Rage and Time Review

4 Jan

Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the house of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, that made their bodies carrion, feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamenemnon, lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

So, this is where western history begins, on the plains of Ilium. And, it still goes on, according to Peter Sloterdijk in Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation (Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture). After taking a lazy turn into Freudian desire, Being (in Heidegger’s sense) is recovering itself. It’s an ambitious project, to recover human history in terms of psychological rage, thymos. On the way, Sloterdijk pays tribute to Francis Fukuyama in the “End of History and the Last Man“, and offers an equally sweeping perspective on human history.

(Note: It’s easy to ridicule Sloterdijk’s diction, from the perspective of English dons, like Russell. I’ll admit the snark is well-deserved when the translations are bad. I suffered through Heidegger in college – and, yes, I did read all of Being and Time. But, the effort spent understanding how to write from a broader perspective than one’s ego is well-paid. In this book, that is certainly true.)

While ancient civilizations worshipped strong, active emotions, modern societies have favored more peaceful attitudes, especially within the democratic process. We have largely forgotten the struggle to make use of thymos, the part of the soul that, following Plato, contains spirit, pride, and indignation. Rather, Christianity and psychoanalysis have promoted mutual understanding to overcome conflict. Through unique examples, Peter Sloterdijk, the preeminent posthumanist, argues exactly the opposite, showing how the history of Western civilization can be read as a suppression and return of rage. By way of reinterpreting the Iliad, Alexandre Dumas’s Count of Monte Cristo, and recent Islamic political riots in Paris, Sloterdijk proves the fallacy that rage is an emotion capable of control. Global terrorism and economic frustrations have rendered strong emotions visibly resurgent, and the consequences of violent outbursts will determine international relations for decades to come. To better respond to rage and its complexity, Sloterdijk daringly breaks with entrenched dogma and contructs a new theory for confronting conflict. His approach acknowledges and respects the proper place of rage and channels it into productive political struggle.

There’s also this review worth reading.

For Sloterdijk, what we can hope for, now that capitalism has vanquished everything, is a meritocracy on a global scale where cultures compete for the values by which we judge individuals. A little sop to environmentalism, too (just to allow for a viable playing field). Locke and Nietzsche are the philosophical guides.

Contrast this with Fukuyama’s depressing conclusion about the end of history.

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.

Sloterdijk for all his contempt for the Left – and the book is beneficial just for that chapter alone – envisions a far more exciting and humane world than Fukuyama can. Confronting Nietzsche for leftists is a far more daunting, but useful battle than fighting boredom. Is there another philosopher to add to Locke and Nietzsche – or replace one or the other, to make the future as meaningful as the one Achilles confronted?


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