Symbolic and serial perception

From Byung-Chul Han’s The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present.

Symbolic perception is gradually being replaced by a serial perception that is incapable of producing the experience of duration. Serial perception, the constant registering of the new, does not linger. Rather, it rushes from one piece of information to the next, from one experience to the next, from one sensation to the next, without ever coming to closure. Watching film series is so popular today because they conform to the habit of serial perception. At the level of media consumption, this habit leads to binge watching, to comatose viewing. While symbolic perception is intensive, serial perception is extensive. Because of its extensiveness, serial perception is characterized by shallow attention. Intensity is giving way everywhere to extensity. Digital communication is extensive communication; it does not establish relationships, only connections.

The neoliberal regime pushes serial perception, reinforces the serial habitus. It intentionally abolishes duration in order to drive more consumption. The permanent process of updating, which has now extended to all areas of life, does not permit the development of any duration or allow for any completion. The everpresent compulsion of production leads to a de-housing [Enthausung], making life more contingent, transient and unstable. But dwelling requires duration.

Attention deficit disorder results from a pathological intensification of serial perception. Perception is never at rest: it has lost the capacity to linger. The cultural technique of deep attention emerged precisely out of ritual and religious practices. It is no accident that ‘religion’ is derived from relegere: to take note. Every religious practice is an exercise in attention. A temple is a place of the highest degree of attention. According to Malebranche, attention is the natural prayer of the soul. Today, the soul does not pray. It is permanently producing itself.

2 thoughts on “Symbolic and serial perception

    1. I tend to agree about the content. Still, there’s something in his performance personality that I’m finding enjoyable – like the unforeseen mix of a philosopher grounded in the aphoristic tradition cultivating a street preacher’s delivery. Or maybe I just read so little critique of the modern world that I’m too easily entertained by it – I would never have heard of him but I’m sitting in on a friend’s class where this and the author’s earlier The Burnout Society are two of the assigned texts.


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