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* Book: Spheres. Peter Sloterdijk. 3 vols. Semiotext(e). 2014


Bubbles: Spheres Volume I: Microspherology, translation by Wieland Hoban, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2011. ISBN 1-58435-104-7 Globes: Spheres Volume II: Macrospherology, translation by Wieland Hoban, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2014. ISBN 1-58435-160-8 Foams: Spheres Volume III: Plural Spherology,


Excerpted from Pieter Lemmens:

"THE GERMAN PHILOSOPHER Peter Sloterdijk is the author of Spheres, a trilogy comprised of Bubbles, Globes, and Foams. Spheres is a thoroughly original redescription of human history. At 2,573 pages, it contains a complete account of Sloterdijk’s sphero-immunological thoughts.

Foams is written in three long chapters, each divided into long subchapters, each of which are comprised of many long subsections. The introduction describes the current situation of the human race. It, too, is very long. A somewhat shorter transitional section describes the social and political aspects of human existence. The book concludes with a staged conversation among an historian, a literary critic, and a theologian, who together reflect on the meaning and importance of Spheres.

SLOTERDIJK HAS ATTEMPTED to rewrite the history of the human race using the notion of a sphere. It is a concept that encompasses topological, anthropological, psychological, political, social, immunological, and semiological aspects. Human beings always live within mostly self-created and self-maintained interiors. These are Sloterdijk’s spheres, and they range from the protective zone of the family and home, to the peer group, the apartment, the village, the city, the car, the school, or the nation.

Spheres thus come in all sizes. There are microspheres and macrospheres. Bubbles was devoted to microspheres, and, to a large extent, dealt with the prenatal state. This is the ur-Situation, as Sloterdijk calls it, from which every human being takes its departure, and that remains important throughout life. It functions as a model for all subsequent spheres in life, each of which is interpreted by Sloterdijk as an external recreation of the womb. Given their nourishing and protective nature, he designates these microspheres as immune systems; the same is true for macrospheres.

Because these spheres are shaped by the intimate relation between the child and the placenta in the womb, Sloterdijk stresses that their basic structure is dyadic. Collective immunity is more profound than individual immunity.1 This intimate relationship is the source of social solidarity. This sense of solidarity, currently so lacking in our individualized societies, can only be recovered by recapturing the primary experience of intimate closeness.2 Human coexistence always involves sharing “the same sphere of openness,” what Martin Heiddeger called Offenbarkeit; every human being “brings the sphere of [a] possible neighborhood with [him].”3 Coexistence precedes existence.

Populated spheres take shape wherever there is human life. A sphere can be defined as a shared, intimate, and disclosed inner space, one that human beings inhabit and on which their existence is vitally dependent. This may be the key to Sloterdijk’s conception of anthropology: human life is as much a matter of its various envelopes as anything else.4 Pace Heidegger, we are never thrown naked into the world.

In Globes, Sloterdijk considers the various macrospheres, from skyscrapers and apartment blocks to villages, cities, nation states, and religious systems, that human beings collectively inhabit during the course of their lives. The macrospheres serve materially, affectively, and symbolically to transfer the inner world onto the outside world, which in this way acquires a “soul.” This spheropoietic drive lies at the basis of human culture. Human history, writes Sloterdijk, is an account of humanity’s spheric enclosures, or the creation, destruction, and regeneration of its inner spaces. Starting from the domestic situation of the family, human beings have continually expanded their planetary reach; the expansion has now lost itself in “uninhabitable boundless space.”5 This moment becomes very important in the post-metaphysical, for Sloterdijk post-monospherical, world of ours that is the subject of Foams.

Both microspheres and macrospheres are spaces that grow through the selective incorporation and assimilation of what lies beyond their boundary, a process best described by the French verb engloutir. On Sloterdijk’s view, the history of metaphysics is a progressive building of worldviews as immune systems. Over time, smaller local cultures are integrated into the all-encompassing whole, what the Greeks called the cosmos. Western philosophy has always explained mankind with respect to its position and immersion in a greater whole. This whole, whether conceived as God, the cosmos, the world, or simply as Being, had a concentric-spherical structure, often laid out in some detail as an object of contemplation or admiration, and as a protective structure in which the individual soul could find guidance and, ultimately, safety. Existence, Sloterdijk writes, “is characterized by immersion in a final element;”6 what human beings are is to a large extent determined by where they are.

This is the motto of Sloterdijk’s anthropology: “Tell me what you are immersed in, and I will tell you what you are. [emphasis original]”7 As for the analogy between micro- and macrospheres, if fetus and placenta form the first pair, then God and the soul, or the cosmos and the individual intellect, form the last.

Globes thus describes the history of religious and metaphysical thought as an attempt to “animate” the universe by describing it as an immune system, one modeled ultimately on existence in the womb. In the modern period, the universe was discovered to be infinite. The consequence was that describing the universe as an immune system unites in one design two things that exclude one another: a closed and finite immunological system, and an open and infinite universe. The universe had always been considered the ultimate source of immunity, and this is one part of the design. But immunity is a property of finite systems. The infinite universe, however, is remarkably indifferent to the individual.9 And this is the second part of the design. From a modernist perspective, the conclusion is inevitable. The attempt to animate the universe was doomed from the start.10 This conflict between immunity and infinity has left humanity in an absolute outside, the place beyond the last subway station. The world has become “a door to a thousand deserts silent and cold.” Metaphysical and religious systems have been steadily eroded over the last two centuries—like Jean-François Lyotard’s grand narratives. It is this somber thought that forms the backdrop to Foams."