Archive for December, 2011

Sloterdijk’s Bubbles

Since reading Peter Sloterdijk’s Foam City in Log when it was first published in translation and I was doing research for this old thing I’ve been hungry for more Sloterdijk. His massive three volume series Spharen (Spheres) has not been available in English until the first volume Bubbles was published this year by Semiotext(e). Finally!

It’s a book that probably requires a phd to make sense of, but why let that stop you? If you’re OK with letting your eyes temporarily glaze over when you wade through passages like this…

It makes an initial reference to its own appearance as a coherent body among coherent bodies in the real visual space, but this integral being-an-image-body means almost nothing alongside the pre-imaginary, non-eidetic certainties of sensual-emotional dual integrity

… then it can be a rewarding book. Sloterdijk is that special kind of European philosopher who seems to have intimate knowledge of every single text, painting, or other work of art that you’ve never heard of. But he is polite enough to wrap his rather challenging philosophical language around these tangible references. For me this yields a productive resonance. Your mileage may vary.

One of the things that I appreciate about Sloterdijk is that his language dips into refreshingly approachable moments. If one could have a favorite passage from a 600 page book, this would be mine:

72: In the foam, discrete and polyvalent games of reason must develop that learn to live with a shimmering diversity of perspectives, and dispense with the illusion of the one lordly point of view. Most roads do not lead to Rome—that is the situation, European: recognize it.

Below are some other passages I found useful.

20: Copernicus’ heliocentric theory initiated a series of research eruptions into the deserted outer reaches, extending to the inhumanely remote galaxies and the most ghostly components of matter. The cold new breath from outside was sensed early on, and a number of the pioneers of the revolutionary changed knowledge about the position of the earth in space did not conceal their unease in the infinity now imposed on them: thus even Kepler objected to Bruno’s doctrine of the endless universe with the words that “this very cogitation carries with it I don’t know what secret, hidden horror; indeed, one finds oneself wandering in this immensity, to which are denied limits and center and therefore all determinate places.”

23: Citizens of the Modern Age inevitably found themselves in a new situation that not only shattered the illusion of their home’s central position in space, but also deprived them of the comforting notion that the earth is enclosed by spherical forms like warming heavenly mantles. Since then, modern people have had to learn how one goes about existing as a core without a shell; Pascal’s pious and observant statement “the eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread” formulates the intimate confession of an epoch.

25: What makes the Modern Age special is that after the turn to the Copernican world, the sky as an immune system was suddenly useless. Modernity is characterized by the technical production of its immunities and the increasing removal of its safety structures from the traditional theological and cosmological narratives.

28: The sphere is the interior, disclosed, shared realm inhabited by humans—in so far as they succeed in becoming humans. Because living always means building spheres, both on a small and a large scale, humans are the beings that establish globes and look out to horizons.

On where ideas come from.

31: Whatever enters the imagination is not supposed to come from anywhere except somewhere over there, from without, from an open field that is not necessarily a yonder realm. People no longer want to receive their inspired ideas from some embarrassing heavens; they are supposed to come from a no man’s land of ownerless, precise thoughts.

Reconsidering the basis of Platonic forms.

42: Isolated points are only possible in the homogenized space of geometry and intercourse; true spirit, however, is by definition spirit in and in relation to spirit, and true soul is by definition soul in and in relation to soul.  … if one thinks in substances, the attributes arrive later, just as blackness is added to the horse and redness to the rose. In the intimate sharing of subjectivity by a pair inhabiting a spiritual space open for both, second and first only appear together.

Introducing the notion of ‘air conditioning’.

46: As spheres are the original product of human coexistence, however… these atmospheric-symbolic places for humans are dependent on constant renewal. Spheres are air conditioning systems in whose construction and calibration, for those living in real coexistence, it is out of the question not to participate.

71: Global markets and media have ignited an acute world war of ways of life and informational commodities. When everything has become the center, there is no longer any valid center; when everything is transmitting, the allegedly central transmitter is lost in the tangle of messages… The guiding morphological principle of the polyspheric world we inhabit is no longer the orb, bur rather foam.

84: The revolution of modern psychology does not stop at explaining that all humans live constructivistically, and that every one of them practices the profession of the wild interior designer, continually working on their accommodation in imaginary, sonorous, semiotic, ritual and technical shells.

Quoting Ficino on love.

213: Ficino remarks that humans normally do well what they do often—except in amorous matters, for “we all love constantly in some way, but almost all of us love only badly; and the more we love, the worse we love.”

220: The early Modern Age used magical terminology to communicate about the human being who will make it his business to perform acts hitherto believed impossible. What the sixteenth century… called the magus was the encyclopedically sensitive, polyvalently cosmopolitan human who learned how to cooperate attentively and artfully with the discrete interdependencies between the things populating a highly communicative universe.

Much of the book is devoted to carefully and intricately stepping through the logical consequences of imagery and stories from the earlier eras.

308: When the legendary Saint Christopher carries the baby Jesus across the water while the infant holds the entire globe in the palm of his hand, an equally paradoxical question is raised: where is Saint Christopher to place his feet while carrying the boy, when the river he is wading through is undoubtedly part of the world held by the child riding on his shoulders?

386: If individuals do not succeed in augmenting and stabilizing themselves in successfully practiced loneliness techniques—artistic exercises and written soliloquies, for example—they are predestined to be absorbed by totalitarian collectives.

415: The successful revolution is the transition to the total other that still manages to follow on from the good old days.

Describing the role of rituals, spirits, and other invisibles in human domesticity.

422: Living in house-like containers always has a dual character: it means both the coexistence of humans with humans and the community of humans with their invisible companions. It has, in a sense, always been the household spirits that have given an inhabited building dignity and meaning.

Not Sloterdijk, but Warhol in extended quotation.

462: The acquisition of my tape recorder really finished whatever emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go. Nothing was ever a problem again, because a problem just meant a good tape, and when a problem transforms itself into a good tape it’s not a problem anymore. An interesting problem was an interesting tale. Everybody knew that…

473: The idiot is an angel without a message

480: Since written culture successfully asserted its law, being a subject has primarily meant this: being able, initially and usually, to resist the images, texts, speeches and musics one encounters…

Offering a possible explanation for the toppling of art by reality television and other cultural forms.

488: Siren music rests on the possibility of being one step ahead of the subject in the expression of its desire. Perhaps such an ability to be ahead is the anthropological reason for the interest of non-artists in artists, which reached its zenith in modern societies and passed it in postmodern ones.

490: Did Homer already know that bonds can only be broken by more bonds? Was it already clear to him that culture in general, and music in particular, is essentially nothing other than a division of labor in bewitching?

Taking oral fixation to a new level.

523: In order to be adequately complete human beings, we must learn at which tables we are the eaters and at which we become the eaten. The tables at which we eat are called dining tables; those at which we are eaten are called altars.

On why he thinks the Love Parades of the 1990s were cool.

527: Pop music has overtaken religious communions—Christian ones—on the archaic wing by outdoing the chances of absorption found at altars with the offer to join psychoacoustic abdominal cavities and follow passing audio gods.

And proving that he is not above humor.

90: An intellect that spends its energy on worthy objects usually prefers the sharp to the sweet; one does not offer candy to heroes.

216: As shown by the example of the husband-drinking

447: For his entire life, the navel owner looks past the memorial at the center of his body, like someone who walks past an equestrian monument every day without ever wondering whom it represents.