On Sloterdijk’s “Spheric Mourning”

So this is an assignment that I had to do for a class. Just your general pick an essay, read it, interpret it kind of thing. So I thought that anyone who wanted to learn more about the short chapter in Sloterdijk’s Spheres vol.1 titled “Spheric Mourning” would like it. If you’re not interested in that, don’t feel guilty about skipping on by. There will be more things about comic books and video games next week, including an emotional response to Mass Effect 3.


The essay begins with the author appealing to a classical reading of the human mind. Rather than the logic formulations of contemporary thinkers, Sloterdijk suggests that psychologists be allowed to “speak in openly mythological forms” (Sloterdijk 459). While it is unclear if he means a Freudian or Jungian mode or a less metaphorical method, it is clear that he thinks a mythological way of thinking would take great strides toward allowing psychologists a better way of formulating the actual conditions of the mind. With his preference to the mythological in mind, he goes on to interpret the Freudian distinction between melancholia and mourning (459).

For Freud, these two terms are defined by the opposition of the particular to the broad and vague. Freud’s mourning is tied to a direct object, while mourning is directed at the loss of a world or a large, undefined, unconscious thing. Sloterdijk reinterprets these terms to his own ends. Melancholia takes on a much more prominent role for him; mourning is still the loss of another individual, someone gone for good, whereas melancholia is defined by the loss of the “genius or intimate god” (460).

A moment of clarification: Sloterdijk, for the entire book, puts forth the idea of the placental With, a being that everyone shares the womb with. The initial closeness and connections felt in the world are not only with the mother, but rather with the placenta as well, creating a trinity. When that With is destroyed or lost, an inevitable product of birth, the beginning Subject immediately replaces the With by attaching itself to the mother. This desire for a communicatory other in which the Subject is always in intimate contact with sets the basis for Sloterdijk’s theory of spherical relationships–the subject, completed by the With and the With-substitute, is always mediated by it; the With, in any form, is a form of insulation.

The “genius” that I mentioned above is not an intellectual part of the mind, but rather the term is being used in its Roman form; it is a house spirit, a With that eternally watches over the Subject and provides her life with meaning. Sloterdijk explains that this loss of genius reformulates melancholia not as the loss of something vague, but rather it is a personal existential crisis in which one believes that there is an eternal loss of connection with the world (460). In other words, depression becomes understood as a failure of the spherical systems not operating correctly. Sloterdijk clarifies this later: “Melancholia constitutes the pathology of exile in its pure form–the impoverishment of the inner world through the life-giving field of closeness” (461).

So depression here is really just a function of the personal relationship with the mediating function of the With. Sloterdijk states that there are three ways of repairing this: the traditional practice of transference, the assertion of a higher god, and technological self alteration (462). Without getting into any of them specifically, I can assert that all three are simply a reassertion of the subject-With relationship. What becomes interesting here is that Sloterdijk is still very much interested in chasing this relationship in the microspherological relationships in individual lives. He wants to subvert Lacanian explanations for neurosis, taking is back further than Lacan, and defining ontology as being fundamentally about space.

The question that I have about the entire project of therapy in this situation is: Is a repair needed? Repair implies that there is a repairer. I think that we are supposed to understand that this is the function of the analyst, and that the repair is a project that is ultimately about calibrating the mediation system of the subject. Sloterdijk has written elsewhere about the dangers of becoming too insulated from the world, of having a genius that is too developed, which creates an autistic subject with a negative relationship with the outside world. There is also an additional danger of analysis: the analyst could repair the subject incorrectly. Cultural assumptions, views on responsibilities, and just plain ideology can stand in the way of the analyst performing a “good” repair, though there is no distinction between a good repair and a bad repair in Sloterdijk. Instead, he focuses in on why this possibility of repair is only possible through mythological thinking, which he believes should fully replace modern psychological methodology (463).

Sloterdijk closes the chapter with a refutation of the concept of a psychological object (467). He writes:

If it is productive to take into consideration something like the existence of psychological objects, then only if these are defined as relationship poles that can be replaced and transposed by the ego without acute self-impoverishment. Only something that can be occupied and let go is an object. (467)

A little work has to be done to elucidate what he is actually stating here. I believe that “occupation” of an object, something not really talked about in the essay before that sentence, can be understood as investment in the object. The subject has to be able to extend its tendrils of desire and libidinal investment into an external being in order for its object-ness to be solidified. Additionally, it has to be able to divest itself of these desires; for an object to be an object, it has to be able to exile the subject, to move away at the very limit of speed, and to force those desires to never become fulfilled.

But Sloterdijk finds the notion of the object unconvincing, and instead prefers that we think through what Thomas Macho calls the “nobject” (467). “Nobjects are things, media or persons that fulfill the function of the living genius or intimate augmenter for subjects,” (467) and they are central for the actuality of the interior psychic landscape of individuals. Whereas the object is predicated on a relationship built around distance, the conceit of the nobject is that the distance between it and the subject is both unthinkable and nonexistant. If the object is always escaping, the nobject is always being there, intermingling with the subject, surrounding her.

Sloterdijk accompanies this theory with the claim that we should actually “cancel out the term ‘subject’ or ‘ego’ with a corresponding negative, as it too displays the mistaken postulate of separability from its augmenters and allies” (468). The subject/object, ego/environment divide is impossible here, as all of those processes are built into the mediated spherical world.

This really ends the essay, but there are several places where this can take us. First, it forces us to think about the social in a new way. Instead of individuals making investments of desire, it is groups of people sharing mediating forces. From my reading of Sloterdijk, the moment of individuation followed by maturity is a time that is rife with pitfalls. The individual, in creating/developing/becoming attached to a nobject or genius in the world, could become embroiled in projects of destruction. While I understand that Sloterdijk is really simply explaining the world and the way that he believes that it operates, I am not sure how you prevent things like fascism from occurring. Obviously it would be from a “healthy” mediation, a kind of hearty soul or something like that, but if there is a process of getting there, I am not sure what it is.

Sloterdijk, Peter. ” Spheric Mourning: On Nobject Loss and the Difficulty of Saying What is Missing.” Spheres 1: Bubbles. Trans. Wieland Hoban. Los Angeles: Semiotexte, 2011.

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2 Responses to On Sloterdijk’s “Spheric Mourning”

  1. Richard Wongkew says:

    I think he’s distancing himself from the Kleinian model of /object relations theory/. Onto-genesis, as emergent property subject, as the result of the pre-subject’s ‘transformational object’ mediated object building in the Oedipal phase. sounds like he rejects Lacanianism too then introduces objects that are separate from the self, that fails, so he introduces a constructivist (with regard to ontology) being.

    What is interesting is that this latter formation is – or seems to be – thought as Heideggarian. It is a magical puzzlement that ‘puzzles’ (i.e., nothing nihilating as a koan). Strangely out of our reach in terms of operative intelligibility, but not categorically so – thus the mythological thought (/phylogenetic unconscious/ comes to mind though Sloterdijk despises Jung with a great joy). Science doesn’t think, says Heidegger, so mythological thinking (the poem in Heidegger) is meant to subtend at the point prior to correct science & faithful subjectivity as a fold in the One of Parmenides and the not many of Zeno as thought by the German idealists down through Nietzsche ( “the last philosopher”) to Heidegger and so on.

    Presumably, in response to your final turn, simply the act of being self conscious of this process enigma; of our holding the world in place, is meant to stimulate an advancement in our trajectory, through better self acquaintance, as good little dasein or time(beings) in space.

    Anyway, that is my idea of a sketchy map of this terrain. Wrongheaded?

    • kunzelman says:

      I think that is all smart stuff. I have to admit that my reading of Heidegger is limited to the more popular essays, so I can’t comment on whether you’re getting close to a consolation of Heidegger and Sloterdijk. However, I think you’re spot on with your last bit. I don’t read Sloterdijk’s original language, so I have to wait for an English translation of Spheres 2; hopefully the second volume spends a little more time on the time-function of spherical life and, more importantly, the movement of spheres in relation to other, larger, spheres.

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