Byung-Chul Han

Sociopolitical events are no longer determined by the clash between ideologies or classes—the very idea has come to sound archaic. But for all that, the positivization of society does not abolish violence. Violence does not stem from the negativity of clash or conflict alone; it also derives from the positivity of consensus. Now, the totality of capital, which seems to be absorbing everything, represents consensual violence. Struggle no longer occurs between groups, ideologies, or classes, but between individuals; still, this fact is not as important for understanding the crisis of the achievement-subject as [Hans] Ehrenberg claims. What proves problematic is not individual competition per se, but rather its self-referentiality, which escalates into absolute competition. That is, the achievement-subject competes with itself; it succumbs to the destructive compulsion to outdo itself over and over, to jump over its own shadow. This self-constraint, which poses as freedom, has deadly results.

5 thoughts on “Byung-Chul Han

  1. shinichi Post author

    Achievement society is the society of self-exploitation. The achievement-subject exploits itself until it burns out. In the process, it develops auto-aggression that often enough escalates into the violence of self-destruction.


    One feels free in relationships of love and friendship. It is not the absence of ties, but ties themselves which set us free. Freedom is a word which pertains to relations par excellence. Without hold there is no freedom.


    In social networks, the function of “friends” is primarily to heighten narcissism by granting attention, as consumers, to the ego exhibited as a commodity.


    Culture presumes an environment in which deep attention is possible. Increasingly, such immersive reflection is being displaced by an entirely different form of attention: hyperattention.


    The violence of positivity does not deprive, it saturates; it does not exclude, it exhausts.


    The complaint of the depressive individual, “Nothing is possible,” can only occur in a society that thinks, “Nothing is impossible.” No-longer-being-able-to-be-able leads to destructive self-reproach and auto-aggression. The achievement-subject finds itself fighting with itself. The depressive has been wounded by internalized war. Depression is the sickness of a society that suffers from excessive positivity. It reflects a humanity waging war on itself.


    Now, under the neoliberal regime of auto-exploitation, people are turning their aggression against themselves. This auto-aggressivity means that the exploited are not inclined to revolution so much as depression.


    The history of violence culminates in this merging of victim and perpetrator, of master and slave, of freedom and violence.


    Deep tiredness loosens the strictures of identity. Things flicker, twinkle, and vibrate at the edges. They grow less determinate and more porous and lose some of their resolution. This particular in-difference lends them an aura of friendliness. Rigid delimitation with respect to one’s surroundings is suspended.

  2. shinichi Post author

    The Burnout Society

    by Byung-Chul Han


    Every age has its signature afflictions. Thus, a bacterial age existed; at the latest, it ended with the discovery of antibiotics. Despite widespread fear of an influenza epidemic, we are not living in a viral age. Thanks to immunological technology, we have already left it behind. From a pathological standpoint, the incipient twenty-first century is determined neither by bacteria nor by viruses, but by neurons. Neurological illnesses such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline per-sonality disorder (BPD), and burnout syndrome mark the land-scape of pathology at the beginning of the twenty-first century. They are not infections, but infarctions; they do not follow from the negativity of what is immunologically foreign, but from an excess of positivity. Therefore, they elude all technologies and tech-niques that seek to combat what is alien.

    The past century was an immunological age. The epoch sought to distinguish clearly between inside and outside, friend and foe, self and other. The Cold War also followed an immunological pattern. Indeed, the immunological paradigm of the last century was commanded by the vocabulary of the Cold War, an altogether military dispositive. Attack and defense determine immunological action. The immunological dispositive, which extends beyond the strictly social and onto the whole of communal life, harbors a blind spot: everything foreign is simply combated and warded off. The object of immune defense is the foreign as such. Even if it has no hostile intentions, even if it poses no danger, it is eliminated on the basis of its Otherness.

    Recent times have witnessed the proliferation of discourses about society that explicitly employ immunological models of explanation. However, the currency of immunological discourse should not be interpreted as a sign that society is now, more than ever, organized along immunological lines. When a paradigm has come to provide an object of reflection, it often means that its demise is at hand. Theorists have failed to remark that, for some time now, a paradigm shift has been underway. The Cold War ended precisely as this paradigm shift was taking place.1 More and more, contemporary society is emerging as a constellation that escapes the immunological scheme of organization and defense altogether. It is marked by the disappearance of otherness and foreignness. Otherness represents the fundamental category of immunology. Every immunoreaction is a reaction to Otherness. Now, however, Otherness is being replaced with difference, which does not entail immunoreaction. Postimmunological—indeed, postmodern—difference does not make anyone sick. In terms of immunology, it represents the Same.2 Such difference lacks the sting of foreignness, as it were, which would provoke a strong immunoreaction. Foreignness itself is being deactivated into a formula of consumption. The alien is giving way to the exotic. The tourist travels through it. The tourist—that is, the consumer—is no longer an immunological subject.



    Today’s society is no longer Foucault’s disciplinary world of hospitals, madhouses, prisons, barracks, and factories. It has long been replaced by another regime, namely a society of fitness studios, office towers, banks, airports, shopping malls, and genetic laboratories. Twenty-first-century society is no longer a disciplinary society, but rather an achievement society [Leistungsgesellschaft]. Also, its inhabitants are no longer “obedience-subjects” but “achievement-subjects.” They are entrepreneurs of themselves. The walls of disciplinary institutions, which separate the normal from the abnormal, have come to seem archaic. Foucault’s analysis of power cannot account for the psychic and topological changes that occurred as disciplinary society transformed into achievement society. Nor does the commonly employed concept of “control society” do justice to this change. It still contains too much negativity.

    Disciplinary society is a society of negativity. It is defined by the negativity of prohibition. The negative modal verb that governs it is May Not. By the same token, the negativity of compulsion adheres to Should. Achievement society, more and more, is in the process of discarding negativity. Increasing deregulation is abolishing it. Unlimited Can is the positive modal verb of achievement society. Its plural form—the affirmation, “Yes, we can”—epitomizes achievement society’s positive orientation. Prohibitions, commandments, and the law are replaced by projects, initiatives, and motivation. Disciplinary society is still governed by no. Its negativity produces madmen and criminals. In contrast, achievement society creates depressives and losers.

    On one level, continuity holds in the paradigm shift from disciplinary society to achievement society. Clearly, the drive to maximize production inhabits the social unconscious. Beyond a certain point of productivity, disciplinary technology—or, alternately, the negative scheme of prohibition—hits a limit. To heighten productivity, the paradigm of disciplination is replaced by the paradigm of achievement, or, in other words, by the positive scheme of Can; after a certain level of productivity obtains, the negativity of prohibition impedes further expansion. The positivity of Can is much more efficient than the negativity of Should. Therefore, the social unconscious switches from Should to Can. The achievement-subject is faster and more productive than the obedience-subject. However, the Can does not revoke the Should. The obedience-subject remains disciplined. It has now completed the disciplinary stage. Can increases the level of productivity, which is the aim of disciplinary technology, that is, the imperative of Should. Where increasing productivity is concerned, no break exists between Should and Can; continuity prevails.



    Excessive positivity also expresses itself as an excess of stimuli, information, and impulses. It radically changes the structure and economy of attention. Perception becomes fragmented and scat-tered. Moreover, the mounting burden of work makes it necessary to adopt particular dispositions toward time and attention [Zeit- und Aufmerksamkeitstechnik]; this in turn affects the structure of attention and cognition. The attitude toward time and environ-ment known as “multitasking” does not represent civilizational progress. Human beings in the late-modern society of work and information are not the only ones capable of multitasking. Rather, such an aptitude amounts to regression. Multitasking is common-place among wild animals. It is an attentive technique indispens-able for survival in the wilderness.

    An animal busy with eating must also attend to other tasks. For example, it must hold rivals away from its prey. It must constantly be on the lookout, lest it be eaten while eating. At the same time, it must guard its young and keep an eye on its sexual partner. In the wild, the animal is forced to divide its attention between various activities. That is why animals are incapable of contemplative immersion — either they are eating or they are copulating. The animal cannot immerse itself contemplatively in what it is facing because it must also process background events. Not just multitasking but also activities such as video games produce a broad but flat mode of attention, which is similar to the vigilance of a wild animal. Recent social developments and the structural change of wakefulness are bringing human society deeper and deeper into the wilderness. For example, bullying has achieved pandemic dimensions. Concern for the good life, which also includes life as a member of the community, is yielding more and more to the simple concern for survival.



    In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt seeks to rehabilitate the vita activa against the primacy a long tradition has granted the vita contemplativa, and to articulate its inner richness in a new way. In her estimation, the traditional view has wrongly reduced vita activa to mere restlessness: nec-otium or a-scholia.1 Arendt con-nects her revaluation of vita activa to the priority of action [Handeln]. This makes her commit to heroic actionism, like her teacher Heidegger. That said, for the early Heidegger death pro-vides the point of orientation: the possibility of dying imposes limits on action and makes freedom finite. In contrast, Arendt ori-ents possible action on birth, which lends it more heroic emphasis. The miracle, she argues, lies in human natality itself: the new beginning that human beings are to realize on the basis of being born. Wonder-working belief is replaced by heroic action, the native obligation of mankind. This amounts to conferring a quasi-religious dimension on action:

    The miracle . . . is the birth of new men and the new beginning, the action they are capable of by virtue of being born. . . . It is this faith in and hope for the world that found perhaps its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their “glad tidings”: “A child has been born to us.”



    The vita contemplativa presupposes instruction in a particular way of seeing. In Twilightof the Idols, Nietzsche formulates three tasks for which pedagogues are necessary. One needs to learn to see, to think, and to speak and write. The goal of education, according to Nietzsche, is “noble culture.” Learning to see means “getting your eyes used to calm, to patience, to letting things come to you”—that is, making yourself capable of deep and contemplative atten-tion, casting a long and slow gaze. Such learning-to-see represents the “first preliminary schooling for spirituality [Geistigkeit].” One must learn “not to react immediately to a stimulus, but instead to take control of the inhibiting, excluding instincts.” By the same token, “every characteristic absence of spirituality [Ungeistigkeit], every piece of common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus”1—the inability to set a no in opposition. Reacting immediately, yielding to every impulse, already amounts to illness and represents a symptom of exhaustion. Here Nietzsche is simply speaking of the need to revitalize the vita contemplativa. The vita contemplativa is not a matter of passive affirmation and being open to whatever happens. Instead, it offers resistance to crowd-ing, intrusive stimuli. Instead of surrendering the gaze to external impulses, it steers them in sovereign fashion. As a mode of saying no, sovereign action [Tun] proves more active than any and all hyperactivity, which represents a symptom of mental exhaustion. What eludes Arendt in the dialectic of being-active [Aktivsein] is that hyperactive intensification leads to an abrupt switch into hyperpassivity; now one obeys every impulse or stimulus without resistance. Instead of freedom, it produces new constraints. It is an illusion to believe that being more active means being freer.



    Melville’s “Bartleby,” which has often been the object of meta-physical and theological interpretations,1 also admits a pathologi-cal reading. This “Story of Wall-Street”2 describes an inhumane working world whose inhabitants have all degraded to the state of animal laborans. The sinister atmosphere of the office, choked by skyscrapers on every side, is hostile to life and portrayed in detail. Less than three meters from the window there surges a “lofty brick wall, black by age and everlasting shade” (5). The workspace, which seems like “a huge square cistern,” proves “deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life’” (5). Melancholy and gloominess are often mentioned, and they set the basic mood for the narrative. The attorney’s assistants all suffer from neurotic disorders. “Tur-key,” for example, runs around in “a strange, inflamed, flurried, flighty recklessness of activity” (6). Psychosomatic digestive trou-bles plague the overly ambitious assistant “Nippers,” who grinds his teeth perpetually and hisses curses through them. In their neu-rotic hyperactivity, these figures represent the opposite pole of Bartleby, who falls into silent immobility. Bartleby develops the symptoms characteristic of neurasthenia. In this light, his signa-ture phrase, “I would prefer not to,” expresses neither the negative potency of not-to nor the instinct for delay and deferral that is essential for “spirituality.” Rather, it stands for a lack of drive and for apathy, which seal Bartleby’s doom.



    Tiredness has a broad heart.
    —Maurice Blanchot

    As a society of activeness [Aktivgesellschaft], achievement society is slowly developing into a doping society. In the meanwhile, the negative expression “brain doping” has been replaced by “neuro-enhancement.” Doping makes it possible to achieve without achieving, so to speak. Now even serious scientists claim that it is irresponsible not to employ substances of this kind. A surgeon able to operate with greater concentration by using neuro-enhancers would make fewer mistakes and be able to save more lives. Nor is the general use of neuro-enhancers viewed as a problem. One need only ensure fairness—namely, by putting them at the dis-posal of all. If doping were also permitted in sports, it would de-grade into a pharmaceutical race. For all that, simple prohibition cannot prevent both the body and the human being as a whole from becoming a performance-machine [Leistungsmaschine] that is supposed to function without disturbance and maximize achievement. Doping is just one consequence of this development, whereby being alive [Lebendigkeit] itself—an extremely complex phenomenon—is boiled down to vital functions and capacities.



    In a very cryptic tale—“Prometheus”—Kafka undertakes a few modifications of the Greek legend. His reworking reads, “The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wea-rily.”1 I would subject Kafka’s version to further revision and turn it into an intrapsychic scene: the contemporary achievement-subject inflicting violence on, and waging war with, itself. As everyone knows, Prometheus also brought work to mankind when he gave mortals the gift of fire. Today’s achievement-subject deems itself free when in fact it is bound like Prometheus. The eagle that con-sumes an ever-regrowing liver can be interpreted as the subject’s alter ego. Viewed in this way, the relation between Prometheus and the eagle represents a relation of self-exploitation. Pain of the liver, an organ that cannot actually experience pain, is said to be tired-ness. Prometheus, the subject of self-exploitation, has been seized by overwhelming fatigue.

    For all that, Kafka envisions a healing tiredness: the wound closes wearily. It stands opposed to “I-tiredness,” whereby the ego grows exhausted and wears itself down; such tiredness stems from the redundancy and recurrence of the ego. But another kind of tiredness exists, too; here, the ego abandons itself into the world [das Ich verläßt sich auf die Welt hin]; it is tiredness as “more of less of me” [Mehr des weniger Ich], healthy “tiredness that trusts in the world.” I-tiredness, as solitary tiredness, is worldless and worlddestroying; it annihilates all reference to the Other in favor of narcissistic self-reference.

  3. shinichi Post author



    by 武邑光裕

    <今、世界の注目を集める韓国生まれのドイツの哲学者、ビョンチョル・ハン(Byung-Chul Han)は、『疲労社会』の中で、ハッスルカルチャーを、新自由主義が植え付けた「達成主義」にもとづく心理的統制であると指摘し続けている>









    今、世界の注目を集める韓国生まれのドイツの哲学者、ビョンチョル・ハン(Byung-Chul Han)は、20カ国以上で翻訳出版されている主著『疲労社会(Müdigkeitsgesellschaft)』(2010)や一連の著作の中で、ハッスルカルチャーを、新自由主義が植え付けた「達成主義」にもとづく心理的統制であると指摘し続けている。2021年10月には、日本でもハン氏の主著である『疲労社会」と『透明社会』が相次いで翻訳出版されるという。ハン哲学の日本での受容に期待したい。






















    ハン氏は最近、独立ジャーナリズムとして知られるThe Nationに『疲労のウィルス』という記事を寄稿し、Covid-19が、私たちを集団的な疲労状態に追い込んでいると主張した。その中で、文化とは何かを再考し次のように延べている。


  4. shinichi Post author

    by ビョンチョル・ハン






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