Ralph Dumain rdumain at
Fri Apr 14 02:14:48 MDT 1995

Reply re: _Critique of Cynical Reason_ by Peter Sloterdijk

Let me begin with a juxtaposition of the following two statements
in the reverse order from which they were presented:

>_Critique_ seems so much a product of a moment in German
>intellectual history (post-60s disillusionment) that, while it
>might aid understanding the "brave new Europe" I don't see it as
>very productive (certainly not very "philosophical") elsewhere.

>I had thought that Ralph's bullshit detector was much more
>finely tuned than mine.)

I find myself embarrassed at the possibility that my bullshit
detector was on the fritz, but perhaps I, as well as all my
friends who are also outside the field of specialization
concerned, found the premise behind this book inspiring for the
following reasons and despite your claims above:

1.  We don't know beans about recent German intellectual history
and we don't care either, so whether this moment in post-60's
German history is passe, we don't give a shit either way.

2.  We are Americans and don't know or care diddly about what goes
on in Europe, brave, new or otherwise, and we found this book most
applicable to the cultural condition of the USA today, even though
its subject matter and historical experience lie elsewhere.  In
fact, we look forward to applying its ideas to American
conditions, which is a vital task, and hence we find its ideas
very productive _especially_ outside the European context.

3.  We normally wouldn't be caught dead reading anything published
in the Theory and History of Literature series of the University
of Minnesota Press, but we made an exception this time, because
somehow this fundamentally anti-postmodern book slipped through
the cracks of the editorial cretins who mistook it for a
postmodernist text, and we learned that readers who normally
function _outside_ this academic coterie were most intrigued by
the brilliant and fecund notion of cynical reason.

4.  The book is not about the disillusionment of radicals; it is
about the prevalent cognitive mode of cynical reason as a state of
society, which is "enlightened false consciousness", meaning:
people aren't innocent, uninformed babes-in-the-woods that they
once were; all the dirt and corruption is out in the open for all
to see; people have every opportunity not to be fooled, and some
think they see through everything and aren't taken in by anything
and don't believe in anything; yet somehow they manage to continue
fooling themselves, being taken in, and aiding and abetting the
filth that is going on around them.  Germany I don't know, but
this _is_ the USA.  How is such a state of being possible and how
does it function?  This is the philosophical question of our time,
the only one.

5.  The book makes salient historical and contemporary
observations and comparisons.  For example, the Weimar Republic is
treated as the first cynical society.  Not only is this important,
but the analogies between Weimar on the brink of fascism and USA
1995 are painfully striking.  I was also gratified by some passing
critical comments on the punk movement, which I abhorred as I
abhor the "culture" of hiphop today: punk is seen as compromised
and permeated by the very ethos it is protesting and striking out
against in anger.  In my terms, it participates in the very same
assumptions of the culture of fascism that it protests.  I would
say that these ideas need to be applied to what is happening in
the USA.  The right-wingers already understand what is at stake,
because _they_ are the ones publishing books with titles like _The
Culture of Cynicism_.  Where is the left on this?  Finger up its

6. Given the culture of cynical reason, what are the prospects for
enlightenment today?  (Notice I did not capitalize the word.)
Traditionally enlightenment meant the exposure of mystification in
the service of truth, meaning that truth was something to be had
and that clear and rational understanding of it would move people
to improve their condition.  But this project encounters unforseen
difficulties in the age of cynical reason.  For those of us who
reject the mode of cynical reason -- call it postmodernism -- we
are very interested in figuring out how to advance the cause of

7.  The book explores modes, varieties, and purposes of cynical or
kynical reasoning throughout western history, contrasting the
productive and emancipatory ones from the kind I have been
describing.  The history and emancipatory and enlightening
possibilities of the kynical mode are delineated.  I should add,
however, that in spite of Sloterdijk's typically European focus,
one can find the same phenomena elsewhere.  The equivalents of
Diogenes, for example, can be found in certain representatives of
the classical Chinese philosophical and poetic tradition.

I'm sure I have forgotten something, but hopefully you can already
see how blind you were in missing the productive and philosophical
content of the ideas in this book.  You think you're too hip to be
taken in?  How sad for you.

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