Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Neither Sun nor Death: Peter Sloterdijk

Peter Sloterdijk
There is no doubt in my mind that Peter Sloterdijk must be one of the most productive, provocative, controversial, iconocratstic and illuminating philosophers living today. I've just finished reading the book Neither Sun Nor Death (2011). The original tittel is Die Sonne und der Tod. Dialogische Untersuchungen (2001). Brillantly translated by Steve Corcoran. The book is composed of six dialogues between the German Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and the German Anthropologist Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs. I am not only stunned by the often confusing and "floating" thoughts from Sloterdijk, but I am overwelmed by the intensity, richness and depth in the questions given by Heinrichs.

Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs

Who is this Heinrichs? He is born in 1945, worked in his youth as a steel worker and loved to travel. In his twenties he studied Philosophy, German Language, Literature, Dramatics, Linguistics, Psychology and African Studies. After years of "floating" between all these topics, he became fascinated by anthropology and especially Michel Leiris, Victor Segalen and Claude Lévi-Strauss. He is also the founder of the »Qumran« publishing house. I take my hat of for both parties in these dialogues.

The six dialogues are:
1. Towards a Philosophy of Overreaction
2. Neither Sun nor Death: The Human-Park Speech and Its Aftermath
3. On the General Poetics of Space. On Spheres I
4. I Prophesize Another Past for Philosophy: On Spheres II
5. The Work of Resistance
6. Amphibical Antropology and Informal Thinking

The book is in many ways an experiment, a "self-experiment" as Sloterdijk explains on page 7. He states that "Philosophy would be a vapir affair without an existential impulse. At the same time, it seems to me that by placing it in such an elevated context, you overshoot the goal I had set for myself with the term `self experiment´". Sloterdijk does not say in so many words that he is an existensialist, but in my view, if Sloterdijk must be placed in a "Bubble", his bubble must be an existensialist. He seems to love Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre, and especially Heidegger, and , but is also critical to them. Sloterdijk is showing us a new side to existensialism.

One of the wonders in the book is the richness in academic literature that is underlying both questions and answers. The dialog is demanding to read because it assumes that the reader is acquainted with names like: Unica Zürn, Hans Bellmer, Samuel Hahnermann, Bhagwam Shree Rajneesh (Osho), Yogananda, Meher Baba, Ramana, Aurobindo, Krishnamurti, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, along with more known names as Roland Bartes, Albert Camus, Plato, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Johan Galtung, and many many more.

This book is in many ways so confusing that I needed to find a way to read it. It's not just possible to sit in a chair and read books like this. I really needed to work with this book. The book itself gives me a clue in how this reading should be done. Sloterdijk states that meaning is not something you find, meaning is something you have to create for youself. Meaning is not given to you, but it comes from within yourself. After a while, with this in mind, I found myself floating in the bathtub with lots of foam. I found myself without complete contact with the ground. I saw all of these names as bubbles floating on the water. I could play with them, blow them away, create new bubbles. I believe this is a good way, for me, to come closer til the Philosophy of Peter Sloterdijk. I need to read him the same way I have to read Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Heidegger. He speaks of existence in an existential manner. Reading such authors demands that you let go and are willing to float. This is clear when Heinrichs states in one of his questions to Sloterdijk (page 336) that: 

"I recall the four fundamental postures of Buddhism; standing, walking, sitting and laying. We know the cliché: a thinker that, weighed down by heavy thoughts, rests his head on his hands or supports his forehead. This is the picture that we have have of thinking people, a bowed man who sits and likely will never do anything else than sit. Never do we think of a thinker floating. Walkers are also rare, even when they make what is called discourse. Nietzsche, however, had anticipated that we ought to be wary of all types of thought that were not hatched while walking in the open air. He thought that great ideas came on the feet of doves - which makes one think of a hovering flight."

We live in the world as Heidegger expressed as "Being-in-the-world". This is understood as Dasein. Being-there. Being, I mean really BEING, is not an easy task. Being-in-the-world, is even more complicated. This demads of us that we are willing to find the world, see the world as it is, and work with filling it with meaning. Sloterdijk calls this complexity for choas. He states that Being-in-the-world simply means Being-in-chaos. Simplicity means implication. This is how the book ends. Sloterdijk dares us to look at the world as it is, not only as complicated but also as chaos. A good reminder for all of us who try to find easy answers to complicated questions in a chaotic world. The book shows that asking good questions and finding good answers demands seriousness. Do we dare take life seriously?
Kaare T. Pettersen

Sloterdijk, Peter & Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs (2011). Neither Sun Nor Death. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)

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