Peter Sloterdijk on Political Gnosis

Adorno’s critical ontology describes the world’s surface as a total trap. Over wide stretches his text reads like a set of instructions for interpreting Being-in-the-world as an absurd pre-trial detention. There seems to be a compulsion for repetition in his thought that, in the most varied social and historical conditions, stereotypically reformulates the dramatic schema of imprisonment and the dream of breaking out.

A primal scene from the text of the older Critical Theory stands out, which in important features resembles the Gnostic mythos: the condition of the individual in historical class societies, whether these are constituted in ancient or modern, bourgeois-democratic or totalitarian terms, is akin to an extramundane soul that has been thrown into the prison of the world and is so out of it that it no longer knows how to say who and where it really is. The only thing certain for this soul is that its place of sojourn fundamentally alienates it. This certainty is as stark as the evidence that the soul in world-exile feels condemned to long for something ‘that would be otherwise.’ But while the Gnosticism of late antiquity, by means of a grand narrative to answer the questions “who we were, and what we have become, where we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth,” trusted itself to develop interpretations of the fall into misfortune and ascetic practices for returning home to euphoria, modern Paragnosticism is content to invoke ever anew the gloom of the world scene, while views of lost and hoped-for happiness are only allowed to be painted in black. They depict an image of grandiose austerity, “grey as after sunset and the end of the world,” ruled by modern archons, by evil administrators of the lifeless world: abstraction of exchange, tyranny, bourgeois coldness.

—Peter Sloterdijk, Not Saved

Think of Franz Kafka’s The Castle set in the modern megalopolis of New York City. Are Richard K. Morgan’s Market Forces described by Steven Shaviro as an “exemplary accelerationist fiction”.1 In such a world the corporations now rule an absolute economy in which the “majority of the population lives in violence-ridden squalor behind barbed-wire fences, sequestered in “cordoned zones.” Meanwhile, members of the corporate elite – the only people still able to afford automobiles and gasoline – compete for contracts and promotions through Mad Max – style road rage duels to the death.

  1. Shaviro, Steven. No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism.  Univ Of Minnesota Press (January 30, 2015)

Origins of the Liberal Imaginary?

Liberal democracy without the liberal subject seems to be mute at this point. From Rousseau to Mill the fundamental aspects of classical liberal democracy was based on a well-defined sense of Self-Subject with a definite implication toward the voluntarist traditions of Will over Intellect, etc. And yet in the past forty years with the rise of postmodern and analytic thought the notion of Self-Subject has come not only under attack, been undermined, but has now in most current neurosciences collapsed into fiction, parody, and nullity: an empty void of self-reflecting nothingness, a hole or aporia in the center of our inhuman being. So if the Self-Subject no longer exists, if free-will is a fiction, what of Democracy? We seem to continue to believe in it although the basic and central fact that it supports – the modern liberal Subject has disappeared. So what of democracy itself?411oSgmk9kL

Of late been finally getting round to Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. One could say the whole war between Universalists vs. Nominalists, Rationalists vs. Empiricists, Intellect vs. Will etc., all this began in the Western traditions with the concern over the fate of the Soul in Christian thought. From Augustine to Kant the battle from one to the other, Intellect over Will, Will over Intellect was fought for the mind and heart of Christendom. With the slow death of both the philosopher’s God (Nietzsche) and it’s variant in Platonic, Neo-Platonic, and orthodox theologies and mysticisms caught between apophatic darkness and the illuminationist light the notion of the individual as Self-Subject has undergone its apotheosis and in our time decline and disappearance in thought. Why?

Ghosts of the Unknown

“At a speaker series event in the department where I teach, a guest medievalist gave a talk on troubadour songs. She sang a few examples and pointed out intricacies of rhyme and ambiguities of meaning. And then she acknowledged a fact that often intimidates young musicologists away from medieval studies: troubadour notation does not indicate rhythm or duration, so it is impossible for us to know exactly how this music sounded, or as she put it, is supposed to sound. And this aporia meant that we could never argue for any connection between music and lyrics, nor for any musical as opposed to textual meaning. Troubadour songs, in other words, would remain unfathomable and unperceived, an ideal of music with no satisfying reality to anchor it.”

– Joanna Demers, Drone and Apocalypse: An Exhibit Catalog for the End of the World

The above is an example of a known unknown, of a reality that we know existed but is forever closed to us behind the material barriers of time and culture, and yet it haunts us like a broken world of dreams half-perceived – traces in the ruins of some dilapidated yet existent scene. We wander among these ruins seeking truth, finding only bones and silences. Maybe we should look upon our own moment this way, as if from some spectral future, a retroactive portrayal of the ruins of time awaiting us as the catastrophe of our species’ demise becomes more and more prevalent; as the sixth extinction that we love to portray as only those others, the animals and insects, forests, vines, flowers all fade into oblivion. Like members of a blind tribe we cast our eyes into the darkness seeking solace and find none, only the fierce cries of banshee like creatures of the night and void castigating us from some imagined future, our children, and children’s children staring back at us from that void of time in the hollow-laden void of their blackened eyes as they condemn us for our inability to act.

Those on the Right will continue to deny such apocalyptic climacteric change ahead, while those on the Left will shout and speak and threaten but do nothing more. We seem like the ruination of those last men that Nietzsche once spoke of with such astute and prophetic understanding, the decadent tribe who at the end of things would even deny their own obsolescence. Apathy, indecisiveness, inaction… the passive betrayal of our own species. The decadence of blind luxuriance and immeasurable sinking’s into death’s last fold. Nihilism was nothing but this denial of the truth, this denial of reality. We’ve lived in our fictional worlds, created fantastic zones of oblivion to hide our unimaginations in. Like children in a garden we’ve scattered the seeds of the Tree of Life and chopped down its branches and dug up its roots, burned it on the pyre of ancient memories. Nothing remains. Not even the memories…

Like those medieval trouvères we sing but no one can hear us… our tongues, like dark angels deliver only the silences of our kind.