Sloterdijk Now

Theory Now

Series Editor: Ryan Bishop

Virilio Now, John Armitage

Baudrillard Now, Ryan Bishop

Sloterdijk Now, Stuart Elden

Sloterdijk Now




Individual chapters © their authors 2012, this collection © Polity Press 2012

First published in 2012 by Polity Press

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List of Contributors

List of Abbreviations

1Worlds, Engagements, Temperaments
Stuart Elden
2Sloterdijk’s Cynicism: Diogenes in the Marketplace
Babette Babich
3From Psychopolitics to Cosmopolitics: The Problem of Ressentiment
Sjoerd van Tuinen
4A Letter on Überhumanismus: Beyond Posthumanism and Transhumanism
Eduardo Mendieta
5The Coming-to-the-World of the Human Animal
Marie-Eve Morin
6A Public Intellectual
Jean-Pierre Couture
7The Language of Give and Take: Sloterdijk’s Stylistic Methods
Wieland Hoban
8Peter Sloterdijk and the Philosopher’s Stone
Nigel Thrift
9Literature in Sloterdijk’s Philosophy
Efraín Kristal
10The Time of the Crime of the Monstrous: On the Philosophical Justification of the Artificial
Peter Sloterdijk (translated by Wieland Hoban)




I would like to thank the contributors for their work in this volume and their advice at various stages, especially Eduardo Mendieta for his incisive and generous comments on the introduction. I am also grateful to Michael Eldred, Eliott Jarbe, Francisco Klauser, Sylvère Lotringer and Mario Wenning for their interest in Sloterdijk’s work; Ryan Bishop as series editor; Keith-Ansell Pearson for his encouragement of the project at initial review stage; and the two anonymous reviewers of the full manuscript. I am grateful to Wieland Hoban for his translation of Sloterdijk’s work for this volume, and advice on translation more generally. On behalf of all the contributors I also want to thank Emma Hutchinson and David Winters from Polity Press for their support, advice and interest in this project and to Clare Ansell and Susan Beer for their work on the production of the book.


Babette Babich is Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, and editor of the journal New Nietzsche Studies. Her books include Words in Blood, Like Flowers: Philosophy and Poetry, Music and Eros in Hölderlin, Nietzsche, and Heidegger (SUNY Press, 2006); Eines Gottes Glück voller Macht und Liebe: Beiträge zu Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Heidegger (Verlag der Bauhaus Universität Weimar, 2009) and Nietzsches Wissenschaftsphilosophie: ‘Die Wissenschaft unter der Optik des Künstlers zu sehn, die Kunst aber unter der des Lebens’ (Peter Lang, 2010).

Jean-Pierre Couture is Assistant Professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. He received his PhD in 2009 from the Université du Québec à Montréal on the political philosophy of Peter Sloterdijk. He is the author of several pieces on Sloterdijk’s work, including articles in Horizons Philosophiques, Society and Space, and Revue canadienne de science politique/Canadian Journal of Political Science.

Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Geography at Durham University, and editor of the journal Society and Space. He is the author and editor of several books, including Speaking Against Number: Heidegger, Language and the Politics of Calculation (Edinburgh University Press, 2006) and Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). The Birth of Territory is forthcoming in 2012. He is currently beginning work on a book entitled The Space of the World.

Wieland Hoban is a British composer and translator resident in Germany. He has published essays on contemporary music in German and English in various academic journals and collections. He is the English translator of Sloterdijk’s God’s Zeal and Derrida, an Egyptian (both Polity Press, 2009), and is currently working on the translation of the Sphären trilogy for Semiotext(e). He has also translated work by Theodor Adorno, including his Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction and volumes of his Correspondence.

Efraín Kristal is Professor and Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at UCLA. He is author of several books including Invisible Work: Borges and Translation (Vanderbilt University Press 2002), and of the essay on Aesthetics and Literature for the Blackwell Companion to Comparative Literature. He is also editor of the Cambridge Companion to the Latin American Novel (2005) and associate editor of the Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Novel (2011).

Eduardo Mendieta is Professor of Philosophy at Stony Brook University. He has published translations of and interviews with Enrique Dussel, Angela Y. Davis, Jürgen Habermas, Richard Rorty and Karl-Otto Apel. His most recent book is entitled Global Fragments: Globalizations, Latin Americanisms, and Critical Theory (SUNY Press, 2007). He is currently working on a book entitled Philosophy’s War: Nomos, Topos, Polemos.

Marie-Eve Morin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alberta. She is the author of Jenseits der brüderlichen Gemeinschaft: Das Gespräch zwischen Jacques Derrida und Jean-Luc Nancy (Ergon Press, 2006) and co-editor of Jean-Luc Nancy and Plural Thinking: Expositions of World, Politics, Art, and Sense (SUNY Press, forthcoming, with Peter Gratton). She is currently working on the Key Contemporary Thinkers volume on Nancy for Polity Press.

Peter Sloterdijk is Rektor and Professor of Philosophy and Media Theory at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe. He currently co-hosts the German television show Im Glashaus: Das Philosophische Quartett. He is the author of over thirty books, including Critique of Cynical Reason (Suhrkamp 1983; University of Minnesota Press, 1989); Sphären (Suhrkamp, three volumes 1998–2004) and Du mußt dein Leben ändern (Suhrkamp, 2009).

Nigel Thrift is Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick. He is the author, co-author and editor of numerous books, including Cities: Reimaging the Urban (Polity, 2002, with Ash Amin); Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect (Routledge, 2007) and Shaping the Day: A History of Timekeeping in England and Wales 1300–1800 (Oxford University Press, 2009, with Paul Glennie).

Sjoerd van Tuinen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam. He is the author of Peter Sloterdijk: Ein Profil (Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2006); and co-editor of Die Vermessung des Ungeheuren: Philosophie nach Peter Sloterdijk (Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2009, with Marc Jongen and Koenraad Hemelsoet) and Deleuze and The Fold: A Critical Reader (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, with Niamh McDonnell).


Sloterdijk’s Work

References to Sloterdijk’s major works are made by the following abbreviations in parentheses in the text. So, for example, (LB 7; TA 9) refers to Luftbeben, p. 7; and Terror from the Air, p. 9. All of Sloterdijk’s German works are published by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, unless otherwise noted. In large part these abbreviations are the same as those used by Sjoerd van Tuinen in Peter Sloterdijk: Ein Profil. The chapter authors have occasionally modified existing English translations. In the chapters, Sloterdijk’s works are referred to by English titles where translations exist; to German titles where they do not. For the latter, English translations of the titles are provided in this reference list.

KZVKritik der zynischen Vernunft, 1983. English translation CCR.
ZBDer Zauberbaum. Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse im Jahr 1785, 1985. [The Magic Tree: The Emergence of Psychoanalysis in 1785]
DBDer Denker auf der Bühne. Nietzsches Materialismus, 1986. English translation TS.
KMPAKopernikanische Mobilmachung und ptolmäische Abrüstung: Ästhetischer Versuch, 1986. [Copernican Mobilization and Ptolemaic Disarmament: Aesthetic Essays]
ZWKZur Welt kommen – Zur Sprache kommen. Frankfurter Vorlesungen, 1988. [To Come to World, to Come to Language]
ETEurotaoismus. Zur Kritik der politischen Kinetik, 1989. [Eurotaoism: Towards a Critique of Political Kinetics]
VDVersprechen auf Deutsch. Rede über das eigene Land, 1990. [Promises in German: Speeches about the Own Land]
WFWeltfremdheit, 1993. [Unworldliness]
SBIm selben Boot. Versuch über die Hyperpolitik, 1993. [In the Same Boat: Essays on Hyperpolitics]
FEEFalls Europa erwacht. Gedanken zum Programm einer Weltmacht am Ende des Zeitalters seiner politischen Absence, 1994. [If Europe Awakes: Thoughts on the Programme of a World Power at the End of its Era of Political Absence]
SVSelbstversuch, Ein Gespräch mit Carlos Oliveira, 1996. [Self-Experiments: A Conversation with Carlos Oliviera]
SGDer starke Grund zusammen zu sein. Erinnerungen an die Erfindung des Volkes, 1998. [The Strong Reason to be Together: Reminders of the Invention of the People]
S ISphären I – Blasen, Mikrosphärologie, 1998. [Spheres I – Bubbles, Microspherology]
S IISphären II – Globen, Makrosphärologie, 1999. [Spheres II – Globes, Macrospherology]
RMPRegeln für den Menschenpark. Ein Antwortschreiben zu Heideggers Brief über den Humanismus, 1999. English translation RHZ.
VMDie Verachtung der Massen. Versuch über Kulturkämpfe in der modernen Gesellschaft, 2000. [Contempt of the Masses: Essays on the Culture-wars in Modern Society]
VGNÜber die Verbesserung der guten Nachricht. Nietzsches fünftes Evangelium. Rede zum 100. Todestag von Friedrich Nietzsche, 2000. [On the Improvement of the Good News: Nietzsche’s Fifth Gospel: A Speech on the 100th Anniversary of the Death of Friedrich Nietzsche]
MTDas Menschentreibhaus: Stichworte zur historischen und prophetischen Anthropologie. Vier große Vorlesungen, 2001. [The Human Greenhouse: Keywords of Historical and Prophetic Anthropology: Four Major Lectures]
NGNicht gerettet. Versuche nach Heidegger, 2001. [Not Saved: Essays on Heidegger]
STDie Sonne und der Tod: Dialogische Untersuchungen with Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs, 2001. English translation NSND.
TBTau von den Bermudas. Über einige Regime der Einbildungskraft, 2001. [The Tau of Bermuda: On Some Regimes of the Imagination]
LBLuftbeben. An den Wurzeln des Terrors, 2002. English translation TA.
S IIISphären III – Schäume, Plurale Sphärologie, 2004. [Spheres III – Foam, Plural Spherology]
WKIm Weltinnenraum des Kapitals: Für eine philosophische Theorie der Globalisierung, 2005.
ZZZorn und Zeit. Politisch-psychologischer Versuch, 2006. English translation RT.
AIDer ästhetische Imperativ: Schriften zur Kunst, edited by Peter Weibel, Hamburg: Philo and Philo Fine Arts, 2007. [The Aesthetic Imperative: Writings on Art]
DADerrida Ein Ägypter: Über das Problem der jüdischen Pyramide, 2007. English translation DA.
GEGottes Eifer: Vom Kampf der drei Monotheismen, Verlag Der Weltreligionen, 2007. English translation GZ.
TNKZTheorie der Nachkriegszeiten: Bemerkungen zu den deutsch-französischen Beziehungen seit 1945, 2008. English translation TPWP.
MLADu mußt dein Leben ändern: Über Anthropotechnik, 2009. [You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics]
PTPhilosophische Temperamente: Von Platon bis Foucault, München: Diedrichs, 2009. [Philosophical Temperaments: From Plato to Foucault]
SDScheintod im Denken: Von Philosophie und Wissenschaft als Übung, 2010. [Suspended Animation in Thought: Philosophy and Science as Exercises]
WSHDer Welt über die Straße helfen, with Sven Völker, München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2010. [Seeing the World Across the Road]
NHGSDie nehmende Hand und die gebende Seite: Beiträge zu einer Debatte über die demokratische Neubegründung von Steuern, 2011. [The Taking Hand and the Giving Side: Contributions to a Debate on the Democratic Refounding of Taxation]

English Translations

CCRCritique of Cynical Reason, translated by Michael Eldred, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.
TSThinker on Stage: Nietzsche’s Materialism, translated by Jamie Owen Daniel, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.
LHTC‘Living Hot, Thinking Coldly: An Interview with Peter Sloterdijk’, with Éric Alliez, translated by Chris Turner, Cultural Politics, Vol. 3 No. 3, 2007, pp. 307–26.
RHZ‘Rules for the Human Zoo’, translated by Mary Varney Rorty, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 27 No. 1, 2009, pp. 12–28.
TPWPTheory of the Post-War Periods: Observations on Franco-German Relations since 1945, translated by Robert Pain, Wien: Springer, 2009.
GZGod’s Zeal: The Battle of the Three Monotheisms, Cambridge: Polity, 2009, translated by Wieland Hoban.
DEDerrida, the Egyptian: On the Problem of the Jewish Pyramid, Cambridge: Polity, 2009, translated by Wieland Hoban.
TATerror from the Air, translated by Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.
RTRage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation, translated by Mario Wenning, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
NSNDNeither Sun nor Death, translated by Steve Corcoran, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011.

There are also forthcoming English translations of VGN, S I, S II, S III, MLA, and WK.

Works by Friedrich Nietzsche

KSASamtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Berlin and München: W. de Gruyter and Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Fifteen Volumes, 1980 (cited by volume and page).

Individual works within it are cited by section to allow reference to the multiple English editions.

HHHuman, All-too-Human
GSThe Gay Science
TSZThus Spoke Zarathustra
GMOn the Genealogy of Morality
TITwilight of the Idols
ACThe Anti-Christ
EHEcce Homo

Works by Martin Heidegger

SZSein und Zeit, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, Eleventh edition, 1967. Page references refer to the first edition of this text, which appear in the margins of subsequent German editions, and in the various English translations as Being and Time.
WWegmarken, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1976. Page references refer to the first edition of this text, which appear in the margins of subsequent German editions, and in brackets in the text of the translation as Pathmarks, edited by William McNeill, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. This text includes Heidegger’s ‘Letter on “Humanism”’.


Worlds, Engagements, Temperaments

Stuart Elden

Peter Sloterdijk is one of the most interesting, prolific and controversial thinkers currently working within European philosophy. Trained in philosophy, history and literature he was initially a freelance writer, but in the last decade has been Rektor of the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung (State College of Design) in Karlsruhe, Germany where he has held a chair in philosophy and media theory since 1992. He first came to prominence with the philosophical bestseller Kritik der zynischen Vernunft in 1983, which was translated as Critique of Cynical Reason in 1988.1 Since this time he has exercised a considerable influence over German and other European thought, especially French and Spanish. In Germany he is a well-known media figure, co-hosting the television show ‘In the Glasshouse: Philosophical Quartet’, on the German ZDF channel, with Rüdiger Safranski since 2002. He is a regular newspaper columnist.

Yet in the English-speaking world his stature has been considerably less, in large part down to the lack of translations of his work. While the majority of his works are in Spanish and French translations, in English only Critique of Cynical Reason, Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche’s Materialism and some shorter pieces were translated in the 1980s and 1990s. The lack of translations of some of his most important works has made it difficult to get a handle on Sloterdijk’s overall project and specific books. He is in danger of becoming more talked about than read. Yet even his critics recognize that he has something to say. In First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, for example, Žžek described him as ‘definitely not one of our side, but also not a complete idiot’;2 and in Living in the End Times as ‘the liberal-conservative enfant terrible of contemporary German thought’.3 Žžek has sought fit to attend to his writings in a number of places, also devoting pages to him in The Parallax View and Violence.4

This lack of translations has begun to be remedied over the past few years, with translations of several of his works, and many more to come. 2009 saw translations of five shorter books – God’s Zeal; Derrida, an Egyptian; Theory of the Post-War Periods; Terror from the Air; and Rules for the Human Zoo; with the more substantial Rage and Time and Neither Sun Nor Death following in the next couple of years. Translations are in progress for the three volumes of Sphären; Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals; and Du mußt dein Leben ändern.5 Rights to many of his other works have been sold. In just a few years then, Sloterdijk has become a major figure in Anglophone engagements with continental theory, quickly moving from a peripheral position to one of the most visible contemporary philosophers. He shares conference platforms with thinkers such as Bruno Latour and Jacques Rancière, and his standing has increased with a number of high profile lectures across the world, including visiting posts in New York, Paris and Zürich.

Yet Sloterdijk is a difficult, and even at times infuriating, thinker. His ideas can appear immediately accessible and applicable, only to prove difficult to pin down. He writes two main kinds of books – short, often polemical, interventions; and much longer, wide-ranging and often digressive examinations of large topics from a variety of angles. Kusters has tellingly likened Sloterdijk’s works to ‘the stations of the London Underground; easy to enter, to find your way through, and to exit again, but hard to conceive in groundwork or overall idea’.6 This is surely something anyone who has spent time with his work would agree with: it can be hard to discern an overall intention to his writings; much less a system that binds them all together. In part this is because many of his books – think Critique of Cynical Reason, Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals, Rage and Time, Sphären and Du mußt dein Leben ändern – take a particular topic as a lens through which to view human history and thought. Another book, another lens. This inevitably leads to the nagging feeling that the learning on display, while vast, is sometimes superficial. Another book, another angle that is seemingly crucial. Yet this is perhaps asking him to be something he would oppose. Sloterdijk privileges the literary over the structural; poesis over rigour. He is often more of a cultural critic than a mainstream philosopher, trading on a literary and intellectual tradition that has more in common with an earlier generation of German thought and post-war French theorists than recent Anglo-American philosophy. Sloterdijk arguably signs up to the claim of Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy? that the task of the thinker is to generate concepts. These concepts can then be deployed. Indeed, many of Sloterdijk’s later works are developments of themes and ideas outlined in schematic form in earlier writings.

His influences can similarly be difficult to trace. Explicitly indebted to, and engaging with, Nietzsche and Heidegger, he has also a profound debt to French thought. This included Foucault in his earlier works, although somewhat displaced by Deleuze and Derrida in more recent ones. He also stresses the importance of the work of Sartre (SV 45–8). But in his references he is closer to an intellectual magpie, taking ideas and inspiration from a wide range of sources, and arranging them in intriguing ways. Crucially these inspirations are not only from the European tradition but also outside, including the years he spent studying in India.7 Sloterdijk is perhaps best understood not as a philosopher in a narrow, academic sense, but as closer to a man of letters, a humanist and intellectual. To come to the world, as the title of one of his early books suggests, is to come to language (ZWK). Philosophy, for Sloterdijk, is a form of literature. He is often critical of the academic style of contemporary philosophy, and its lack of contemporary commitment. Nonetheless, his own modes of engagement can be peculiar. A charismatic and engaging lecturer, he sometimes acts in a deliberately provocative way – witness his recent arguments with Axel Honneth concerning taxation and the welfare state, not to mention the furor over his 1999 lecture on genetics where he crossed swords with Jürgen Habermas – only to feign astonishment at the reactions that followed.

This brief introduction provides an overview of Sloterdijk’s work, beginning with the engagement with Nietzsche and the work on the cynics; touching on his critique of political kinetics and the role of Europe; before saying rather more about the spheres project and the metaphysics of globalization; and then finally turning to the notion of anthropotechnics. These are not exhaustive, and do not entirely fit into neatly chronological categories, but the intention is to outline the main contours of his thought, before situating the chapters that follow.

Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason parodied Kant’s critical project, but the title was one that many others, Sartre included, had appropriated. In his final lecture course on the cynics from 1984, Foucault tells his audience that he’s been told about Sloterdijk’s recently published book. Foucault confesses that he’s not yet read it, but remarks that ‘no critique of reason will be spared us’, as there have been pure, dialectical, political and now cynical. He notes that he’s been given some rather differing assessments of the book’s interest.8 Foucault was in a sense right, as the book provoked widely divergent reactions.9 Sloterdijk’s project was to retrieve a more critical form of cynicism that would be faithful to original cynics like Diogenes, a form he calls kynicism. This differs from the disillusioned modern variant of cynicism which has sunk into a malaise, a state of enlightened false consciousness. It might appear to be comfortable but is in reality impoverished. Like many of Sloterdijk’s books it is wildly digressive, encyclopaedic and seemingly disordered.

Sloterdijk claimed that the book was situated on the left, but this was not the left dominated by the cultural Marxism of the then dominant Frankfurt school. Indeed, Sloterdijk proposed that instead the true critical theory in Germany came out of Freiburg, the place where Husserl and Heidegger had spent most of their careers (ET 143). Yet rather than Husserl, alongside Heidegger was another controversial German philosopher, Nietzsche. Neither Nietzsche nor Heidegger would have been considered left-leaning, yet Sloterdijk, in common with French thinkers of a slightly earlier generation, thought they could be appropriated in more progressive ways. In the Critique he raises the prospect of ‘an existential Left, a neokynical Left – I risk the expression: a Heideggerian Left’ (KZV 395; CCR 209); and elsewhere talks of a ‘Nietzschean Left’.10 Sloterdijk’s work is clearly a break with orthodox Left thought, and increasingly seems to bear little relation to that part of the political spectrum. As such, the kind of relation he has with other major contemporary European thinkers such as Žžek and Badiou with their return to Lenin and Mao is inevitably highly charged and fractious.

Sloterdijk’s writings have always had a profound debt to the arts, something he shared with Heidegger and Nietzsche and the first generation Frankfurt school of Adorno and Horkheimer, rather than the more rigid approach of the school’s post-war thinkers. Indeed, after the Critique, Sloterdijk’s next book was a novel, Der Zauberbaum, which in itself was a challenge to Habermas’s injunction to keep philosophy and literature separate, and the academic book that followed was explicitly on Nietzsche, ranging across his works but focused as a study of his Birth of Tragedy (DB; TS).11 Sloterdijk has periodically returned to Nietzsche’s work seeing him as a prophet of the human yet to come (ET; VGN; MT), a project which explicitly links to his interest in self-fashioning and anthropotechnics discussed below. Sloterdijk’s contribution is thus more in the way of reopening critical theory to a vibrancy that he felt was missing from the post-war tradition of the Frankfurt school. As both Babich and Couture below note, Sloterdijk felt that ‘the masochistic element has outdone the creative element’ in critical theory (CCR xxxv). His aim, in part, is to reverse this.

Rather than the claim that Sloterdijk is the ‘most French of the German philosophers’ (LHTC 320–1), he would doubtless describe himself as, like Nietzsche, a ‘good European’. A number of books followed over the next few years, including Eurotaoismus, which was subtitled ‘towards a critique of political kinetics’. He suggests that we need to move towards a politics, not of infinite movement or mobilization, but of lightness or levity, the conundrum of how beings who are condemned to act can be ‘still in the storm’ (ET 54).12 At the beginning of the 1990s he published a sequence of books that picked up these political or geopolitical themes, including Im Selben Boot and Falls Europa erwacht. The last was a rallying call for Europe, taken as a whole, to reclaim its place on the world stage, in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Both books proclaim a worldly or cosmopolitan ethics, suggesting that the world as a whole has to be taken seriously as the place of our mutual co-existence. This is a call for a post-imperial Europe, as one power among others on a global stage. This theme is picked up as a major theme in Weltfremdheit, especially the last chapter on cosmopolitan citizenship.

Many commentators on his work, authors in this volume including the editor among them, see Sloterdijk’s magnum opus as the three-volume Sphären.13 Žžižek described it as the ‘monumental Spheres trilogy’, and suggests that ‘far from advocating a return to pre-modern containment, Sloterdijk was the first to propose what one can call a “provincialism for the global era’’’.14 Like the Critique and some of Sloterdijk’s other works it is broadly conceived and the arguments supported by a wide range of references, texts and illustrations. The book can be seen in many lights, but one which has become common is to take Sloterdijk seriously when he contends that it should be understood as the counterpart to Heidegger’s Being and Time, as Being and Space (S I 345) which he later describes as ‘the great unwritten book of Western Philosophy’ (S II 59 n. 17). The spatial aspects of Heidegger’s thought have received periodic attention,15 but in Sphären Sloterdijk engages directly with Heidegger’s own texts only occasionally (S I 336–45; and see NG). Instead his focus is to take inspiration from the ideas and to work that through in extraordinary breadth and detail.16

For Sloterdijk, in distinction to Heidegger, the key concern is not so much being, das Sein, but rather being-with or being-together, Mit-sein. This is a question both of our relation to the world of things that do not share our mode of being, and the world of other humans, who do.17 Sloterdijk takes the Heideggerian idea of being-in-the-world and analyses the ‘in’ the way Heidegger expressly denied, as a spatial term, as a question of location, of where we are (WK 308; NSND 175–6).18 As Oosterling suggests, for Sloterdijk ‘Dasein is design’, and the focus becomes the interiors we inhabit.19 In an interview with Bettina Funcke, Sloterdijk suggests that when he began writing in the 1990s that 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’.20 He suggests that the work of Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, while now recognized as pioneering in these respects, did not initially have the impact that they have today. Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space was inspirational, and is frequently cited in Sphären, though he suggests that he resisted this influence.21 In this interview he suggests that Heidegger was the spark for his reflections.

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 anti-philosophical 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.22


Being is being-with; being-with is always to be in a world. Being-in-a-sphere, then, is the primary thought he seeks to examine in the project. Spheres come in a range of sizes. The book moves from the bubbles of the first volume, where the first sphere is that of the womb, to the globes of the second volume, working through the family home, architecture, the polis, the nation and other spaces and environs. These two volumes are subtitled micro-spherology and macro-spherology, and there is a somewhat rudimentary scalar sense at play here (S I 631), although they should not be simply reduced to a set of nested hierarchies. If the first is a critique of subjectivity, and its interrelation with an environment; the second proposes a way to offer a properly philosophical theory of globalization. The third treats what he calls plural-spherology, where the model is that of foam, an interlocking and multiple set of cells, to understand connection and relation. Klauser has highlighted four attributes of foam: it is made up of variable shapes and sizes; it lacks a clear centre; it is both fragile and interconnected in its fragility; and part of a process of creation.24 As Sloterdijk and Éric Alliez discuss, this is a concept that bears relation to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome (LHTC 322–3). Yet rhizomes are sometimes reduced to complex networks, which for Sloterdijk fails to grasp the three dimensional aspect of connection, what we might call the volumetric. Foams are loosely structured, whose bubbles are connected, but separate, with the walls of one the walls of the next, stabilizing over time (S III 48–51).

Sloterdijk has described the ‘foam city’ as the life of living in an apartment, both connected to others but also isolated (S III 604–7). He draws on the work of the architect Thom Mayne who coined the phrase ‘connected isolation’ (S III 255), which he suggests could be a Heideggerian concept.25 One of the key developments of the twentieth century, contends Sloterdijk, was that instead of targeting individuals, warfare and punishment began to target the atmosphere. This, for him, links the poison gas attacks of the First World War, judicial execution in gas chambers, the extermination of the Jews, nuclear bombs and the firebombing of the Second World War (LB; TA).

Sloterdijk developed ideas from this project in another major work that appeared only one year after the final volume of Sphären, Im Weltinnerraum des Kapitals. Like the second volume of Sphären, and especially developing the long final chapter of that book (S II 801–1005), it offers a philosophical theory of globalization, an alternative chronology of the world. He suggests three key epochs. First there is the metaphysical or mathematical globalization of the Greeks, with the geometricization of the enormous, the monstrous or colossal (Ungeheuren) (S II 47). This is followed almost two thousand years later with the terrestrial globalization of European colonialism and commerce. He provocatively claims that modern history effectively begins in 1492 and stretches to the period between 1944–1974: from Columbus and the Behaim globe to Bretton Woods and Portuguese decolonization (WK 21, 30, 246, 248–9; FEE 9; NG 371, this volume, p. 168). Sloterdijk suggests that the fundamental figure of modernity was provided not by Copernicus, but by Magellan: it was ‘not that the earth orbits the sun, but that money circumnavigates the earth’ (S II 56; see 856; WK 79); and the final, contemporary, globalization of saturation, with simultaneity and proximity leading to the end of spatio-temporal distantiation. He finds anticipations of this in the loco-motives (literally movements of place) that ran on the railroads, and the telegraph cables that ran alongside them that dissolved space (WK 60), or Captain Nemo’s motto of mobilis in mobili (mobility in the mobile) (WK 145–6). This schema fits with his earlier claims of an old, modern and post-modern world, that can be understood through changes in movement, or what he calls a political kinetics (ET 30; see also KMPA). As Sloterdijk suggests, ‘the theory of the globe [Kugel] is, at the same time, the first analysis of power’ (S II 56).

In the first half of Im Weltinnerraum des Kapitals Sloterdijk recounts a pre-history of globalization, but with a strong emphasis on maritime navigation, colonization and the imaginary of water. One of his key sources is Hermann Melville’s Moby Dick. The key architectural and thought-figure in the second half of Im Weltinnerarum des Kapitals is that of the Crystal Palace, the name given to the 1851 Great Exhibition centre in London, but seen now a model for global capitalism.26 The Crystal Palace had been the object of critique for an earlier generation of thinkers, including Dostoevsky in Notes from the Underground (WK 26).27 Sloterdijk sees these ‘final spheres’ as effectively a museum or an art installation, and would be tempted to use the phrase Gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of art – if that phrase had not already been taken over by an ‘aesthetic ideology’ (S III 811), notably Richard Wagner. The Crystal Palace, Sloterdijk suggests, is the link between the arcades that Walter Benjamin analysed and the modern shopping mall.28 He suggests that the Palace has today become generalized, and that we spend our lives inside this huge container of boredom. Inside the Palace, the ‘interior world’ of capitalism, all needs are catered for, politics gets replaced by consumer preferences, and the military support and environmental degradation that makes this all possible is kept safely out of view.

Taken together with Sphären itself this is a remarkable out-pouring of ideas, though it is hard not to agree with Oosterling’s view that ‘Sloterdijk’s spherological project is monstrous indeed! More adequate a qualification cannot be found for his trilogy-plus Sphären-project. The number of pages is enormous, the use of neologisms excessive, the conceptual avalanche overwhelming, the historically embedded, methodological legitimization overpowering.’29 Indeed, Sloterdijk describes modernity as monstrous in both spatial and temporal form and in its objects (NG 380, this volume, p. 167). Yet ‘monstrous’ should not be construed only as a criticism: rather monstrous can mean a range of things from prodigious, marvellous, to vast, and derives from the Latin monstrum, a wonder or potent. As Sloterdijk notes, it should be traced not to the late Latin monstrare, to show, but to the classical Latin monere, to warn or admonish.30

Almost immediately, Sloterdijk followed this enormous project with another attempt at a broad overview of Western history. This was the book Zorn and Zeit, translated as Rage and Time. The translation’s title inevitably misses the playful allusion to Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit. Sloterdijk points out that the first noun of Western tradition, in Homer’s Iliad, is menis, anger or rage: ‘Of the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, Sing o Goddess.’31 In the book Sloterdijk is both serious and light-hearted, offering a detailed reading of theology both in terms of human anger and divine wrath. These themes are developed in God’s Zeal, which discusses the three great monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and looks at the conflicts between them. Especially in Rage and Time the clash between eros and thymos, between appetite and pride, courage, anger and ambition, is a central theme.32 Sloterdijk situates a whole range of political-social movements of the last hundred or so years, including communism, in the broader context of two millennia of monotheism. Most global emancipatory projects, Sloterdijk contends, are motivated by rage, a barely concealed ressentiment.

Sloterdijk is no stranger to controversy. The first wave of this came in the wake of his controversial lecture at the Elmau institute in Germany in 1999 (RMP; RHZ). The lecture was entitled ‘Rules for the Human Zoo’, and was framed as a response to Heidegger’s famous ‘Letter on “Humanism”’. Sloterdijk mourned the demise of traditional letter writing as a means of communication, and contrasted this with the letters of our DNA.33 He framed parts of the lecture in biological terms, including terms that had become tainted by Nazi connotations such as Selektion (selection) and Züchtung (breeding). The lecture – which only appeared in English translation in 2009 (RHZ) – was more talked about than read, sparking charged exchanges between Sloterdijk and figures associated with Habermas.34 The work should be seen within his broader work on the notion of anthropotechnics, and as Žžek has pointed out, to argue that changes in gene technology require us to reflect again on ethics is not an unreasonable proposition.35

This theme has returned to his work in recent years, with his most recent major book Du mußt dein Leben ändern perhaps best understood as an engagement with the aesthetics of self-fashioning. This is a project that in the late twentieth century was exemplified by the late work of Michel Foucault. While Sloterdijk does pay attention to Foucault here, a range of rather different, and often surprising thinkers are brought to the project. Rilke, Kafka, Nietzsche and Heidegger receive some discussion, but Wittgenstein, in particular, is given a challenging and very distinctive reading. Indeed, Foucault is described as ‘Wittgensteinian’ at one point (MLA 234). It is provocative in that it challenges the dominant, analytic, reading of Wittgenstein in order to retrieve the ascetic, cultural, even existential elements of his work. It is from Wittgenstein that Sloterdijk takes one of his most powerful motifs: culture is an Ordensregel (MLA 210), a monastic rule or observance; or at least it presupposes an observance. The idea of a select culture being a separation from the norm through codes and modes of behaviour is at the heart of his project.

The idea of the book lies in its title, that where there is a clash between the life of the individual and the life of the society they are in, it is within our power to change our life. Changing the life will allow a better fit which will remove the clash. Self-fashioning or discipline is crucial. This, it is suggested, is crucial to the entire chronology of Western philosophy, although Sloterdijk, as often in his works, makes links to Eastern thought (especially Indian) as well. He discusses the importance of Indian influences on his thought in a recently translated collection of interviews (NSND 16–17). Sloterdijk is therefore tapping into a major current of contemporary thought: the project of making (and remaking) ourselves through our actions. It therefore ranges from the field occupied by popular accounts of philosophy as means of changing your life (such as the works of Alain de Botton) to debates about the ethics of gene technology, thereby picking up on earlier themes. The book offers a fundamental challenge to religion, because it sees it as merely one of many possible spiritual practices. Various mental and physical training regimes are available, a process of remaking the human, through the notion of an exercise (Übung) (see also SD). Žžek has suggested that the book ‘provides elements for a materialist theory of religion, conceiving religion as an effect of material practices of self-training and self-change – one can even claim that he thereby contributes to a Communist theory of culture’.36 As with many of his works there are a wide range of discussions, including those of army, biopolitics, psychology, verticality, Greek thought, the Church of Scientology, art, ethics and the state.

Since that book, which appeared in 2009, Sloterdijk has published a shorter contribution on design aesthetics (in WSH); a collection of pen-portraits of some of the major thinkers of the tradition from Plato to Foucault entitled Philosophische Temperamente; and an expansion of his arguments concerning the welfare state (NHGS). By the time this book appears two more are scheduled to have been published: an A-Z of his metanarratives, Die Großen Erzählungen – Ein Lesebuch (Grandnarratives – A Reader); and a collection of his interviews, Lesen in den Eingeweiden des Zeitgeistes (Reading the Entrails of the Zeitgeist).37 His productivity is relentless and astonishing; a wealth of ideas are there to be discovered, engaged with, and employed.

The chapters that follow provide a wide-ranging overview of and engagement with these ideas. Babette Babich’s contribution sets Sloterdijk’s work on cynicism in the context of wider debates within German critical theory, and his work as a whole in relation to his debt to Nietzsche. The focus is on the different readings of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, and in particular Sloterdijk’s embrace of his irreverence. Babich’s chapter showcases the same kinds of attributes that make Sloterdijk’s work so appealing; learned and digressive in about equal measure. Towards the end Babich raises the question of how Sloterdijk accounts for women, highlighting one of the blind spots of his work.

Sjoerd van Tuinen, author of the essential study Peter Sloterdijk: Ein Profil,38 focuses on a related theme; Sloterdijk’s thinking of ressentiment. In Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality, ressentiment is the central category of slave morality. For Sloterdijk it is something that must be overcome. Van Tuinen ranges widely across Sloterdijk’s works, especially focusing on Rage and Time, God’s Zeal and Du mußt dein Leben ändern. Van Tuinen is particularly good in suggesting the way that these works of what might be called psychopolitics link to the cosmopolitics of the Sphären trilogy and Im Weltinnenraum des Kapitals.

In his chapter, Eduardo Mendieta offers a discussion of Sloterdijk’s thinking of the question of humanism, and what might come in its wake as a replacement or alternative. Mendieta reads Sloterdijk in relation to Heidegger’s thought on humanism and technology, suggesting that ‘if Gadamer urbanized Heidegger, Sloterdijk has modernized him’. Providing a brief overview of traditional, Renaissance humanism, Mendieta outlines how Sloterdijk proposes what might be called a ‘hyperhumanism’, discussing his works on anthropotechnics and the aesthetics of self-fashioning.

Marie-Eve Morin takes up the relation of Sloterdijk’s work to that of Heidegger, but focuses much more on Sloterdijk’s appropriation and critique of the early Heidegger. While Morin shows that in places Sloterdijk’s claims cannot be reconciled with Heidegger’s text, her concern is much more with what Sloterdijk does with these readings. She is particularly interested in the way that Sloterdijk uses anthropology to develop claims about the notions of worlds, and the way that the human-comes-to-be-world through their engagement with an environment. This provides the basis for a discussion of spatial relations such as the complex interplay of distance and proximity; a concern which runs through Sloterdijk’s Sphären project. The final part of the chapter directly engages that work, and his wider concerns with globalization and technology.

In mid 2009 Sloterdijk’s provocative remarks on the welfare state appeared in the German newspaper Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung. In a piece entitled ‘The Revolution of the Giving Hand’, Sloterdijk suggested that this was a form of institutionalized kleptocracy, taking from its most productive citizens.39 The current director of the Frankfurt School, Axel Honneth, responded, as did many others.40 The next two chapters use this debate as the basis for their reflections. First Jean-Pierre Couture uses it as a way of engaging with Sloterdijk’s position as a public intellectual in Germany and beyond. One of Couture’s most telling points is to contrast Sloterdijk and Honneth’s modes of engagement: the former throwing down challenges to provoke debate and bring about changes in thinking; the later wedded to ideas of ethics in public discussions and the role of intellectual responsibility.

Wieland Hoban then uses the same debate as a way into thinking about Sloterdijk’s mode of engagement in his writing more generally. As one of Sloterdijk’s key English translators, responsible for God’s Zeal, Derrida, an Egyptian and currently working on the monumental Sphären trilogy, Hoban is ideally placed to focus on Sloterdijk’s style. Using the give and take idea from Sloterdijk’s recent polemics, he discusses the way he uses and manipulates language and empirical evidence to suit his positions. Hoban rightly steers a path between outright critique and appreciation of Sloterdijk’s virtues as a writer.

Nigel Thrift develops a similar theme in his contribution, looking at the relation between philosophy and social science through the status of evidence. For Thrift, Sloterdijk offers the potential for a different way of engaging with the world. While he is critical of some of Sloterdijk’s more journalistic excursions and of his playing fast and loose with facts, in Sphären Thrift finds the distillation of what he admires in Sloterdijk’s work. He suggests that the empirical examples, photographs, artworks and diagrams are part of a wider movement away from simply analysis of texts within continental philosophy. He locates this combination of philosophy, social sciences and the creative arts as a mode of world-making, a theme he has been developing in his own recent work.

In the penultimate chapter, Efraín Kristal offers a focus on the question of literature in Sloterdijk’s work, showing that Sloterdijk’s indebtedness to the novel in particular is something that runs deep through his writings. Through a reading of Sloterdijk’s own novel, Der Zauberbaum, and drawing on his use of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers and Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Sand,