The Loss of Object and Practice of Philosophy as Art: Interview with Byung-Chul Han

Byung-Chul Han

Byung-Chul Han in his latest book  – Undinge (Nonobjects) claims that the age of object is over. “Today we are in the transition from the age of objects to the age of nonobjects. Information, not objects, now defines our environment. Under no circumstances do I want to praise old, beautiful objects. That would be very unphilosophical. I refer to objects as resting places for life because they stabilise human life. The same chair and the same table, in their sameness, lend the fickle human life some stability and continuity. We can linger with objects. With information, however, we cannot. In Undinge I have made the proposition that nowadays we perceive reality primarily in terms of information. As a consequence, there is rarely a tangible contact with reality. Reality is robbed of its presence. We no longer perceive its physical vibrations. The layer of information, which covers objects like a membrane, shields the perception of intensities. Perception, reduced to information, numbs us to moods and atmospheres. Rooms lose their poetics. They give way to roomless networks along which information spreads. Digital time, with its focus on the present, on the moment, disperses the fragrance of time. Time is atomised into a sequence of isolated presents. Atoms are not fragrant. The informatisation of reality thus leads to a loss of space and time.

If we want to understand what kind of society we live in, we have to comprehend what information is. Information has very little currency. It lacks temporal stability, since it lives off the excitement of surprise. Due to its temporal instability, it fragments perception. It throws us into a continuous frenzy of topicality. Hence it’s impossible to linger on information. That’s how it differs from objects. Information puts the cognitive system itself into a state of anxiety. We encounter information with the suspicion that it could just as easily be something else. It is accompanied by basic distrust. It strengthens the contingency experience. Fake news embodies a heightened form of the contingency that is inherent in information. And information, due to its ephemerality, makes time-consuming cognitive practices such as experience, memory or perception disappear. So my analyses have nothing to do with nostalgia.

Effectively more artists than philosophers read my books. Philosophers are no longer interested in the present. Foucault once said that the philosopher is a journalist who captures the now with ideas. That’s what I do. Moreover my essays are on their way to another life, to a different narrative. Artists feel addressed by that. I would entrust art with the task of developing a new way of life, a new awareness, a new narrative against the prevailing doctrine. As such, the saviour is not philosophy but art. Or I practise philosophy as art.”