An auto-exploiting labourer of your own psyche: notes after reading Byung-Chul Han

Having recently read two books by Byung-Chul Han, I thought it worth summarizing the most personally relevant aspects of each book. I’ve mixed quotes from both books, where they overlap and drive home the points I want to focus on,

The perpetual & enslaved content machine

Given my day job once involved running a content management company (and I have been a very online person for decades) this felt very personal to me. Our lives are consumed by the creation of content — of data — for the financial benefit of others.

the achievement-subject deems itself free, in reality it is a slave. In so far as it willingly exploits itself without a master, it is an absolute slave.

Today, everyone is an auto-exploiting labourer in his or her own enterprise. People are now master and slave in one. Even class struggle has transformed into an inner struggle against oneself.

When production is immaterial, everyone already owns the means of production him- or herself.

the neoliberal regime utterly claims the technology of the self for its own purposes: perpetual self- optimization – as the exemplary neoliberal technology of the self – represents nothing so much as a highly efficient mode of domination and exploitation

Under neoliberalism, the technology of power takes on a subtle form. It does not lay hold of individuals directly. Instead, it ensures that individuals act on themselves so that power relations are interiorized – and then interpreted as freedom. Self- optimization and submission, freedom and exploitation, fall into one.

You: the forever project

Our subjugation takes the form of viewing ourselves as a never-ending project, publicly performing acts of seeking and reinventing oneself.

Today, we do not deem ourselves subjugated subjects, but rather projects, always refashioning and reinventing ourselves

the illusion prevails that every person – as a project free to fashion him- or herself at will – is capable of unlimited self-production.

Everyone pays homage to the cult of the self, the worship of self in which everyone is his or her own priest.

The society of authenticity is a performance society. All members perform themselves. All produce themselves.

Chasing authenticity

The auto-exploitation of the self as a public performance frequently manifests in an obsession with personal authenticity.

In the cult of authenticity, the neoliberal regime appropriates the person himself and turns him into a highly efficient site of production. The whole person is incorporated into the production process.

The society of authenticity is a performance society. All members perform themselves. All produce themselves.

Everyone pays homage to the cult of the self, the worship of self in which everyone is his or her own priest.

Within the cult of authenticity, the production of self become a permanent activity.

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