Sloterdijk reviewed (critically) in NYRB: Some thoughts

Alas, behind a paywall, but John Gray goes through a tremendous number of his works—if he’s read all listed, he might be one of the few to get through all of those pages. He hits scathing points others have made before: Sloterdijk makes claims that seem thunderous but are on second thought vacuous; his erudition means you get a blizzard of examples that hide relatively simple arguments (e.g., cultures have an interior cohesion–a bubble if you will), if any are to be found; he is a political reactionary whose ideas are both horrible (his views on European refugees) and often silly (we should replace taxes with philanthropy), which then within a few pages turn quite dangerous (liberal democracies are under-raged—an idea that has not aged well). Sloterdijk often just offers warmed over thinking from others: Nietzsche’s ressentiment plays a prominent role in his thinking and his considerations of rage reads like it was copped from Civilization and its Discontents (too much technocratic rationality and sublimation), though without the Eros of that work.

Gray’s reviews of Continental figures are often guilt by association: Zizek is a Heideggerian in a 2012 NYRB review and ipso facto his politics are dangerous. A similar move is made in this essay: he mentions what may be Sloterdijk’s most important philosophical idea, which is that we should reinitialize Heidegger’s Dasein analysis from the point of view of spatiality (not temporalization, as most often done), and that a proper thinking of space can give us whole new ways of thinking music, politics, and so on. But he does so by saying that Sloterdijk thinks that “Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism was unconnected with central features of his thinking” in Being and Time and, using what I’ll call the Richard Wolin fallacy, this misrecognition and wish to use the Heidegger of Being and Time without, say, The Black Notebooks, infects Sloterdijk’s works and his project of writing a Being and Space, as he put it in Spheres. Why this should be the case is not shown—an odd slight of hand, but why not give it a go? Why not a sentence showing how one can read much of the Black Notebooks into Being and Time? And then say why that would then make Sloterdijk’s “ontological” claims politically dangerous? The review is long enough and this is a central critique.

I think this is something one can do. His work on bubbles and the definition of spaces as self-enclosed (and even cultures as spaced this way) can only lead one to think in terms of these spaces as homogeneous, as needing immunity. How far is that from his rightist politics? In any event, it may be a very critical view but it does touch on many of the critiques surrounding this often vexing figure far better known and read in Europe than in the US, though translations are abounding, and references to him by Zizek, philosophers of space, Latour, and others will surely lead, as has happened in recent years, to a wider reception.


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