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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. This last appears to have some affinity with other accounts of the so-called postmodern condition. In his native Germany, Peter Sloterdijk needs no introduction.
Since 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. 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. Sloterdijk called for the abolition of income tax in favor of voluntary contributions. We might associate that kind of libertarian stance with a certain ethos of rugged individualism; but that would be a mistake. Sloterdijk begins Bubbles with an explicit rejection of individualism. The conception of the human subject as an individual whose fundamental and essential state is solitude, who is born alone and dies alone a phrase attributed both to Orson Welles and to Hunter S.
Thompson , is pervasive in contemporary thought. This development is most eloquently articulated in the work of Italian scholar Franco Moretti, for whom the ascendance of the novel form in literature is coterminous with the rise of the self-sufficient ideology of the bourgeois citizen. It is therefore difficult to contemplate individualism, as such, when our thinking is so thoroughly steeped in it. Yet the ground on which individualism stands — the idea of the coherent self, armed with autonomous agency — has been severely eroded on all sides over the last century.
Critical theory warns that false consciousness and ideological conditioning blind us to reality; our genes determine our behaviour, according to evolutionary biologists; psychoanalysis has pulled back the curtain on the dark libidinal drives that underlie our ostensibly rational acts; neuroscience tells us that the unity of the mind is an illusion; according to post-structuralists, we are mere ripples in a sea of social and linguistic trends that speak through us. The net result is that we are alienated from our fellows by modern individualism, and alienated from ourselves.
Accompanying these ideas is an urgent need to find a way out of this state: for the radical left, the solution is in the future post-revolutionary collective subjectivity ; for the radical right, in the past nostalgia for simple verities and feudal holism ; while centrists of both liberal and right-libertarian persuasions tend to double down and remain enthusiastic about, or at least tacit followers of, the increasingly untenable terrain of individualism.
In Bubbles Sloterdijk begins his attempt to think beyond individualism with a rejection of the idea of essential loneliness: it is not, he says, an inherent characteristic of the human condition. The individual is created by a division of the self into subject and its own object.
The coherence of the modern individualist mind depends on a foundational schizophrenia. The assumption of foundational aloneness, according to Sloterdijk, is a grave mistake, one that prevents us from understanding the true conditions of our existence. But, as Sloterdijk is aware, thinking outside of the liberal-individualist paradigm at an ontological level is not without its dangers.
We are not born alone; anyone who has given birth, or witnessed that noisy, intensely corporeal event, knows that it could not be further from solitude. Criticizing anatomical and psychoanalytic descriptions of this primeval state as objectifying it, Sloterdijk investigates an eclectic range of attempts to name the unnameable — the writings of religious mystics, prehistoric iconography, avant-garde poetry — for insights into what such a state must be like.
Women at least those who become mothers are links in an intergenerational web of unbroken physical continuity, an unbroken chain of motherhood stretching back beyond the first humans and our distant mammalian forebears into the oceans. While all children are nodes of their ancestors, material avatars of this umbilical bloodline, they do not share in it equally: men are all ends of the line. Fathers or not, they can never be a link in that umbilical chain.
Perhaps this is what gives the ethos of rugged individualism its masculine overtone. Despite our heavier, coarser bodies, it is men who are the flowers, springing from the great matrilineal banyan of our species. Attention-seeking, necessary for reproduction but effervescent, impermanent. Those who prefer their philosophy neat and dry will find this level of hyperbole bewildering, at best.
When one follows Sloterdijk on his idiosyncratic path, there are indeed moments of the sublime; at other times, he charges down alleys that lead only to the absurd, such as his claim that rather than language, it is song — the act of singing together in choirs and in groups — that differentiates humans from animals. This manages to be at once both excessively anthropocentric ignoring the communion of dolphins and whales through song and demeaning to humankind: since language structures thought as well as communication, a non-linguistic community of humans is literally unthinkable.
Some degree of danger is inherent to a work of such bold interdisciplinarity in an age that has littered the map of human knowledge with booby-traps for the generalist. Hobbs and others have argued , the subterranean influence of the tripartite conceptual structure inherited by both Greek and Roman cultural tradition.
Not, in other words, as the inexorable unfolding of internal logic. When Sloterdijk refers to history it is not as an empiricist does, to test a theory, but as a staging of ideas; if the facts do not fit the theory, as he approvingly quotes Hegel in Im selben Boot , too bad for the facts.
Such an attitude may not find a sympathetic reception in a readership more used to the pedestrian logic of analytic philosophy, but to dismiss it in its entirety would be to miss an opportunity. This is a remarkable and valuable book. Even where it does not convince, it provokes; it does not try to get the last word in, but to generate new ideas for discussion.
Like the best works of phenomenology, it startles us into recognizing things that we had taken for granted as if we were seeing them for the first time.
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Bubbles by Peter Sloterdijk, translated by Wieland Hoban - review
I n , the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk contrived a timely and satiric installation for Making Things Public : a vast exhibition on objects and present-day politics held at ZKM, a cutting-edge centre for media art in Karlsruhe, Germany. Faced with fragile western triumphalism in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sloterdijk proposed that a "pneumatic parliament" be parachuted into post-conflict zones, its sleek transparent dome inflated in an hour and a half, and seats for representatives installed within 24 hours. In a laconic essay to accompany CGI renderings of his Swiftian bubble in situ, the philosopher noted that some "failed states" among the customer target group might not be ready for the full parliamentary "experience". A lucrative secondary market would arise in educational theme parks dedicated to potential state systems: democracy, monarchy, aristocracy and outright tyranny. As a political-philosophical joke, the pneumatic parliament is a slightly clunky conceit.
Bubbles, by Peter Sloterdijk – Welcome & Overview
It could almost be a proverb: The difference between the United States and Europe is that in Europe a philosopher can have a television show. The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk hosts just such a weekly talk show. That is to say: What is humanity without the all-encompassing presence of religion, whose persistence in the modern world is either ineffectually subcultural or violently retrograde, and, in any case, is clearly incapable of offering a satisfying universal? What is humanity without the predictable cycles of the quasi-natural, communal lifeworld, and without the unquestioned legitimacy of the social, spiritual, and aesthetic hierarchies that once regulated that lifeworld?
Bubbles: Spheres I
He is a professor of philosophy and media theory at the University of Art and Design Karlsruhe. Sloterdijk's father was Dutch, his mother German. He studied philosophy, German studies and history at the University of Munich and the University of Hamburg from to In he received his PhD from the University of Hamburg. In the s he worked as a freelance writer, and published his Kritik der zynischen Vernunft in He has since published a number of philosophical works acclaimed in Germany. His best-known Karlsruhe student and former assistant is Marc Jongen , a member of the Bundestag.