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)

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