THIS IS A DRAFT VERSION FOR REVIEW.
Bubbles. Spheres Volume I: Microspherology
By Peter Sloterdijk
Translated by Wieland Hoban
Reviewed by John David Ebert
The first volume of Peter Sloterdijk’s theoretical opus Spheres is now available in English translation from Semiotexte and is due out shortly. This volume, entitled Bubbles, investigates those types of social spheres which Sloterdijk terms “microspheres,” which have to do with personal, one-to-one human relationships, especially of the amniotic kind. The second volume, Globes, articulates his idea of “macrospheres,” or the cosmological containers inside which humanity has been situated until about the 15th century, while the final volume, Foams, articulates the fate of spheres in the Modern world, in which each individual inhabits his or her own sphere, all of which rub up against one another to create a kind of social “foam.”
[details=Continue reading]The reader familiar with esoteric traditions will at once recognize that the first volume updates the old microcosmic idea of the personal destiny and fate of the human soul, while the second volume is a recasting of what the Neoplatonists once termed the anima mundi or World Soul. The third volume, however, is entirely non-traditional, since the idea of each individual occupying his own sphere is rather unique to Western Modernity, a society that specializes, one might say, in generating lonely individuals.
Bubbles explores, then, this idea of the microsphere, that is to say, one on one human relationships. Sloterdijk makes the rather startling assertion that we are actually never alone psychologically. Even in the womb, the existence of a Levinasian Other was actually the placenta, according to Sloterdijk, and the absence of the placenta leaves a kind of etheric scar on the human psyche such that it is like Orpheus always yearning for his lost Eurydice. The ancient myth of the double—in Egypt, the ka, or in Rome, the genius—is an attempt to account for this missing piece of the human psyche. This is a startling, and very fresh idea, to say the least.
Another microsphere is the personal relationship between the mother and the embryo in the womb, especially forming what Sloterdijk calls a sonosphere, in which the embryo can, indeed, hear sounds going on outside the womb. There are relationships formed by lovers, another kind of microsphere; and twins, especially mythical twins like Christ and Judas, who form interfacial dyads.
The book opens with a sustained meditation on Yahweh’s creation of Adam as a clay vessel into which Yahweh breathes life. We are, according to Sloterdijk, always part of a breathed commune, for the gods are forever pictured in ancient myth breathing life into humans, who are therefore always conceived as dyadic: man plus God. But then, in our relationships with the Other, we are always, in one way or another, breathed upon, and are therefore constantly in an intimate microspheric interinvolvement with someone else. Sloterdijk calls this the “Breathed Commune.”
The book ends, symmetrically, with a meditation on Mary’s giving birth to Christ, as an image of the mother-child dyad that brings the reader up to the edge of the Renaissance, when the major spheric disintegration took place once Copernicus et. al. started to question the notion of being encased inside whirling cosmic macrospheres. When those spheres were shattered, all hell, did indeed, break loose, and humanity was set on the path toward Nietzsche’s annunciation of the death of God as a disguised cry that the human being now, for the first time ever, faced a gigantic cosmos alone and unprotected by any metaphysical immune system. Hence, the anxieties of the 20th century, its chaos of wars and its profusion of sages, each of whom desperately attempts to offer a pharmaceutical balm to soothe the anxiety of being-in-the-world, as Heidegger put it.
Sloterdijk, indeed, picks up from where Heidegger left off, for it was Heidegger’s primary task to situate the lonely philosophical Ego into a specific and very concrete world, where he is always already engaged in doing something, thus putting an end to the subject-object dichotomy that had haunted philosophy since Descartes. Sloterdijk picks up the tradition of embedding the individual in a context by saying that not only is the human already in the world doing something, but he is specifically inside a container of some sort that functions as an extension of the mother womb. He or she is always involved with someone—even when no one appears to be present—inside an invisible environment of one ontological sort or another. Ontology, then, is applied immunology.
If it is the task of the artist, as both Heidegger and McLuhan pointed out, to make invisible environments perceptible through art, Sloterdijk, as a theoretician, is performing something very similar, for he is drawing our attention to the invisible worlds that very often surround us without our even noticing them, including missing human Others.
Bubbles is a brilliant work from a thinker whose main engagement has been to build bridges between postmodern thought and the kinds of Modernist macronarratives that had been typical of the German mentality prior to World War II. Sloterdijk, unlike most of the French theoreticians, is not comfortable tossing the history of great German metaphysics aside in favor of deconstructing them and thus neutralizing their authoritarian validity. He wants to retain what was great in that tradition—namely, its penchant for metaphysics—in an age that no longer gives metaphysical thought much validity (at least, not in the academic world). Consequently, metaphysics has suffered the fate of being tossed into the murky and intellectually irresponsible bargain bin of the New Age, where such ideas are treated with rampant anti-intellectualism and scorn for cultivated and reasoned discourse generally. New Agers can neither write well, nor think clearly, but Sloterdijk stands, for the thoughtful person who remains hesitant, in spite of the dazzling profusion and brilliance of French po-mo thought, to just discard such ideas without further ado. After all, the entire history of human civilization was built out of metaphysical ideas. Surely, they must have had some validity to them?
Admittedly, the danger of adhering to them—Nazi mysticism is a classic case—_can_lead to annihilation wars when they are taken dogmatically or connected to political contexts. However, kept safely out of the arena of politics, metaphysics is surely food for the soul, capable of enlivening and expanding its horizons without necessarily dimming the mind’s intellectual capacities.
In sum: for those readers who like esoteric ideas and are simultaneously interested in postmodern thinking, Sloterdijk is your man. Habermas, predictably, has accused him of regressing to murky German metaphysics, but I don’t think that is the case: rather, Sloterdijk enters the arena of murky ideas with a very clear and sober intellect polished by his thorough immersion in French postmodern theory, so that it is an entirely different experience from reading Spengler, say, or Wagner’s intellectually torturous essays. Postmodern thinking sharpens the intellect and enables it to discern valuable metaphysical ideas from useless ones due to its inherent skepticism. In fact, anyone with a sober head who is interested in metaphysics should soak themselves in postmodern theory first; then go back, once one’s mental immune system has been built up, to retrieve from the midden heap what looks like it might still be usable.
I think the idea of micro and macrospheres is still a good and useful tool for illuminating cultural problems and I am glad that someone like Sloterdijk has taken the necessary time and trouble to guide us through them from an altogether new, and very valuable, vantage point.
I look forward to the second volume.[/details]
Start Date: April 13, 2017
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There will be a dedicated sub-channel for Sloterdijk/Spheres under the Readers Undeground main channel.
Each major section will have an general, open topic created by the moderator and posted each week. Readers are welcome and encouraged to expand the conversation with their own topics and replies.
We’ll do one live video hangout every two weeks using the Cosmos Zoom video conferencing account, following the scehdule below.
These will be collaborative diaologues hosted by @johndavidebert, with @madrush in support, playing the MC role. After a brief introduction by JDE to section we’re covering, we will open up the conversation. If the numbers warrant we can break into smaller groups and experiment with formats, recognizing that our conversational space itself is a kind bubble that can be inspired in various ways.
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All hangouts will take place at 12 pm MDT, unless otherwise indicated.
April 27, 12 PM Mountain Time
- Preliminary Notes
- Introduction: The Allies; or, The Breathed Commune
[details=See all]###Conversation 2
May 11, 12 PM Mountain Time
- Preliminary Reflections: Thinking the Interior
- Heart Operation; or, On the Eucharistic Excess
- Between Faces – On the Appearance of the Interfacial Intimate Sphere
- Humans in the Magic Circle – On the Intellectual History of the Fascination with Closeness
- Excursus 1: Thought Transmission
- The Retreat Within the Mother – Groundwork for a Negative Gynecology
- Excursus 2: Nobjects and Un-Relationships
- Excursus 3: The Egg PrincipleInternalization and Encasement
- Excursus 4: “In Dasein There Lies an Essential Tendency toward Closeness.” – Heidegger’s Doctrine of Existential Place
- The Primal Companion – Requiem for Discarded Organ
Excursus 5: The Black Plantation – A Note on Trees of Life and Enlivement Machines
- Soul Partitions – Angels—Twins—Doubles
- Excusus 6: Sphereic Mourning – On Nobject Loss and the Difficulty of Saying What Is Missing
- Excursus 7: On the Difference Between and Idiot and an Angel
- The Siren Stage – On the First Sonsospheric Alliance
- Excursus 9: Where Lacan Starts to Go Wrong
- Closer to Me Than I Am Myself – A Theological Preparation for the Theory of the Shared Inside
- Excursus 10: Matris in gremio – A Mriological Cricket
- Transition: On Ecstatic Immanence
John David Ebert is a cultural critic and author of 19 books, including Art After Metaphysics, The Age of Catastrophe and The New Media Invasion. He is also the author of the Scene-by-Scene series, the most recent of which are Videodrome Scene-by-Sciene and Blade Runner Scene-by-Scene. His websites are cinemadiscourse.com and also culturaldiscourse.com. He has free lectures on various philosophers such as Jean Gebser and Martin Heidegger on YouTube.
Marco V Morelli is the founder and CCO of Cosmos Co-op and creative director of Metapsychosis journal.
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THIS IS A DRAFT VERSION FOR REVIEW.