UPDATE: Not enough Sloterdijk for you, go here.
A new book from Sloterdijk just came out, it’s called Du musst dein Leben ändern, quite a title. Apparently the title comes from Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo. Here’s a short review (with a rough translation) from Deutsche Welt:
Dass wir im Zeitalter der globalen Krise leben, dämmert mittlerweile jedem. Jetzt hat der Philosoph Peter Sloterdijk das Buch mit dem Rat zur Krise geschrieben: Wenn Du die Welt nicht ändern kannst, ändere Dich selbst.
Der Titel ist Programm: “Du musst dein Leben ändern” behandelt auf gut 700 Seiten Variationen dieses Aufrufs, der sich zugegebenermaßen liest, wie ein Griff in die Trickkiste der Ratgeberliteratur. Das scheint auch der Grund zu sein, weshalb dieses anspruchsvolle Buch auf die Bestseller-Listen gekommen ist. Doch wenn man Sloterdijk vor etwas in Schutz nehmen muss, dann vor solcherlei Vorwürfen. “Du musst dein Leben ändern” ist ein Parforceritt durch die Geistesgeschichte des Morgen- und des Abendlandes.
Ändere nicht die Welt, sondern dich – wem da ein vom Kopf auf die Füße gestellter Marx in den Sinn kommt, der liegt nicht falsch: “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt darauf an, sie zu verändern”, heißt es in der berühmten elften Feuerbachthese von Marx. Doch dieser Weg ist nach Ansicht Sloterdijks gescheitert. Sei es die französische oder die russische Revolution – statt Weltverbesserung brachte die gelenkte Moderne oft nur Repression und unermessliches Leid.
The rest of the review is here.
Apparently the book is already in the process of being translated into English. Here’s a short translation (by yours truly – any improvements are welcome, of course) of the review cited above:
That we live in the time of the global crisis is already obvious to everyone. Now the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has written a book with a simple advice vis-a-vis this crisis: If you cannot change the world, you can change yourself.
The title of the book already announces its basic premise: You Must Change Your Life stands at about 700 pages that contain numerous variations of this very advice, pages that admittedly could be read as full of stock phrases that are often found in self-help manuals. This also seems to be the reason why this book is currently on the bestseller list. However, in defense of Sloterdijk, we may note that You Must Change Your Life is a tour de force of intellectual history of East and West.
Change not the world but yourself – if one immediately thinks of Marx’s famous pronouncement from the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach – “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it” – one is not wrong as Sloterdijk’s point is that Marx’s approach has not worked. Neither French nor Russian revolution brought us a better world, but only repression and immeasurable suffering.
The Voice of Antiquity.
If we are talking about changing the outside world, then it’s never a bad idea to take a look back and examine the past. Sloterdijk’s search for answers in the ancient world leads him to Greek philosophers although he is equally as willing to listen to Indian gurus, Kafka’s “fasting artist” as well as football coaches.
You Must Change Your Life is a call, a call that comes to modernity from a distant past. It was first identified and later reworked in Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” – a headless and limbless torso of the god from Louvre, a torso that despite its mutilation still possessed authority, carried “a message that appealed only to itself,” or as Sloterdijk laconically states, had “intensity that challenged the standards of perfection.”
Upword and Onward.
You Must Change Your Life is thus an “absolute imperative” – more absolute/totalitarian than Kantian categorical imperative, and is found at the very core of all religious thought and action. He who wants to change himself, must work on himself. Sloterdijk prefers a somewhat old-fashioned notion of “practice/discipline” because it speaks not of a simple change of products but of a transformation of self. And so Sloterdijk sets off in search of these practitioners and finds them in all walks of life, inside convent walls on beds of nails, but also increasingly today among professional athletes. He calls this human urge to outgrown oneself, to leave the basecamp and to reach the top of the mountain “vertical tension.”
Sloterdijk’s principal witnesses in his case are Nietzsche and Foucault. Nietzsche fits perfectly with the model of “vertical tension” since in Zarathustra he describes humans as being on the rope between animals and overman. Foucault, for Sloterdijk, reveals and works out the connection between the notions of practice, discipline and human development. With Foucault in mind then we read that “it is impossible to change humans without also training them.”
The Crisis Speaks.
But why should I change? Who ultimately has the right or the authority to order me to change? This is, for Sloterdijk, the crisis itself: economic, cultural, moral and ecological crisis. If bankers in their unbridled greed can steal billions, if a vast number of people think of cable television as “culture” and of hamburgers as “pleasure,” if we are destroying the very foundation of our life on this planet, then we must utlimately seriously question ourselves about these matters. Sloterdijk wants us to “adopt daily practices/disciplines of good habits of our communal survival.”
The book ends here and we are left all alone. Sloterdijk does not give us any divine instruction or provides us with an all-encompassing earthly utopia that tells us what is right and what is wrong. Of course, 200 years of Enlightenment and “critique of ideology” have left their traces, but we are not presented with a solution, although for many such solution can be within their reach, were they, of course, to get off the couch.