theory, video essay

2028 – Müdigkeitsgesellschaft, The Burnout Society: Byung-Chul Han in Seoul/Berlin (essay documentary 2015)

A Film by Isabella Gresser

An Essay Documentary Film narrated by and featuring Korean-German Philosopher Byung-Chul Han. Han talks about the contemporary phenomenon of the ‘Burnout Society’. He raises the question of how we want to live today, and uncovers the underlying themes of an achievement-oriented digital society.

Read more by Byung-Chul Han: The Burnout Society (Stanford University Press), Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power (Verso Books) available on (YT)

interview with Byung-Chul Han

interview by art review with Byung-Chul Han

review in LARB of Burnout Society

Without reading none of his celebrated books, I still have a big reluctance of what I regard a well-qualified but still blatantly anti-technological stance that Byung-Chul Han professes. To me, that smells too much of Martin Heidegger and too little of Marshall MacLuhan. There is also the feeling that there is too much convergence with the current (fully digitized) mindfulness. In a sense ‘smart’ technologies themselves offer nowadays an improved default mindfulness setting, as if in agreement with what Zizek once called a ‘decaffeinated’ version, a new sort of Decaf Reality. Mindfulness apps abound. Remains to be seen if these are just adjustments on the go – another sign that there is more and more need for what is perceived as “growing disillusionment” with future prospects and what feels more and more like a ‘labor camp’ type Googlag working environment. Tang ping is another term that is being coined completely independent from Byung-Chul Han’s diagnosis of post-Fordist malaise, but has a lot in common with his ideas about the current threadmill.

I also think that Byung-Chul Han’s emphasis on Panopticon is still much too imprecise and tributary to Foucault’s own predilection for early modern examples, so it risks (in my mind) missing out on the current shift of digital governance from Foucalt’s older ‘panopticon’ to the (particularly in China but also Gaza Strip/Israel) new model of ‘panspectron’ (as highlighted by Gabriele de Seta and Rogier Creemers.

By posting this documentary essay that I quite like, it is important on Byung-Chul Han – a star philosopher of recent years. Yes, I consider his ideas timely, zeitgeisty and appreciate very much his slide from studying metallurgy to philosophy and art theory. I also think that anything that might help slow down or throw some light on the nature of time (of Money) transformations under financial capitalism, or on the ideology of work, on the workings of ‘hustle culture’ and the gig economy, on ‘death by overwork’ (過労死, Karōshi), for qualifying the so-called Asian economic miracle as capitalist mode of hyper-production, and on paradoxical modes of incomplete, non-utilitarian, Taoist (emptiness philosophy inflected) non-productivist, non-optimized living speaks to this very moment of tiredness and widening depression. His own wanderings trough both East/West and his necrosophic musings within cemetery grounds and poetry (as seen in this documentary) brings him very close to my own orientation and others that I have been collaborating with over the years. He also makes a very cool reference to the Momo novel by Michael Ende that turns out to be one of the most precious and timely books on accelerationism or today’s burnout society.

Special thanks to Felix P for sharing the books of Byung-Chul Han and especially this documentary.

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