Bubbles, Live Conversation #2 - 5/11/2017

Continuing the discussion from Bubbles, Live Conversation #1 - 4/27/2017:

Hi @spheres readers: Here are the recordings from our video call on 5/11.



[mp3 download]

##Machine Transcript

ReadersUnderground_SPHERES-002.txt (62.1 KB)]


This is the second of 9 live conversations with Metapsychosis Journal’s “Readers Underground” reading group for Peter Sloterdijk’s Spheres Trilogy, Volume 1: Bubbles.

In this conversation, we discuss the Preliminary Reflections and first chapter of the book, “Heart Operation; Or, On the Eucharistic Excess.”


John David Ebert (host)
Marco V Morelli (host)
Johnny Davis
Nate Savery
Geoffrey Edwards
Wendy Ronitz-Baker
Dona Abbadi

Date recorded: 5/11/2017

Thanks to everyone for participating! Mark your calendars for our next live call on May 25th at 12 pm MDT. Call-in info here.

To join the Readers Underground, visit: https://www.metapsychosis.com/join-reading-group-spheres-bubbles-peter-sloterdijk/

After the call, I remarked to @johndavidebert that I felt the conversation had something of the “sticky, mushy-sweet quality” that Sloterdijk talked about in the text. I did feel little “doughy” afterwards. See what you think…

Great conversation! I wish my own schedule was different, but for now I will try to keep up this way.

[@John David Ebert: I don’t have enough words to express my appreciation for your illuminating lecture videos and thoughts. More thanks than I can pack into a sentence for introducing me to Jean Gebser and, indirectly, to this group!]

Some (scattered) thoughts:
The same passage from page 95 that @madrush quoted struck me too. In light of the preceding question: “What remains of the dream of human autonomy once the subject has experienced itself as a penetrable hollow body?” (p. 94), I understood the “subject” to already be in possession of a center with successful metabolism as a kind of manifestation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s “genius” functioning while holding apparent contradictions in mind. @Jonathan_Cobb (and please forgive me anyone if I mix up names and ideas while shooting from the hip here) stated that metabolism is also the ability to change what you ingest - strongly implying there are indeed poisons to reject; @johnnydavis54 stated that one cannot really have an intention without a center. These points make sense to me.

In light of Sloterdijk’s larger goals (as dimly perceived by this newb from page 138 (LOL!)), I appreciate @natesavery observing that we are not or should not exclusively be referring to individuals when we say “subjects”. This made me think that the center of the “sphere” may also be the barycenter of the dyad or larger grouping. @Geoffreyjen_Edwards noted that Sloterdijk seems at this stage to be ‘moving outward’ as he constructs the “sphere” for us. This resonates with me because it seems neither the ‘single’ human personality nor the actor-network can determine everything about its own process of growth at the outset - indeed, what is “the outset”? So naturally, there is some uncertainty as to what is innate (genetic) and what is experiential and we have to start, as it were, in the middle.


Real life has the ability to simply get in the way, it would appear, hence my inability to be there for the live conversation. Sorry I couldn’t be there but thank you all kindly for remembering me, even in my absence, especially to @natesavery for willingly acknowledging my curmudgeonry. I felt honored. To you, Nate, all I can say is you’re too young to be a curmudgeon, and I believe it is good so. It takes years of experience of beating your head against so many different kinds of walls to get there that perhaps there are other more productive less painful paths open to you. My grandfatherly advice, nevertheless, is to never give up asking uncomfortable questions or raising uncomfortable issues. Such is needed more than ever these days.

Now having said that, let me get back to my old self again …

Since Sloterdijk writes in German (though I’m becoming increasingly convinced that he secretly wishes he had been born on the other bank of the Rhine), another little German lesson:

Mensch bist du hohl! (lit., “Man, are you hollow!”)

It’s not a compliment; it’s an insult, a put-down. To characterise someone as being hollow is to question their mental capabilities. It’s more than just being stupid, it’s being painfully stupid. Once again, are we dealing with Sloterdijk the wit or Sloterdijk the twit? It’s really hard for me to tell sometimes. Of course, the negative connotations of “hollowness” are found in other languages as well. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” was insightful, but to some insulting, but in neither case complimentary; and empty shells are considered worthless refuse and pitiful; and since nature abhors vacuums which can only occur in empty spaces they will suck any and everything into themselves indiscriminately … well, those are just some thoughts that flow into my mind when I think of “hollowness”.

More on topic, though, Conversation 2 left me with two main impressions. The first is just how many topics and themes were addressed in a mere 90 minutes or so. Other than @madrush who (for the second time in two online conversations) actually addressed something specific that Mr. Sloterdijk said (by that I mean he actually quoted from the text), much of the session stuck me as talk not about things Sloterdijk said, but rather about things that Sloterdijk somehow inspires us to think about. And although any and all of them could be informative and even enriching in some way, it was all far too removed from the text for me. In all the slipping and sliding through all those bodily fluids and being distracted by the cannibalistic revenge of a cuckolded husband, and the tasty tidbit of a father-confessor lusting after one of his charges (in the book, not the conversation), I sort of missed the insightful and obviously heartfelt connection to the intimacy of heartfulness that I thought this chapter was attempting to elucidate.

For some reason, I just can’t shake the feeling that Sloterdijk is struggling with that whole mind-body duality somehow. Since the materialists have overtaken so many fields of thought, it’s tough to out yourself as a spiritual person. Everything has to be embodied, quite literally, or it can’t be. What I always liked about Gebser was his unabashed commitment to the spiritual nature of Origin (and so I was especially pleased to see he was brought into the discussion even if somewhat haltingly), but I don’t get any real kind of reading on this with Sloterdijk.

Granted, in German he has to wrestle with the single word Geist which can be spirit, but it can also be a very simple Casper-like ghost, though it is most often used nowadays to indicate what we think of as “mind” in English. Mind, however, has that irritable intangibility that drives materialists insane (otherwise you couldn’t have, say, one “authority” on consciousness telling us it’s a mere “epiphenomenon of matter” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), or another, like Dennett, holding forth that consciousness is a mere illusion, a trick played upon us by nature, which if you stop to think about it is simply rather daft, but that’s where fundamental materialism leads you, I guess.) It is not clear to me, at this point in my reading, of course, where Sloterdijk stands on such central issues.

Now, I know I’m the odd man out here, but I am trying to understand what Sloterdijk is saying and how, and I simply wasn’t finding the hooks I suppose I need to get a better grip on the text. I’m not saying that’s anyone’s fault but my own. Everyone else seems to be perfectly content with Sloterdijk’s approach to his subject. It’s a personal problem, I know, but I thought it only fair to have at least stated my awareness of it. (@Geoffreyjen_Edwards anticipated my shortcomings in a sense with his observation that it appears Sloterdijk is building some kind of structure (spherical or otherwise), but we will probably only know after we read him for the second time … well, given the present state of things, I’m not sure that’s gonna happen.)

The other impression was this: just who is having this conversation? Who are we? In the part of the discussion that goes from hollowness to sphere-building and mulit-centered, encapsulated structures to (I’m assuming) spheroidal whatevers gobbling anything and everything they encounter (which did call forth some well-informed hesitancy about uncritical and non-discerning ingestion), culminating, in my mind at any rate in some sort of abstract-cellular-ultimate-consumer-conglomerate … well, it became unclear to me who or what is doing the building, who or what is doing the ingesting, and how do we know? (See also @patanswer’s comments above.)

Who or what is building the structures/spaces/spheres/whatever, but if they need be constructed, they are no longer natural. Or do they just form, but if so, how, by what process or means? What is more: if they are hollow and empty and need to be filled, who or what does the filling? What agent decides what’s in what’s out? Or are decisions made at all? How does the cell-gobbling whatever “know" what to ingest and what to spit out? I mean, some ingestions are one-time affairs. There are certain mushrooms as we know that can mean one hell of a ride; there are others, well, there’s just hell. As you all well know, Sloterdijk’s process and his description of process are both still eluding me quite starkly and this part of the conversation really got those wheels spinning again.

To me there is a huge difference between an me-sphere (as close as I can get to Sloterdijkian terminology at the moment) being a collection of separate selves, let us say, and a me-sphere who exhibits different aspects of a single self, or are real me-spheres little constructed me’s who are filling them full of themselves? I can’t recall that Sloterdijk thus far has taken a position on this (maybe in volume 4), but what struck me the hardest, toward the end of the conversation, was just how “self-less” the conversation had become. Now, I know how I think about these things, and I have suspicions about how some others in the group think about them, but I have no idea about Sloterdijk. I’ve apparently overlooked something terribly obvious, and would be appropriately much more embarrassed about it if this weren’t the umpteenth time in my life that I have most likely managed to do so. (Any and all pointers more than welcome.)

So while @madrush left the conversation with something of a “doughy” feeling, I’m going to describe mine as somewhat queasy. Maybe “feeling” itself is too strong a word. Perhaps it is more of an intuition or an inkling, maybe even a suspicion, that at the very end of the conversation, I saw human agency being shuffled out the back door. It was just something I caught out of the corner of my eye, so I’m really not sure, but I was left with an uneasiness that I haven’t quite resolved.


Someone said you should read a critic not for his opinions but for his style. I like your style, Ed, even if you are grumpy sometimes. God knows I get very grumpy, even down right rude on occasion. You raise a good question. Who are we? I don’t think we have a good enough theory about that, much less an adequate practice to go along with it.

Who are we? I have no idea who we are and I consider myself a loyal follower here of these online public events. Whoever ‘we’ are, we often slip and slide with imprecision and are probably according to rumor, belong to a species, soon to be deleted.

But all of that is such a cliché and premature. I have a baffled feeling as I reach my curmudgeon status, that I lived longer, much longer than many of my comrades, who died in droves in the 80’s and the 90’s. I have no idea who they were or who am I having outlived so many of them. That loss has taught me a lot and I try to conduct myself with the awareness that each of us, when we go, are a tough act to follow. Life was weird back then and even more weird now. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

Reflecting upon your reaction, Ed, to the second instalment in this series, and on my own involvement, I notice as I watch these discourse events many days after they occurred, a feeling of being an observer- participant in an ensemble of actors, who have just had a rehearsal and are sitting in the green room, gossiping about the director, speculating about a performance that may never take place, and yet it was fun while it lasted, fun and helpful, too. I guess you had to be there.

I understand if you feel that you might not make it the end. You probably would need an identity to do that, maybe even a group identity, whatever that is. I used to consider myself a radical utopian and yet I also have my doubts that I will ever figure that out.

This is a bit of an improv, actually, and I missed the first rehearsal and so have entered in medias res. If we were in a real time classroom with a pop quiz at the end of the class I might have never shown up!

This is a study group ( I guess) and we, I believe, have all studied a lot. I like that there seems to be lots of directions to go in and that everyone (except perhaps for me) took turns talking in a polite manner. As a member of this study group, I feel okay that we don’t feel obliged to worry about whether Sloterdijk is right or wrong about anything. I enjoy his style. You do not. So be it!
A deeper question that our author develops that is relevant to our group identity is WHERE ARE WE?


Back when I was young, dynamic, full of piss and vinegar, I set off to college to become a teacher. Originally enrolled as a math major, I called the campus about a month before semester begin and changed my major to English. I had decided that even though I found math fascinating, even invigorating (an inclination I’ve not lost to this day, making me, in contrast to many of my colleagues then and now, less intimidated by scientific, mathematical, and technical discourses), it was too restricting to my ever expanding mind. We should recall that these were those hopeful, heady, revolutionary days of the late 60s.

Developing a senior project, that grand initiatory armament with which you would gird yourself as you sallied forth to redeem the fallen world of adolescent education, was of course one of the unavoidable boxes to be ticked. Mine was entitled “The Search for Self”. When graduation came and went, my girlfriends, fraternity brothers and sundry fellow "comrades-in-arms” went off to do whatever they set off to do. I, however, through just another in a long series of seemingly never-ending twists of fate found myself an actual comrade-in-arms, for Uncle Sam had fingered me.

Swallowed by the military Leviathan, it was physical training, German-language training, and interrogator training (yes, that was my military occupational specialty, as it was called in those days), only to be spewed forth into the nebulous realm of overt (military) intelligence collection — The Spy Who Came Out from the Warm, so to speak — at the very edge of the Free World as we knew it (I was stationed a mere three miles as the crow flies from the East-West German border) a stranger in a strange land.

Jordan Peterson wrestled long and hard with the thought of the threat of nuclear annihilation and built his entire career as a psychologist on it. Here, at the Edge of the Free World, we in the military knew that if “the balloon went up” (the technical jargon for Ivan’s cossackian onslaught against all that was good and right with the world), our life-expectancy was 20 minutes. That was the armoured cavalry’s mission here on the border: at the cost of 100% losses, to slow Ivan’s advance by 20 minutes. I, however, with all my intelligence (so believe me) it was expected that I and my fellow intel weenies would survive and “go underground” and rally others around me to make Ivan’s life miserable, to make him sorry he had stooped so low. The real problem with the scenario — as became public even in the 80s — the reason for delaying the Russians was so that the other US forces could retreat a bit, so that the empty space created by the non-advancing attackers and retreating defenders could be filled with so-called “tactical nuclear devices”. Yes, here, where I was living, with all these nice people with whom I worked and had personal contact, the girl I would eventually marry and who would mother my children, her family and friends and their friends’ friends were simply inconsequential placeholders in a hollow zone that Uncle Sam had decided was expendable and could safely and easily be filled with nuclear devastation and radiation.

You might think that I had forgotten all about that silly senior project. I mean, what does not pale in comparison with total annihilation? But I hadn’t forgotten? I found myself thinking about it even more. I found myself asking questions like “Who comes up with shit like this?” and “What kind of self finds joy in destruction … on this, or any other scale?” or “Who are we — as a species — that we can claim that such insanity makes sense?” Finding out who we are became a central theme in all my life. I believed then, and still believe now, that getting something of a handle on who we are can be worthwhile, hell, even have survival value. Back then, though, I still thought I’d do my time (if the balloon didn’t go up), go back home (which is what soldiers do), get that teaching job and get to work. Of course, being young and naive, and still full of more piss and vinegar than was probably good for me, I hadn’t grasped that twist-of-fate thing, for I never managed to go home again.

Because I apparently signed up for the Cosmic Twist Of Fate Tour, though I can’t remember when or where, I’ve ended up living in a lot of places and in each and every one it was up to the family and me to make the house the home, so to speak. It turns out that my totem animal is the tortoise, which is a good thing, considering but I’ve learned along that way that the Cosmic may be a trickster and have more than a wry sense of humour at times, but It is also not without Compassion. We’re given what we need, but we have to figure out how to use it and how it all works. In other words, the place, the space, doesn’t matter. Why do you think I was so elated when I encountered Gebser and found here’s a guy who’s given this all some thought and came to the conclusion that space-freedom is probably a good thing. Makes my life living in a Cosmic Nomad’s Tent a lot more comforting.

What I learned — and it’s just me, I’ll admit — is that we are wherever we are whenever we are. Period. There was me then in the nuclear annihilation zone. There was my wife’s family near-by and us in a boarding school near the East German border. There was the immediate family in Silicon Valley. Then a part of that family still together in Stuttgart. My wife and I are more or less back where we started. The spaces have changed, but it wasn’t the spaces that made the difference. It was just us wherever and whenever we were.

The self I was looking for way back when has engaged, merged, separated, recombined and grown with, for, against, and because of some core other selves who have always been intensely close and a myriad of other selves who have shared time and space with our own. The key to sanity-keeping throughout this journey has been the others: the constancy, their fickleness, their changeability, their adaptability, while all the while still remaining somehow the same. For although all of those selves are shaped and formed and molded and influenced by the the times and spaces of their experience, they still maintain a core constancy that allows all of us to recognise each other every time we re-meet. And that’s enough of a something, for me at least, to keep that search going.

For you see, Johnny, the result of all of this is that I do have an identity. It’s the I who I think, believe, feel, and experience me to be. Just between you, me, and the chickens in the chicken-coop here, it’s a work-in-progress, to be sure, but it’s something, not nothing, and it serves me relatively well most of the time when I encounter other, let me say, works-in-progress. Because from my own nomadic experience: the times and places change a lot, but there have always been others there with whom I interact to turn places into spaces and times into events and happenings. I feel pretty comfortable with mine. I can trust it to look out for me when I’m not otherwise paying attention. It’s good at telling me “I told you so” when I ignore its admonishments. It’s not perfect, that’s for sure, but I can live with him.

And since this is flowing along the lines of a confessional, I might as well add a few other small items that may be relevant. They’re assumptions really. None of us functions without assumptions, but we don’t often think about them or search them out for ourselves. I think it can be helpful and here are two that are essentially fundamental for me: (1) I’m not all that different from anybody else. Sure the details are different, but essentials are the same. And (2) everyone is searching for themself, consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively, constantly or sporadically … it doesn’t matter. Every one of us human beings suspects we have one and at some point in all of our lives somebody for some reason blurts out at us “Just who do you think you are?” and we all, at least once, stop and think about it, even if only briefly.

But it is the engagement with others in all times and places, even here online, that constitute the defining and meaningful elements of my life. I think it’s great that we can, and do, talk with one another civilly and politely. I think it’s exhilarating to share what we’ve studied and learned with one another (… it’s one of the advantages of being human that we’ve made vicarious learning possible). There are times as well when a not-so-civil and not-so-polite engagements can be fruitful as well, though at my age, I’m glad they occur less frequently. I find it as disconcerting as you that we also belong to a species which may soon delete itself, but it is nevertheless worth stopping to wonder how it is that it will have been we who have developed the button which we will push to effect the process. Who was that?

And it is because of all of these things that I wish I simply knew what Mr. Sloterdijk was saying. I don’t care if he’s right or wrong. If he’s like the rest of us (which I’m guessing), he’ll get more wrong than right. So what? I would just like to know what he’s saying. I think you will agree that style is one thing, but style is not everything. And even though, by your own admission, you may read what I post because of my style, I, on the other side of the text, can begin to express how great it is that you respond to the content. Somehow some of it apparently manages to get through. I realise that I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier of this particular reading group and I’ve never been the brightest bulb in any chandelier I’ve ever hung with, but I would have liked to thought that I merely overlooked something, that the wire was at least still connected to the socket. But so far, reading Sloterdijk has been for the most part like watching a Peanuts movie in which only adults do the talking.

So let me just add this: once again Johnny, you’ve been an invaluable help. I do seriously, sincerely and deeply appreciate your thoughts.


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

“The self I was looking for way back when has engaged, merged, separated, recombined and grown with, for, against, and because of some core other selves who have always been intensely close and a myriad of other selves who have shared time and space with our own.”

Who are we? Where are we?

I recently heard our friend, Sloterdijk speak of our age, the age of the Anthropocene, as the first age where humanity has now got an address. Our species is having such an impact that we can actually declare that we have a cosmic address. And we are losing our sense of a container, as the biosphere, gets clogged up with our waste, our incessant noise. This is not a good thing, and all of us, if we drive a car, use plastic, eat meat, like air conditioning, are implicated. We are all us members of the burning class.

Shakespeare, as wise as he was, knew nothing about this. Kant knew nothing of it eighter. They knew for better or worse where they were located in a social space, and what actions were right or wrong. When I first read Sonnet 30 I was still a still an adolescent, innocent of the erotic and the political spheres, the grief, the loss, which would soon intrude upon me, but I was tuned into ‘deathless night’ before any actual experience because I shared the language. I got the feeling when I read the poem out loud, in my voice, tongue, lips, face, chest, breath, a feeling for a shared reality. All of these physiological/linguistic events activate what Porges calls our polyvagal system. The polyvagal theory is a good place to start, so that we can get a clean start. I mentioned this on the video and believe we have some new maps to re-locate our selves, re-center, and enter the field of all possibilities with open hands. We need an imagination to do this. A healthy imagination.

“I think it can be helpful and here are two that are essentially fundamental for me: (1) I’m not all that different from anybody else. Sure the details are different, but essentials are the same. And (2) everyone is searching for themself, consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively, constantly or sporadically … it doesn’t matter.”

I believe, Ed, that you have nailed it but because we have emerged out of book culture, we can share with Shakespeare, due to language and neurology, a shared reality. The internet age is upsetting the delicate face to face species we have been until only a few decades ago, our evolving social engagement system, (heart, vagus nerve, eye, voice) is disrupted by our addiction to our devices, our addiction to competition.

I fear that with the advent of the Anthropocene, the intrusions of our demonic left brain technology, is fragmenting that Modern Self , we all know and love, into a consortium of hungry ghosts, species who have lost their access to their bodies/habitats are stuck in a horrifying borderland and they attack us, as those Birds in Hitchcock’s bold, dystopian movie, from out of from out of the blue or in those liminal zones ( spheres? bubbles? foams?).-we have lost the language, we have lost the patterns that connect you and I and the horse shoe crab, and,are not ready for this responsibility to clean up this mess. Let some one else do it, let’s kick that can of worms down the road. We need an immune system that doesn’t use drugs to wipe out the bacteria. The microbes, if we should try, will definitely win that war. Nano tech wont save us.

Where are we? We are becoming, unless we find that Higher Octave, a horrific collage-

" Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!"-Macbeth


The queasiness I felt after the last conversation, you sum up well, but for obviously different reasons.

There’s no one left and there’s nothing left to save.

But, it wasn’t the technology, it wasn’t the can. It was us. It’s always been us. Everyone who has ever thought a sober, insightful thought has always known, it’s just us. No, we don’t really know who we are or what we should be doing or why we’re even here or why we haven’t already extinguished life as we know it or how we’ve managed to screw things up this badly. We don’t know squat, because, as I see the cards on the table, we have decided it’s cooler to deny our humanity than it is try and live up to it.


@achronon and @johnnydavis54: Thoroughly enjoying the eloquence and insights being shared here!

Ed, you have the advantage of engaging this through German, so observations such as the words ‘bubble’ and ‘hollow’ having connotations lost on us English-speakers are important. I reserve judgment in light of that. But Sloterdijk is growing on me because (so far) I see him mounting an in-depth attack on the modern tendency to overly emphasize the individual in the conception of society. (And in this day when if one mentions, say, thinking about “alternatives to capitalism” people look at you like you just suggested we stop using our lungs to breathe, I would say necessarily in-depth!) I don’t think he is trying to get rid of human agency or the “self”, but rather to bring back a more composite and communal sense of what makes the “self”. Hence his contrasts between the heart as vessel of connection between people and the modern reduction of the heart to blood-pumping organ. Toward the end of the chapter, he notes that it was easy to demonstrate how the heart was just another ‘matter-in-motion’ part of the body while dissecting corpses - as if to say we are only truly “individuals” when we are dead.
(I italicized the “hollow body” experience in my earlier post, but I think the larger point was about the “remains of the dream of human autonomy…”.)

I’m coming at this from a philosophy of history perspective (confessing my near-complete ignorance of other kinds of philosophy relative to others here :blush:). Toynbee started his own massive tome with the acknowledgment that the nation-state was an insufficient basis on which to build a theory of history and attempted to account for the “civilizations” that exist in mutual determination with smaller political/cultural entities. It’s the mutual determination that is key: I get the impression Sloterdijk is on his way to pointing out how this works for ‘single’ people as well as nations.

Having said this, I don’t know how we get a ‘science of spherology’ from this either… (LOL)


I couldn’t agree more, @patanswer at least in principle: We can miss a lot — though mere oversight — if we’re too critical, to be sure, just as a lot can get by us if were too enthused. Voices of moderation and reason, such as yours, TJ, are always a welcome balm on the irritations.

You raise a point that is exceptionally well-taken, for it sits at the heart of my own irritation. You see Sloterdijk “mounting an in-depth attack” (but we’ll get back to on what in a moment), even if it doesn’t always look like an attack. And it doesn’t always look like a mounting (to me at least, but I do have others like you to help me see what I may be missing). And I’m more than happy that you haven’t given up on me yet.

Oh, I know that reaction you get when you suggest “alternatives to capitalism” (having tutored strategy on an MBA program for a major British university for almost 15 years sensitized me to that, I can assure you …and tide I was swimming against there makes the one here look like waves lapping on the beach), for it is the same reaction I generally get when I mention human agency (for here it depends on whether people know what I’m talking about at all).

The legal counsel for my ol’ buddy Julius (Caesar) made it more than clear to me: abusus non tollit usum (the abuse of something does not negate its proper use, or, more simply, using things in bad ways doesn’t make the things bad, it makes the using bad). That was forgotten when it was decided to react against the overemphasis of the individual in the conception of society. It was just another baby that didn’t survive the bathwater. That was another one of those little routines that Gebser laid on us that made me such a fan: oh, by the way, if we want to learn to transcend our egos, well, we have to develop them first, but deficient mental-rationality is going to try and eat your lunch if you do. Not overbearing, not in-your-face, and certainly anything but a mounted attack: just pointer in the right direction of you-may-want-to-rethink-that-one.

All of you who have read my last couple of posts are, I believe, relative clear on the fact that whatever self that is that I think I may be seeking is only even recognisable as a self because of all the involvement of all those myriad others I encountered and interacted with. There is no me outside of we. It’s a given that I failed to make clear. It can be worked differently, that’s for sure, and we have all of history since the Enlightenment as shocking documentation of that fact.

Now, I have the impression — and it’s still just an impression — that Sloterdijk isn’t merely reacting to an overemphasis, rather he’s faced with the situation in which, at least as far as the humanities are concerned, let us say, philosophically, the self (not the ego, not the individual, but the self itself) has more or less been eliminated and what he’s actually trying to do is fill an unfillable void. If there’s even been a task doomed to failure (I’m getting vibes that even Prometheus is feeling going about himself right about now), that would be it. Deconstructionism did a lot more to us than just bore us for the past couple of decades. It wreaked havoc on our entire mental apparatus.

The loss of language which @johnnydavis54 bemoans is a true loss, there is good reason for mourning, for one of the most human of all our abilities has been so taken apart and reduced to arbitrary symbols and tokens that we hardly know how to speak any more (well, except for those of us who, it appears in retrospect, fortunately, were living under rocks and haven’t given up all hope of ever communicating again). I’m not talking about grunts and groans and clicks and squeals all of which are good and right and proper and noble and notable and worthy of our serious attention, but language as human language, all the way from Shakespeare to our own intense exchanges on this platform. Even intimate a singular role for human language in public and let the apoplexy begin!

So with the total deconstruction of the self and being left with only the detritus of personal egos (which allows the likes of Margaret Thatcher to unabashedly and unopposedly claim that there is no such thing as a society at all), where do you go? Perhaps in search of a different metaphor (spheres) which if clothed in the guise of science (a spherology) and deep (-looking at least) thought (something “philosophical”), can be seen as a way out of a nasty, nihilistic dilemma.Maybe it’s worth a shot. Something (obviously) has to happen. But is Peter really up to the task? And there come those doubts again.

On more than one occasion in the text (and when I say text, I mean only that part that I’ve read thus far … up to p. 140 — see previous postings for justification), Peter expresses his disdain for the French post-structuralists. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stand out very starkly because he is anything but reticent in expressing his disdain for just about anyone and anything thinker or school of thought that comes his way. (I, for one, can relate to his frustration, I suppose, but dismissing out of hand precisely developed and hard-wrought lines of thought and argumentation (e.g., I thought Horkheimer and Adorno did a much better job of debunking the Enlightenment than Peter did, though they also opened the door for Peter’s disdain), merely accusing others of misreading, implying that he himself is in possession of the “proper” interpretation … well, I’ll be honest, TJ, it just grates me the wrong way. I mean, I’m flummoxed often enough at the insults being hurled my own way — and I’m just the mere reader — but he’s really got it in for a whole lot of folks. And it is the insults and put-downs that cause me at least to wonder how and why this person thinks he has something, anything, to say about “intimacy” that would be helpful in sorting out my own understanding of it.

Be that as it may, though, in my ears he too often sounds like those very French post-structuralists (yes, deconstructionists) that he so despises. He reads like they do. I don’t know if you’ve read much, say, French post-modern literary criticism, much late-Barthes or Riffaterre or, well, even most of Derrida for that matter, but if you do, take your Pepto-Bismal with you. They’re all over the place. They flit from one subject to another, try to dazzle you with linguistic sleight-of-hand, but in the end, it’s all rather … well, as the Germans say, rather hohl (“hollow”). While they were at it, the deconstructionists not only demolished language, they murdered the author, beat any kind of authorial intention to a bloody pulp and hung the heads of their victims on pikes before the academic village as a warning to anyone else who thought they might have something to say.

Granted, I may be wrong. I have been continually pointing out that I’d even like to be wrong about Peter, but he just comes across all too often sounding like “them”, and when you dig in a bit in search of something to hold on to, everybody says, “it looks to me like …” he’s going to do/say/argue/build a case/develop a theory/flesh out an image/, but probably later, because we’re just not sure. We’re a fifth of the way into the text and we’re still not sure. If a novel doesn’t make it clear to me after fifty pages that it’s worth reading on, it’s back on the shelf. So, I’ll cut Peter another break.

On the other hand, there are really great thinkers who let you know early one what they’re going to try to do, say it as straightforward and clearly as possible, even when they may suspect It’s not going to produce the results they may want. Toynbee is helpful for that reason and he gives us lots of stuff to think through, not just think about. Having been more or less created as late as 1648, the “nation-state” is a pretty young wine skin in which to be pouring old wine, like “civilisations”. Looking at social/political/cultural interactions among various sized entities is a reasonable and, I believe, fairly effective way to think the matter through. That’s what great thinkers do for us: they give us tools to think further. Gebser’s key notions of latency and transparency are similarly exceedingly powerful tools for doing just that. I always feel more comfortable with a tool in my hand, and not just an impression in my head, when I start trying to work on, or maybe even one day complete, some project.

Clueless … toolless … what difference does it make …let’s see what the next installment brings. Third time’s a charm, y’know. You’ve been a big help, TJ, as always.


Thanks T.J. and Ed for keeping this thread going. About Toynbee. He had access to trance states, much like Mozart with his music, in which whole chunks of history came to him in a single moment and he spent years unpacking those extraordinary learning events.

When the prepared mind has a eureka, and it all comes together and something new emerges we have a brief window of opportunity to find an action that can ground and amplify that learning and start the process of feedback and feedforward, entering into those fields of potential directly with our participation.

If you have no center, and you have not prepared your mind to receive, then the eureka moment will probably not arrive and if it does you will have no idea what to do with it. Like idiot savants who cant tie their shoes but can do amazing computations out of the blue. As impressive as this might be so what? If you are open but have no capacity for holding it together you will never be able to participate and perhaps change the field through your participation.

Toynbee wrote his books, after that vision he had on a hill in Turkey, observing some ancient ruins. Mozart heard the concerto all at once but could put quill to paper and wrote it all out, teasing out the time elements and the orchestral arrangements. They could center to pose a question, hold an intention, open to the field of possibility, and most important had the skills to bring back what they glimpsed.

We may yet have a chance to ground and amplify and influence our cultures and societies! But we have to do a much better job of paying attention to what we are paying attention to. Toynbee and Mozart influenced the way history and music was done, conducting forward certain trends and disrupting others. Each of us may do this kind of thing due to serendipity or constraints that trigger these kinds of learning events, and it is worth our time and energy to cultivate these experiences by preparing our minds and acting on the eureka when it happens. So at the risk of disclosing ones self it is important to risk that if we are to share an insight that might create a cascade of insights, and the emergence of action plans, with our comrades. We must I believe be willing to reclaim a first person perspective as we have for too long grown lazy with the third person abstractions going nowhere.

The eureka moment is not always paid attention to. We yawn and go back to sleep, or have another beer, and so those moments often get lost if we have no practice to ground and amplify those mysterious experiences. And sometimes these eurekas are triggered out of our anger at an injustice or a refusal to accept the norms.

The Dean of Harvard Law school claimed that women should not be allowed into graduate school because their blood goes to the uterus and therefore thinking with the brain is disturbed and so higher learning is bad for females. Caty Stanton, a legal scholar, who knew Greek and Latin, a mother of five, said," That cant be right!" She spent the last decade of her life acting on her convictions and produced a body of research and a field of study that is influential to this day.

The problem spaces that we are exploring through reading this text may or may not yield any eureka moments. I believe we can pay attention and have an intention to create the conditions for those eurekas and who knows-we might strike it rich!

As a self declared Radical Utopian, I have a responsibility to clarify the problem spaces we encounter collectively and to dream a dream of integration and insight. If we just wallow in the problem space and have no articulated desired outcomes ( not the same as a proposed solution-such as sustainability) we may have a chance to save ourselves from our weaved up folly. Identity and group identity and the nature of action spaces are crucial for us to examine and whether we like Sloterdijk or loathe him he has something to teach us, simply because he is so prolific and has a wide audience. I loathe Kant and Freud but I still study them.

For me it is way too early to critique him, and I am wanting to avoid and caution against the postmodern tendency to label and dismiss preemptively. Having been labeled and dismissed by so many experts for so long I have grown deeply weary of the critique. How about instead of critique we developed some social skills?

" The incarnated utopian drive ( Zuccotti Square) provides an integrated group identity that fills a lack for many core participants. The lack is caused at least partly by the fragmentation of modern life-the dispersal of our identities across many spheres( workplace, family, religion, interests, hobbies, neighborhood) and the constant anxiety caused by the juggling of ourselves .

WHO ARE WE? Each of us contains many selves, many performances, each of which emerges in relation to different groups and circumstances. But those who can step into one radically totalizing identity are able to fill this lack and longing, even if temporarily with an integrated sense of self and of belonging in a beloved community. Out of the many identity fragments emerges a singularity: the revolutionary, the occupier. Even those who are unable to step in quite so fully can still experience his utopian space vicariously as representing the potential, the idea, or the symbol of completion."-Jonathan Smucker, A Roadmap for Radicals

I want to co-create a radically open utopian space!

The Radical Utopians, East Village, 1979


I’d say the point of reading Sloterdijk is that WE are reading Sloterdijk. We are constituting an event space solicitous of inquiry and creative thought, which might regenerate itself—why not?—like foam (or cultural fractals, or social cells) to provide healthy environments for our good selves, and many more, to fruitfully inhabit.

Of course, we could be reading anyone, talking about anything, and forming a “we.” The question I’m interested in is how this “we” is held together. What constitutes its “barycenter” (new word for me, thanks TJ!)? And how do I relate to it and to the others in my orbit? In what kind of social sphere do I wish to come to life?

If “I” or “we,” as a real human self or selves, are not bound to our specific spaces, places, or locations, neither do we exist outside some space where we meet (/interface) in preconfigured ways—but which we can reconfigure through sympathetic communication, if we so desire.

I resonate w/ Johnny’s desire for a “radically open utopian space,” and to ground this in the text (as I am wont to do :wink:) I take Sloterdijk at his word and quite seriously when he states, on p.45:

“The strong reason for being together is still awaiting an adequate interpretation.”

This is just after he’s brought in the stuffy old notion of “solidarity”—

Since it’s now possible through virtualization, drone delivery services, Netflix and the like, to live completely inside my own bubble (which is, in some real sense, where I’m wanted), what is the compelling case for scaling intimacy? For going outside myself? How am I, and how can I be, with others? And where does that happen? How are such spaces constructed, or perhaps, grown? How do they live?

Sloterdijk may not have the answer. But there he was—with something to say about the process of communal space-formation from the inside out, literally from the womb to the planetary scale—with potentially also something to say (later, elsewhere) about how “we must change ourselves,” which seemed relevant. But if nothing else, he is building our collective muscles for sustained intellectual attention, which is obviously in short supply these days.

So I think it’s important that we follow through. And then of course we can move on, or go in any number of directions; and along the way, as well, there will be offshots and cyclings and returns…e.g., it would be quite interesting to put Sloterdijk in dialogue w/ Gebser. ¡Sí se puede! Time and Space aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, are they? :revolving_hearts:


We don’t have to like the lessons we learn any more than we have to like whoever teaches them to us. In my little bubble, I believe we nevertheless should be thankful that we can, may, and have learned.

In his inimitable way, @johnnydavis54 has brought clearly into focus what I’ve rather ineptly been stabbing at: in all that mess we see as our modern selves, there is an “I” that eventually needs to become the focus of whoever acts and effects in the world. “We have to do a much better job of paying attention to what we are paying attention to. […] We must I believe be willing to reclaim a first person perspective as we have for too long grown lazy with the third person abstractions going nowhere.” Nail. Head. Smack.

@madrush cogently notes that perhaps "the point of reading Sloterdijk is that WE are reading Sloterdijk.” Agreed, for the riches that I’ve been garnering haven’t come from Sloterdijk but from others’ reactions (certainly more positive than mine) to Sloterdijk. What has also become clear, for me at any rate, is that a concern I had has been allayed for the time being through the clear, direct statements of other readers/discussants. This is one of the reasons, I would think, that we find ourselves together in this particular space at this particular time … not to allay my personal concerns, but rather that concerns may be allayed through conversation/discussion/interaction of other selves (who, in this case, acknowledge themselves to be such).

On a bit of side note, it would seem that Marco has given us (or me at any rate) a whole lot more to chew on: the word “adequate” in the sentence quoted is the translator’s rendition of the German word angemessen (lit. “measured on”), which can mean “adequate”, of course, but it can also mean “appropriate”, “fitting”, “proper”, “suitable”, “pertinent”, “worthy”, and at least 25 more ways, depending on nuance (whereby, I’m lumping adjectives and adverbs together for simplicity’s sake).

In cases like this, I always ask myself, “So, why did that ‘correspondence’ get selected and not another?” There’s NO correct answer to this, of course, and I’m not asking anyone to justify the particular phrasing of the English-language text. Sloterdijk does, as Marco points out, just brought up the notion of “solidarity”, which Marco finds “stuffy” (an interesting characterisation, I must admit), and which Sloterdijk himself describes as ein knarrendes Wort des 19. Jahrhunderts (lit. "a creaky (or creaking) 19th-century word — and I would really like to know what the translator did with this sentence — whereby you have to imagine a couple-hundred-year-old, Tutor-style half-timber house whose beams rub as the house settles and adjusts itself to the world and its place in it; wooden joints creak, no doubt about it, but 500-year-old oak-beam joints sort of “groan”, which is more “knarren” than just “creaking”), since he identifies “solidarity” as a “joining force (or power)” (eine verbindende Kraft), keeping the overall image sound.

But, just prior to introducing “solidarity”, he is on about wondering how it is that anything should get together at all, be it entire peoples, burning bushes and prophets, carefully selected pairs, or even placentas, children, and mothers. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Sloterdijk at this point presupposing that any given thing (which I use in the most general meaning of the word; that is, object, entity, creature, id separate and distinct from every other but not only in the sense of tertium-non-datur, but so separate and distinct that they are unrelated to each other. They may, like the Breather and the Breathed-into of the Genesis story, be ontological twins which share an intimate complicity, but they are separate, distinct, and unique. He notes as well in this context that there is something, some kind of force or power or whatever that brings them together in some way, that somehow unites them, connects them. But, it, too, is separate and distinct, and it is then this force that we later, in the 19th century, designated “solidarity” (and whether we understand this as a reduction of some primal force to a mere concept or whether Sloterdijk means to tell us that he’s put his finger on a real deal is inconsequential at the moment). There is a this and a that and a force that somehow connects them and all this is made possible by the fact that these “things" create (or form) by virtue of their thereness, their being-there, a (to his mind, spherical) space together. Am I following Sloterdijk here or have I lost the plot again?

If I haven’t, and if it is sort of like I think it is, then Sloterdijk has made a trimillennial leap (from Moses to Marx) and grabbed a concept (solidarity) in order to explain (or elucidate, or illuminate) something (the force that brings together) that, like Toynbee’s “nation-state" may simply be too small or too restricted or too whatever for the task it needs to perform. It is not a criticism, but it is worth noting, that having made such a determination, Mr. Sloterdijk apparently does not take up the task himself. Yes, we’ll have to keep our eyes and ears open to see if the “solidarity” theme resurfaces, though it hasn’t in the reading up to p 140 (German text … should be similar in the English text; I found Marco’s cited line on p. 45 of my edition). If it were a part of his own perceived project, I suspect he would have at least intimated that he intended to rectify this obvious shortcoming of Western intellectual and cultural history. It seems to me that a lot of folks have given a lot of serious thought to the issue in those three millennia, but everything that’s been come up with thus far is somehow inadequate … and I don’t think I’m doing injustice to the the text, am I? To me this again raises more questions than it answers, but, as I just mentioned, perhaps this is something he is going to return to later. For now, then, I’ll suspend judgment and wait. You’ll get no argument from me that Sloterdijk doesn’t dance around very fundamental questions, that’s for sure, which is why I find these little post-conversation chats so helpful.

(OK, the rest of you may be pulling your hair out, one strand at a time for all I know, but I am not trying to test the sheer capacity of your nerves. I think I’m getting myself sorted a bit. So, many thanks again.)


@achronon: Far from pulling out any hair, I am finding your cautions invaluable - especially as I am indeed doing this without serious background in Heidegger or post-structuralist philosophers. (I’ve read Spengler, but can I really assess his worth with only a cursory knowledge of Goethe or Nietzsche? Probably not.)
I do know that historians have largely tended to leave Derrida alone. ["…take your Pepto-Bismol with you." <That’s hilarious! :grinning:]

Much as you describe, I am giving Sloterdijk the benefit of the doubt. Along with @johnnydavis54 it is too early for me to tell if he succeeds in what he says he is about. But you are right that usually by page 100 or so in a work of non-fiction I am not still guessing or anticipating things but actively engaging in the pros and cons of a set of proposed ideas.

So… we’ll see. It is just as well that the book is so readable.

In the end, I am frankly just happy to be a part of the conversation. Many thanks to you in return!

(PS: The wealth of expression in German that you have been describing here and in other posts is fascinating. I often say that if I came across Aladdin’s lamp one of my wishes would definitely be the ability to intuitively and fluently speak/think/read every human language. Speak of aperspectival understanding!)