Skip to content

Exhaustion is Freneticism is Exhaustion

My Thoughts on The Burnout Society by Byung-Chul Han

[BUY THE BOOK(affl. link)]

scarcity threatens the body, abundance threatens the mind

All the talk of immunity, antibodies, grafting and rejection should not surprise anyone. In periods of scarcity, absorption and assimilation are the order of the day. In periods of abundance, rejection and expulsion are the chief concerns. Today, generalized communication and surplus information threaten to overwhelm all human defenses.

The violence of positivity does not deprive, it saturates; it does not exclude, it exhausts. That is why it proves inaccessible to unmediated perception.

the $99 group biking class at soulcycle might have been a giveaway

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 It has long been replaced by another regime, namely a society of fitness studios, office towers, banks, airports, shopping malls, and genetic laboratories.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.

Disciplinary society is still governed by no. Its negativity produces madmen and criminals. In contrast, achievement society creates depressives and losers.

The attitude toward time and environment 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 commonplace among wild animals. It is an attentive technique indispensable for survival in the wilderness.

We owe the cultural achievements of humanity—which include philosophy—to deep, contemplative attention. 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 vita contemplativa is not a matter of passive affirmation and being open to whatever happens. Instead, it offers resistance to crowding, intrusive stimuli.

It is an illusion to believe that being more active means being freer.
Rage is the capacity to interrupt a given state and make a new state begin.

The computer calculates more quickly than the human brain and takes on inordinate quantities of data without difficulty because it is free of all Otherness. It is a machine of positivity [Positivmaschine]. Because of autistic self-referentiality, because negativity is absent, an idiot savant can perform what otherwise only a calculator can do.

Mourning differs from depression above all through its strong libidinal attachment to an object. In contrast, depression is objectless and therefore undirected. It is important to distinguish depression from melancholy. Melancholy is preceded by the experience of loss. Therefore it still stands in a relation—namely, negative relation—to the absent thing or party. In contrast, depression is cut off from all relation and attachment. It utterly lacks gravity [Schwerkraft].

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

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.

All of you who are in love with hectic work and whatever is fast, new, strange—you find it hard to bear yourselves, your diligence is escape and the will to forget yourself. If you believed more in life, you would hurl yourself less into the moment. But you do not have enough content in yourselves for waiting—not even for laziness!

The inner logic of achievement society dictates its evolution into a doping society. Life reduced to bare, vital functioning is life to be kept healthy unconditionally. Health is the new goddess.

Burnout society