I have enjoyed Harmut Rosa’s writing for some time, ever since first coming across his book, Social Acceleration. Since publishing that book, he has gone on to explore and outline a theory of resonance which is the foundation for this much shorter and more popular book, which also links the idea of resonance to that of (un)controllability.
This is only a short book (117 pages) but it develops both an interesting and coherent argument around these two main concepts and how they interact with each other. The essential thesis is that the humans of modernity have attempted to control the world around them. And controllability is explained through the dimensions of visibility (making the world knowable), reachability (can be reached by people), manageability (bringing the world under control), and usefulness (pressing it into service). By our science, our economic models and our technologies we further our quest for controllability .
But, Rosa argues, in some contexts this has led to a dampening or even complete loss of resonance. He defines resonance as the result of four ways in which we engage with the world. Firstly being affected, through engagement with another person, or standing before a landscape, this is being inwardly touched or moved by the interaction with the world. Secondly, self-efficacy, as resonance only begins when this affect leads to our own active response to create a relation. This leads to the third element, adaptive transformation. When we interact with another person, a book, or an idea, we are transformed by it, leaving us as a different person. Such resonant relationships change us and the world around us, where as those that do not have this feature lead to what Rosa calls a ‘relation of relationlessness’. Finally, and the element which links to the title of the book, resonance is uncontrollable. We cannot plan for it or force it. We cannot, standing in front of a work of art, trigger resonance just by wishing it. Resonance is critical in developing meaningful experiences both with others and ourselves. Where there is a lack of resonance there is a lack of ability to connect with the world.
The book then follows this paradox between modernity and its wish to control, and the need for uncontrollability in resonance. It considers this at both personal and social levels. Although brief, this discussion includes a reflection on education and the paradox between attempting to control the process through ever greater measurement, overbearing management of the curriculum, and a constant drive for ever greater ‘efficiency’, all present aspects of the English education system. However, this pushes out the opportunity for resonance amongst children, of paramount importance if they are to feel something, if they are to connect with their education.
This is obviously only a brief and partial review of this book. It is exceptionally rich in its conceptual endeavour, and in the large-scale argument it is making. I would say that this is an absolute must read if you have any interest in possible reasons for the current socio-political issues we face and how we might be able to move forward in a more positive direction. A fantastic book on which I’ll reflect for some time.
Some reflections on things I'm reading