Monday, 27 October 2014

The omniscient intellectual pundit - Peter Sloterdijk as exemplar


Browsing through a book on the premier living German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, and then watching an online interview, I was struck by the pose of omniscience which is a characteristic of modern 'public intellectuals': they have something apparently complex and analytic to say on any socio-political topic that anybody cares to throw at them - the whole thing can be woven into some multi-coloured tapestry.

Sloterdijk, in particular, does this very well; with his shambolic-ex-Viking appearance, and slowly enunciated and sinuous sentences delivered with a twinkle of the eye and a pursing of the lips; as if to say "if this is the kind of thing you want, then here it is; and I can keep this up for as long as you care to listen..'

For much of my early adult life, there is nothing I would have liked better than to be a Sloterdijk-figure; essentially doing and writing pretty much as the spirit moved me, and my pronouncements tracked, reported and discussed in the 'serious' media; causing periodic 'scandals' but always somehow floating above them.

But, really, this kind of multi-valent faux-expertise cannot be good for the soul! Sloterdijk is a vast and wide-ranging consumer of the modern mass media, which he rapidly memorizes and swiftly reframes into arresting and shocking assemblages.

There is no possibility of assimilation - of deep processing - of meditative reflection, it is 99% second-hand reprocessed and unexperienced opinion, there is no over-arching 'project' or strategy, no moral, aesthetic or truth foundations - instead an endless, open-ended production of high-brow commentary and stimulation; ranging here and there and perhaps back again.

After not very long, it makes me hold me head in my hands, and start to beg for mercy. And Sloterdijk is the best of his kind, and far above the US or UK competition (if indeed there is any Anglosphere competition for this kind of thing... Chomsky, perhaps?).

But I wonder what goes on inside Sloterdijk's capacious cranium? Does he ever stop reading and pontificating and writing for long enough to take stock about his place in the nature of things; to reflect that he is merely whiling away his time and our time, in a pleasant and amusing fashion, until he dies and the rest of us die?

Does this, will this, ever seem like an urgent matter; something that requires not just attention, not just more theories and analogies - but an answer?