Ten Years on Trial

Stuart Elden – Foucault’s Last Decade (Polity)

Stuart Elden is an outstanding academic and a great writer, combining a high degree of scrupulousness in research with an accessible and assured style. Foucault always seems to arrive obscured by a fog of sensation, stories of saunas and acid trips, self-mutilation and other ‘excesses’.

But this holds a mirror up to everything else, rather than telling us much about Foucault. It tells us that we live in an age in which information will fly with spectacle and sensation or it will dive below the altitude of detection.

There is gladly none of this here and you can read The Passion of Michel Foucault by James Miller if you want that.

Elden begins with one brief paragraph of relevant biography before moving on to The Work. He tells us that in 1974 Foucault finished Discipline and Punish and on the very same day he began the History of Sexuality, Volume One. In 1984 he was dead.

In those ten years there was a huge shift, a large amount of new beginnings and, because of Foucault’s death, a lot of loose ends. Elden works meticulously and fascinatingly through these. His ability to keep such arcana within a highly engaging narrative is at times quite miraculous.

He assesses the work on sexuality and the work on power. There are suggestive glimpses of the way the three volume History of Sexuality might have been structured if Foucault hadn’t been taken so early. The first volume sets out a stall that largely remains in the first volume.

In doing this, Elden takes care to outline and negotiate a major difficulty of Foucault scholarship: no work not delivered in his lifetime was supposed to be published after his death. Some liberties have been taken with this dictat, issued by Foucault himself in a letter in lieu of a will.

But the pieces of work that fall between the published and not, the things that were clearly intended for a public, eventually, are the most fascinating. I read the work on the sealed letters from the king – the lettre de cachet – dictats of death and marriage handed out, and how Foucault sees in these the seething resentments from below to be granted agency.

The sovereign is both despotic and a kind of overflow mechanism here, a steam pipe letting out excess heat. I think of neighbours ratting on each other in Soviet pressure cookers. The archival discourse analysis was worked on by two successive research assistants, some of it was published but much of it not.

I then read about the work on dreams and their purposes in Greek and Roman familial structures and I think ‘I could be convinced by this thesis, or not’. Elden’s strength is to let the facts of Foucault’s unfinished work speak, rather than to present ideology desperately and precariously held aloft with a teetering pile of partly arbitrary data.

This is therefore a very Foucauldian take on Foucault and Elden is confident enough to not need to make easy capital out of his method. He doesn’t try to convince you, this book is, like Foucault’s best work, a blueprint for a possible set of tools.

Foucault’s work often just describes. It lets whole condensations of description create ‘the picture’. He does not paint. Nor does Elden. This is not to say that there is some sort of objective science here, or that language can completely flee ideology and metaphysics, but this way of working at least protrudes some way out of the cosmic slop.

This book also gives us glimpses of the Foucault that gives the lie to the idea that he existed completely contra-Marx, or that he was a kind of prototype neoconservative. The sense that Foucault saw the horrible intensification of power everywhere is clear.

Elden draws on the lectures at the College de France and having audited many of them myself a very different sense of Foucault’s take on power flashes up at times.

Again though, Elden is careful to add that Foucault himself was largely dismissive of these lectures. But the sense is there, that despotic individual power and its collusive, insane networks are related and this definitely does not mean that power is everywhere and nowhere, as a neoliberal corporate business management guide might try to suggest, and many crude interpreters believe.

This is important to revisit now, because there is a turn to a Marxism under way that also flees from the relativism of postmodernism and this Foucault is needed to clear away those blocks of doxa. Of course, because the adherents are a priori anti-Foucault this will be dismissed a priori.

There is a sick ouroboros here. Much in the same way, the exploding of common sense delivered by psychoanalysis was (and still is) often dismissed by the same common sense that came under attack by the falling shells that ripped it asunder.

That the revelations about repressed sexual and other drives are also buried by the same repressive processes that are being revealed is no coincidence. Something similar is going on in the current theoretical disavowals and neophilosophical reifications.

To critique structuralism and its badly named ‘post-‘ is one quite laudable thing, to dismiss it completely and replace it with simplistic dogma another barbarism altogether.

In human affairs, or to be more precise, in ‘politics’, all of this is probably inevitable, but the loss of any sense of meaning outside or between the religious structures of philosophical dogmas is no less sad because of that probable inevitability. In this sense, Elden assesses Foucault in a way Foucault would admire. He sees his ouvre as in process, rather than as a fixed slab with a final set of meanings.

I am not surprised that postmodernity and the whole neoliberal settlement of ‘the end of history’ is being set upon and ripped up with glee. Postmodernism always sat nicely on one of the larger credit bubbles of western capitalism’s history. If anything, it is amazing that it has taken ten years since 2008 to arrive at this point.

It is too disturbing to live in a permanently deracinated present, with no stable future or past. But the excessively heavy futures of the past are being remade with every tear. What is de-assembling now will soon turn into a recognisable Doxa.

To put it crudely, postmodernism is – I refuse to tense it past yet – absolute shit, but fleeing to a constructed opposite gives no guarantee whatsoever of getting out of the philosophical merde. But it is exactly this universal message that Foucault delivered and we are better off with it.

To say we have arrived at a post-relative time – and many on the left are now saying it – is to erase the arrival itself, an arrival that eats the stability of ‘being there’. It wasn’t like this in the past and it won’t be like this in the future, so nobody can tell you the future is settled, final, inevitable or perfect when you get there.

To say this doesn’t mean one is giving up on the idea that some periods are more brutal than others, or that there are despots and then there are saints.

Perhaps the one thing to take with us, then, is the work of the man who showed us how to identify the edges and sutures of those historical corpses. Elden’s study gives us the seams of Foucault’s final and perhaps most intense phase.

This is a time when the discourses are being refigured and they always are the most interesting times to examine, whether you are Foucauldian or a Marxist, and I still count myself among the latter.


Human Error as Truth

Essayism – Brian Dillon; This Little Art – Kate Briggs; Pretentiousness, Why It Matters – Dan Fox; The Hatred of Poetry – Ben Lerner (all Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Fitzcarraldo Editions are beautifully made, with their matt cover and drop caps serif typeface, with their embossed bell logo. Fitzcarraldo publish novels and other things, but I have just read a brace of their essayistic books, with their white covers. Four of them: Essayism by Brian Dillon; This Little Art by Kate Briggs; Pretentiousness, Why It Matters by Dan Fox and The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner.

These editions look like European editions. They talk like European editions, perhaps with the addition of a little English punk attitude, in the case of Ben Lerner’s book on poetry. In a time of Europhobia in Britain this is all the more reason to buy and read the essayist Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Kate Briggs contributes a wonderful book (sort of) on translation called This Little Art. She begins in a section of Thomas Mann’s genius novel, The Magic Mountain. It is a dramatic opening, it grabs you and pulls you in. But the story twists into that of Helen Lowe-Porter’s translation of Thomas Mann and her villification after her death.

‘No poem is intended for the reader’ Benjamin once wrote, in his own meditation on translation, but Briggs points out how the ‘little art’ of translation carries big risks. The underpaid, unacknowledged and ignored craftspeople that are translators carry huge burdens and risks along with their joys. Rilke’s translations into English by J.B. Leishman have been similarly villified. These are stigmas that travel beyond death. I have a copy of ‘The Rilke of Ruth Speirs’. The title says, essentially, ‘the proper stuff, not that other shit’.

A dangerous game for no stakes, this is truly the zone of the ‘committed’. Briggs cites a translation of Deleuze by Hugh Tomlinson. Coincidentally, my friend Robert Galeta translated some of the Deleuze editions after Hugh could no longer do it. He tells me, ‘I went grey doing it’. Imagine then being pilloried for your efforts.

In medieval times a Bard could sing a Queen or King into 1000 years of hell. In an unliterate culture they made songs that would outlive the mortal life of its targets. It could put an entire family into a ‘spell’ that persisted for generations. Here I sing Briggs into the opposite, into a song that I hope will carry this book through many reprints and editions.

Briggs describes translating Barthes. But she is navigating Paris, going to libraries, looking at Barthes old apartment, thinking about the people she sees, feeling, reflecting. Briggs puts shoes on, cooks, teaches. She is a human being. The chapters of this book both are and are not about translation, because like translation itself they draw on all the skills and experiences a human has, right to the edge of their consciousness. Because of this, I am reminded of my own reading of psychoanalytical texts often, when reading Briggs.

Kate Briggs is an explorer of her own under-read zones, as well as her over-read exterior, which is littered with Barthes and Benjamin on reading lists as though first year undergrads – and often many of their university tutors – straightforwardly know what those texts contain.

Briggs describes Robinson Crusoe making a table for the first time in his life. I have done this, I am the kind of pretentious pervert who will make furniture and fail fifteen times before getting something that works. It is the only way to learn properly. But like a bad translator, I am failing the original here. You just have to, in the case of Briggs’ book, read the original. It is deeply, velvety rich and utterly life-affirming.

Brian Dillon’s Essayism is also a cornucopia of sorts. It argues for the flaws of the essay, for its speculative, hedging, unfinished nature, as its virtue. This is a theme of these editions. That doing scholarship and writing is not something undertaken by Uberhumans beamed down from Planet Academic with everything and some other stuff that nobody knows yet uploaded into their swollen skulls. Out students don’t live in this reality enough. Academics don’t speak honestly about that reality enough.

Ben Lerner’s book on poetry argues that we might engage with poetry through the negative. This isn’t quite Hegel via the Frankfurt School, the negative he describes is closer to the word ‘HATE’ written in white paint on a leather biker jacket. After being immersed in intolerably polite Manchester Literature Festival events, this is a wonderful read. Who says the literature scene must be polite clapping and cups of tea? At this point in history, why wouldn’t the discussion of literature that is often so fluffy it barely touches the world be characterised only by seething invective? However, this is to reduce Lerner’s argument a great deal. He begins hating poetry and urges us, in a Beckett-like way, to ‘hate better’. In between these almost identical poles there lies a fecund meditation on poetry.

Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit prefigures Pretentiousness, by Dan Fox. This book is also very un-British, as it calls for fabulation in the face of the British climate of dumbed-down, stylistically lumpen miserablism. If I have a worry here it is that the book dovetails too easily with ‘play’ and its origins in horrors such as Playpower by Richard Neville. They didn’t play where I grew up, they were slowly ground down in twelve hour shifts, six days a week, and that was down to another very British thing, class. But then I know from emerging out of the working classes that you get called a ‘clever bastard’. Is there an equivalent phrase in French? I don’t know.

But these books make you think. They don’t just drone information at you. These books take risks. They blend serious scholarship with a human voice. British academia has for too long been a blend of its past in an empirico-logico-utilitarianism that does not really exist outside of its texts and its present in an Americanised vaguely po-mo ‘liberalism’. These books are not some middle way between the two, they just ignore all that and begin where they stand. For that alone I applaud all the authors under review here.

This does not mean they are uncitable, dangerous curveballs from the world beyond Truth. It means that they are a little more Real than all the other rubbish pouring out of academic publishers. This is not to denigrate the few percent of incredible, lightning work emerging from academic publishers. But it is a percentage. You know the other books too well: The literature review with an argument imposed on it, rather than an argument being made from long messy immersion in the world, as the scholarship was done.

We are going to need Fitzcarraldo Editions on this island much more in times to come.

The Poetry After Auschwitz

Jennifer M. Hoyer – The Space of Words, Exile and Diaspora in the Works of Nelly Sachs (Camden House)

Theodor Adorno famously stated that to ‘write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric’. Adorno later revised this statement, in his last work, Negative Dialectics.

But he didn’t renege, he made it even more damning. He said that ‘it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems’, but it is ‘not wrong to raise the less cultural question’ of ‘whether after Auschwitz you can go on living…’

In some ways, Nelly Sachs proved Adorno wrong. She did both. She carried on living as she took in the knowledge of the camps, and she wrote poetry.

But she did not really write poetry directly about Auschwitz, she wrote poetry that is fused with the raw, livid, negative energy of the incommensurable horror of the camps. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966.

However, the point Adorno was making with his quotation was and is correct, even though it is more often misconstrued than it is correctly deployed. Adorno really meant Wagner, Mahler and all that was ‘poetic’ but rotten in Germany, that then became rotten in Hollywood: The cultural inflations of ‘beauty’, emerging from the rural idyll, that are then inscribed as ‘natural’, before this ‘nature’ is re-inscribed, finally, as a measure for who lives or dies.

Adorno was right, all that was rotten in Hollywood continued in an unbroken line. For Adorno, World War Two didn’t really end. It continued right through into the wars in Indochina, Vietnam and Cambodia… Now Donald Trump is in power.

Jennifer Hoyer explains that Sachs’ poetry is best not viewed as a set of open signifiers, emerging from an event, but as spaces opened by the words themselves. Gaston Bachelard is given as an example, that his poetics of space are also the space of poetry in Sachs’ work. It is not merely imagistic, it opens up a zone in the mind that is perhaps closer to occult practice than it is to poetry. Write and rite are one.

Hoyer includes a chapter on Sachs’ explorations of the Merlin myth. She piles version on version until they become a kind of occult map, until all the stray fragments have been aligned and transfigured, in some enormous mystical-linguistic Tetris game.

Hoyer’s chapter on ‘space after the abyss’, the space after Auschwitz, where simply ‘going on’ is a question, rather than a given, explores the redemptive dimensions of Sachs’ work too. But this is negative theology, it does not inhabit some fake positivistic philosophy of rescue.

Hoyer cites Rudolf Hartung in 1947, describing how the poetry after the war was ‘untimely’. Hartung returns to Adorno’s concerns about whether making poetry could be moral at all, in yet another time of the greatest material need.

Hartung had Gottfried Benn’s poetry of supposed aesthetic timelessness in his sights. In any case, it fails. What is meant to make Benn’s work ‘timeless’ puts it in orbit around a collapsing star.

Sachs’ work directly mirrors this gravitational implosion. She crushes the protons and electrons of ordinary language to form charged, neutron constellations, in colours we have never seen before. Tiny, but impossibly dense, many of the later poems are the afterimages of the collapse of the monstrous swell of Benn and others, and their cultural elevation of nihilism to art.

Benn’s work, often influenced by his time as a physician dissecting corpses, views humanity as simply pathos and disease.

Sachs, although she describes the present as a ‘wound ripped open’, sees the torn curtain of bloody flesh as proof of the inevitability of life, not death:

His pen, his scalpel cut. The writer of the Zohar surgically drew blood, pulsing, from the unseen circulation of the stars, gathered in a cup… the words, the homesick sparks. The grave split open, the alphabet arose, each letter was an angel, each a crystal shard, each held refracted droplets dating from creation. These sang. And there, within, glowed ruby, jacinth, lapis lazuli so many scattered seedlings not yet stone.

As you can see, Sachs’ post-war poetry also tried to pull what was left of the Jewish traditions through the eye of a needle.

Through the present moment that had been reduced to a grim corridor, and out into the light of another diaspora. It doesn’t just will the future into being, it returns like an avenging angel from that future.

This is the difference between poetry and the occult, or mysticism. As Hoyer puts it, Sachs’ texts ‘are often written in the present tense and destabilize the boundaries between then and now…’

Hoyer’s book also reconnects Sachs’ early work to the later work. Most studies focus on the holocaust poetry, but Hoyer’s places Sachs’ work in a broader picture. The themes that run through what are often seen as two distinct and separate bodies of work are painstakingly traced. Hard, wearying, detailed academic toil has clearly gone into producing this book.

The result is more than admirable, and fascinating. There is too little space to even begin with the details, but through them the richness of Sachs’ work is clear. It has a nuclear half-life of one thousand years.

Hoyer also aligns Sachs’ project to the stateless Jews after WW2. Sachs’ work makes ‘a state’ for the stateless. In the spaces of words she opens up, in the ash and smoke, after WW2. But bleakly, those without a state now are the Palestinians.

Adorno was not wrong, but Sachs’ work is open enough to weep and wail for all.

Adorno’s comments on poetry after the camps concerned ‘reification’, that the abstract is made concrete in a bad order. Well before Foucault, he described the world as a kind of open prison.

But Sachs the mystic might see the prison as Adorno’s own, ‘so many scattered seedlings, not yet stone.’


Andrew Shanks has re-translated a lot of Sachs’ poems. The Penguin Modern European Poets edition presented very muted translations. Shanks’ versions are wide-eyed and alive. You can find them here: http://www.nellysachs-translations.org.uk/

Holding On To A Dear Life

Various – A Jar of Wild Flowers, Essays in Celebration of John Berger (Zed Books)

It’s tempting to think that we no longer have figures like Goethe, Rosa Luxemburg, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt or Adorno. But John Berger was their equivalent, as was Zygmunt Bauman, who also died recently. Berger may not have made work that sounded or looked like any of those people, but why would he?

His work is influenced by them all to a greater or lesser extent, but he rarely came on like a card-carrying German Idealist philosopher. It is there though, pulsing up from the past.

But now we no longer have John Berger.

Manchester Review of Books covered Tom Overton’s book on Berger, Landscapes, some time ago. This book though, arriving for Berger’s 90th, not long before he passed away, is a collection of tributes.

Berger’s life spans much of the 20th and some of the 21st century, emerging after the second world war, alongside the British New Left. But he carried on, becoming, if anything, more radical the older he got.

I remember reading an essay on Bruegel the Elder and ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch. Berger compared the social world in the paintings to our own, implausibly, I thought, at first, until he explained that the lack of a centre, of a focal point, was a description of hell. He compared them to a CNN news bulletin.

It was utterly brilliant: So simple, so counterintuitive; yet so completely correct.

I also remember reading Hold Everything Dear when it came out and getting a sense that he had jettisoned many of the pointless courtly dances of writing. In it, he states, at one point, bluntly, that yes, he is still a Marxist. At the same time, the book is filled with poetry.

Zed Books are a co-op and this seems very appropriate, part of the tribute of the edition. Berger’s leftism never departed from him, it seemed to get stauncher, in inverse proportion to his generosity of spirit.

In London, Berger hung out with exiles who knew a lot about art, but cared nothing for art markets, and in fact were completely scornful of them. Berger was highly critical of the art market all his life, a tradition carried on nicely by Julian Stallabrass, who puts out books with empty squares where the accompanying picture should be, because the copyright is locked down by capitalist cartels.

The titles of the pieces in this collection are just single words, grouped under a themed heading. For instance a section called The Colours of the Cosmos has titles which run ‘Graphite’, ‘Hay’, ‘Fire’, ‘Milk’, ‘Blood’, ‘Forest’, ‘Toast’ and ‘Oil’.

There’s something straightforward and poetic about this, as there was about Berger’s work, and Jean Mohr’s, who also contributes the moving foreword to this collection.

But the universal and particular are one here too. Toast, blood, fire, oil. The cosmos and your immediate surroundings are part of the same vast continuum. But the search for god, or in this case, the god particle at CERN, is pointless, if the mortal lives of all cannot be lived blessedly.

For Berger, as Amarjit Chandan puts it, and beautifully, the ‘existential angst’ is ‘further expanded with the extent of multiplied horizons’.

Put more practically though, this way of titling pieces avoids the usual contents page in a collection, where each author’s long title, well-crafted in isolation, immediately drowns in all the others. This is refreshing.

Editor Yasmin Gunaratnam mentions that Berger met Orwell while working for New Statesman and that some of his style of argument is passed on from Orwell. This simple fact strikes me hard. Just that plain fact, that they met, and the continuum back into the past, into Orwell’s time, or rather Eric Blair’s time, in the Imperial police in India, on the road with ‘vagrants’.

Suddenly I cannot stop thinking about the simultaneous closeness and distance of history. But it is ordinary, too, as Hans Jürgen Balmes shows, in his section ‘Graphite’. He remembers Berger lighting a candle during a powercut and then reading. Suddenly I’m in some place with friends, on a break. Anywhere. The pencil line, fragile, shaking, easy to erase, is history.

Rema Hammami then writes about John Berger’s text messages. The facile notion that somehow newer forms of inscription are profane or less serious, although it is faster or more quotidian, is completely exploded by this section. The SMS message is a fugitive pencil line too.

A very interesting dimension of Berger’s life that is becoming much clearer in this moment of national breakdown is his decision to move to a rural, remote town in France and live there. There are parallels with Henri Lefebvre here, the great urbanist who in fact began in the landscape and life of the French peasant. But Berger also seems to mirror that other very British exile, Robert Graves. Part of the establishment, but pacifist, avant garde and totally dissenting. They left the island and stayed away. Never has this made more sense than now.

You can never escape, of course, in France there is Le Pen, but you can remove yourself to the edges in order to look back in again, awry.

Nick Thorpe and Iain Chambers turn the book towards migration. A Seventh Man is now a book about all migrant journeys. Decades old, it is as contemporary as the breaking news and as universally intense as Homer. Rochelle Simmons’ section explores Berger’s use of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic to open up the politics of race. Simmons unflinchingly points out the ‘limitations’ of Berger’s ‘propaganda by deed’ – in this case donating his Booker Prize money to the Black Panthers – at the same time as celebrating it. Yahia Yakhlef’s final chapter ‘Courage’ makes clear Berger’s commitment.

Gunaratnam writes about Berger’s comments on the photographer Chris Killip’s work, in Thatcher’s Britain, describing it as a series of views of a -20 degree winter where people simply insulate themselves in any way they can to get through.

The same horror is with us again. Out on to the streets you go, and if you are lucky, with a tent or sleeping bag. She describes Howard Becker’s comments on Berger and Mohr’s work, how it gives you what I call in my head ‘truthness’.

There’s a richness to this collection. It unfolds, yields, gives. Nikos Papastergiadis contributes a wonderful section on landscapes, art and creation and how it connects with the human social world. The essay by Gavin Francis on A Fortunate Man is wonderful. It’s one of Berger and Mohr’s most moving books, and, perhaps not surprisingly, one that I rarely see for sale in book shops.

Who will replace the likes of Berger, Bauman and those taken far too soon, such as Gillian Rose? There is much to hold dear here for the art school. There is a generational cliff edge as those of Berger’s generation and the one after pass into retirement. The arts have been coloured pink for a long time, but it is not a natural state of affairs. It can and will change, and now we see how quantifiable outcomes and instrumentalised rationales affect all but the most resistant arts institutions.

However, what’s truly great about this anthology is that it is almost completely multi-purpose. It is of relevance to everyone in the humanities as well as the arts, and to the general reader interested in the new century and the one that has passed and how they connect: This is an electrically passionate collection.

Letters on the Inhuman

Peter Sloterdijk – Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger (Polity)

Sloterdijk tackles Heidegger’s Letter On Humanism, arguing that the wise have gone as nobody reads ‘the thick books’ anymore. Being and Time is undoubtedly one of them. Sloterdijk ‘begins again’ with Heidegger.

Heidegger began again with ‘our unfolding’ as sentient beings, suggesting that we can’t even ask a question about this ‘unfolding’ without an ‘essence’ coming before it.

This extension business is very Aristotelian. But for Heidegger, this relation ‘between essence and extension’ cannot be expressed’, but humans can be guided to the point where the ‘myth of extended life’ that rules it can be seen.

This ‘myth of extended life’, for Sloterdijk, is ‘Humanism’, but Humanism is a community fantasy, albeit a crucial one. Sloterdijk argues – and argues it more directly elsewhere – that the ‘in-between’ of shared language and community is really all that there is.

But Sloterdijk goes further, arguing in Rules For the Human Park that Aristotle’s ‘zoon politikon’, the political animal, should be nurtured in the face of contemporary chaos. For this advocacy, of a kind of contemporary reservation – and an open discussion about genetics – Habermas called Sloterdijk a fascist and Sloterdijk called it Habermas in return. Neither of them are Nazis, but only one of them has worn the uniform of the Third Reich.

‘Civilisation’, we can now see, fragments so very easily. Because a big part of its mythicalness is that it is not formed only out of bonds of love, but at least equally out of the threat of disintegration.

Violence is always already inside community. Having your own history buried as the vanquished remains essential to seeing the whole of historical discourse as untruth in support of the victor.

Sloterdijk’s essay on religion, ‘In the Shadow of Mount Sinai’, also published recently by Polity, argues that the confession and the internal threat of real violence is what forms us. It is the crucible of ‘civilised’ being. This is also, then, the in-between of shared situations and our ‘tuning’ through those shared situations.

The covering, or in some cases decimation (kill every one in ten) or annihilation (wipeout) of what Deleuze calls ‘minor discourses’ in the name of community is strangely what calls on their truth. This is a similar thing to Foucault’s view that a politics of right and taming do not fully account for apparatuses of power.

In Heidegger’s case, the historical elisions are nauseating. Experiencing ‘estrangement’ of this sort is essential to illuminating the dimension of history that is untruth. The dialectical view of history is superior to that of other historical accounts only in this way, but it is neither accurate, a mirror of the real, nor does it predict history, Hegel never claimed it to either.

Heidegger’s mystical search for an ‘essence’ before extension and his refusal to connect the two has its parallel in his interminable walking in forests. Both are abdications from the responsibility to politics and ethics. Sloterdijk often puts this back by illuminating it as an empty space. This is not some mystical void to be passed through, but a dangerous gap in the story-fabric of Humanism.

This is an absolutely canonical collection for Heidegger studies, the orthodoxy may not think so, but the heretics always had the best arguments there anyway.

Sloterdijk is wrong on one point though: The wise have not gone from us while he still reads and writes the big books.