Byung-Chul Han on money, violence, mortality and capitalism

“The archaic economy of violence didn’t simply disappear in modern times. The nuclear arms race also conforms to the archaic economy of violence. The potential for destruction is built up like mana to create the impression of more power and invulnerability. At a deep psychological level, the archaic belief persists that the accumulation of the ability to kill will ward off death. More deadly violence is interpreted as less death. The economy of capital also displays a notable similarity to the archaic economy of violence. Instead of blood, it makes money flow forth. There is an essential proximity between blood and money. Capital behaves like modern mana. The more of it you have, the more powerful, invulnerable, and even immortal you consider yourself to be. Even the etymology of the German word for money, Geld, points to the context of sacrifice and cult. Thus it’s presumed that money was initially a medium of exchange with which sacrificial animals could be obtained. If someone had a lot of money, it meant that he could have many sacrificial animals, which could be offered up at any time. The owner also possessed an enormous, predator-like deadly violence. Money or capital is thus an instrument against death.

On a deep psychological level, capitalism actually has much to do with death and fear of death. This is also what gives it its archaic dimension. The hysteria of accumulation and of growth and fear of death are mutually dependent. Capital can also be interpreted as time spent, since others can be paid to work in one’s stead. Endless capital creates the illusion of endless time. The accumulation of capital works against death, against the absolute lack of time. Faced with a limited life span, people accumulate time as capital.”

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Byung-Chul Han on mind/body optimization and psychopolitics

“But neoliberalism, a further development -indeed, a mutated form- of capitalism, is not primarily concerned with ‘the biological, the somatic, the corporal’. It has discovered the psyche as a productive force. This psychic turn -that is, the turn to psychopolitics– also connects with the mode of operation of contemporary capitalism. Now, immaterial and non-physical forms of production are what determine the course of capitalism. What gets produced are not material objects, but immaterial ones -for instance, information and programs. The body no longer represents a central force of production, as it formerly did in biopolitical, disciplinary society. Now, productivity is not to be enhanced by overcoming physical resistance so much as by optimizing psychic or mental processes. Physical discipline has given way to mental optimization. And neuro-enhancement differs from the disciplinary techniques of psychiatry fundamentally.

Today, the body is being released from the immediate process of production and turning into the object of optimization, whether along aesthetic lines or in terms of health technology. Accordingly, orthopaedic intervention is yielding to aesthetic intervention. Foucault’s ‘docile body’ has no place in this production process. Cosmetic surgery and fitness studios are taking the place of disciplinary orthopaedics. That said, physical optimization means more than aesthetic practice alone: sexiness and fitness represent new economic resources to be increased, marketed and exploited.”

Bonus: Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism

“Foucault painstakingly enumerated the way in which discipline was installed through the imposition of rigid body postures. During lessons at our college, however, students will be found slumped on desk, talking almost constantly, snacking incessantly (or even, on occasions, eating full meals). The old disciplinary segmentation of time is breaking down. The carceral regime of discipline is being eroded by the technologies of control, with their systems of perpetual consumption and continuous development.”