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.


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Dial: I'm not sure exactly how Kristeva uses the term abject, for example.

You can read an overview of the meaning of "abject" in Kristeva's (psychoanalytic) work here.  A brief definition:  "The abject refers to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other."  This is why I imagined there might be a connection to Sloterdijk's term, "monstrous," which is a manifestation that impinges on and often shows the frailty of our order (the fragility of our bubbles or spheres).  Kristeva also relates this subject-object breakdowns, and the responses thereto, to religious experience, which I think is appropriate (but I do not agree with her [Freudian] framing that religious experience is just  a covering over of the abject horror response).

Dial:  I would relate to this - bowdlerizing the term and Sloterdijk somewhat - as a form of tantra. And, of course, Sloterdijk spent some time with that tantric trickster Osho, who is one more possible reason to recommend him as a source of IPM. I say this, not because Osho is an impeccable source, but simply because it evidences that S. will have engaged in the simple practice of being present/immanent as a means to setting the world in motion. (The world one is present to, that is) That is, he will have personal experience of how being present allows the elements of the moment to reflexively fashion their own opening in that 'mise-en-abyme of sticky intimacy' he is quoted on above.

This is interesting; I'm open to this possibility as well.  And tantra, with its deliberate crossing of taboo boundaries (in some of its forms), seems also to play with the horrific/transcendental polarity of the abject.  I note also the use of the term 'mise-en-abyme' above, which might (affirmatively) answer your question about whether there is a fractal dimension to Sloterdijk's model of spheric microgenesis.

Dial:  I don't yet have much of a grasp of 'monstrous' in Sloterdijk's lexicon. It has appeared in ways that seem contradictory to me.

Yes, it has seemed so to me as well, and I also don't have a clear grasp of it.  But I wonder, given some of the above, if he is using it with deliberate ambiguity.

Dial:  I know that connections elsewhere on the board have been made between Chthulu and the monstrous. I'm committed to a positive view of existence - simply as a pragmatic article of faith - so frightening myself with an unholy animistic void lurking to overcome/consume is something I avoid! Truly though, my experience is that reality held within attention balances, deepens and ‘sweetens’. This consistent feedback is the basis of my faith. To construct an approach based around Chthulu would be to place one’s datum point in what Theravaden buddhism calls the dukkha-nanas. And these dukkha-nanas are in turn called – following St John of the Cross - the Dark Night in certain Buddhist circles. I’m not sure how one would arrive at a philosophy of excess via the Dark Night.

In my case, I also do not orient towards Cthulhu, seriously, in any religious sense.  I've enjoyed playing with the references, in a literary and philosophical way, but I also prefer to orient more positively towards existence when it comes to my actual religious practice.

Dial:  One more thought: You note the dual meanings of monstrous - as 'showing' both the sacred and the natural. Jane Bennet views human with animal/object crossings - something decidedly unnatural - as one of the sites for 'enchantment'. Enchantment being that altered state she views as key to the generosity Sloterjijk also recommends. Somewhere in the middle of Kristeva's abjection, Sloterdijk's monstrous, and Bennet's enchantment is the clearing where life gathers and mobilizes itself.

Yes, this sounds promising.  If you check out the brief Kristeva overview I linked above, you'll see references there to human/animal boundaries and crossings.  I think I might side with Bennet (and Abram), in seeing such liminal zones as zones, not only of horror, but of enchantment.

Theurj:  It seems Slot has similar ideas in that there is no absolute Whole, but is it related to Lakoff and company's ideas? Aside from such generalizations as I've made?

There appears to be an indirect link, in his rooting of our increasingly expanded and sophisticated spheric spaces in the embodied, pre-conceptual experience of infancy, and in his tracing of our notions of intimacy to various historical embodied metaphors (mother-child facial mimesis and entrainment, ritual or mythic exchanging or eating hearts, receiving "substances" through the eyes, etc), but I've seen no direct reference to L&J in his work yet (and the copy of the book I have does not have an index, darn it).

Thanks for the Kristeva link. I've had a quick glance and  'the abject' seems a not-unfamiliar concept to me. I'll read it more carefully with interest.

And, yes, in regard to you last comment on horror. I'd like to recant just a little and walk on the wild side with Chthulu for a moment. I now recall waking/fleeing from sleep and a dream, long ago, in absolute terror at this empty space that had opened itself before me. A void that contained nothing discernible save the suggestion of, how do I say this, 'unspeakable horror'. I recognized at the time it was the projection of inchoate fears, which hardly reduced just how powerful the fear was. Somewhat laughable, now, perhaps, but exactly as described, then. I also recall this void as having  either been precipitated by a woman/women, or containing something female about it. I can only hope this dim memory isn't the start of something. I won't tempt the spirits by appending any mocking smileys to that last comment - who knows?  

All this is to say, if the projection of such fears is your baseline, why not meet it head on and go with Chthulu.  It might well be a valuable tantric exercise in the consumption of 'what is' for growth and transformation. To be able to/forced to, stabilize and characterize any aspect of existence in such a way is a blessing if it serves to transform. If Chthulu can serve, then have at it - or vice versa, as the case may be..

Yes, I was thinking something similar yesterday:  Cthulhu could certainly make a worthy tantric deity.  So I'm not opposed to spiritually orienting towards him; that just hasn't been my practice.  (I did practice, for a time, with a particular wrathful form of Bon guardian deity or goddess, and that was powerful...and it challenged me and pushed my buttons, as one might expect, as I tried to understand how to relate to or "allow in" some of her more wrathful and fearsome aspects.)

I am once again reminded of Colonel Kurtz's infamous speech from Apocalypse Now at this link. Truly horrific, truly liberating.

And Wm. James on the sick soul from this post, a variety of religious experience.

Yes, I like the idea of conceiving of spherological formation via expansion and contraction -- which is reminiscent, to me, not only of Zen teachings, but also of the Time-Space-Knowledge teachings of Tarthang Tulku.  Which is perhaps appropriate, as Sloterdijk's work is essentially a meditation on "space" intended to complement and extend Heidegger's meditations on "time."

That sounds interesting. Do you think that the Time-Space-Knowledge teachings are such that one can find them directly in everyday lived experience?

The idea that I had been playing with in my paper (that inspired me to begin investigating Sloterdijk's work) was the polar notion of enclosure/disenclosure, the former related to the formation and embodiment of autopoietic systems or holons (individual and social, following the work of Varela, Gendlin, and others), the latter related to kenosis, the self-emptying or auto-deconstruction of holons (here, taking a cue from Nancy's work).  Sloterdijk's "bubble" metaphor is apt, since we all expect bubbles eventually to pop.

Yes, this is what I had in mind with expansion and contraction - expansion the creative production of difference/newness/objects, contraction the dissolution of the same. Although, I'm not sure it's quite that simple when experienced more closely. My experience with meditation on expansion/contraction is that each always already contains the other: contraction within expansion, expansion within contraction. Which is to say, the break-down of one form is at one and the same moment the birth into another - there is a constant flow. Originally, I experienced the relationship as some sort of becoming yin/yang. While that is not inaccurate, my mind is beginning to see/intuit the relationship, somewhat differently, as one that curves back upon itself. I cannot see this too clearly and my non-existent grasp of the physics/mathematics of curved space time is not up to trying to model it by those means. Perhaps it will make itself more apparent in time.

Concerning the irregular "foam" metaphor, one thing I think of is Harman's suggestion that, while objects might be bottomless, they are not necessarily contained in an infinite array of larger objects - that there may be an upper "limit" at any given time, such that we can image a kind of a bottomless sea of objects with an irregular upper-level surface.  I'm not sure I buy this, but I think it's worth exploring.  I'm also thinking of Harman's and Bryant's suggestion that any relation between objects can also be considered an object.  I'm wondering if Sloterdijk's spheres or bubbles might be a useful way of visualizing and/or languaging this.

My speculative notion is that all is immanent - one flat ontology - and the expansion and contraction of what is happens according to reality curving back upon itself as already suggested. The model is one of different densities contained within one one materia, surely? The dissolution is a falling away of forms in 'degradation', then on into less dense forms of energy. Expansion, in its turn is the birthing of forms out of these less dense forms of energy. And there is also the becoming aspect of the universe to factor in – its ‘teleology’. Is the ‘final’ state of this model a perfectly balanced sphere in form? – one that is both in constant productive play and perfect still poise? Of course, that is always already the case, and the movement is to ever fuller manifestation. I know this sort of talk is rather old school Integral in Post Metaphysical circles, and out of favor, but it works for me to see the world as always already formed at more subtle levels of existence and that form becoming ever more expressed. Embodiment, after all, is in both time and space. And the pulse of expansion/contraction is producing an ever fuller world.

The limit of science of course, is the limit of its tools to experience (aka 'measure’) and hence model the less dense forms of energy existing. Coming back to Harman for a moment, he has suggested that metaphor rules – even in science. One might say, then, that the limits of science are contained in the limits of its metaphors. And the limits of its metaphors bound to the limits of its means to explore reality. Whereas Eckhart, Dogen  -and you and I – actually have a more sophisticated method of experience and measurement at our disposal. Well, perhaps not at our ‘disposal’, but there to be cultivated, to the degree we are able/desire.

Physics speak of the curvature of space and time; I wonder, can Sloterdijk's model of the sphere and bubbles be worked into a physical model which curves back upon itself? What commonalities are there between the physics of foam and the physics of time and space as found in contemporary physics? I would be surprised if Sloterdijk doesn't discuss this at some point.


Excellent speech and thread at link.

This reminds me of an insight that was quite formative to me: racism as an inability to accept otherness. And 'otherness' here meaning an acceptance of aspects within reality that cannot be assimilated, cannot be explained. An acceptance of otherness is equivalent to an acceptance of irreducible mystery as well as the limits of one's self. This won't be news to anyone here, but it struck me very forcibly when younger. 

And there are links, also, to the way that Bennet/Schiller links ethics with the ability to discern specificity. 

Metta practice shows me this, also... I will say more when I respond to Balder's request re Bennet.

edit: to clarify - to accept others is not to understand them, but to come to accept that one never will - that there is something irreducibly other and unable to be understood about the other - hmm - tones of  the 'withdrawn object' here. I wonder could this be re-formulated in terms of Joel Morrison's irreducibility? (sp)

theurj said:

I am once again reminded of Colonel Kurtz's infamous speech from Apocalypse Now at this link. Truly horrific, truly liberating.

Embodiment, after all, is in both time and space. And the pulse of expansion/contraction is producing an ever fuller world. The end of that process won't result in the end of the production of manifest novelty, but rather a stabilized position which reapprises 'objecthood' to find it in operation within a stabilized 'style' of becoming. By this I mean a set of attitudes/dispositions which enable the free production of novelty with neither aversion nor clinging. Elsewhere I have called this a movement from failure to failure. That is the projected idealizations of the mind fail to manifest fully and from that platform a new idealized project is formed. That in turn fails to manifest fully and so on. And this dynamic is infinite. What may be stabilized, however, is a still point within/across this dynamic. And this ‘still point’ – that set of attitudes/dispositions mentioned above will take place in either extended human consciousness and its manifest productions (as per both Lakoff and Johnson, Andy Clark et al, and as per Schelling), or it will be evident in the cognition of the intelligence that emerges in the Technium - to return for a moment to where I came in to respond to Thomas.

I fear, however, I'm getting ahead of matters and into sketching too briefly my own pet theories (true or otherwise) of how things are. I will desist on that front for now so as to avoid confusion and likely boredom.


A nice note, here that relates to foam and the multiverses suggested/implied in previous posts. This is Robert Harrison discussing extinction with Stanford colleague Ursula Heise. The excerpt below follows some comments from Heise on how science fiction treats our encounter with radical biological otherness. Harrison in turn talks of the movie Microcosmos in which the tiny animal life of French fields is presented to the viewer up close and without comment:

These alien beings don’t only look like alien beings when you see them up close, but if you have any basic understanding of how the world appears to these different species. There’s this famous essay ‘What is it like to be a Bat’ …. Thomas Nagel’s famous essay, others what is it like to be a worm. So many of these species live in worlds that have nothing to do with the world we live in. We live in the same space on the same planet but our conception of space, time, color, dimension, distance….. we have completely different life forms that come with completely different planets – they live on completely different planets than we do from the experiential perceptual point of view…… there is an infinite amount of worlds contained in one biosphere from the particular point of view of how species inhabit it.

I should note the discussion is via podcast, and the particular excerpt recorded above is around the 25 minute mark.


And I can’t resist throwing in this excerpt from Ivakhiv on Wilber. It’s part of a longer post that is balanced and quite amusing (Ken’s self-assessments are not always entirely modest) in parts. I include it only because it too speaks to the multiversal and refractory nature of ‘our’ world. The entire post is worth reading.

…there are enough places in his writing, especially of the last decade or so, when he brings in the right amount of nuance to render these criticisms moot. In particular, his “post-metaphysical” turn (a.k.a. “Wilber-5“) — a term he uses in a more or less Kantian-Habermasian-Heideggerian sense — does away with assumptions about any ontological “givens” in the structure of the universe. Instead, it accepts that everything is relative and changing — relative and changing in some precisely nuanced and complex ways, which is what makes the framework so original — and our position as theorists of it no longer presumes an imagined objectivity. We are within it, and our knowledge of it is immanent and dependent on our position within it and perspective from which we observe it (at a given moment).

An excerpt from recent readings:


"There is no doubt: on our phenomenological expedition through the formal sequence of bipolar closeness and intimacy spheres, we have now passed the threshold to the narrower center of gravitation and gravidity.  From here on, intimacy means proximity to the barrier which seals off the inside of the mother from the public world.  If a confrontation occurs between the eye and the womb's entrance -- recall Hindu sculptures at cave entrances in the spape of the yoni-vulva -- the examination of the field of intimacy enters its critical phase.  This is where it transpires whether subject and object separate in the sense of the classical knowledge relation, or whether the subject enters the object to such an extent that the latter gives up its object character, indeed its presence and capacity for oppositeness as such.  On the second of these paths, a bizarre epistemological affair develops between the vulva and its observer that will put an end to all externality and concreteness.  In its own precarious way, the vulva belongs to those ungiven objects -- Thomas Macho calls them "nobjects" -- that we shall discuss directly here, and indirectly in all subsequent chapters.  At the "sight" of them, the observer can be sucked in or de-positioned -- up to a point where there is no longer anything concretely present before him.  He only sees the woman's thing as long as he stays before it as a formal observer.  If he chose this as his final position, he would not be a seeker in the sense of a para-metaphysical striving to contemplate the basis of things, but an observer, a voyeur, a naturalist, a scientist -- for example, a gynecologist, who studies the female genital system unimpressed by all effective metaphors of homecoming.  At most, he could provide -- as Hans Peter Duerr demonstrates in his book Intimitat [Intimacy] -- a baroque ethno-history of vulva-related ideas, practices and affects in different cultures.  With this relatively young cognitive attitude, it is possible to treat the vulva, as an anatomical or ethnographic object, descriptively and operatively without motivational derivatives of the post-Neolithic pushing and pulling behavior at the cave entrance coming into play.  What sets positive gynecology -- essentially a product of Aristotelian thought and its continuation in the neo-European life sciences -- apart from older traditional wisdom is that it can stand fast before the once so magical female and maternal portal in an objectifying, and thus emancipating, certainty of distance.  Where the investigative eye penetrates deeper, it simply produces additional surface views of levels situated further inside: uteroscopy is simply the continuation of vulvoscopy by technical means.  One could call the organ image gained through this view a vulvogram.  Where this is made proficiently using the imaging procedures available, the observer is not given any reason whatsoever to doubt his impartial eyesight.  The visibility of the vulva as a facing object ensures that the observer is not absorbed by it.  Seeing here means having the calm freedom to attain, in accordance with the axioms of the Greek epistemes and at the necessary distance from things, a dispositionary knowledge of them.  It is quite different with the old para-metaphysical reverence before the gate to the inner world of the mother.  Whoever believes in ritual acts of approach that they are standing before this entrance of all entrances, or envisages it in symbolic imagination, is immediately affected by a suction that is meant to make the beholder's senses reel. Where the real Baubo -- Nietzsche's crown witness to a theory of truth made discreet once more -- comes into view, seeing itself has little future.  The seeker's eye here wants to, and must, be broken by its object. The pupils dilate before the sucking portal.  As he comes closer, the beholder will feel as if a powerful warning legend had just glided past him: the last object before the great attainment of knowledge!  And in reality, as soon as the entrants had passed through the grotto gate, they would encounter the tropical night; and the fall of this exquisite night would mark the end of everything based on clearing, distance and concreteness.  From now on, asking about the intimate has its price for the analytical intelligence too.


In the following, we shall weave the fiction that we are able to split our adventurous intelligence in such a way that one half of it takes up a position at the entry ramp to the mystical cave -- still viewing it from the outside, that is -- while the other half is initiated to enter the homogeneous totality of darkness.  The two halves should remain in contact during the excursion -- the one inside by reporting its states in the objectless sphere to the outside, and the one waiting ante portas by sending suggestions for the verbalization of the indescribable into the cave.  This split arrangement takes into account that the focus of our investigation does not lie in the aim to produce mystical experience here and now, but rather in the project of advancing a theory of dyadic intimacy to the point where speaking theory has normally turned into silent theory.  The all-too-familiar phenomenon of mystical muteness is due here to the fact that because of the observer's coalescence with the most intimate sphere, the bipolar structure of cognition and relation fades in his perception.  Once the point of being-inside has been reached, all language games of observing and facing must indeed come to an end.  A critical theory of being-in-the-cave only becomes possible through the introduction of a third element -- in our case that means the doubling of the cave explorer, with one going bravely ahead and the other cautiously staying behind.  This leads to a division of labor between yearning and skepticism, fusion and reserve.  This arrangement involves conceding to the mystical tradition that the one inside will, indeed, inevitably repeat the insurmountable cave truth: that here, the One is everything.  Someone who were truly all the way inside could only affirm the basic monistic doctrines of the last millennia, which the mystically interested from all areas so like to say are the same in all cultures.  The observing partial intelligence at the cave entrance, on the other hand, here in the role of participating third part, insists that whatever things the exprerimental mystic experiences in the cave can only be aspects of the dyad.  If the pioneer claims to have found unimpaired unity within, one can tell him outright about the biune nature of the situation.  In this manner, the union-mystical semblance to which the coalesced witness is exposed in the cave can be simultaneously respected and dethroned: interest in the progress of the dual theory is satisfied without having to deny the insights of mystical monism.  Then the acute appearance of unity without a second element as a form of consciousness can even be understood as the most revealing figure of the bipolar-spheric coalescence taking place in actu.  The reality of the relationship between the mother and the unborn includes, in a certain sense, the inexistence of this relationship as such for the child. As long as it is living inside the mother, it in fact floats in a sort of non-duality: in the perception, its containedness in the "mother" is confirmed by the termination of that connection as an acute proof of the given fusion.  Whoever experiences the scene is either primarily or secondarily an infans, that is to say a fetus or a mystic, significantly speechless in both positions and with no connection to a facing opposite.  The relation itself only exists in moments when it has to be denied or de-thematized. Part of the reality of this singular relationship is that where it exists, it precisely does not exist for the one contained: for the fetus there is no counterpart to which it might be interpersonally or inter-objectively related; there is nothing else to confirm its real being-in.  The same applies by analogy to the mystic; in proximity to the actually present nobject, the subject too is disarmed and dissolved.  Taking up Thomas Macho's observations on the logic of basic psychoanalytical principles, we will examine this logical oddity -- that one class of closeness relationships with the other is only real if these are denied or erased as relationships -- more closely in the following...." (Sloterdijk, Bubbles, pp. 280-289)

An additional excerpt (posted also on the OOO thread):


"Black Circle offers a realistic snapshot of fetal reality.  Whatever truth there might be in the equation of the womb and Nirvana, one certainly cannot claim that the incipient individual experiences a state of complete emptiness at any point.  The fetus with which the mother is pregnant is itself pregnant with its own tendency to fill out its space and affirm itself within it.  The child's movements, with their cheerfully enigmatic "cat in the bag" impressions, testify to this intra-uterine expansionism.  And recent findings in the field of psychoacoustic fetal research dismiss any such illusions about an initial emptiness of experience once and for all: the floating being in the amniotic waters inhabits an acoustic event space in which its sense of hearing is subjected to constant stimulation.

No author of the twentieth century has found such evocative formulations for the tendentious nature of fetal swelling as the expressionist Schellingian Marxist Ernst Block.  In the generative center of his reflection we find a changing figure of pregnancy-mimetic character.  Block sees tensions of the tendency arising from the darkness of the lived moment in every conscious life, and these move towards clearing, world formation, and liberation by turning to the concrete.  His famous initiatory formulas are like mottos of a fetality that has been made to speak:....

[Snip](Bloch's descriptions of fetal experiences and stage transitions)[/Snip]

If one reads these darkness-to-light formulas as peri-natal figures of the urge to be born, there is an error of number: from a psychological perspective, coming-into-the-world precisely does not mean the movement from the I to the We, but rather the splitting of the archaic biune We into the ego and its second element, simultaneously crystallizing out the third.  This splitting is possible because the medially conditioned nature of the biunity means that it always has three parts; in undistorted development, the dyadic triad is always simply reshuffled, concretized, expanded and modernized:

1 fetus --- 2 (placental blood/mother's blood) --- 3 mother;
1 newborn --- 2 (own voice/mother's voice/mother's milk) --- 3 mother;
1 child --- 2 (language/father/mother's partner) --- 3 mother.

Because the middle element gains complexity, the child gradually develops into a competent exponent of its cultural system.  The trinitary structure of the primary dyad is given from the start, however.  What we call "mother and child" in the abbreviated terms of subject-object language are, in their mode of being, only ever poles of a dynamic in-between.

Therefore, as follows from these reflections, there can be nothing in the earliest life of the psyche that one could rightly describe as "primary narcissism."  Rather, there is a relationship of strict mutual exclusivity between the primary and the narcissistic.  The confused narcissism concepts of psychoanalysis are above all an expression of its fundamentally skewed conceptual disposition, and of the way it was misled by the object and imago concepts.  The true issues of the primary fetal and peri-natal world -- blood, amniotic fluid, voice, sonic bubble and breath -- are media of a pre-visual universe in which mirror concepts and their libidinous connotations are entirely out of place.  The child's earliest "auto"eroticisms are eo ipso based on games of resonance, not mirrorings of the self.  Hence the mature subject status lies not in the supposed turn towards the object, but rather in the ability to master inner and outer acts at higher medial levels; for the adult subject, that includes libidinous genital resonance with sexual partners -- which presupposes a well-tempered departure from the oldest media and their sublation in the later ones.  This is what a media-theoretically reformulated theory of sexuality would have to show..." (Sloterdijk, Bubbles, pp. 318-320).

I learned of a new English translation of a recent Sloterdijk text today: Neither Sun Nor Death.  Looks like it contains a good summary of the Spheres trilogy (which is useful for those of us who can't read the as-yet-untranslated books 2 and 3, Globes and Foams.)

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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