Byung-Chul Han

Byung-Chul Han, born in Seoul, is Professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at the Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK). One of the most widely read philosophers in Europe, he is the author of more than twenty books, including including three previous volumes in the MIT Press Untimely Meditations series, In the Swarm: Digital Prospects, The Agony of Eros, and Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese.

  • Topology of Violence

    Topology of Violence

    Byung-Chul Han

    One of today's most widely read philosophers considers the shift in violence from visible to invisible, from negativity to excess of positivity.

    Some things never disappear—violence, for example. Violence is ubiquitous and incessant but protean, varying its outward form according to the social constellation at hand. In Topology of Violence, the philosopher Byung-Chul Han considers the shift in violence from the visible to the invisible, from the frontal to the viral to the self-inflicted, from brute force to mediated force, from the real to the virtual. Violence, Han tells us, has gone from the negative—explosive, massive, and martial—to the positive, wielded without enmity or domination. This, he says, creates the false impression that violence has disappeared. Anonymized, desubjectified, systemic, violence conceals itself because it has become one with society.

    Han first investigates the macro-physical manifestations of violence, which take the form of negativity—developing from the tension between self and other, interior and exterior, friend and enemy. These manifestations include the archaic violence of sacrifice and blood, the mythical violence of jealous and vengeful gods, the deadly violence of the sovereign, the merciless violence of torture, the bloodless violence of the gas chamber, the viral violence of terrorism, and the verbal violence of hurtful language. He then examines the violence of positivity—the expression of an excess of positivity—which manifests itself as over-achievement, over-production, over-communication, hyper-attention, and hyperactivity. The violence of positivity, Han warns, could be even more disastrous than that of negativity. Infection, invasion, and infiltration have given way to infarction.

    • Paperback $19.95
  • Shanzhai

    Shanzhai

    Deconstruction in Chinese

    Byung-Chul Han

    Tracing the thread of “decreation” in Chinese thought, from constantly changing classical masterpieces to fake cell phones that are better than the original.

    Shanzhai is a Chinese neologism that means “fake,” originally coined to describe knock-off cell phones marketed under such names as Nokir and Samsing. These cell phones were not crude forgeries but multifunctional, stylish, and as good as or better than the originals. Shanzhai has since spread into other parts of Chinese life, with shanzhai books, shanzhai politicians, shanzhai stars. There is a shanzhai Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll, in which Harry takes on his nemesis Yandomort. In the West, this would be seen as piracy, or even desecration, but in Chinese culture, originals are continually transformed—deconstructed. In this volume in the Untimely Meditations series, Byung-Chul Han traces the thread of deconstruction, or “decreation,” in Chinese thought, from ancient masterpieces that invite inscription and transcription to Maoism—“a kind a shanzhai Marxism,” Han writes.

    Han discusses the Chinese concepts of quan, or law, which literally means the weight that slides back and forth on a scale, radically different from Western notions of absoluteness; zhen ji, or original, determined not by an act of creation but by unending process; xian zhan, or seals of leisure, affixed by collectors and part of the picture's composition; fuzhi, or copy, a replica of equal value to the original; and shanzhai. The Far East, Han writes, is not familiar with such “pre-deconstructive” factors as original or identity. Far Eastern thought begins with deconstruction.

    • Paperback $14.95
  • The Agony of Eros

    The Agony of Eros

    Byung-Chul Han

    An argument that love requires the courage to accept self-negation for the sake of discovering the Other.

    Byung-Chul Han is one of the most widely read philosophers in Europe today, a member of the new generation of German thinkers that includes Markus Gabriel and Armen Avanessian. In The Agony of Eros, a bestseller in Germany, Han considers the threat to love and desire in today's society. For Han, love requires the courage to accept self-negation for the sake of discovering the Other. In a world of fetishized individualism and technologically mediated social interaction, it is the Other that is eradicated, not the self. In today's increasingly narcissistic society, we have come to look for love and desire within the “inferno of the same.”

    Han offers a survey of the threats to Eros, drawing on a wide range of sources—Lars von Trier's film Melancholia, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Fifty Shades of Grey, Michel Foucault (providing a scathing critique of Foucault's valorization of power), Martin Buber, Hegel, Baudrillard, Flaubert, Barthes, Plato, and others. Han considers the “pornographication” of society, and shows how pornography profanes eros; addresses capitalism's leveling of essential differences; and discusses the politics of eros in today's “burnout society.” To be dead to love, Han argues, is to be dead to thought itself.

    Concise in its expression but unsparing in its insight, The Agony of Eros is an important and provocative entry in Han's ongoing analysis of contemporary society.

    This remarkable essay, an intellectual experience of the first order, affords one of the best ways to gain full awareness of and join in one of the most pressing struggles of the day: the defense, that is to say—as Rimbaud desired it—the “reinvention” of love.—from the foreword by Alain Badiou

    • Paperback $12.95
  • In the Swarm

    In the Swarm

    Digital Prospects

    Byung-Chul Han

    A prominent German thinker argues that—contrary to “Twitter Revolution” cheerleading—digital communication is destroying political discourse and political action.

    The shitstorm represents an authentic phenomenon of digital communication.—from In the Swarm

    Digital communication and social media have taken over our lives. In this contrarian reflection on digitized life, Byung-Chul Han counters the cheerleaders for Twitter revolutions and Facebook activism by arguing that digital communication is in fact responsible for the disintegration of community and public space and is slowly eroding any possibility for real political action and meaningful political discourse. In the predigital, analog era, by the time an angry letter to the editor had been composed, mailed, and received, the immediate agitation had passed. Today, digital communication enables instantaneous, impulsive reaction, meant to express and stir up outrage on the spot. “The shitstorm,” writes Han, ”represents an authentic phenomenon of digital communication.”

    Meanwhile, the public, the senders and receivers of these communications have become a digital swarm—not a mass, or a crowd, or Negri and Hardt's antiquated notion of a “multitude,” but a set of isolated individuals incapable of forming a “we,” incapable of calling dominant power relations into question, incapable of formulating a future because of an obsession with the present. The digital swarm is a fragmented entity that can focus on individual persons only in order to make them an object of scandal.

    Han, one of the most widely read philosophers in Europe today, describes a society in which information has overrun thought, in which the same algorithms are employed by Facebook, the stock market, and the intelligence services. Democracy is under threat because digital communication has made freedom and control indistinguishable. Big Brother has been succeeded by Big Data.

    • Paperback $13.95