Violent affirmation and the pleasure of nativity

As mentioned in the previous note on Byung-Chul Han’s (2015) discussion on affirmation, it is important too notice the folding of oppression and desire – that oppression needs not to be negative and obstructing, but like a Möbius strip invert desire onto itself as topology of violence and self-aggression. As Han notices, the dynamic of achievement society is a “totalized state of normality” in the sense of a “state of positivity” (2015: 48). In this state, power lies not in the negativity of exclusion and inhibition, but in the “violence of and positivity, which expresses itself as the exhaustion and inclusion that characterize the society of achievement.” (48)

“Today violence issues more readily from the conformism of consensus than from the antagonism of dissent. In this sense-contra Habermas-one might speak of the violence of consensus.” (Han 2015: 48)

The same positivity is at the foundation of fashion “be different!” – “become yourself!” – “be an individual!” The consumer must continually work on the self, be more of oneself, train more, do more, shop more, look better, network more, be more “creative” in a way that aligns with the creative norms of achievement and produces more “followers” and “fans.” Life itself is an aesthetic project. Even if the subject/project stands free from top-down oppression, where “freedom and violence now coincide.” (49)

“the absence of external domination does not abolish the structure of compulsion. It makes freedom and compulsion coincide. The achievement-subject [“project”] gives itself over to freestanding compulsion in order to maximize performance.” (Han 2015: 49)

As Han points out, the possible freedom and liberation Hannah Arendt found in nativity, the possibilities for change inherent in the creative birth of the new, are now the very source of domination. Arendt’s “Vita Activa” is now the labor or bare life (17f). The heroic creativity which once was the breaking of bureaucratic and “unthinking” obedience is now the very means which harvest the hyperactive and hyperneurotic producing population. “Work itself is bare activity. The activity of bare laboring corresponds entirely to bare life.” (18) The creative birth of the new is now the new norm of creative labor.

“Ultimately, the dialectic of master and slave does not yield a society where everyone is free and capable of leisure, too. Rather, it leads to a society of work in which the master himself has become a laboring slave. In this society of compulsion, everyone carries a work camp inside. The labor camp is defined by the fact that one is simultaneously prisoner and guard, victim and perpetuator. One exploits oneself. It means that exploitation is possible even without domination.” (Han 2015: 19)

Violence and nativity coincide and fold over like a Möbius strip. The human condition under the achievement society is to be forever creative, to always seek compulsive nativity as the labor of bare life.

Thus Han’s model is homologous with the compulsive violence in fashion where every aesthetic subject is a project, a project of creative self-becoming bound to the economy of fashion. One can only be oneself by becoming the commodity suggested by the system, and in continuous competition with one’s peers. In the pleasure of following one’s desires, the subject/project also shuts the doors to being the source of his or her own self-becoming. Continuous affirmation, desire, creation and achievement forces peers against each other and themselves, raising the bar and the speed of performing themselves over and over. New fashion, cheaper fashion, shorter seasons, faster cycles; all making itself more and more desirable as fashion can become “sustainable” (or “conscious” as H&M would call it). The more sustainable, the more efficient: we can all have the cake and eat it.

Be yourself so you can achieve more of being yourself, and you will get more narcissist followers seeing you being yourself in order to better be themselves.



Han, Byung-Chul (2015) The Burnout Society, Stanford: Stanford University Press

Leave a Reply