SLOTERDIJK AND MORE

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Fri Apr 14 19:56:40 MDT 1995


Mr. Burford, I hope you live long enough to equal my capacity to
communicate ideas to ordinary people.  Breaking down abstract
ideas so that the average person can understand them is my
specialty.  Sometimes it is more enjoyable and more productive
discussing them with people totally outside the social orbit of
the intelligentsia because such people are often more open to
input and don't have to filter it through layers and layers of
artificially built up intellectual crap.  Let me give you one
example that is scarcely more than one hour old.

Given the recent stimulus of the Sloterdijk discussion, and
needing something to read at my local, I brought my virgin copy of
Sloterdijk's THINKER ON STAGE: NIETZSCHE'S MATERIALISM with me.  I
started reading it while sitting on my stool, and the first few
pages are simply excellent.  Now I remember what made Nietzsche so
brilliant in spite of my dislike of the reactionary disposition of
some of his work.  But this is just a digression.

A conversation got started around certain films, and it
accelerated to the point of discussing the state of American
culture and the media in general, and various genres such as
mystery/detective stories.  The person I ended up talking to at
length was a black woman I often see and just say hi to, maybe
about 50 years old, probably not unsophisticated and uneducated
but also not an "intellectual".  She doesn't spend her time
reading or thinking about deep stuff, but like most people of her
generation, is out of step with the younger generation and what's
going on these days.  Anyway, I kept upping the ante in terms of
philosophically generalizing the stuff we were talking about until
I ended up explaining to her without the names and references and
big words the essence of Sloterdijk's notion of the cultural
mindset of cynical reason.  She understood very clearly, agreed
with me completely, and was very intrigued with finding something
she had sensed going on around her for a long time brought to the
level of a concept where she could examine the whole situation so
delineated and brought into relief in her mind.  She was also
fascinated by my explanation of how serious writers relate to
their past social experience and the situation their work puts
them in.  This, my friend, is how ordinary people learn the power
of ideas and gain confidence in their own capacity to think.

Another digression on THE CRITIQUE OF CYNICAL REASON.  I don't
know from borscht about contemporary Germany.  If Sloterdijk gets
pompous or pretentious or regurgitates his acquired cultural
capital ad and post nauseam, I don't care.  The application of his
general notions to American experience is what interests me and my
friends who similiarly don't know and wouldn't be caught dead in
Germany.  Sloterdijk is a man of high intellectual capacity and at
least he is readable enough so that one can learn something from
him and then apply it to a different setting and a different set
of cultural reference points.  These crazy Europeans excel in
theory even though I wouldn't be caught dead in their cultures;
and their theories, the good ones anyway, come to life when
combined with the American experience.  The only reason I would
even be interested in existentialism is because of Richard Wright
and C.L.R. James.

There is an issue here that is much more profound than the
pretenses of those shopping around for social causes and then
acting superior to others who don't share in the luxuries of their
class position.  That is the issue of what the division of labor
has done to people in a divided society, both to people who toil
and people who think.  (Sloterdijk brings it up in his discussion
of Nietzsche, too.)  This is my issue.  This was Marx's issue from
his doctoral dissertation up through _The German Ideology_.
Whenever I tell this story my way to the average person on the
street, it is always understood.

The educator must himself become educated.


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