Cover Page

Byung-Chul Han

The Scent of Time

A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering

Translated by Daniel Steuer



Today’s temporal crisis is not a crisis of acceleration. The age of acceleration is already over. What we experience today as acceleration is only one of the symptoms of temporal dispersal. Today’s temporal crisis is caused by a dyschronicity which leads to various temporal disturbances and irritations. Time is lacking a rhythm that would provide order, and thus it falls out of step. Dyschronicity lets time whizz, so to speak. The feeling that life is accelerating is really the experience of a time that is whizzing without a direction.

Dyschronicity is not the result of a push for further acceleration. In the first place, it is the atomization of time which is responsible for dyschronicity. It is also the reason for the feeling that time passes much more quickly than it used to. Due to the temporal dispersal, no experience of duration is possible. Nothing comports time.1 Life is no longer embedded in any ordering structures or coordinates that would found duration. Even things with which we identify are fleeting and ephemeral. Thus, we become radically transient ourselves. The atomization of life goes hand in hand with an atomization of identity. All we have is our self, our little ego. We are subject to a radical loss of space and time, even of world, of being-with. Poverty of world is a phenomenon of dyschronicity. It reduces the human being to a tiny body that is kept healthy at all costs. Otherwise, what would we have? The health of one’s fragile body is a substitute for world and God. Nothing outlasts death. Thus, dying is particularly difficult today. And we age, without becoming old.

This book investigates the causes and symptoms of dyschronicity in historical as well as systematic terms. But it also offers reflections on possibilities for recovery. While these touch upon heterochronic or uchronic moments, the present study is not limited to finding and rehabilitating these exceptional, extraordinary places of duration. Rather, its retrospection draws attention to the prospective need for life to take on a different form, down to its everyday details, so that the temporal crisis can be averted. It will not mourn the passing of the time of storytelling. The end of narration, the end of history, does not need to bring about a temporal emptiness. Rather, it opens up the possibility of a life-time that can do without theology and teleology, but which possesses a scent of its own. But this presupposes a revitalization of the vita contemplativa.

Not the least cause for today’s temporal crisis is the absolute value attached to the vita activa. This leads to an imperative to work, which degrades the human being into an animal laborans. The hyperkinesia of everyday life deprives human existence of all contemplative elements and of any capacity for lingering. It leads to a loss of world and time. So-called strategies of deceleration do not overcome this temporal crisis; they even cover up the actual problem. What is necessary is a revitalization of the vita contemplativa. The temporal crisis will only be overcome once the vita activa, in the midst of its crisis, again incorporates the vita contemplativa.