“To conceive finitude and opening simultaneously: that is the matter at hand.” (190)
Neither Sun Nor Death is a collection of interviews between Peter Sloterdijk and Hans-Jurgen Heinrichs. The structure of an interview happens to work incredibly well for a reader in terms of getting to the essentials of Sloterdijk’s formal analysis and ways of thinking. Heinrichs provides us with the voice that questions, interprets and asks for clarification when necessary, and Sloterdijk exhibits a gracefulness that is admirable, almost otherworldly, he seems to have elevated himself to an abstract plane of existence and perception that he is able to speak from.
“Philosophy today is a super-workout for communicative energies capable of finding points of contact throughout the entire world” the back of the book reads. What I’d like to do here on the blog, is multiply the point of contact, even if it is marginal and limited. I think Sloterdijk has accomplished something special with his work, and I’m so thrilled that he is still living and writing. You Must Change Your Life is being released next month in English, and I’m looking forward to it.
The communication that is achieved in speaking often has a visceral and immediate quality that philosophical prose sometimes obscures, or just stretches in detailed exploration. I had the same feeling when listening to Deleuze in interviews from Deleuze A to Z. There is a sort of crystallization of his concepts that occurs in the spoken form that allows for a new approach and understanding to his prose, I’ve noticed that a pattern of thinking is revealed when someone speaks that is sometimes more difficult to grasp in writing, especially philosophical concept writing. There are of course, many virtues to both forms of communication, and many arguments for each side, but what I want to focus on here, is the dialogue found in Neither Sun Nor Death, what it offers, particularly the interview in regards to Sloterdijk’s book Bubbles or Spheres I, the first installment of his magnum opus trilogy.
Spheres I is Sloterdijk carrying out a formal analysis of the human situation of being-in the world. Where is the individual? Sloterdijk asks. In creating a formal analysis of a universal state of being-in the world, Sloterdijk is carrying out, “exercises of subversion against the absolutism of history and of socialization” (140). We must break negative bonds in order to recognize new and forgotten ones. For Sloterdijk, the human is never isolated, but always already duplicated, the minimum number required for human existence is two, always at least a “dyadic form” or a structure of “bi-unity” of existence – beginning with the mother-child relationship and then onward into other states of being-in in the world. I wrote an earlier post on the concept, or non-concept, of “being-with” that Sloterdijk explores late in Spheres I, which is an exploration of the bi-unity that exists in psychic existence. Heinrichs has a beautiful articulation of Sloterdijk’s sphereology when he says, “you aim to construct a sort of alternative cosmology, that is to say, a global project of the totality of the world which envelops men, the gods, and the angels” (149).
“Microsphereology then, as the theory of small interior spaces, is a study of the psychic soap bubble in which at least two persons appear – two and more: in my book, I indicate the reasons why to attain a complete minimal structure in the domain of the spiritual we have to count to five. But in the first place it is enough to count to two, or better, from two. For me ontology begins at the number two.” (Sloterdijk 148)
Sloterdijk presents his theories as a sort of twin to existential thinking. He is dealing with the relationship between the individual and the outside, but he refuses to limit the individual to an isolated position in relation to the outside. Because of our constant relation to space, and being-in, our psychic operations are in constant remodeling due to exterior inspirations and overlappings of co-inhabitants to our being-in the world. For Sloterdijk, when two people are together, they are psychically feeding off of each other, they constitute a new psychic space that encapsulates both parties, unable to isolate one from another. He abandons the idea that the human is alone in the world. The individual is a station in a communicative network, to negate this is to destroy communication, to fall prey to despair.
“The provocation, in using the images of the bubble, resides in the fact of representing a vague sphere with two or more points of focalization, so that we abandon the centrist ideology with the mental image in itself. The gain brought by this new approach is considerable: no longer is there a primary or absolute center endowed with a relation to the environment, but a mutually illuminating, permeable poles which hold themselves at a mutual distance and evoke one another. The surrounding world is here replaced by the world-in or the world-with. In the inner world, the resonances are decisive. They rest on acts which consist in calling-oneself-to-life and in waking-oneself-up-to-life by the fact of being addressed. Such is precisely what I seek to characterize with the bizarre formulation that you’ve cited: an elected hollowness. With this concept, I want to open onto a media theory that describes individuals as intermediate stations in a communications networks.” (152)
Sloterdijk attaches an importance on the human being capable of being hollowed. He uses the object of a vase to articulate his meaning. “To be hollow is to be able to allow something else to pass through” (153). This is one area where I think Sloterdijk’s ideas attach especially well to the concept of burrowing, because for me, to burrow is to tunnel through the abstract space of the interior, or the psychic. Burrowing is a conscious emptying of the psychic matter in order to open passageways and tunnels for new matter to pass through. Kafka’s paranoia in The Burrow that an enemy may be burrowing his way stealthily straight toward him takes on a new meaning with Sloterdijk in mind. The enemy is a force that attempts to infiltrate the space that we create in order to be hollow, enemies are the forces that infiltrate our intimacy, the forces that shape our desires. As I said earlier, many bonds and forces are positive, it is being able to recognize and resist the enemies that elevates a person to a higher level, to remain an empty vase in order to channel a higher abstracted power. “As we have said, similitude with god consists only in this chosen hollowness. In blowing into a hollow, an oscillation is produced, and from this oscillation, language, intentionality, and co-subjectivity are born.” (153)
Heinrichs introduces a nice quote from Rilke that says “One space spreads through all beings equally – inner-world-space…”
For now I’ll end with another quote from Sloterdijk, in hopes that anyone who has read this far may be interested enough to search out the book for themselves and be enlightened. Sloterdijk has a lot to offer, the more I read the more interested I become.
“Whoever has received a minimum of good communication experience, whoever has been a member of a dense religious or non-religious community, whoever has ever felt the way in which something like common intensive spirits are formed among political, artistic and theoretical groups, including among work colleagues and sports teams, and thus whoever has had a clear experience of animation and solidarity, needs no long discourses in order to be converted to the mode of spherological thinking” (161).
Sloterdijk, Peter, Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs, and Steve Corcoran. Neither Sun nor Death. Cambridge, Mass: Semiotext(e), 2011. Print.