Byung-Chul Han, The Tiredness Virus. The Nation, April 12, 2021
Covid-19 has driven us into a collective fatigue.
Covid-19 is a mirror that reflects back to us the crises in our society. It renders more visible the pathological symptoms that already existed before the pandemic. One of these symptoms is tiredness. We all somehow feel very tired. This is a fundamental tiredness that accompanies us everywhere and all the time, like our own shadows. During the pandemic we have felt even more tired. The idleness imposed on us during lockdown has made us tired. Some people claim that we might rediscover the beauty of leisure, that life might decelerate. In fact, time during the pandemic is ruled not by leisure and deceleration but by tiredness and depression.
Why do we feel so tired? Today, tiredness seems to be a global phenomenon. Ten years ago, I published a book, The Burnout Society, in which I described tiredness as an illness afflicting the neoliberal achievement society. The tiredness experienced during the pandemic has forced me to think about the subject again.
The neoliberal achievement society makes exploitation possible even without domination. The disciplinary society with its commandments and prohibitions, as analyzed by Michel Foucault in his Discipline and Punish, does not describe today’s achievement society. The achievement society exploits freedom itself. Self-exploitation is more efficient than exploitation by others because it goes hand in hand with a feeling of freedom.
Byung-Chul Han is a Korean-born German philosopher. His most recent book, Capitalism and the Death Drive, is published by Polity. A professor of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at the University of the Arts in Berlin, Han’s books include The Burnout Society, The Expulsion of the Other, and The Disappearance of Rituals. The Guardian has described him as “a wunderkind of a newly resurgent and unprecedentedly readable German philosophy,” and El País has called him “the most widely read living German philosopher in the world.”