Bubbles, Live Conversation #3 – 5/25/2017

Continuing the discussion from Bubbles, Live Conversation #2 - 5/11/2017:

Hi @spheres readers: Here are the recordings from our video call on 5/25.



[mp3 download]

##Machine Transcript



This is the third 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 chapter 2 of the book, “Between Faces: On the Appearance of the Interfacial Intimate Sphere.”


John David Ebert (host)
Marco V Morelli (host)
Michael Scwartz
Nathaniel Savery
John Davis
Dona Abadi
Ed Mahood
Wendy Ronitz-Baker
Jonathan Cobb

Thanks to everyone for participating! Mark your calendars for our next live call on June 8th 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/

So this is the second chapter Sloterdijk ends by noting the impact of a piece of glass (last time the magnifier or microscope (I think) enhancing analysis of the human body as machine, this time the mirror enabling interaction with others to be ‘replaced’) on the “Modern Age” conception of the individual as a solitary figure of autonomous meaning. Intriguing…

I really enjoyed this chapter - or maybe romps through art history help me to follow things better. The unholy Roman trilogy of father Julius, son Octavian, and money was a really interesting observation.

Edit: Make that “…unholy… trinity:laughing:


After viewing the video, which I enjoyed, sharing interesting ideas with good company, feeling expansive, always in search for patterns and meta-patterns, feeing also like a man swept downstream, grasping for a root to clutch onto, I decide to go out and get some fresh air, clear my head of so many abstractions, get in touch with the body.

This is the start of gay pride month, the weather is mild, and I’m in search for something hard to put into words. In my head I hear Peggy Lee’s sad refrain," Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friend’s then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze and have a ball…"

Bubbles, spheres, spaces, voices full of the sound of money, faces flicker in and out of awareness, half memory, half made up, foams arise in my warped imagination, as I ride my bike through Manhattan at night, going down Christopher Street, passing the Stonewall where the great riot broke out, passing the mostly empty bars and quiet streets. A few decades ago this was the hub of a huge international cultural experiment. The streets and the bars and theaters were packed.

The place feels empty tonight, empty as a movie set waiting for another cast of characters to take charge. New York at night in the Village, feels more and more like an empty Hollywood set, just a few extras and crew standing around this gaudy expensive tourist trap. “The heat " an old prostitute once said,” from the street is gone."

Weird feelings, hope, curiosity, mingled with nihilism, I have always considered myself to be a Tragic Optimist. I park my bike, enter and settle down to conduct my social research, looking for the patterns that connect. About a dozen men, different ages, races, shapes and sizes are scattered around the bar. I find a dark corner where I can watch. I’m in observer mode

A young , baby faced, black man approaches me. He is entertaining and witty, launches into a theatrical rant, the rhythm of different cultural currents flowing somehow through his body/mind into my ‘space’, my ‘physical space’, and my psychic space. We all have our ‘blind spots’. And that is perhaps what I’m learning most from this exchange with this young man, with his campy, hyper ironic, self parody. He reminds of cross between Billie Holliday, the great Blues singer and Charles Ludllam, the great underground theatre genius who died of AIDS three decades ago. How did this young man have access to all of that? He was revealing my blind spot which had now turned into a Black Hole ,a vortex and I was starting to fall, unprepared, into a new cosmology. Who owns time and space? No one. I had a moment of panic. How can I cross over, into my old age, into the inevitable falling apart, that all of us, if we are lucky, will have to go through, without a smart phone?.

In the old days, we lived out of the cliché with willd abandon, LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG. I didn’t expect nor am I prepared as most of the Baby Boomers for this phase. Will we be put out to pasture? Euthanized? Or will we find an alternate way?

I thanked the charming young man and got on my bide and enjoyed my night ride home. After a good night’s sleep, a lots of strong coffee, I found Charles Ludlam’s Manifesto for Ridiculous Theater, on line, which I vaguely intuited, continues to shape events, a tragic past, a misty future, we need motifs and manifestos to hold us together.

If you read, dear comrades, his manifesto with your somatic intelligence, you may feel in your spine, a gentle, tingling sensation, that rises up to the crown, up, up and away and around the globe, creating a mild euphoria, surfing your own energy, surfing our energies, as universal affects, entangled with biology and culture, bring together the myriad fragments, resonating with the possibilities of a renewal of cultures. If we don’t do it who will?

Aim: To get beyond nihilism by revaluing combat.
Axioms to a theater for ridicule:

  1. You are a living mockery of your own ideals. If not, you have set your ideals too low.
  2. The things one takes seriously are one’s weaknesses.
  3. Just as many people who claim belief in God disprove it with their ever act, so too there are those whose every deed, though they say there is no God, is an act of faith.
  4. Evolution is a conscious process.
  5. Bathos is that which is intended to be sorrowful but because of the extremity of its expression becomes comic. Pathos is that which is meant to be comic but because of the extremity of its expression becomes sorrowful. Some things which seem to be opposites are actually different degrees of the same thing.
  6. The comic hero thrives on his vices. The tragic hero is destroyed by his virtue. Moral paradox is the crux of drama.
  7. The theater is a humble materialist enterprise which seeks to produce riches of the imagination, not the other way around. The theater is an event not an object. Theater workers need not blush and conceal their desperate struggle to pay the landlords their rents. Theater without the stink of art.

###Instructions for use:

This is farce not Sunday school. Illustrate hedonistic calculus. Test out a dangerous idea, a theme that threatens to destroy one’s whole value system. Treat the material in a madly farcical manner without losing the seriousness of the theme. Show how paradoxes arrest the mind. Scare yourself a bit along the way.



I did not anticipate this, but I shall miss today’s session, my second time. Households moves are in the works, with the truck coming Monday, and we are now behind and need all of today.

Again, I LOVE the sessions. Thank you, brother.


Sorry we missed you Michael. I hope the household moves went well, and I hope you can make it next time. Thanks for the love!

Hello all,

I know I’ve missed several video sessions. it got just too difficult while on the road to keep track of the work. The videos are intense - even now, finding 6-8 hours to get through the material poses challenges, but at least I am now stable in one location (Sydney, Australia), and hope to take part in the discussions again. Also, my reading has dropped behind, but not by much, I think. I LOVED this video session (#3), and the range of ideas discussed. Didn’t agree with everything - in particular, although I understand where the argument about the “call to violence” within our media that John Ebert discussed, I also am aware of Pinker’s book about declining levels of violence and think he makes a (at least to me) compelling case to be skeptical that we live in a world of increasing violence.

We discussed this chapter in the seminar I run with my graduate students, and we did discuss some of the consequences of paying more attention to interfaciality in software interface design, something that I’m continuing to think about.

I will work my way through the videos one at a time and hope to catch you next session, which I believe will be not this week (July 27th) but the next (August 3rd). Time difference makes it awkward for me too - it will be 4 a.m. for me! But I will do my best…

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Not being familiar with Pinker’s book, could you perhaps state what his primary measure of violence, say, that’s driving the decline? Or, perhaps asked differently, what is the primary indicator of the decline? Granted, while we are medially induced to think there’s more violence (if-it-bleeds-it-leads news, for example), I’m still having a difficult time grasping perhaps his notion of what comprises violence to begin with. Any pointer at all would help.

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So, Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature : Why Violence Has Declined, is an atttempt to collate statistical data across the centuries to assess a whole variety of different measures of violence. Examples include the homicide rate in different countries, deaths due to wars, to duels or other quarrels, executions, conscription rates for wars, genocides, violence against children including corporeal punishment, violence against women, lynchings, racial intolerance, other forms of intolerence, such as towardss gays, and so on. He shows successive waves of lessening of violence, with two exceptions in the 20th century, the first and second world wars, and shows the extent towards which media inflates the gravity of the perceived problem in any given era. You can disagree with his scholarship and methods (lots do) but the overall argument is pretty compelling.


Thanks for this. It is very helpful.

I must admit that I’m skeptical of such claims because it is so often the case that (a) they don’t understand statistics very well and/or (b) they define violence (or similar negative concept) in terms that very much limits its usefulness as a measure of anything.

This is a good start, though. I guess I’ll just have to look into it more, but thanks, again.

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Pinker is one of the world’s top linguists, he is almost as well known as Chomsky, but for very different reasons. I don’t think his understanding of statistics is faulty. As for his understanding of violence, I think you will find he has a nuanced understanding of violence in its broader framing. As a linguist, he has training both in the social sciences and in quantitative theory. He’s not Foucauld, but he’s not a “reductionist” in any sense of the word. Read the book to find out more, it is worth the time and effort.

I am familiar with Pinker as a linguist, having read his The Language Instinct. He’s a bright guy, to be sure, but his assumption that language is strictly a product of biological evolution is anything but watertight. It assumes too much and explains too little. Of course, if you subscribe to a materialist or sociobiological (a la E.O. Wilson) school of thought, which he appears to, you really don’t have many options. What is more, some of the conclusions he reaches, for example that teaching grammar in school is a waste of time, are simply unserious.

In my travels, though, I did come across the following article, which I found rather interesting as it takes a serious look at his use of statistics and implies rather strongly that his counting is rather restricted and selective (always helps you get the results you want … for example, he apparently didn’t include deaths in the gulags in the Soviet Union and Mao got something of a pass, and the 20 million people that the US have killed in their incessant wars since WW2 may not have been included either, which, if true, seriously undermines his argument), and his understanding of statistics has been seriously questioned by experts in the field (I found the links to Taleb’s response rather interesting as well).

Having said that, however, the issue is still worth thinking about, I suppose, but I’m not sure I want to wade through a thousand pages to end up with a “whatever”. That’s my struggle with Sloterdijk: too many words, too little substance.


I agree that Pinker’s arguments are not watertight. As you say, he tries to do an awful lot, and one may question what he includes and what he leaves out, as you suggest. But he is careful not to mix the statistics - it is the argument that combines them together, not the stats themselves. And like all arguments, it is subject to criticism. I also, like you, don’t agree with all his conclusions about linguistics. My point is, whether or not you agree, he makes you think about our assumptions about violence, and I think it is important not to simply buy into the rhetoric that says we live in “violent times”, or that the world is becoming “more violent”.

With Sloterdijk, I agree he is inordinately wordy. However, my life, and my research agenda, has already been profoundly influenced by Sloterdijk’s writing. I’m not sure all the influence is Sloterdijk himself, though, or other people that he cites, but even if the latter, the way he pulls these ideas together has changed my understanding of the modern world and our place in it. However, I am sensitive to arguments from a spatial perspective, so that may be down, at least in part, to my own background and training.


Pinker’s data (and all I can say is I’ve seen a number of his graphs) seems to indicate the same thing found by other students of this* (ones I’ve actually read like Robert O’Connell and Azar Gat). An argument can be made that proportionally fewer people are meeting their ends in acts of war relative to earlier historic times. (Gat suggests that Hobbes is closer to the truth than Rousseau when dealing with prehistoric societies and what we suppose to be their surviving modern cousins, but there simply isn’t the data to make a clear determination.) What the “civilizing process” has to do with this is, well, I’m more convinced by Gat’s overall argument that when levels of insecurity and scarcity decrease, the attractiveness of the option (always an option) of violence as a response tends to decrease as well. It is just as well no one claims the tendency to be absolute, which to my way of thinking merely indicates we obviously still have work to do whether we pat our own backs or wring our hands - or however we decide to define what “violence” is, which is another can of worms.
Of course the larger context of the debate (in this case Pinker and company vs the John Grays of the world) is the role of statistics in science and the role of science in “truth” - not to mention the role of “truth” in statistics (LOL).

*Another sobering but well crafted graphic take on this theme is a short animation I’ve seen on YouTube called “The Fallen of World War II”.

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The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk brings his theory of the spheres and, within it, the idea of ​​protraction (Chapter 2). In the case of rostification, the whole process already advances in the looks exchanged between mother-child, once in breastfeeding, where the rule is harmony and well-being that attract one to the other. No wonder, then, our face, unlike the ape face that, in short, is very similar to those of our ancestors, is more prominent. Our faces appear as if pulled by another face. Our hands go in front of the face as if pulling another hand and another face. The sphere formed by the four intersecting eyes was made by its own characteristic: the resonance between its poles, mother and baby. Protraction would be the opening of being on the face. Many portraits show faces dedicated to demanding from others the facial recognition of their uniqueness in order to attract the attention of their peers. The portrait, therefore, is a procedure of protraction. Nothing but the highlight of the characteristically individual traits that goes back to primitive scenarios. No wonder today with smartphones and the old 3x4 pictures are the face models we want. We focus on what can differentiate one being from the other, focusing and centering on the face. Sloterdijk speaks of an anthropotécnica called “neotenia”, is the incorporation of infantile and juvenile traces into the blood flow DNA (phylogenesis of the species). Man became an animal with eternally jovial features. We never stop learning and we are not born “ready.” From this we have the notion that the man is an animal that has a mother, a mother to give attention to this being “different” from those who had the fur and that the mother went from a simple procreative for a caregiver, that is, an aesthetic without hairs attracted the maternal gaze to something that was initially weak and that would need care more than the others. Then the “others” ended up dying or being left aside and only that abortion passed to be the beautiful in the maternal eyes precisely by the time now integral to take care of him in a situation of isolation.
Modern anthropology itself and phrenology speak of how the human head and face are of great importance in our evolution. It seems that the mother looking at the baby absent from her hair was attracted by a facial aesthetic. This creates, according to Sloterdijk, an interfaciality. If people look at each other, there arises a nontrivial space, which can not be constructed in physical or geometric terms - the interfacial space. Here, it does not help even if I use a tape measure to determine the distance between the tip of my nose and your nose. The interfacial relation creates a spatial relation of fact unique. He describes this interfaciality in terms of a mother / child interface.

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As we take the Sloterdijk road we will understand why selfie has become fashionable. There is something intoxicating in the contemplation of faces because this contemplation is embedded in our ontogenetic and phylogenetic development. Nothing better to feel as good as she felt when, as she stepped out of the water and into the air, she saw the awful feeling of helplessness melt away in the lullaby of the resonance found in the white screen system - black holes, which are the breasts on the cheeks and the eyes of the mother. “White cloth and black holes” are an “abstract machine of rostity,” say Deleuze and Guattarri. The powers that are the culture itself agitate our relationships by producing the types that are our faces. But if we read Deleuze and Guattari from Sloterdijk, we will not see them solely as two philosophers who tell a narrative of a machine whose sole purpose is standardization, the creation of “strong organization.” We can also see the protraction. This, for the German philosopher, is linked to the situation of postnatal bond. Here they create a thesis that it was the child who made the woman’s breast and the mother who made the child’s lips.
We also have the story of Baubó that is in Homeric work. The figures of Baubô in history are those of a woman who either opens the vagina or that has a face drawn in the belly, often making the mouth coincide with vulva. As Baubo, man made the womb the first place of truth.
If you want to see more:
Deleuze and Guattari. Thousand Plateaus. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1996, chap. 7 (Brazilian version)
Baier, Annette. Reflections on how we live. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 246.