In a technological world driven by intense productivity and relentless competition, individuals are caught between the imperative to be more efficient ‘performers’ and the natural need to slow down, recuperate and revive themselves. Heir to the Frankfurt School for Social research, the German philosopher and sociologist Hartmut Rosa offers a new approach of twenty-first life after his well-received critique of our high-speed society Alienation and Acceleration, published in 2010.

Constantly bombarded by external stimuli, we seem to have lost the will and more importantly, the time to stop and take stock of what were are and what we are expecting out of our personal existence. Paradoxically, the technology which was meant to simplify our daily lives and free us from boring, time-consuming chores, has become the very source of contemporary anxiety and misery. 

Rosa is primarily concerned with the oldest question on the philosophical agenda: ‘What constitutes the good life?’ and how to achieve personal happiness? Unlike his illustrious predecessors Walter benjamin, Theodor Adorno or Herbert Marcuse, Rosa does not openly confront the ideology behind the neoliberal order. Instead, he looks for a new perspective on our daily relations with everything around us, from our own body and next of kin to our friends, work colleagues, fellow human beings and of course, our natural environment. He calls this new way of being and living in the world, ‘resonance’.

For Rosa, quantity has to give way to quality as the new economic rhythms imposed on humanity by globalisation only reinforce a sense of hopelessness similar to the one felt by Chaplin’s frantic worker threatened by modern machinery in his 1936 prescient film ‘Modern Times’. Influenced by French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1907–1961), Rosa is convinced that our sensory perception of our surrounding environment needs to be reconsidered and heightened if we are to reconnect and reengage with the world in a more positive way. 

Thus, resonance can be identified and defined through four criteria: firstly, the ‘affection’ (or responsiveness) with an external stimulus, be it a piece of music or literature, a painting, a landscape or any ‘event’ triggering a personal reaction; secondly, the ‘efficient emotion’ which denotes our inner ability to react to a specific external event in our own unique way; thirdly, the ‘transformation’ experienced by the subject in contact with this new external event and lastly, the fundamental ‘elusiveness’ of resonance in its long or short-term effects on the subject. 

Rosa draws attention to the fact that our emotional life is stirred and challenged every minute of our lives and that it is up to us to discard negative ‘vibes’ from what can genuinely enrich us and make us truer to our real self. Like Charles Taylor, whose thought he studied for his German doctoral thesis, Rosa is eager to grasp what actually motivates modern individuals in their quest for the ‘good life’, that is ‘making their voice heard and echo all around them’. Through his concept of resonance, he is trying to refocus the idea of what Adorno called ‘true experience’ while aspiring, at the same time, to a better and more equal world akin to the hopes of former Marxist critics of capitalist societies. Resonance may well prove a most powerful philosophical concept in the years to come but how long can Rosa pursue his moral and sociological path without eventually engaging with deeper and wider issues of a political and economic nature?

Further reading

Acceleration and Resonance: An Interview with Hartmut Rosa

 ‘Hartmut Rosa talks about his concept of ‘Resonance’: Regrowth Leipzig 2014 

‘The Crisis of Dynamic Stabilisation and the Sociology of Resonance. An Interview with Hartmut Rosa’