In Search of Lost Cheekiness - Peter Sloterdijk’s 'Critique of Cynical Reason'
July 3, 2005 12:01 AM   Subscribe

The Zeitgeist has left its mark on us, and whoever wants to decipher it is faced with the task of working on the psychosomatics of Cynicism. This is what an integrating philosophy demands of itself. It is called integrating because it does not let itself be seduced by the attraction of the ‘great problems’, but instead initially finds its themes in the trivial, in everyday life, in the so-called unimportant, in those things that otherwise are not worth speaking about, in petty details. Whoever wants to can, in such a perspective, already recognise the kynical impulse for which the ‘low-brow themes’ are not too low.
In Search of Lost Cheekiness, An Introduction to Peter Sloterdijk’s 'Critique of Cynical Reason'
Peter Sloterdijk; A Psychonaut In Outer Space
--both from my man's, can you dig it, daddy-o ?
Spheres III - Foams
Get down on the recent tip in Damned to Expertocracy
posted by y2karl (12 comments total)
Granted, I just scanned, but it seems that Sloterdijk's philosophy says that "the pie in the face" of a politician is the appropriate "kynical" response.

The reviews of his work are somewhat wooden and plodding, and I wanted to read the man's own words, which are available in the "Expertocracy" article. He does sum up the world's present state fairly well--although I am not sure what a "sentiment dicatatorial" form of govenrment is. If he means that the administration (any administration, I'm not just picking on the current slate) can manipulate the public through appeals to the sentiment or emottion, then he has a valid point.

But his solution, a Hartz IV combined unemployment/social welfare scheme, while surely humane, has no chance in any of the capital schemes of governance he sees the future holding.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:45 AM on July 3, 2005

Hmmm. It's too early on a Sunday for that, but I'll definitely come back to it. I like a bit of overly-wordy musing, sometimes. However, I did skim the piece and I have to say I don't like his definition of cynicism at all. It seems too much like a statement of opinion, not a logically argued analysis. And if I want one of those I'd much rather go with Ambrose Bierce:

Cynic: a blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.
posted by Decani at 5:47 AM on July 3, 2005

Real cynics are brief.
posted by Termite at 6:35 AM on July 3, 2005

OK, it's Sunday as Decani says but I've had a couple cuppas and I'll take a shot. I am not a cynic and will not be brief.

The "cynicism" this fellow wants to reject is a bit different from what I recall of my greek.phil.201 notecards on Diogenes and The Other Zeno, and his response strikes me as conditioned by and addressing a distinctly European strain of pop-cynical tiredness. Rimbaud: Action is not life but a way of spoiling something. The tale Sloterdijk tells with such approbation of the chick interrupting Adorno's dignified address and train of thought by waving her boobs is, you might say, a tale of Action in the flesh, and a direct rejection of Rimbaud's contra-action langour (though it does spoil something, namely Adorno's speech.)

In kynismos a kind of argumentation was discovered that, to the present day, respectable thinking does not know how to deal with. Is not crude and grotesque to pick one’s nose while Socrates exorcises his demon and speaks of the divine soul? Can it be called anything other than vulgar when Diogenes lets a fart fly against the Platonic theory of ideas - or is fartiness itself one of the ideas God discharged from his meditation on the genesis of the cosmos? And what is it supposed to mean when this philosophising town bum answers Plato’s subtle theory of Eros by masturbating in public?

One recognizes "cheekiness." It's throwing dead cats--or that at least is its most common, because easiest, manifestation.

There is a continuum from Western-style Humanist Enlightenment philosophy (primarily, noticing [or actually rediscovering from the Greeks] that all propositions, including Revealed ones and ones hallowed by tradition, may be argued and analyzed) through Skepticism (choosing actually to submit one's own beliefs to probing and critique) to Cynicism (failing, in sceptical critique, to locate any particular truth claim that completely withstands scrutiny, and inferring from that failure that all truth claims would similarly fail) to, at last, Nihilism (as the Wikipedia has it, "...a complete rejection of all systems of authority, morality, and social custom...." as lacking any rational justification.) But there is also a cheekiness continuum, with Nihilism, dead cats and shitting machines only at one end of it. The other end of the spectrum of these "deeds that end discussion," almost entirely ignored nowadays by so many (as I claim, distinctively European--also, as it happens, distinctively metafiltrian) victims of spiritual ennui, is well represented by Jesus' "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow" and Buddha's silently holding up a flower before his hearers.

One notes that silently holding up an old boot or a dead cat would have made exactly the same point, but that, pointedly, each of these rather-more-enlightened-than-you-or-me teachers chose the flower and not the dead cat. The reason why is left as an exercise for the student, with the following hints, displaying the two ends of the (authenticity, if you will) continuum where one might choose to live:

A weariness, outworn by civil hopes, still clings
To the last farewell handkerchief's last beckonings
- Mallarme

The sound of someone
Blowing his nose with his hand;
The scent of the plum flowers!
- Basho

posted by jfuller at 8:17 AM on July 3, 2005

Just to whip out the dictionary definition:

1. A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.
3. Cynic A member of a sect of ancient Greek philosophers who believed virtue to be the only good and self-control to be the only means of achieving virtue.

To me, a cynic is like someone who would dive into a flood and start drowning, in order to prove it was there and was a problem. Limitations, troubles and uncertainty in life need to be regarded and understood, but engaging with them too viscerally can lock one into negativity and, ultimately, cowardice. 'Cynicism', as I most commonly see it manifested, has a chilling effect on the joyous and progressive.
posted by Drexen at 8:27 AM on July 3, 2005

Concerning Herr Doctor Sloterdijk, Stefan Lorenz Sorgner sagt (in the first link):

His fame in German philosophical circles is only being matched by Habermas, Marquard, and Gadamer.

And in that moment I realized how little I knew about famous contemporary German philosophers. . .

Karl, you are a polymath of the first order. . . . I say this with all due cynicism, naturlich.
posted by rdone at 8:41 AM on July 3, 2005

a polymath of the first order. . . .

On the face of it here, that would be jfuller.
posted by y2karl at 10:44 AM on July 3, 2005

By now it should be obvious: cynicism is a complex mood, depending upon who's being cynical and why. Sloterdijk identifies satire as one of the healthier moments of cynicism, where it becomes impudent, cheeky, rebellious in the face of the status quo. He calls this "kynicism." He conjures up the ancient, laughing figure of Diogenes—the human dog, the good-for-nothing—pissing against the idealist wind of Plato and his Republic. Those who have ears to hear this laughter will recognize in it that strain of vitality and incorruptability that are the hallmarks of resistance to master cynicism, to its grandiose plans which postpone the good life to the indefinite future, while justifying horrible means for dubious ends.

Wherever cynicism takes the kynical form of the satirical, sensual Diogenes, affirming an authentic life in the teeth of deferred life, it represents a grain of truth buried in the belly of the world-weary, worldly-wise cynic—and a critical opportunity for the propaganda analyst. For while propaganda is the handmaiden of cynicism, and cynicism a prerequisite for propaganda, satire and resistance are the sisters of kynicism. Here, the reflexive cynic is the figure most susceptible to kynicism because one's accommodation is the source for, one's melancholy, one's lack of self-esteem. Offer one an alternative and one may grab hold of it. In this context, propaganda analysis is a physic for the average cynic; the analysis of the forms of cynicism a critical task for any propaganda analyst.

That said, Sloterdijk proposes something beyond critique as a cure for what ails the cynic. It's true, he offers a brilliant, imaginative critical portrayal of the cardinal cynicisms at work in our culture, in philosophy, government, religion, in sex, medicine and the military, in its high-brow literature and its middle-brow ads. In his analysis of the Weimar period as the era of cynicism par excellence, a decade is characterized "whose first descendant was fascism and whose second descendant is us." But even the most diehard philsophical cynics may take heart. Buried in his gloomy text, whispered between the pages, there's respite from the dialectical gauntlet of cynicism vs kynicism. He finds exit from that maze in the repudiation of deferred life and in a mystic affirmation of a sacred present. Those who have ears to hear will hear.


The Wages of Cynicism
posted by y2karl at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2005

Thanks - I'll stick with this. ((Mis)directed from "Deleuze & Guattari on the Web").

BTW Sloterdijk's comments on the recent referendums in Europe are banal and cloddish. For someone who claims that small details are of the essence, he is surprisingly apt to make Large Claims about Large Abstractions. The Nouvelle Observateur would love him, and I expect to hear that he has been interviewed by Jean Daniel any time now. Probably alongside B-H Levy.
posted by TimothyMason at 12:33 PM on July 3, 2005

Oops - Nouvel Observateur
posted by TimothyMason at 12:34 PM on July 3, 2005

y2karl, why do all your FPPs have to be about Iraq?

*throws flower, dead cat into middle of room, runs off*
posted by wendell at 12:42 PM on July 3, 2005

Great post, karl. Thanks!
posted by homunculus at 12:56 PM on July 3, 2005

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