Pop Theory on Sloterdijk

Clive Barnett at Pop Theory says a bit about Sloterdijk here. His suggestion that Sloterdijk is “all the rage in spatial-theory-land” at the moment seems a bit strong, given that his two references are to a journal issue I co-edited and a book I’ve edited. Actually I think he has been barely discussed by geographers, with the exception of Nigel Thrift, and Nigel and I are the only two people in geography departments who feature in the journal issue or book. As monolingual as most geographers seem to be, that isn’t going to change until Spheres is translated, if then.

Actually, one of the purposes of the journal issue and the book was to have the spatial angle on Sloterdijk at the forefront of his Anglophone reception, albeit a second-wave reception after the late 1980s one that fizzled out. I wanted it to be different with him, despite the many problems I have with his politics. Usually the geography model is to take a thinker who has been translated, introduced, appropriated and discussed by other disciplines… and then discover the spatial aspects. It happened with Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, Agamben, Badiou, etc. Some of the early Geography appropriations are good; some are pretty shoddy. What would change if Geography was at the forefront, actually doing some of the intellectual labour – the translations, the introductions, beginning or being at the forefront on the appropriation, etc. That was at least some of my thinking. We shall see what impact the edited Sloterdijk Now book has in and beyond Geography when it comes out.

What I can say is that two of the chapters do discuss the Honneth/Sloterdijk dispute in detail – one as a sociology of knowledge type piece on his role as a public intellectual (by political theorist Jean-Pierre Couture) and one as part of a broader argument about his stylistic strategies (by the translator and composer Wieland Hoban).

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2 Responses to Pop Theory on Sloterdijk

  1. christian abrahamsson says:

    I am wondering if the two posts on the disciplinary history and on the appropriation of thinkers mustn’t be read in conjunction? I am always fascinated by the fact that at every conference there is always a “new” continental philosopher that has been “discovered” – and I know that this wasn’t the objective with the Sloterdijk projects. And now the key words seem to be spheres and Sloterdijk. This state of affairs is often times highly problematic as there are, at least, two translations taking place. One from philosophy proper which is often acknowledged but then there is the translation from German, Italian, French that goes unacknowledged as almost all appropriation into Geography is dependent on translations into English. This is, of course, another aspect where the Sloterdijk projects differ as the authors can read the original German.

    Sometimes at Geography conferences I am reminded of Don de Lillo’s White Noise and Jack Gladney – the professor of Hitler studies who doesn’t speak or read German.

    On another note I think that there is a strong irony at work in the various receptions of some of the thinkers you mentioned. I am thinking specifically of their reading practices which are often times highly idiosyncratic, blending sources that are relegated to the darkest corners of the history of ideas with the canon. This seldom happens in Geography. In fact isn’t a Deleuze or a Benjamin utterly domesticated by now? Where is the risk in writing another paper or a book on either of them? Unless one could read them against the grain. Which is of course something that would demand something quite different than exegesis. What would for example happen if one were to read Deleuze or Benjamin against an Adam Müller, Oscar Peschel, Alexander von Humboldt, Elisee Reclus or Friedrich Ratzel? Instead of against yet another von Uexküll – who was probably aware of the aforementioned geographers – or Bergson.

    Finally, if we take someone like von Uexküll as perfect example of the need to take Reinhart Koselleck seriously when he emphasis the necessity to study the historical and contingent formation of concepts in their particular contexts. To provoke, is it possible to disregard von Uexküll’s staatsbiologie or his affinity with Houston Stewart Chamberlain when we evaluate his ethology? Does the concept of affect come down to us untainted and ready-to-wear? Or is it necessary to do the – often slow – labour of translation?

    I think that the geographers you mention are extraordinarily good at doing this kind of work. I would also mention the work of someone like Mark Bassin.

    • stuartelden says:

      Thanks for this. Lots to agree with here, especially the praise for Mark Bassin and the worry about appropriations of von Uexküll. Your point about translation between disciplines/within languages, as much as between languages is also helpful.

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