Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Décision de réserve

In an interview from 2000 excerpted below, Sloterdijk explains the thinking behind his decision to walk softly and carry a small stick.

[Skip to next paragraph if this one proves too excruciating]
He sketches his view of our "postconsensual" society, in which "truths" are more appropriately described as "symbolic immune systems", rather than external resources we compete with each other to acquire. We are condemned to the ceaseless task of wielding morpho-immunological shields against microbial invasions and "experiences, those impediments to our semantic arrangements". Each of us, in his/her inescabably defensive position of self-maintenance, would do well to cultivate a radical respect for the defensive needs of others.

I am disgusted by the whiff of pretentiousness in the last paragraph, which is my attempt to give a sense of the excerpt by translating phrases from it into English. But it's damned hard to recreate a vocabulary and style from scratch, even with recourse to congeneric words.

Sloterdijk's style is a baroque literary German that is both precise and allusive. I have my doubts about the French in this interview, but then I'm not a French intellectual. I trust to Sloterdijk, who is bilingual. I have a sinking feeling that I am condemned to parallel existences in distinct language worlds. But it may mean, on a positive view, that I have cognitive spare parts stored safely in different locations, and don't have to wait for advances in stem cell application.

P.S.: One problem with my paraphrasing of the interview in the second paragraph is just that: the paragraph attempts to "summarize" the interview in a few sentences. Maybe there is something like a semantic compaction index for authors, that specifies the maximum amount that an author's texts can be compressed and still be meaningful.

The full interview of Sloterdijk by Éric Alliez in March 2000 is Vivre chaud et penser froid.

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