Byung-Chul Han

German philosopher of South Korean origin

Byung-Chul Han is a South Korean-born Swiss-German philosopher and cultural theorist. He was a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts and still occasionally gives courses there.

Byung-Chul Han in 2015



What is Power? (2005)

  • "Violence and freedom are the two endpoints on the scale of power."
  • "The task of power is to transform the always possible 'no' into a 'yes.' "
  • "Power is not opposed to freedom. It is precisely freedom that distinguishes power from violence or coercion. "
  • "A truly powerful holder of power does not simply elicit agreement, but enthusiasm and excitement. "
  • "Often what is absent has more power than what is present. "
  • "When power is separated from any communicative context, it becomes naked violence. "
  • "Power is more 'spacious' than violence. And violence becomes power if it 'gives itself more time.' Looked at from this perspective, power rests on an excess of space and time. "
  • "Architecture is a way for power to achieve eloquence through form. "
  • "Rather, power is most powerful, most stable, where it creates a feeling of freedom and where it does not need to resort to violence. "
  • "Power is never naked. Rather, it is eloquent. "
  • "An absolute power would be one that never becomes apparent, never pointed to itself, one that rather blended completely into what goes without saying. Power shines in its own absence. "
  • "Power turns pure being into a having."
  • "Violence may capture space, but it does not create space."
  • "Power tends to reduce openness... Power tries to solidify and stabilize its position by eradicating spaces open to play, or incalculable spaces."
  • "An ethos of freedom stops power from solidifying into domination and makes sure it remains an open game."
  • "Perhaps power is never free from a feeling of lack."

The Scent of Time (2009)

  • "If life is deprived of any meaningful closure, it will be ended in non-time."
  • "God functions like a stabilizer of time."
  • "A farewell does not dilute the presence of the past; it may make an even deeper presence."
  • "If things are deprived of memory, they become information or commodities. They are pushed into a time-free, ahistorical place."
  • "Promising, committment, and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices."
  • "The haste of day rules over the night as empty form."
  • "Full of gods means full of meaning, full of narration. The world becomes readable, like a picture."
  • "Historical time knows no lasting present."
  • "Information has no scent."
  • "Time begins to emit a scent when it gains duration; when it is given a narrative or deep tension; when it gains depth and breadth, even space."

The Burnout Society (2010)

  • "Twenty-first-century society is no longer a disciplinary society, but rather an achievement society [Leistungsgesellshaft]."
    • Source: Page 8
  • "Disciplinary society is still governed by no. Its negativity produces madmen and criminals. In contrast, achievement society creates depressives and losers."
    • Source: Page 9
  • "However, the disappearance of domination does not entail freedom. Instead, it makes freedom and constraint coincide. Thus, the achievement-subject gives itself over to compulsive freedom--that is, to the free constraint of maximizing achievement. Excess work and performance escalate into auto-exploitation."
    • Source: Page 11

The Agony of Eros (2012)

  • "Eros and depression are opposites."
  • "Eros, erotic desire, conquers depression. It delivers us from the inferno of the same to the utopia, indeed utopia, of the wholly other."
  • "Catastrophic fatality abruptly switches over into salvation."
  • "Whatever is merely positive is lifeless. Negativity is essential to vitality."
  • "Happiness is the proof that time can accommodate eternity."
  • "What is obscene about pornography is not an excess of sex, but the fact that it contains no sex at all."
  • "The pornographic face says nothing. It has no expressivity or mystery."
  • "The erotic is never free of secrecy."
  • "Pornography completes the deritualization of love."
  • "The inner music of things sounds only when you close your eyes."
  • "Money, as a matter of principle, makes everything the same."
  • "The eros-driven soul produces beautiful things, and, above all, beautiful actions, which have a universal value."
  • "There is no such thing as data-driven thinking."
  • "Thinking is an expedition into quietness."
  • "Logos is powerless without the force of eros."

The Disappearance of Rituals (2020)

  • "Rituals are symbolic acts. They represent, and pass on, the values and orders on which a community is based. They bring forth a community without communication; today, however, communication without community prevails."
  • "We can define rituals as symbolic techniques of making oneself at home in the world. They transforming being at home to being in the world. They turn the world into a reliable place. They are to time what a home is to space. They render time habitable."
  • "Ritual practices ensure that we treat not only other people but also things in beautiful ways, that there is an affinity between us and other people as well as things."
  • *Rituals are also symbolic practices... in the sense that they bring people together to create an alliance, a wholeness, a community."
  • "Those who devote themselves to rituals must ignore themselves. Rituals produce a distance from the self, a self-transcendence."
  • "Every religious practice is an exercise in attention. A temple is the highest degree of attention."
  • "The 'intense life' advertised by the neoliberal regime is in truth simply a life of intense consumption."
  • "Rituals are processes of embodiment and bodily performances. In them, the valid order and values of a community are physically experienced and solidified."
  • "Today, tattoos lack symbolic power. All they do is point toward the uniqueness of the bearer. The body is neither a ritual stage nor a surface of projection; rather, it is an advertising space."
  • "Sabbath rest does not follow creation; it brings creation to completion."
  • "When we subordinate rest to work, we ignore the divine."
  • "Silent listening unites a people and creates community without communication."
  • "In contrast to festivals, events do not create community."
  • "Capitalism lacks narrativity."
  • "Capitalism dislikes silence."
  • "Sovereignty, the freedom unto death, is threatening to a society that is organized around work and production."
  • "It is a sign of sovereignty to risk one's life, that is, to turn life into a game."
  • "Following Foucault, we may define the art of life as a practice of suicide, of giving oneself to death, of depsychologizing oneself, of playing."
  • "Today, to live means merely to produce."
  • "Poems are magic ceremonies of language."
  • "The liturgy of emptiness dispels the capitalist economy of the commodity."
  • "Ritual society is a society of rules. It is based not on virtues but on a passion for rules."
  • "In the empire of signs, the soul, psychology, is erased. There is no soul to infect the holy seriousness of ritual play."
  • "It is not honourable to attack an enemy without putting yourself at risk."
  • "Thinking is more erotic than calculating."
  • "The pornographic body lacks any symbolism. The ritualized body, by contrast, is a splendid stage, with secrets and deities written into it."

The Philosophy of Zen Buddhism (2022)

  • "The freedom of the 'everyday mind' consists rather in not kneeling down in awe. Its mental attitude is better expressed as "sitting unmoveable like an object."
  • "Haikus all the whole world to appear within things."
  • "...Zen Buddhism, this religion of immanence."
  • "God is nothingness: He is 'beyond all speech.'"
  • "...I pray to God to make me free of God."
  • "At the deepest level, the desire for complete union with God exhibits a narcissistic structure."
  • "Zen Buddhism is inspired by a basic trust in the Here, a basic trust in the world."
  • "The huge laugh is a most extreme expression of freedom."
  • "Enlightenment is an awakening to the everyday."
  • "Emptiness empties the one seeing into what is seen."
  • "Emptiness simply prevents what is individual from insisting on itself."
  • "The emptiness of Zen Buddhism... creates a neighborly nearness between things."
  • "To die is to wander."
  • "When we resist impermanence, the self intensifies."
  • "Emptiness is not a denial of the proper but an affirmation of it."
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