Matthew Salesses on Byung-chul Han's The Agony of Eros (The MIT Press, 2012)

I want to recommend the book I am teaching right now, which is Byung-chul Han's The Agony of Eros. I've included quotes from this tiny book in various essays now. It was a bestseller in Germany, all fifty-three pages of it, but I've never met anyone in the States who has read it. Making it assigned reading is my little attempt to change that. Even if it often leaves my undergrads confused.

There's a lot to argue within the book, and I suspect Han would welcome the argument. The overall thesis, perhaps, if a book like this can be said to have a thesis, is that we need to stop trying to possess and consume the Other (we in our white supremacist patriarchal capitalist-imperialist society) and start actually loving the Other, which means loving it for its otherness, for what we cannot ever know or possess about someone else. This is love, and it is also agony, Han says, because to enter into that mystery is to challenge the clear boundaries of the self. We change; we must change. All love, Han says, is love for the Other, and in that love, he sees the possibility for improving ourselves, our politics, our relationships, our world.

Matthew Salesses is the bestselling author of The Hundred-Year Flood, an Amazon Best Book of September and Kindle First pick, an Adoptive Families Best Book of 2015, and a Best Book of the season at Buzzfeed, Refinery29, and Gawker, among others, and Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear, a Best Book of the Year at Thrillist.com and a Most Anticipated Book at The Millions. Forthcoming in 2021 are a craft book, Craft in the Real World, and a collection of essays, Own Story. His previous books include I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying; Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity; and The Last Repatriate.