Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
I'm thinking Sloterdijk's work on "spherology" might make for an interesting interface with OOO ( <-- haha, look at those spheres!).
Here's an interview with him where he reviews his Spheres trilogy.
Bettina Funcke: Until the publication of your trilogy, the image of the sphere was hardly present in contemporary theoretical discourse. I'm wondering how you came across this metaphor, which has gained such importance for your thinking in recent years. Which authors or texts do you refer to?
Peter Sloterdijk: A given culture never possesses a complete vocabulary for itself. The current language games only ever emphasize select topics and leave other phenomena unaddressed. This applies as well to the vocabulary of theory in the late twentieth century. In past decades, one could speak elaborately and with great nuance about everything that had to do with the temporal structure of the modern world. Tons of books on the historicization, futurization, and processing of everything were published�most of which are completely unreadable today. By contrast, it was still comparatively difficult ten years ago to comment sensibly on the spatialization of existence in the modern world; a thick haze still covered the theory landscape. Until recently, there was a voluntary spatial blindness�because to the extent that temporal problems were seen as progressive and cool, the questions of space were thought to be old-fashioned and conservative, a matter for old men and shabby imperialists. Even the fascinating, novel chapters on space in Deleuze and Guattari's Thousand Plateaus couldn't change the situation, since they arrived too early for the chronophilic, or time-worshipping, zeitgeist of those days. The same goes for programmatic propositions in late Foucault�according to whom we again enter an age of space�which in their time were still unable to usher in a transition.
My Spheres trilogy obviously belongs to a widespread reversal among philosophical and cultural-theoretical discourses that has taken place in the strongholds of contemporary reflection over the course of the past decade. As I began in 1990, while a fellow at Bard College, in New York, I had only a vague premonition of this topological turn within cultural theory. Only now, after the completion of the trilogy, do I see more clearly how my work is connected with that of numerous colleagues around the world, such as Homi Bhabha, Arjun Appadurai, and Edward S. Casey. Even Ilya Kabakov's installation art and the work of architects like Frei Otto, Grimshaw and Partners, or Rem Koolhaas, belong to the circle of theoretical relations. At the time, I wanted to work with the figures of the circle and arrow in order to offer my students in Vienna and New York, who were mainly young artists, an introduction to philosophical thinking. I thought that graphic figures would be useful in that context.
I was also fascinated by a chalkboard drawing Martin Heidegger made around 1960, in a seminar in Switzerland, in order to help psychiatrists better understand his ontological theses. As far as I know, this is the only time that Heidegger made use of visual means to illustrate logical facts; he otherwise rejected such antiphilosophical aids. In the drawing, one can see five arrows, each of which is rushing toward a single semicircular horizon�a magnificently abstract symbolization of the term Dasein as the state of being cast in the direction of an always-receding world horizon (unfortunately, it's not known how the psychiatrists reacted to it). But I still recall how my antenna began to buzz back then, and during the following years a veritable archaeology of spatial thought emerged from this impulse. The main focus may have been Eurocentric, but there was a constant consideration of non-European cultures, in particular India and China. Incidentally, I also owe something to Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space, although later I quite stubbornly departed from his promptings.
BF: But in your work the term sphere plays such a crucial role, whereas in the other new discourses of space one encounters terms like place, dwelling, territory, local, global, and other words ending with the suffix �scape.
PS: There are different reasons for this, partly linguistic and partly factual. Particularly crucial here is that below the thin layer of modern language games, in which the word sphere plays only a marginal role, lies a very powerful old layer�one could call it the two-thousand-year domain of old-European "sphere thinking." As modern intellectuals, we have simply forgotten that in the era between Plato and Leibniz almost everything to be said about God and the world was expressed in terms of a spherology. Think about the magical basic principle of medieval theosophy, which says, God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. One could almost claim that the individualism of the modern era signifies an unconscious realization of this dogma. Even German semantics plays a role in my choice of terms, since between Goethe and Heidegger the word sphere is employed as an approximate synonym for the circle of life or world of meaning�and of course this already goes a ways toward accommodating my search for a language appropriate to animated, interpersonal, or surreal space.
BF: The subtitles of the three volumes of Spheres�Bubbles, Globes, and Foam�are similarly unusual, as if they were created in a linguistic realm that seems closer to everyday speech.
PS: The term metaphor that you used earlier makes me hesitate a bit because, in my opinion, words like sphere or globe are not metaphors but rather thought-images or, even better, thought-figures. After all, they first came out of geometry and had, beginning with Greek antiquity, a clear morphological sense, which turned into a cosmological sense after Plato. It is different with the titles of the first and third volumes, Bubbles and Foam. Here we are truly concerned with metaphors, at least on an initial reading. With Bubbles I tried to describe the dyadic space of resonance between people as we find it in symbiotic relations�mother and child, Philemon and Baucis, psychoanalyst and analysand, mystics and God, etc. By contrast, in addition to its metaphorical meaning, foam�I use it instead of the completely exhausted term society�has of course also a literal sense. From a physical perspective, it describes multichamber systems consisting of spaces formed by gas pressure and surface tensions, which restrict and deform one another according to fairly strict geometric laws. It seemed to me that modern urban systems could be easily understood with analogy to these exact, technical foam analyses. Spheres III emerged out of this intuition. One finds in this hybrid book a great deal of commentary on the transformation of sociology into a general theory of "air conditioning." Foam: That is, modern people live in "connected isolations," as the US architectural group Morphosis put it thirty years ago. In social foam there is no "communication"�this is also one of the words facing an apocalypse�but instead only inter-autistic and mimetic relations.
BF: While reading the books, it occurred to me that there are three different, successive points of orientation or even methods in each respective volume. Could one describe the first volume as esoteric, the second as exoteric, and the third as a Zeitdiagnostik, a diagnosis of the present moment?
PS: This question affects me in a very personal way because it's connected with a disturbingly deep diagnosis. It is true that the three volumes of Spheres don't follow one other in a singular trajectory; each has its own direction and its own climate. One could even wonder whether they really derive from the same author. The question is of course sophistical, since I know definitively that I wrote all three myself. However, this doesn't prove that I was always the same person in the seven years it took to write them. What guarantees that multiple personality disorder, an invention of postmodern doctors, doesn't simply represent the transition of modern literary criticism into the clinic, by which the disappearance of the author returns as the disintegration of the everyday personality?
As you know, I've always allowed myself as much freedom as possible in leaving the question open as to whether I'm a philosopher or a writer, but now you're forcing me into a corner. Since I ultimately speak as a philosopher and cannot envelop myself in artistic silence, I'll thus have to admit it: You're right. The beginning of the trilogy has an esoteric aspect, assuming that we understand the expression correctly. With its nearly seven hundred pages, Bubbles provides an excessive theory of pairs, a theory based on a fundamental irony. While everyday thought is firmly convinced it knows everything about pairs�namely, that they are the result of adding one plus one (biographically speaking, this means the effect of an "encounter")�I undertake the experiment to demonstrate to what extent the "being-a-pair" [Paar-Sein] precedes all encounters. In my pair analysis, the number two, or the dyad, appears as the absolute figure, the pure bipolar form. Accordingly, it always takes precedence over the two single units of which it seems to be "put together." This can be most easily demonstrated in the relationship between mother and child�or, even better, between fetus and placenta. With this we enter the terrain of a radicalized philosophical psychology that departs from the general faith in the priority of individuality. The truly esoteric is not found in the books on sale at the airport bookstore; it is depth psychology, which reminds us of pre-individual, pre-subjective, pre-egoistical conditions. This brings me very close to Lacan, who spoke occasionally of the "democratic esotericism" of psychoanalysis. And you can see what zones we enter in my book's relatively scandalous chapters on "negative gynecology" and prenatal existence in the womb�I completely understand why some readers have perceived this as macabre.
The second volume develops the public and political consequences of these basic assumptions; in this sense, it could be described as the exoteric component of the project. It examines the notion that older cultures have imagined the world primarily as a spirit-infused circle. I tried to show in Globes how the geometricization of the cosmos was first carried out by the Greeks; after that I reconstructed the geometricization of God under the neo-Platonic philosophers, which gave me the feeling of reopening one of the most exciting chapters in the history of ideas. Out of all this resulted, as if by itself, a philosophical history of globalization: First the universe was globalized with the help of geometry, then the earth was globalized with the help of capital.
Finally, in the third volume of Spheres, I have thematized the modern world in terms of a theory of spatial multiplicities. I begin with the idea that the world is not structured monospherically and all-communicatively, as the classical holists thought, but rather polyspherically and interidiotically. At the center of this volume is an immunological theory of architecture, because I maintain that houses are built immune systems. I thus provide on the one hand an interpretation of modern habitat, and on the other a new view of the mass container. But when I highlight the apartment and the sports stadium as the most important architectural innovations of the modern, it isn't out of art- or cultural-historical interest. Instead my aim is to give a new account of the history of atmospheres, and in my view, the apartment and the sports stadium are important primarily as atmospheric installations. They play a central role in the development of abundance, which defines the open secret of the modern. The praise of luxury with which the book ends is, in my opinion, the decisive act in terms of diagnosing the present.
BF: Especially in the third volume, you develop nothing less than a new, up-to-date terminology of critical theory by which you historically contextualize and delimit terms from the Frankfurt School. A far-reaching critique of the contemporary reception of critical theory's inheritance runs through the book. In particular, you criticize what you view as the misleading interpretation of this tradition by the American academy, leading you to rehearse the conceptual history and historical situating of terms such as revolution and society. Can you summarize what this critique consists of and why you think that an entirely new vocabulary needs to be invented?
PS: The reason a new vocabulary is necessary in the cultural sciences can be explained in seven simple words: because the old one is basically useless. And why? Because all previous natural languages, including theoretical discourse, were developed for a world of weight and solid substances. They are thus incapable of expressing the experiences of a world of lightness and relations. Consequently they are not suited to articulate the basic experiences of the modern and the postmodern, which construct a world based on mobilization and the easing of burdens. This already allows me to explain why, in my view, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School is outdated and must be replaced by a completely different discourse: Because of their Marxist heritage, critical theorists succumb to the realistic temptation of interpreting the light as appearance and the heavy as essence. Therefore they practice criticism in the old style in that they "expose" the lightness of appearance in the name of the heaviness of the real. In reality, I think that it is through the occurrence of abundance in the modern that the heavy has turned into appearance�and the "essential" now dwells in lightness, in the air, in the atmosphere. As soon as this is understood, the conditions of "criticism" change dramatically. Marx argued that all criticism begins with the critique of religion; I would say instead that all criticism begins with the critique of gravity. In addition, we can recognize that European "critical theory" did not survive the trip across the Atlantic unscathed. The authentic critical theory "at home" was, above all, a kind of secret theology: It treated the failures of creation (aka society) and criticized reality in the (unnamed) name of the infinite. This approach was so cleverly encoded that American sociologists and literary critics could argue unchallenged that they were reading a plea for a multicultural society.
BF: Your use of images, idiosyncratic for books of philosophy, recalls contemporaries in the German-speaking realm such as Alexander Kluge, Klaus Theweleit, and to a certain extent W.G. Sebald. The images are used not as illustrations but as parallel narratives. Could one also consider Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project as a historical model that likewise includes an extensive image section? The question of your reference to The Arcades Project suggests itself because this book also presents a widely diverse examination of spaces and atmospheres that have marked the contemporary moment. Is it fair to say that, in a way, your examinations of the stadium and the apartment house of the twentieth century are continuing Benjamin's studies of the emerging modern era's spatial conception and the arcades?
PS: The inclusion of images in the flow of the text is my answer to the transformation of spatial consciousness in modern theory. Considered in terms of media history, I no longer write my philosophical prose on the page of a book but on a monitor page�that is, virtually, in hypertext space. The monitor space is a close relation of the modern exhibition space, a kind of electronic white cube. When you work there, it is logical that you imagine a second and third text "next to" the verbal text, and this is exactly what authors who work with visual parallel-narratives are doing.
The reference to Walter Benjamin is absolutely necessary in this context, and I'm pleased that you've brought up his name. However, I must admit that my relationship to Benjamin is not simple. On the one hand, his Arcades Project is utterly exemplary for today's cultural theory because it already anticipates almost everything that was to become important later�the passion for the archive; the "micrological" examination of the detail; media theory; discourse analysis; and the search for a sovereign viewpoint from which one can grasp the capitalistic totality. On the other hand, I'm convinced that Benjamin's work reaches a dead end and that he failed as a theorist. In my forthcoming book, Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals: FY�r eine philosophische Theorie der Globalisierung (Inside the Internal Space of World Capital: For a Philosophical Theory of Globalization, 2005), you'll find a critique of Benjaminism that leads to a pretty devastating result. I accuse Benjamin of not really understanding, and thus only halfheartedly following, his own superb ideas around the creation of new interiors through capitalism. Even worse for me is the fact that he placed the historically outdated architectural type of the arcade at the center of this analysis, although already by his time it couldn't be ignored that the capitalistic interior had long since moved beyond the arcade stage. Sports stadiums, convention centers, large hotels, and resorts would have been far more worthy of Benjamin's attention. The whole idea of wanting to write an "ur-history of the nineteenth century" rests on a misconception. Thus I suggest examining the capitalistic interiors on their own relevant terms, which leads, consequently, to a theory of foam. What we need today is an "air-conditioning project" for large social entities or a generalized "greenhouse project." I think that in Spheres III one can already partly recognize what the beginnings of such a post-Benjaminian treatment of the pluralized spatial creations of the modern and postmodern might look like.
BF: Another post-Benjaminian book is Negri and Hardt's Empire. In the third volume of Spheres, you criticize these authors' approach, which rests on the term multitude. To what extent, in your opinion, is their investigation a failed effort?
PS: Let's first talk about Negri and Hardt's success: They have managed to give the current desire for radicality a novum organum, an accomplishment that deserves admiration. At the same time, I suspect that the secret behind the book's great success can be ascribed to its thinly veiled religious tones. At first one doesn't easily recognize the good old-left radicalism when Saint Francis takes the stage next to Marx and Deleuze. But this new alliance with the saints is instructive for the position of left radicalism in the post-Marxist situation. Whoever wants to practice fundamental opposition today needs allies who are not entirely of this world. In order to grasp the awkward situation of left radicalism, one should recall Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance. According to Festinger, ideologies that no longer match circumstances are reinterpreted by their believers until they appear to match them again�with the unavoidable result that theories become increasingly bizarre. Gershom Scholem clarified something similar in relation to the fate of Jewish prophetism. The gist of what he says is this: When prophetism fails, apocalypticism emerges; when apocalypticism fails, gnosis emerges. An analogous escalation can be observed in the political opposition movements since 1789: When the bourgeois revolution fails or is insufficient, left radicalism emerges; when left radicalism fails or is insufficient, the mystique of protest emerges. It seems to me that Negri has arrived at exactly this point. His "multitude" calls forth a community of angry saints in which the fire of pure opposition burns�yet it no longer offers a revolutionary project, instead testifying by its mere existence to a world counter to universal capitalism. Thus one cannot simply say that Negri's framework failed�it has already incorporated his failure. Perhaps it would be more accurate to claim that the political revolutionary has become transformed into a spiritual teacher. This is the price to be paid by anyone who seriously tries to develop a language of the left beyond resentment.
Reading Neither Sun Nor Death (a book containing several interviews with Slot), I just learned a bit of trivia that I thought you would appreciate, theurj. The central metaphor for intimacy in his first book, the bubble (blasen), has a double meaning in German: blasen means not only bubble, but fellatio.
Adds a new twist on "blowing bubbles."
Here's a quote by S. (which I've typed up while taking notes for my paper on an integral grammar of philosophy), which sets his project out in a way that provides an interesting contrast with OOO:
"The point for me [in choosing the metaphor of "bubble"] is to contribute to
dissolving the crushing heritages of the metaphysics of substance and of the isolated
Thing, which are still firmly anchored in people's mindsets: representations which, for
2500 years, have blinded Europeans by placing a grammatical mirage over what is called
the hard kernel of the real. The conception of substance has led us, almost since time
immemorial, to look for the essence of the world and of life and, to do so as regards only
that which can be apprehended in a concrete and individual manner, that which has an
existence by its matter and its form, that which, to the objects and the situations we
encounter, prove themselves always as their essence. As a result, the essential is, as a
general rule, conceived from an angle that falls under the ontology of the thing.
Substance is that which maintains the cohesion of the world at its innermost point.
Indeed, for general opinion, the only things that warrant our speaking of them are the ones
bearing the predicate "substantial." In the order of things and the order of words the same
bias reigns in favor of the solid, the tangible, the substantial, the fundamental. With this is
associated the belief according to which isolated things, objects, and individual physical
persons constitute the dorsal spine of the real. From this vantage point, the philosophical
grammar of our culture remains, as in the time of Aristotle, totally committed to
substantialism and individualism -- the recent turn toward a functionalist and cybernetic
style of thinking has affected this much less than is often claimed. In everyday life, we
remain metaphysicians of the hardcore -- which is to say that the belief in solid bodies, the
creed of hardware and individualism are anchored more deeply in us than is the latest discourse
to be added to our repertoire, namely that concerning the immaterial, media and the demi-
world that is emerging between the mind and silicon, the universe referred to by the name of
In placing the image of the bubble at the center of my reflections, I wish to underline my
serious intention to further the revision of substance fetishism and metaphysical individualism.
This means beginning with the most fragile, with what we have in common: that is, beginning
in the breathiest space, in a thin-walled structure, which, owing to its fragile form and
transparent appearance, already gives us to understand that we are supported neither by
a security in foundation, and less still by an inconcussum or some other rocky base, whether
outside or inside. It implies that we accept the suggestion to follow a movement of flight in
suspension, like a child blowing soap bubbles in the air with a straw, his/her gaze following
enthusiastically its works of art until the point that these colored things burst.
To formulate the same idea without images, my philosophical engagement in Spheres I follows
the principle of elevating to the highest order those categories that philosophical tradition
treats with a step-motherly attitude -- the categories of relation, of contact, of suspended
flight in a situation of mutual cohabitation, the fact of being contained in a "between" -- and
takes supposed substances and individuals merely as elements or poles of a history of flight in
suspension. This, however, is done not in the style of a philosophy of dialogue, but with the aid
of a profane or anthropological theory of shared space or the subjective field."
Neither Sun Nor Death, pp. 139-140.
Bruce has been gracious enough to allow me to join the forum and while I acknowledge that I'm probably way out of my league in the midst of the scholars here, I did want to share that I listened to John David Ebert's audio lectures on Sloterdijk's book "Bubbles." His lectures provided an accessible overview of the book and I saw a number of parallels to the Sloterdijk's concept of "spheres" and a number of other similar ideas from other authors, such as:
Complexes, memes, the transferrence-countertransferrence, mediating holons, Kosmic Habits, Evolutionary Givens, enactment as the creation of a "world", archetypal fields, and even to the Kabbalistic "Cube of Space"
In John David Ebert's overview, he emphasizes the immune system function of a sphere, but it seems to me that a major function is one of nourishment. A sphere would also need to be able to give one access to a needed energy, quality, archetype, food, etc...
The lectures on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UctSh4SANMc
Re-reading Slot's last quote, I don't find it antithetical to Bryant's OOO, since the later takes great pains to note that substance is not of the same order at what Slot criticizes. Granted Slot might have been to some degree accurate about the concrete or material base, to which Bryant still adheres with his immanent paradigm. Still, Bryant has of late be expounding on incorporeal machines. Plus he describes his new book thusly:
"Where The Democracy of Objects explored being in terms of the constituent elements that make it up– objects, or what I’m now calling 'machines' –Onto-Cartography explores relations or interactions between machines in worlds, assemblages, or networks (all three terms are synonymous)."
Hi, Joe, thanks for your recent post -- both for the post itself, and for re-highlighting for me the most recent quote by Sloterdijk I had posted, which I had forgotten but which will be useful to me in the paper I'm working on. As for your observation about the nourishment afforded by spheres, you might be interested in his discussion of various "spherical" topoi, nine in fact: Chirotop; Phonotop; Uterotop; Thermotop; Erotop; Ergotop; Alethotop; Thanatotop; and Nomotop. I believe there is a post which defines them earlier in this thread. I don't think any deals directly with nourishment, at least of the physical kind, but two which support a general field of nurturance and well-being are the uterotop and the thermotop. I have some references at home to look at regarding this, so I'll do that soon and post a little more info that might be of interest. I'd love to hear your associations to some of the integral and kabbalistic terms you mentioned, in the meantime.
"Historism and evolutionism -- the two legacies of the nineteenth century to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries -- have seared into the conviction of the later-born the insipid tenet that every thought is a product of its time. Whoever accepts this seems at first to have struck a good bargain, for historism frees the individual from the monstrous weight of the philosophia perennis and offers the possibility of traveling through time with lighter baggage. It suffices to place oneself at the leading edge of the development as a way of dealing with the drawback of relativism, that of one's own obsolescence. Historical thinking seeks to replace the absolute but illusory sovereignty that metaphysics granted with the relative sovereignty of thinking that is allowed to regard itself as advanced. Kierkegaard can teach us, however, that historism is a trick for attaining the vantage point of postmetaphysics at half the price..." (Sloterdijk, Philosophical Temperaments)
An interesting new interview with Sloterdijk:
Just looking at the first paragraph it's a P2P text! The topics also look quite interesting. I look forward to this read.
One point of interest in the Slot article is his notion of the 'biune' related to tech, like our smart phones. The movie Her illustrates this perfectly, a must see.
Browsing the JCRT journal I came upon this review of Spheres. I haven't read it yet, just bookmarking it here for future reading.
"Therefore, places of God -- in non-theological terms, places of co-subjectivity or co-existence or solidarity -- are not things that simply exist in the external space. They only come about as sites of activity of persons living together a priori or in a strong relationship. Hence the answer to the question 'Where?' in this case is, in one another. Perichoresis means that the milieu of the personson is entirely in the relationship itself. The persons contained in one anther in the shared space locate themselves in such a way that they illuminate and pervade and surround one another, without being harmed by the clarity of difference." (Sloterdijk, Bubbles, p. 607)