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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy

The Crisis of Narration

Byung-Chul Han

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To purchase The Crisis of Narration

Title: The Crisis of Narration
Author: Byung-Chul Han
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2023 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 96 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Crisis of Narration - US
The Crisis of Narration - UK
The Crisis of Narration - Canada
Die Krise der Narration - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • German title: Die Krise der Narration
  • Translated by Daniel Steuer

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Our Assessment:

B : well-presented compact take

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Observer . 18/2/2024 Stuart Jeffries

  From the Reviews:
  • "I found Han most relatable when he reflects on the strange death of storytelling in GP surgeries. (...) I am very fond of Han’s writing. His 100-page jeremiads with short chapters and gnomic sentences are all animated by a Cassandra sensibility that expects warnings to go unheeded. Amusingly, though, he couldn’t tell a good story to save his life. Like a lot of men (and it is always men), Han writes as though he’s never been contradicted. (...) Han proves addicted, like many German intellectuals since Goethe, to expressing himself in the imperious maxim. It’s a writerly tic that brooks no dissent. But that’s a rhetorical disaster for a book that is supposed to be championing the opposite, namely narrative storytelling in all its polysemous perversity." - Stuart Jeffries, The Observer

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: Die Krise der Narration had not yet been translated into English when this review was written. This review is based on the German original, and all quotes are in my translation.]

       In Die Krise der Narration ('The Crisis of Narration') Byung-Chul finds that even as we are seemingly awash with narratives and storytelling, we've lost true story-telling -- and find ourselves in fact in a 'post-narrative age'. Society has become increasingly information-driven -- it's the information age, after all --, accelerating its "Entnarrativierung" ('de-narrativization'). The flood of information -- basically simply data -- 'suffocates the spirit of the story'. Even as we constantly exchange information, especially online:

Wir erzählen uns keine Geschichten mehr. Dafür kommunizieren wir exzessiv. Wir posten, sharen und liken.

[We don't tell one another stories any more. Instead, we communicate to excess. We post, share, and like.]
       Han differentiates between 'Storytelling' (using the (capitalized) English word in his text), by which he means the presentation and exchange of information increasingly prevalent today and (the German term) 'erzählen' (also literally 'storytelling'), the traditional and long predominant form. For him, erzählen connected (people, society), while Storytelling contributes to the atomization of these times -- with social media is one of the clearest manifestations of this:
     Digitale Platformen wie Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok oder Snapchat sind am Nullpunkt der Erzählung angesiedelt. Sie sind kein Erzähl-, sondern ein Informationsmedium. Sie arbeiten additiv nicht narrativ. Die aneinandergereihten Informationen verdichten sich nicht zur Erzählung.

     [Digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Snapchat are at the nadir of narrative. They are not a narrative medium, but rather one of information. They work accretively, not narratively. The strung together information does not coalesce into a narrative.]
       Life is presented as an accumulation of data -- raw information --, rather than narratively, a natural consequence of the medium, whose purpose is to collect as much data as possible about individuals, making it easier to 'monitor, steer, and fully economically exploit' them. Storytelling may be widespread in our times, but does not serve the purposes that erzählen does; rather, all it does is instrumentalize and commercialize stories.
       Storytelling results in 'de-aura-ization' (Entauratisieung), the world reduced to simple datapoints, without any of the magic and imaginative leaps of the (old-fashioned) narrative. Han goes so far as to claim that erzählen 'heals', a perhaps over-romanticized view but of a piece with his argument.
       The presentation of Die Krise der Narration is much like Han's works generally tend to be, divided into short sections -- ten, plus an Introduction, in this short volume --, each then presenting chunks of text and argument like building blocks, paragraph by paragraph with a space between each. He builds on several touchstones -- notably Walter Benjamin -- and also discusses at some length a Paul Maar story that closely reflects many of his concerns and arguments, 'Die Geschichte vom Jungen, der keine Geschichten erzählen konnte' ('The Story of the Boy who Couldn't Tell Any Stories'; published in Die Zeit).
       It's an interesting, compact volume of reflection on the subject matter. Much here -- especially the role of social media, and modern technology (smartphones, etc.) in general -- has already been widely discussed in similar terms, but Han does bring it together well around the concept of storytelling and narration. There is certainly room for considerably fuller discussion and exposition, but Han's compact presentation does cover a great deal of ground and he makes his main points well and clearly. It's certainly a nicely packaged, interesting and thought-provoking meditation on the subject.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 March 2023

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The Crisis of Narration: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German-writing, South Korean-born Byung-Chul Han (한병철) was born in 1959

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© 2023-2024 the complete review

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