroy is an assistant professor in American Studies at UT Austin, a co-founder of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, and an editor of the Radical Housing Journal. They are fighting the good fight. We hope you do too.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu

Reality TV

In this episode of High Theory, Olivia Stowell speaks with Saronik about Reality TV.

In the episode she talks about the genesis of the genre in Candid CameraAn American FamilyCOPS and America’s Most Wanted, before the watershed moment of The Real World in the 1990s. She references the work of June Deery, and Pier Dominguez on the commercial realism and affective economies of reality tv, and Susan Douglass’s article “Jersey Shore: Ironic Viewing.” She reminds us that Reality TV dramatizes the life of the neoliberal subject under surveillance, and explicates our “trashy” desires.

Olivia Stowell is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication at the University of Michigan, where she studies the intersections of race, genre & narrative, food, and temporality in contemporary popular culture. Her scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming in Television & New Media and New Review of Film & Television, and her public writing has appeared in Post45 ContemporariesNovel DialogueAvidly: A Channel of the L.A. Review of Books, and elsewhere.

Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu


In this episode of High Theory, Gëzim Visoka and Nicolas Lemay-Hebert tell us about normalization in international relations. Their research applies Foucault’s social theories of the normal and abnormal to the objects of political science: states, international organizations, and practices of intervention.

In the episode (and in their book) Gëzim and Nicolas reference Foucault’s Lectures at the College de France on the Abnormal (printed in English by Verso and Macmillan). They discuss three exemplary figures from Foucault’s work on the abnormal: the monster, the incorrigible, and the onanist. Each one has a corresponding figure in international politics.

Their new book Normalization in World Politics is available as an open access text from Michigan University Press. That means you can read it for free!  Check it out, and learn all about the ways we produce, impose, and maintain normal and abnormal affairs in the international order.

Gëzim Visoka is an Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Dublin City University, whose research focuses on peacebuilding and statebuilding, transitional justice, global governance, foreign policy, and diplomatic recognition.

Nicolas Lemay-Hébert is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the Australian National University. He works on interventions: local resistance to political interventions, the political economy of interventions, and mapping political interventions.

This week’s image is a 1689 world map, Nova totius terrarum orbis tabula Amstelodami, ex officina G. a Schagen (1682), t’Amsterdam Gedruckt by G. van Schagen, by de Nieuwe Haerlemmer Sluys. It was originally made in using copper engraving, then much later digitized and made available to the public on Wikimedia Commons.

Environmental Catastrophe

In this episode John Yargo speaks with Kim about Environmental Catastrophe.

In the episode John quotes Hannah Arendt and N.K. Jemisin, discusses a Shakespeare play and a 17th century Peruvian painting, and optimistically suggests that environmental catastrophe will save us. He references the work of many scholars in the field of environmental humanities, including Geoffrey Parker and Dagomar Degroot on the Little Ice Age in Early Modern Europe, Gerard Passannante’s work on Catastrophizing, and Gavin Bailey on the Andean Baroque. He also talks about Amitav Ghosh’s recent work The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (UChicago Press, 2016) and Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell (Penguin Random House, 2010). In the longer version of the conversation, John told Kim about how he teaches the literature of catastrophe in reverse, starting with the present and working backward, to upset teleological readings of cultural history.

John Yargo is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Boston College, having recently received his Ph.D. degree in English literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He researches literary representations of environmental catastrophe, the subject of his dissertation titled Saturnine Ecologies: Environmental Catastrophe in the Early Modern World, 1542-1688. He is also a host for the New Books in Literary Studies, where he discusses recent scholarship in early modern studies, ecocriticism, and critical race studies.

The image for this week’s episode is Leonardo DaVinci’s drawing “A deluge” c. 1517-18, held by the Royal Collection Trust. You can read more about the painting in an “Anatomy of an Artwork” feature written by Skye Sherwin on 8 Feb 2019 in The Guardian.