Isegoria and Parrēsia 🗣️

Democracy and the new nihilism do not go together. Democracy presupposes truthful speaking. In his last lecture, delivered shortly before his death, Michel Foucault, as if he had senses the coming crisis of truth in which we are losing the will to truth, addressed the ‘courage of the truth’ (parrēsia). With reference to the Greek historian Polybius, Foucault points out that ‘true democracy’ is guided by two principles, isegoria and parrēsia. Isegoria is every citizen’s right to free expression. Parrēsia, speaking the truth, presupposes isegoria but goes further than the constitutional right to speak up. It enables certain individuals to address themselves to others, ‘to tell them what they think, what they think is true, what they truly think is true’. Thus, parrēsia requires individuals who act politically to tell the truth, to care for the community by making ‘use of discourse, but of rational discourse, the discourse of Truth’. Someone who speaks up courageously, despite the risks it entails, practices parrēsia. Parrēsia founds community. It is essential to democracy. Speaking the truth is a genuinely political act. As long as parrēsia is practiced, democracy is alive:

I think…that this parrēsia…is first of all profoundly linked to democracy…we can say that there is a sort of circular relation between democracy and parrēsia…In order for there to be democracy there must be parrēsia. But conversely…parrēsia is one of the characteristic features of democracy. It is one of the internal dimensions of democracy.

Parrēsia, the courage of the truth, of the ‘courageous parrhesiast’, is the political act par excellence. True democracy therefore contains something heroic. It needs those people who dare to speak the truth despite all the risks involved. So-called freedom of expression, by contrast, concerns only isegoria. Only with the freedom of truth does real democracy emerge. Without this freedom, democracy approaches infocracy. (54-56)

—Byung-Chul Han, Infocracy (2022)

I am, I guess, going to leave in place that XXL block quote (which itself contains a blockquote) despite the reigning wisdom that readers don’t read block quotes any more. A blog entry combined with a telescoping passage has doubly little (the halfmuch) going for it. Elsewhere (TDOR, 2020) Han writes that we no longer read poetry, and this assertion too is valid enough to glide by untroubled, block quotes coupled with blog entries coupled with poetry, and I’m sure poetry won’t be the end of things readers quit, style tameness being all the plain language rage.

Even so, I’m struck by so much in this long snippet from Infocracy, struck in part because at no other point have I encountered the diagnostic insight that, as Han provides, moves from the mismatchedness of discourse and information to the interdependence of free expression (isegoria) and the courage free expression requires when enacted (parrēsia). As I read this, I had this dawning of oh yeah, of course, and even uh, duh (the way Joe C. Meriweather always said)—a private and low voltage bolt sent by Captain Obvious. I began to understand that I’d missed something because popularly circulating, even commonplace free speech arguments (and reminders about the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which is frequently, if casually, brought up in such arguments) spotlights only free expression (isegoria), implicitly downplaying the courage to express truths (parrēsia). It’s right there in the passage: Han citing Foucault in “The Courage of Truth” keys on the element of risk enveloping a kind of heroism, and that courage-heroism to express is a precondition for democracy.

Yet another strike: where does this other kind of heroism intersect with academia, rooting heartily in shared governance, or else, rotting fallow in pseudo-shared pseudo-governance? Sure, it’s a case by case, situation by situation, sort of question, and one all the more worthy of asking and re-asking at each new gig and each new leadership rotation. How are you at sharing governance, really? And can this sort of question be asked without also leaving impressions of peacocking or chest-puffing; can it be asked earnestly, routinely, matter-of-factly as every faculty member, AAUP member or not, should ask? But this strike is the shorter of the detours I’d been mulling over because while I think I understand how a courageous parrhesiast navigates higher ed with some successes and some setbacks. The CP might earn a reputation as a thoughtful and caring citizen at times, and then, for raising comparable issues!, might be disinvited from meetings for bearing the label ‘troublemaker’ at other times.

One more albeit fainter strike (static-think wool socks on shag carpet in winter months…so not nothing) in this long Infocracy passage is in the splits inflecting the other kinds of heroism. In particular, I’m thinking of mediational and temporal splits. Discourse, for Han, opens call to response. Its rhythms yield to that anticipation, expecting engagement, deliberation, and, if things go well, a response. This takes time, but not too much time and not too little. When this goes well, when discourse works, it also takes material circulation and findability. Old media’s circulatory rhythms may have (I’m hedging…but I think mostly yes) achieved synchrony with common-ish human biorhythms (e.g., contemplative cycles, dailinesses, but also the bigger hum of orbits and rotations). There’s something to this kind of heroism that, without being overly idealistic or naive, is heroic for good faith volleying, entering into a mutually paced temporal attention structure that allows discursive formation its time, that does not quite whir off impatiently nor lapse into indifference. I’m not certain that information, speed, and immediacy are always bad for democracy; but they are, as Han aptly (and smartly) sets up with this outline of infocracy, introducing haywire conditions for discursive deliberation and, by proxy, many of the non-nimble, public-serving institutions associated with functional democracy (investigative presses, schools, courts, and congresses).

For now, for strikes-pondering, that’s it…and enough. ⚡️⚡️⚡️

The Dataists 👾

Later in Infocracy, Han writes,

To the dataist ear, this passionate commitment to freedom and democracy will sound like a ghostly voice from an already bygone era. From the dataist perspective, the idea of the human being as defined by individual autonomy and freedom, by the ‘will to will’, will eventually appear as merely a short historical interlude. Dataists would agree with Foucault when he invokes the death of the human being in The Order of Things: ‘As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end….then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea.’ The sea whose waves are erasing the face in the sand is today a boundless sea of data, in which the human being dissolves into an insignificant data set. (43)

—Byung-Chul Han, Infocracy (2022)

No outdoor walk this evening because SE Michigan, including Ypsilanti, is observing an Air Quality Alert, which I understand to be a small time toxic airborne event—serious enough to stay indoors and take a pass on the daggered-eyeballs effect, but also just a sign of the dry, dusty, particulate-breezed moment. Ah, springtime. So instead I read another chapter of Infocracy, “Data Rationality,” which according to Han counterposes a discourse-driven “communicative rationality,” where argumentation, claims backed with evidence, and compromise toward consensus-ish assent puts gusto in democracy’s sails. In an era of data rationality, information outstrips deliberative discourse; people no matter how mightily they strive to pay attention and process events are left in the dust, overwhelmed and scattered in the haze of information overload. Bleak1Bleak is my characterization of a mood, which, like all moods, fluctuates. but discerning, Han takes this idea on a brief tour with stops at Habermas, public-sphere hopeful, then dataists Rousseau and Alex Pentland of MIT.

I suppose, based on this, that rhetoricians are now and shall remain as outsiders to rising programs in data science (e.g., Data and Decisions); the data is extra-sensically vast, and the decisions are wrought in human-machine ratios more mechanistic than neuronal, more computational than synaptic, more algorithmic than fleshly. What a grand (and routinely fuckered) time we had while the beach drawing lasted, now-insignificant data set! So, what’re you gonna do now, democracy? What are the suitable responses, and do those responses have any chance of reaching anyone who can listen, engage in dialogue, make any difference? Get it together?! I don’t mean make a difference in an Army Corps of Engineers “protect the beach face” sort of way. Reading this chapter, I’m left puzzling generatively with a sense of no really, what becomes of this? If any juice remained in the democratizing efforts of writing programs, or critical literacies, or rhetorical education, are there variations on beach-drawn faces farther up or down the disappearing coastline? Or are the dataist-guided paths reduced to two: homo economicus (good capitalist progeny go for jobs 🤑) or homo inanis (bear witness to giddyup speed obsolescence 🫥).


  • 1
    Bleak is my characterization of a mood, which, like all moods, fluctuates.


“An exteriorist topoanalysis would perhaps give added precision to this projective behavior by defining our daydreams of objects” (34).

Vote. Here voting.

Vote. Here voting (a candid iPhoned by Is.).

Keep it cryptic. Filter. Ill-digested week; shit. Besides for those highlights. T. with belly giggles and mouthfuls of cheese. Damn!, chew, babygirl! Tins mailed to colleagues. Two addresses were wrong, but I figured one out and follow-up on the other. House of No has everyone’s address. Handwritten notes making me late for Thursday’s game. Is.’s volleyball matches, counting, counting, 1..3..5. Five matches. Three against the Rockets. Line-judged two of them on Friday afternoon. That day. New towels. An edited collection sent to copy editor. Filter. Shit week. Neighbor P. brought another garbage bag of vegetables. Some cutting then I converted it to a half gallon of pickled peppers. Grown in Detroit; fermented in Ypsi. Two eggplants, luminous purple. The skin of one started to wrinkle today so it was lunch. I’m grateful. I often think of all the family and friends P. told me she lost to COVID and how they had a mass service on Belle Isle.

Element needs brake work. That’ll be Tuesday first thing. Leave by 7:30. Already scheduled. No idea if I’ll be waiting at the shop for the call with the dean. Zoom gives 10-12 ways to connect. Why haven’t you used them all by now? Are you still watching “Schitt’s Creek”? Plus twelve email inbox. Plus four to-do list. Both are feral. Tired of working on weekends. Return to Virginia on the 12th. That’s Indigenous People’s Day. Filter. Keep it cryptic. Dirty ice cream bowls. The bowls were free. The ice cream was already in the freezer thanks to Ph. The bowls are thin, delicate. They were free. Not part of the June 2019 Kohlsploitation run. The scoop is cheap. Its handle is rubber coated, reasonably firm for gripping until the end where it bends because it is past the end of the metal handle it wraps around. The bowls would be shardy if broken. Cookies and cream. Is the cream supposed to be like sandwich cookie filling or like ice cream. Inconsistent so you never quite know what you’ll get. One of those to-dos is a manuscript review. I keep saying yes to manuscript reviews and then feeling fitful workload regret after they’ve been on the list for ten days.

I voted for Biden+Harris, of course.

Dystopoanalysis. Erasing Procreate lines. Clear layers (choose Layer, choose Clear). Already more drawing than I’d daydreamt was possible. Now a marshmallow-headed figure on a skewer blow-torching their own face. It melts. The heat is hot. But so what. I’d rather be writing (not x). I’d rather be reading (not y). I’d rather be drawing (not z). Going to do this s’more.


Just one month ago John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his V.P.
running mate. I’d never heard of her. Oh, how much we have learned over
these thirty days. I can’t say that I tune into the news all that often,
but I feel like I’ve taken a short course on Palin or, worse, had an emergency Palinoscopy performed on my brain (not to worry, I remain lucid enough to know
how to vote in another month).

For instance,
here’s a
can’t-miss tidbit
from the New Yorker’s "Coconut Oil Department"
about the tanning bed Palin bought for her Juneau home.

Of the many things revealed about the Alaska governor Sarah Palin since
she became John McCain’s running mate last month, one of the most curious is
the fact, reported two weeks ago, that she had a tanning bed installed in
the state mansion in Juneau. Obama supporters seized on the news, arguing
that private tanning-bed ownership is evidence that Palin isn’t the folksy
hockey mom she claims to be, while Republican partisans pointed out that she
bought the bed secondhand from an athletic club, and, moreover, that tanning
is a reasonable activity, given Alaska’s sun-deprived winters.

Meh. Might be nothing. Although this does stand in odd
contrast–Vitamin D or no Vitamin D–to McCain’s medical record. The
tanning bed can’t have all that much bearing on Palin’s promise as a candidate, can it? The following two,
however, are pieces I can’t seem to forget any time her name comes up. These are
the lingering associations that have, for me, overrun any other impressions I
might have (including, perhaps, any that will emanate during Thursday
evening’s debate).

1. The Runaway Train Response to Couric (via)

2. Lessig’s Research on Palin’s Experience Relative to other VP’s (via)

Don’t watch them back to back unless you’re unafraid of enduring (er,
enjoying?) with me a full-on Palindectomy.