The German philosopher Hartmut Rosa’s concept of ‘resonance’ offers a way through the current malaise.
A friend told me about a mutual acquaintance who was always a happy, kind person, but who now—at least in some contexts—seems filled with anger and fear. “It’s like I’m hearing the same voice,” my friend said, “but now he seems so resentful that I sometimes wonder if I’m talking to the same person I always knew.” Almost everyone I know has experienced something like this—in churches, in workplaces, even at family dining room tables. The whole world seems to be seething with resentment.
Anyone who’s encountered someone in a fit of rage knows that one thing that usually doesn’t work is to say, “Calm down.” That’s like saying to an insomniac, “Go to sleep.” The more the person tries to fall asleep, the more likely he or she is to stay awake. That reality, though, might give us insight into why our culture seems driven with resentment, and how we can counter it.
Falling asleep is, as German philosopher Hartmut Rosa puts it, “non-engineerable.” The more you try to master it, the further away it becomes. Sleep requires a kind of surrender—a letting go of the frenetic whirl of the mind. Rosa compares the situation to the way a child feels when looking out the window at the first snow of winter. You can engineer that, Rosa concedes, in his book The Uncontrollability of the World. The child’s mom and dad could buy snow cannons and blast icy flakes outside the window of a house in Pasadena in July. But that’s not the same experience.
The experiences of looking out into a snowy field, standing on a mountain range or at the foot of …