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Critique of Cynical Reason

1988
Author:

Peter Sloterdijk
Translated by Michael Eldred
Foreword by Andreas Huyssen

Critique of Cynical Reason

A philosophical treatise which finds cynicism the dominant mode in contemporary culture.

A philosophical treatise which finds cynicism the dominant mode in contemporary culture.

Sloterdijk can hardly be surpassed in his imaginative and vivid description of the experiences of a generation. . . . [He] not only wants to describe the thing he himself has experienced so personally, but also to explain it. Inasmuch as he explains the aftermath of the shattered ideals of 1968 with means he borrows from philosophical history, he gleans from the pile of rubble a piece of truth. He calls this truth the cynical impulse.

Jürgen Habermas, in a review of the German edition

In 1983, two centuries after the publication of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, another philosophical treatise—polemical in nature, with a title that consciously and disrespectfully alludes to the earlier work—appeared in West Germany. Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason stirred both critical acclaim and consternation and attracted a wide readership, especially among those who had come of age in the 1960’s. Sloterdijk’s finds cynicism the dominant mode in contemporary culture, in personal institutional settings; his book is less a history of the impulse than an investigation of its role in the postmodern 1970s and 1980s, among those whose earlier hopes for social change had crumbled and faded away. Sloterdijk thus brings into cultural and political discourse an issue which, though central to the mood of a generation, has remained submerged throughout the current debate about modernity and postmodernity.

With Adorno and Horkeimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment as his primary jumping-off point, Sloterdijk also draws upon, and contends with, the poststructuralist concepts of Deleuze and Guattari. He defines cynicism as enlightened false consciousness—a sensibility “well off and miserable at the same time,” able to function in the workaday world yet assailed by doubt and paralysis; and, as counterstrategy, proposes the cynicism of antiquity—the sensuality and loud, satiric laughter of Diogenes. Above all, Sloterdijk is determined to resist the amnesia inherent in cynicism. The twentieth-century German historical experience lies behind his work, which closes with a brilliant essay on the Weimar Republic—the fourteen years between a lost war and Hitler’s ascent to power, and a time when the cynical mode first achieved cultural dominance.

Critique of Cynical Reason

Peter Sloterdijk holds a doctorate in German literature from the University of Hamburg and has published two other books in Germany, on literature of the Weimar Republic and on Nietzsche.

Critique of Cynical Reason

Sloterdijk can hardly be surpassed in his imaginative and vivid description of the experiences of a generation. . . . [He] not only wants to describe the thing he himself has experienced so personally, but also to explain it. Inasmuch as he explains the aftermath of the shattered ideals of 1968 with means he borrows from philosophical history, he gleans from the pile of rubble a piece of truth. He calls this truth the cynical impulse.

Jürgen Habermas, in a review of the German edition