Bubbles: Spheres, Volume I: Microspherology

John Ganz on the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, in The Brooklyn Rail:

ScreenHunter_33 Feb. 16 14.58Sloterdijk’s concern in Spheres is the same as every German philosopher since Kant: What is humanity in the condition of modernity? That is to say: What is humanity without the all-encompassing presence of religion, whose persistence in the modern world is either ineffectually subcultural or violently retrograde, and, in any case, is clearly incapable of offering a satisfying universal? What is humanity without the predictable cycles of the quasi-natural, communal lifeworld, and without the unquestioned legitimacy of the social, spiritual, and aesthetic hierarchies that once regulated that lifeworld? And how should we best offer solace to the lonely, confused, and rootless subject that emerges with the triumph of mass society, capitalism, scientism, technology, the destruction of traditional life, and the disenchantment of the world? (Just to make it sunnier, we can now also add to the list impending ecological crisis.) Sloterdijk describes humanity at the end of this process: “[d]isappointed, cold, and abandoned, they wrap themselves in surrogates of older conceptions of the world, as long as these still hold a trace of the warmth of old human illusions of encompassedness.”

For Sloterdijk, this crisis of modernity and post-enlightenment sketched above is a spherological crisis: it concerns the gradual destruction of those protective—or immunlogical, to use Sloterdijk’s terminology—membranes that mankind dwelled in for millenia, the bursting of the shared spaces that human beings had cultivated to provide meaning, metaphysical comfort, and shelter from the inhuman exterior. This metaphor of the sphere—the preservation, growth, and development of which can be thought of as the sole preoccupation of what we call culture—shares with Sloterdijk’s style in general the quality of being astonishing, strange, and novel, as well as being, at the same time, familiar, intuitive, and even self-evident.

More here.