Notes on Sloterdijk’s Philosophy of Plural Spherology in the Context of Technological Politics Studies.
In 2009 Boom Publishers published the long-waited-for Dutch translation of Peter Sloterdijk’s Sphären lll. Schäume – Plurale Sphärologie. I was anxious to read it. Spheres lll, as I would call the book in English is the third book of the ‘Foam trilogy’, Sloterdijk’s opus magnum and treat to our understanding of humanity, communities and ‘being there’. For me, Sloterdijk’s writings have become and object to think with in terms of media, technology and culture. The trilogy has a straight forward set up Book l, micro spheres named Blasen (bubbles), book ll, macro spheres named Globen and book lll Plural Spherology named Schaum (Foam). That is the conceptual set up of the trilogy in which we must understand that the three levels of spheres cannot do without each other.
Spheres, or better Spherology is about people and space. It is, as Peter Sloterdijk (whom I shall refer to in this text as PS) calls it a ‘Chronolatery in Space’, a border-transcendent movement, say traffic, in which capital (value creation such as economical, social, democratic and cultural values) is generated. PS wrote “If you are in the world, you are always in a sphere”. And this is exactly the issue when trying to understand what and how new media is effecting our lives and consequently, the regulation of it. Regulation not necessarily means formal law-prescription and enforcement. It may also refer to functional operating systems in which people can participate and feel part of the group, protocol perhaps. Regulation in that sense can be regarded as a projection of security – belonging – and PS’s words lead us, as the projection of security, to the feeling of Immunity, as an individual but also as a group and even further, grander communities (cities, countries, the world). It is, as PS calls it, a creational attempt of the System, the sphere that holds groups together. Immunity systems (foam bubbles) can be regarded as a projection of security. Way back in time, the tribe was the sphere of immunity and togetherness was the metaphysical unity to guard us. Once Christian theology appeared, the human factor disappeared in favor of the appearance of God who now symbolized immunity through unity. Along with fascism and communism, religion is an attempt to create macro systems, in terms of Spherology called Globen (globes). In line with this logic, PS now coins capitalism as the most important macro sphere or Globe.
Apart from eruditely feeding the reader with a sheer endless list of coherent examples of his spherological realism, PS uses the metaphor of foam to illustrate the pluralism and varieties of communal behaviour when peoples live close to each other and the closer we live together, the more and the smaller the bubbles become; a multi-room society, from Globen; foam bubbles on a macro scale like countries or cities to the level of intimate tiny bubbles as representation of our smallest immunity, our room.
In all cases there are communities (clubs, schools, friends) that all form these bubbles and provide resilience thus offering possibilities of resistance to totalization of society. According to PS, this is positive human behavior. But, imperative signals from outside our modern intimate spheres influence us. They do so through media. Ideas, thoughts, whishes can all be misused in macro spheres and may, eventually trickle down to the micro spheres of our individual existence. This is for instance exactly what happens in advertising. On the other hand, there is dynamics in the foam and according to PS this is because we are non-conformists; we do not want to be as the whole, the group, community. We want to be unique. Yet in the strictest fashion of philosophy Sloterdijk states that, on the other hand again, we do imitate each other at the same time; an interesting behavior with the core that we conform not to conform, we show resistance to the community we (want to) belong to yet we are part of that community. PS calls this the romanticizing of the resistance. It is Kynism, the critique of cynical reasoning and most likely the distinctive characteristic of a system period. It is resistance to strange elements that want to inhibit our bubbles. That is why we must be fit in our immune system; a fit system will respond openly and properly, an immune system that is not fit will respond in a xenophobic sense. Fully in line with his metaphor, PS states that too much hygiene and security in a community – please allow yourself a good look at our contemporary state of the union – causes group-autism only to dissolve itself when getting in contact with fearful foes; the system (community) will turn against itself for as people cannot distinguish real threats from false, they cannot distinguish their own misfits. The mogul of the community will fight itself. Originally religious immune systems offered comfort to such an extent that even death was not a real threat (Heaven as the ultimate and ever-lasting Utopia).
But technology became religion’s opponent and more and more people de-slaved themselves from poverty. Perhaps PS uses this in advocacy of social constructivism; Technological Imaginary as an immune system against totalization of communities? In any case, because of technology the wanting, being able and execution are now closer related than ever. It makes us as mighty as God.
To conclude, let me quote Sloterdijk from the Dutch translation on page 598 (translation by me) as he attempts to relativize his self-alleged pomposity of thought and theory: “Let me not arouse false expectations. I would not dare assert that I have understood what the so-called spheres eventually mean. I doubt if I will work with such expressions in the future. It has not become fully clear to me what dyads or multipolar surrealistic spaces are, let alone be able to reproduce how peoples under their canopies, how city cultures behind their immunificating walls and how the liberal populations in their pampering greenhouses live. Anyway, historians are known for not being feeble with abstract ideas. In any case, I am convinced that these vague and grandiloquent theories, with the thoroughness in which I, to be honest, cannot believe to the full, one way or the other fall back on the [mentioned] phase construction I, after long but never disputed trial, hold for grounded”.
Personally I do believe that Sloterdijk’s philosophy of Plural Spherology bears elucidation and metaphor in understanding communities in their habitat and the role of technology and media. But then, I am not a historian.
My rating: ★★★★★ Very good and readable.
Book read: Peter Sloterdijk (2009) Sferen. Schuim. (Dutch translation) Boom Amsterdam. 693 pages, hard cover. Translated in Dutch by Hans Driessen. ISBN 978 90 8506 6750 / NUR 730. Original title: Sphären lll. Schäume – Plurale Sphärologie. Originally published at Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2004.