NDPR Article on Sloterdijk’s Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation

The review is by Duane Davis (UNC-Asheville), one of the funniest people I’ve met in the academy and also a favorite of Freelancer Extraordinaire as well. I know many good people who get a lot out of Sloterdijk, but his reactionary politics makes it hard to muster the necessary sympathy, say, to get through lots of vacuous prose to see the outlines of his Spheres project, for example. (For some reason, some of his readers—probably only reading him in English—miss this, or even, as I’ve seen in person, simply deny it.) That’s not to say there isn’t much to be done with his work and at some point, I’ll do that. It’s just that the sympathy to follow him through his discussion of bubbles or whatever in Spheres is not going to be there when you read elsewhere his vacuous and armchair discussions of Marxism or political Islam. Let me start there in Duane’s review:

Sloterdijk concludes this [third] chapter by turning his attention to the threat of political Islam to be a “potential successor to communism.” (p. 220) He states that its alluring mission, its “grandiose worldview,” and its demographic field of recruitment make Islam as effective at fomenting discontent as Marxism. (pp. 220-1) Clearly Sloterdijk reduces the significance of political Islam to the same structures he has tendentiously imposed upon all other movements only to dismiss them. Yet he goes further — dangerously further — in his rebuke of political Islam. He states that the analogy with communism has its limits.

The coming adherents of the Islamic goal of expansion do not at all resemble a class of workers and employees who unite to seize governmental power in order to put an end to their misery. Rather, they embody an agitated subproletariat or, even worse, a desperate movement of economically superfluous and socially useless people for whom there are too few acceptable positions available in their own system, even if they should get to power through coup d’état or elections. (p. 223)

Obviously, Sloterdijk reduces all aspects of Islamic culture to a univocal economic agency — one which he goes on to say manifests “an antimodern disposition and dissynchronicity with the modern world.” Apparently the crux of the matter is that he thinks Islam will lack market appeal. . .

Well, let’s count the ways this analysis has been blown apart (almost literally) by recent events in the Middle East—these “days of rage.” As elsewhere in Sloterdijk’s work, it’s hard to tell how much distance he’s putting between himself and others’ (?) views that a “subproletariat” of “economically” and “socially superfluous” people wouldn’t even know what to do with power if they should get it (even democratically: “through coup d’état or elections”–it need not matter). And who could survive his depictions of what counts as “modern” anyway? Here’s the publisher’s synopsis of the overall book:

Tracing rage from its earliest Greek articulation as Thymos in the Iliad, Sloterdijk (Critique of Cynical Reason) argues for a notion of rage both as a motivating force in man’s struggle for reward and recognition and as a foundational feature of the human understanding of time. According to the author, modernity has downplayed the primacy of rage in favor of a Freudian focus on desire as more fundamental to psychic life. These claims provide the framework for a demonstration of how rage has operated in the development of the psychopolitical history of the West, a history characterized by various attempts to save and invest rage, utilizing its force to further particular ideological ends, primarily religious and revolutionary. Though frequently hampered by excessive academic jargon and a theoretically questionable oscillation between the non-equivalent notions of Thymos and rage, the book offers a fascinating account of the historical dynamics of social development, one capable of holding a vast array of phenomena, from Biblical psalms to the 2005 Paris riots, within its purview.

I’m sure scholars of Sloterdijk will be irritated with various infelicities in Davis’s rendering, but overall, at the least, it’s a review that really offers some great phrases (especially about Sloterdijk’s concept of the a “rage bank”): regarding a point Sloterdijk makes about Sartre, he writes, “This name-calling and provocation is somehow alluring while being distracting and vacuous.” That seems about right, at least for this book.

It might have done Sloterdijk a favor to publish this work after the forthcoming English translations of the three volumes of Spheres.