Where to start with reading Peter Sloterdijk?

sloterdijkWhere should you start with reading Peter Sloterdijk? I have previously done this with Henri Lefebvre, and Chathan Vemuri asked me the same question for Sloterdijk. This is my attempt at answering this, largely in relation to works already in translation – comments or additions welcome.

What is interesting is that in quite a short period of time, Sloterdijk has gone from very little being translated to almost everything either in print or under contract. Yet he can be a frustrating read, especially in his short works, and it is not always clear how books work in relation to each other.

image_miniHis two first works (aside from a book he seems to have largely disowned) were Critique of Cynical Reason and Thinker on Stage: Nietzsche’s Materialism. Both were translated into English fairly quickly, but then none of his books were translated for almost two decades, even though he was publishing furiously in German and translations into other languages were being made regularly. The Critique is certainly worth a look still (and has just been reissued by Verso), in part because it anticipates so many themes of his later work; and Nietzsche remains a continual influence even on his later work – his little book Nietzsche Apostle was translated in 2013.

Sloterdijk-YouMustChangeYourLife3Of his more recent major works, I’d suggest beginning with either You Must Change Your Life or In the World Interior of Capital, depending on whether you are most interested in philosophy of the self or philosophy of the world.

0745647685The latter develops ideas in his monumental Spheres trilogy of books – Bubbles, Globes, Foams. All volumes are now available in English translation from Semiotext(e), distributed by MIT Press. Parts of the analysis also appeared in the short book Terror from the Air, and two excerpts in Society and Space. You can hear me discussing the work here – a presentation at the 2013 AAG meeting. 

You Must Change Your Life develops some of the ideas of his controversial ‘Rules for the Human Zoo’ piece, which appeared as a short book in German and French, but was published in article form in Society and Space in 2009. It is also included in Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger.

There are lots of shorter books out there as well now – as well as the previously mentioned books on Nietzsche, there are ones on Derrida; the clash of monotheisms in God’s Zeal; The Art of Philosophy; Theory of the Post-War Periods; and Philosophical TemperamentsStress and Freedom and In the Shadow of Mount Sinai. Somewhere in between the very long and very short books is Rage and Time which retells the history of Western thought from the perspective of this emotion or affect – the German title Zorn und Zeit is a parody of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit.

Sloterdijk’s major work on Heidegger was translated as Not Saved: Essays after Heidegger in 2016; and The Aesthetic Imperative: Writings on Art in 2017. What Happened in the Twentieth Century? Towards a Critique of Extremist Reason was translated in 2018 and Infinite Mobilization (a translation of Eurotaoismus) and After God (a compilation of mainly previously published texts) in 2020. All these recent translations are with Polity. I think all his books in German are published by Suhrkamp.

9781584350910A good place to get an overview of his wide interests is one of his books of interviews – Neither Sun nor Death or Selected Exaggerations: Conversations and Interviews 1993 – 2012. There are lots of short pieces available too – some individual articles and some excerpts from books. Sean Sturm has an excellent listing of these on his blog Te Ipu Pakore: The Broken Vessel (last updated in 2013). Of those short pieces, Sloterdijk’s polemical piece ‘The Grasping Hand‘ is worth a look to see his reactionary politics (and see also the pieces that it triggered from, among others, Axel Honneth).

It is worth paying tribute to Sloterdijk’s translators – Michael Eldred, Steve Corcoran, Mario Wenning, Sandra Berjan, Ian Alexander Moore, Christopher Turner, Karen Margolis, and, above all, Wieland Hoban. Hoban has translated many of the long books mentioned above, including all three volumes of Spheres, You Must Change Your Life and In the World Interior of Capital. This is substantial, very important and often unappreciated work.

0745651356In terms of secondary literature, this is developing quickly. In 2009 Society and Space did a theme issue on his work, including the above-mentioned translations and contributions by Eduardo Mendieta, Nigel Thrift, Marie-Eve Morin, René ten Bos, Sjoerd van Tuinen, Luis Castro Nogueira, Jean-Pierre Couture, Francisco R Klauser, Miguel de Beistegui, and Keith Ansell-Pearson. At the time there was relatively little work on him in English – things have changed a lot since. You can read the introduction by Eduardo and me open access here. There was also an earlier theme issue of Cultural Politics on his work.

My edited collection Sloterdijk Now includes pieces by Babette Babich, Sjoerd van Tuinen, Eduardo Mendieta, Marie-Eve Morin, Efrain Kristol, Wieland Hoban, Nigel Thrift, Jean-Pierre Couture, and Sloterdijk himself (that piece is now reprinted in Not Saved).

Another collection – In Medias Res: Peter Sloterdijk’s Spherological Poetics of Being – is available open access from Amsterdam University Press. It is edited by Willem Schinkel & Liesbeth Noordegraaf-Eelens, and includes pieces by the editors, van Tuinen, Christian Borch, Bruno Latour and an interview with Sloterdijk, among others. Van Tuinen has published an excellent introduction in German – Peter Sloterdijk: Ein Profil (open access).  Jean-Pierre Couture published the first English-language monograph on Sloterdijk in 2015. There are lots of articles and reviews out there, of course – many of which I’ve linked to on this site.

Last updated 30 April 2020

17 Responses to Where to start with reading Peter Sloterdijk?

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  3. M Stephens says:

    Great to see this collection of pieces on Sloterdijk in English. I mostly agree with the overview, though would place a little more emphasis on CoCR as a space where the ascetics of ‘You Must Change Your Life’ meet the spatial theory of ‘In the World Interior’. Anyhow, thanks for your work on this – it’s much appreciated.

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  10. Thomas Bürk says:

    I never understood your positive reception of P. Sloterdijks work. In german academia and critical debate Sloterdijk is not only since his “Menschenpark” texts clearly on the side of the new rightwing political formation.

    • stuartelden says:

      Of course, I am aware of this. But Spheres, in particular, is an important work. I don’t think his own politics takes away from that importance. I discuss his work, and my not uncritical take on it, in the introduction to Sloterdijk Now.

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