Sloterdijk, Honneth, and the politics of ‘provocation’

One of the theorists who is all the rage in spatial-theory-land at the moment, subject of a veritable ‘second coming’, is German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. Society and Space had a special issue on his work a year or so ago, and Stuart Elden has edited a collection of essays on his work which is forthcoming. It’s interesting to watch this process, in particular the finessing of Sloterdijk’s political interventions. Sloterdijk is a professional provocateur, and amongst the various ‘controversies’ he has triggered in the world of German letters revolves around a Ayn Rand-like assault on the welfare state in 2009. I’m a bit slow, so am only now catching up on this, because I’m trying to write something about Honneth. You can read a summary of Sloterdijk’s position in English here in Forbes magazine or here in City Journal, both resolutely proud free-market publications. You can read Axel Honneth’s substantive response to Sloterdijk in translation here. Apart from the obvious politics to this (see the commendation of Sloterdijk by the National Review) there is also a dispute about how to interpret the role of various emotional dynamics in political life – a central theme of Honneth’s reconstruction of critical theory, and a feature of Sloterdijk’s work too since his ‘first coming’, in his analysis of cynicism. Rage makes the world go round for Sloterdijk, whereas disrespect and dignity are key dynamics for Honneth. Might sound similar, but quite different really. I’m not inclined to get too excited about Sloterdijk’s spatial metaphysics, which is what does excite geographers and others who like all things ontological; I actually think the reactionary inflection he gives to an analytics of resentment is helpful in reminding us that simply asserting the importance of ‘the emotional’ or ‘affect’ in life has no necessary political meaning per se – everything depends on how this affirmation is worked through. The Sloterdijk/Honneth to-do is interesting for drawing out the significance of this issue, and also helps to clarify an issue at stake in suggestions that Honneth’s ethics of recognition has some affinities with the work of Rancière – an affinity rooted in a particular sort of commitment to avoid a scholastic disdain for ordinary people (the case is made by Jean-Philippe Deranty).

One thought on “Sloterdijk, Honneth, and the politics of ‘provocation’

  1. Pingback: Pop Theory on Sloterdijk | Progressive Geographies

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