|tags:||Philosophy & Critical Theory|
QUOTING THE POET Jean Paul, German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk remarks at the beginning of his controversial essay “Rules for the Human Zoo” that books are like “thick letters to friends.” Weighing in at over six hundred pages, Sloterdijk’s Bubbles, published in the original German in 1998 and finally translated into English late last year by Wieland Hoban for Semiotext(e), is a very thick letter to a friend indeed. And it is only the first volume to be translated of Sloterdijk’s Spheres trilogy: the other two are due for an English release over the next year or two. Each volume uses the motif of the ‘sphere’ in different yet complementary ways to refer to “spaces of coexistence” between and among human beings. Bubbles is devoted to micro-spheres, the most intimate of originary spaces: the womb; the relationship between lovers; and that between God and the human subject. The second and third volumes deal with other kinds of spheres: the world considered as a single cosmopolitan macro-sphere, and then our contemporary decentralized network of social and cultural spheres, in which the concept of a central, self-structuring totality — religion, myth, science, enlightenment — has collapsed, and we find ourselves living in a complex sea of fragmentary yet contiguous spheres, which Sloterdijk likens to a “foam.”
This last appears to have some affinity with other accounts of the so-called postmodern condition. But Sloterdijk violates the postmodernist contention that, as Jean-François Lyotard famously put it, we are past the age of “grand narratives,” and that overarching, totalizing structures of ideas have lost their explanatory power under the skeptical gaze of the postmodern subject. In his little book Im selben Boot [In the same boat], Sloterdijk refers scornfully to the “relief” of those who believe that grand narratives are no longer possible. Although those who don’t read German will have to wait a little longer to assess Sloterdijk’s grand sphereological narrative, Bubbles leads one to expect that Sloterdijk’s trilogy is nothing if not a giant meta-narrative, wheels within wheels, an heroically immodest exercise in universal history of the most defiantly, monstrously unfashionable kind.
In his native Germany, Peter Sloterdijk needs no introduction. Since 2002 until May of this year, he hosted the TV show Das Philosophische Quartett [The Philosophical Quartet], the popularity of which points, perhaps, to the more prominent role that the world of ideas enjoys on the Continent. He is, however, no mere popularizer: in 1983, his first major work, Critique of Cynical Reason, gained him both fame and critical respect, selling more copies than any other philosophy book since the war, while also provoking a serious debate with its attack on what Sloterdijk dubbed “enlightened false consciousness,” or the state of cynical bad faith brought about by our long tradition of unmasking and demystification, beginning with the Enlightenment and reaching its apogee with the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. His prolific writing on religion, culture, politics, media, the psyche, and globalization has drawn both admiration for its cross-pollinating originality, and accusations of dilettantism and lack of rigour.
Sloterdijk has not been shy of controversy. ...read more