Peter Sloterdijk – Being “With”

 Descents into foreign tunnels do not lead you back into the incomparable black monochrome background from which your life began to emerge as a vibrating figure long ago. Seeing in the only darkness that concerns you cannot be practiced on a different darkness; there is no alternative to confronting your own black monochrome. Whoever tackles this will soon understand that life is deeper than one’s autobiography; writing never penetrates far enough into one’s own blackness. We cannot write down what we begin as.” (346 Sloterdijk BUBBLES)

In subjective human action, there is often a feeling that one is not merely acting, but both acting and watching one’s self act simultaneously. There is a feeling often, of being “With” one’s self, even when one is also alone. To unlock this perception means to feel that one cannot ever truly be “by” one’s self, but only ever “With” one’s self. To lose the sense of being “With” one’s self, is to undergo a sensation of betrayal and guilt, and to experience depression. During periods of intense melancholia, there seems to be a separate organ in the body, an organ of emptiness, like a lung with no function, exerting pressure in its emptiness. There is an abandonment of function within the body – a loss suffered internally.

Sloterdijk conjures a specific concept of the genius. The genius for Sloterdijk, is a protective spirit, a presence that accompanies each individual, beginning with time spent in utero. The genius is a sort of double of each individual – we each have an other that accompanies us throughout life, allowing us to feel as though we can exist both “by” ourselves and also “with” ourselves. Sloterdijk attaches intimate importance on the presence of the placenta, and the individual’s attachment to the placenta by the umbilical chord. “In terms of its dramatic content, what one generally calls “cutting the cord” is the introduction of the child into the sphere of ego-forming clarity. To cut means to state individuality with the knife.” (388 Sloterdijk)

The placenta functions as a tangible physical object that is capable of containing the abstract concept of the “With” that accompanies us from our earliest vibrations. The disposal and neglect of the placenta isn’t so much important in its physical action, as it is in what it says about our thinking about our intimate companionship with our genius and ourselves. The forgotten placenta symbolizes our forgotten genius, and introduction into an institutionalized individualism. “There are some indications that modern individualism could only enter its intense phase in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the general clinical and cultural excommunication of the placenta began.” (384 Sloterdijk)

“But where, as in the most recent part of the Modern Age, the With-space is annulled and withdrawn from the start through the elimination of the placenta, the individual increasingly falls prey to the manic collectives and total mothers – and, in their absence, to depression. From that point on, the individual is driven ever deeper into the fatal choice between and autistically defiant decent into loneliness and devourment by obsession communities, whether in pairs or larger groups. On the way into apparent willfulness, one arrives at something else: the human without a protective spirit, the individual without an amulet, the self without a space. 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. For the individual whose double disappeared in the garbage always has good reason to prove to himself that he was right to survive without his With, rather than keeping his intimate other company in the garbage…they deny that they are constantly repeating a betrayal of their most intimate companion in their remorselessly autonomous being.”(386)

To regain a sense of connection to ones personal genius and sense of “With”, one must search the interior, confront a blackness that is different from where we began. The genius has to be trusted or else we risk losing ourselves in a misrecognized connection to a force more controlling of our bodies. We fall prey to the replacement objects of our genius. The genius aids us in efforts of resistance when facing the totalitarian collective that seeks to absorb, the genius breaths life into one without orders, accompanies one passively, as a protective spirit or force field. One is to locate genius, subjectively, and alone, each for themselves. There must be searching of the interior and a memory of always already being doubled. The intimate genius is always already there, just so often misrecognized, untrusted, or forgotten.

“Whatever the case may be, the presence of the genius ensures that the individual not only incorporates its psychological principle within itself like an isolated point of force, but in fact wears its innermost other around itself like a force field – and is equally carried and enclosed by it.” (426)

In the post-modern world the genius was compulsively substituted with various forms of self-recording; the tape-recorder, the video camera, the online profile, etc. We took new interest in the artist who was able to explain our feelings to us, for us. Unable to feel “With” ourselves we begin to build ourselves in new forms of otherness, augmenting our presence in ways that further isolate, carefully substituting a force-field of “With” with a fragmented mirage of our identity contained in objects and virtual space. This mirage slowly closes in around us, suffocating our ability to connect with the true “With” that we desire. We carry ourselves further from connection by our attempts at the creation of self-doubling. We desire to feel connected, but have no consciousness of where our feelings of abandonment come from. As humans, we fall prey.

“Falling prey to melancholia means nothing other than devoting oneself with undivided intensity of belief to the conscious or unconscious statement that I have been abandoned by my intimate patron, accomplice and motivator. Melancholia constitutes the pathology of exile in its pure form- the impoverishment of the inner world through the withdrawal of the life-giving field of closeness…The abandoned subject responds to the experience of a metaphysical deception with the deepest resentment; it was seduced into life by the great intimate other, only to be given up by it halfway.” (461)

My father once said that one of his core beliefs that aids his actions is that at the end of each day, he is left alone with his own conscience, and it tells him whether or not he lived each day to its fullest. This seems to be precisely the feeling of being “with” that is capable of accompanying us through life as a partner, helping us to steer a certain path and confront choices.


Sloterdijk, Peter. Bubbles. Cambridge, Mass: Semiotext(e), 2011. Print.

About Michael Johnson

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