Punkt-Zeit

Byung-Chul Han recognizes our anti-historical condition in what he calls Punkt-Zeit – a time of points:

“Historical time … has the shape of a line, which runs or flies toward a goal. If that line loses its narrative or teleological tension, it falls apart into points, which flutter aimlessly. The act of history atomises time to a time of points (Punkt-Zeit) … History now gives way to information. The latter has no narrative length or width. It is neither centred or aimed. It collapses onto us.”[i]

What Han is describing here is our nihilistic condition. We are foundering in the non-historical world of mere information. Information without purposiveness.

This purposeless, pin-point information-reality also has an effect on our perception of humanity. Humanity itself dissolves into points of information. Every day, we get certain points of information about a pandemic, or about Islamic terrorists, an avalanche of refugees, or about the victims of some natural disaster; information which is interesting while it is news, but less interesting once the novelty starts to wane … and this is true of all information. Because of that, what is buried within all the information we receive is our own alienation from the warmth of humanity, pushing us into the cold analytical space of objectivity.

It is this objectivity that allows crimes against humanity to prosper – after all, as information, crimes against humanity have high quantitative value, and is therefore a profitable commodity. But humanity itself, humanity as a whole; or human-progress as a teleological aim, has little to no value as far as selling information is concerned. Nevertheless, if we saw humanity involved in a greater process of purposeful, teleological progress then we would not feel so distanced from the offenses perpetrated against other human beings, and the idea of justice would be more tangible also. With a humanistic teleology, crimes against humanity would be crimes committed against our own family – they would be crimes against our own source of identity; crimes against us.

The need for this association with the human is obvious in the I am (the victim) campaigns, in which masses of people proclaim a direct and personal identification with the victims of some news-worthy disaster or crime.

This message is a humanising one, that is necessary now, because we live in such de-humanised societies. But, the main question we have to ask is: How did humanity allow itself to fall into such a de-humanised state? How can a global, human civilisation be so anti-human in its structure?    


[i] Han, Byung-Chul, SCENT OF TIME (Transcript Verlag, 2009, p.18)