Jun 12, 2023

Han on rest

From Byung-Chul Han's The Disappearance of Rituals, starting on p. 36 of my copy:

God blessed and sanctified the seventh day. The rest enjoyed on the Sabbath consecrates the work of creation. It is not mere idleness. Rather, it is an essential part of creation. In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Rashi thus remarks: "After the six days of creation, what was still missing from the universe? Menuchah (inoperativity, rest). The Sabbath came, the menuchah came, and the universe was complete."

Sabbath rest does not follow creation; it brings creation to completion. Without it, the creation would be incomplete. God does not rest on the seventh day simply to recover from the work he has done. Rather, rest is his nature. It completes the creation. It is the essence of the creation. Thus, when we subordinate rest to work, we ignore the divine.


Today's compulsion of communication means that we can close neither our eyes nor our mouths. It desecrates life.

In the digital world, where attention has a flat structure, silence and muteness have no place. Silence and muteness require a vertical structure, but digital communication is horizontal. In digital communication, nothing protrudes. Nothing deepens. It is not intensive but extensive, and this leads to an increase in communicative noise.

Because we cannot remain silent, we must communicate. Or: we cannot remain silent because we are subject to the compulsion of communication, the compulsion of production. The liberation and emancipation from the word brought about by silence turns back into the compulsion of communication. Freedom reverts back into compulsion.

Rest belongs to the sphere of the sacred. Work, by contrast, is a profane activity that must be wholly absent from the religious act. Rest and work represent two fundamentally different existential forms. They are divided by an ontological, even a theological, difference. Rest is not merely recovery from work, nor is it preparation for further work. Rather, it transcends work[.]


If rest becomes a form of recovery from work, as is the case today, it loses its specific ontological value. It no longer represents an independent, higher form of existence and degenerates into a derivative of work. Today's compulsion of production perpetuates work and thus eliminates that sacred silence. Life becomes entirely profane, desecrated.

As part of the sphere of the profane, work individualizes and isolates human beings. Festivals, by contrast, unite them. The circular nature of the festival is grounded in the fact that, as essentially collective beings, humans regularly feel the need to unite.

See also Ben Hoffman's Sabbath hard and go home.

When did work become the substrate from which all else must be carved out? When did work become primary?

I remember regularly feeling a certain sense of spaciousness when I was a little boy. It stopped being regular... when I went to elementary school? Before? We had naptime in kindergarten and I sometimes had the most wonderful naps.

It can be hard to remember some of the things we have lost.