Discourse, Politics, a G4 Summit, and a Naked Nietzsche — or Sloterdijk, Groys, Wyss and Ullrich

Alfred Soder, Der nackte Nietzsche im Hochgebirge, 1907 (Naked Nietzsche in the High Mountains)

Alfred Soder, Der nackte Nietzsche im Hochgebirge (Naked Nietzsche in the High Mountains), 1907

Hugo Höppener, called Fidus, Lichtgebet, 1894 or 1824, oil on canvas, 150 x 100 cm (Berlin, Deutsches Historisches Museum)

Hugo Höppener, called Fidus, Lichtgebet (Light Prayer), 1894 or 1824













Whoever ever wondered about the relationship between avant-garde, politics and (philosophical) discourse may have a look at the recording of a discussion that took place at the University of Art and Design (Hochschule fuer Gestaltung, HfG) in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2007.

It features Boris Groys, Peter Sloterdijk, Beat Wyss, and Wolfgang Ullrich (video recording: from right to left), all of whom were teaching at the time at the above mentioned university that is linked to the Center for Art and Media (ZKM). The discussion was held in German (see video below).

The 2007 issue of the “G8 Summit” that had taken place in Germany served as an inspiration for a kind of re-enactment. Sloterdijk states that this meeting which had “the eight most helpless (ratlos) and powerless (ohnmächtig [1]) human beings of this world” come together led him to initiate a discussion under the programmatic title “G4 Summit”. According to Sloterdijk the “pantomime of perplexity (Ratlosigkeit) and powerlessness (Ohnmacht [1]) should not be left to unschooled personnel”, but instead be expressed by those who have — “due to their life long studies” — “the means that are necessary for the articulation of quality perplexity”.

Boris Groys suggests that the allusion to a similarity of politics and philosophical discourse is correct as they share the same space — a space of public speech (Sprache). More specifically, the apparent analogy between conversations that take place on the one hand in the political arena and on the other hand for example at the University of Art and Design is based on the fact that both constitute “public appearances of private individuals that claim or do not claim to represent more than they are” as they represent specific political interests or (one could assume) philosophical positions.

In response to Beat Wyss who suggested earlier that the difference between the philosophical author — as responsible to her/himself only — and the politician — as always responsible to a group — is an important one, Groys remarks that the capacity to represent oneself only is not at all prevalent. The space that allows for philosophical speech “is not given to us, but needs to be created”. It is often neglected — according to Groys — that the very first act needs to be an act of liberation. Since the spaces of discourse are always already occupied they need to be emptied first. This gesture of voiding, indeed, situates the philosophical discourse in a proximity to the artistic avant-garde for which the summit metaphor typically stands. Philosophical discourse differs thus also from scientific discourse, which recognizes the professor in its classic sense as someone who professes — who refers to verifiable contents.

Teaching philosophy in contrast cannot rely on contents. The contents of future discourses are not known and therefore cannot be taught. Today’s “students will act in a different reality in the future”. Teachable are thus solely — according to Groys — the technical aspects of discursive performance, which have remained constant throughout modernity. These technical aspects constitute a “technique of self-determination”. Teaching philosophy means in fact “training in discursive karate”.

Towards the end of the discussion Wolfgang Ullrich indicates that so called coaches would be logically continuing the transition from professors to trainers. Since the positions of coaches are generally filled with women due to their empathic capacities we may expect a new matriarchy rising. Peter Sloterdijk counters by stating that man as man might be obsolete but that the teacher as teacher still has “metaphysical reserves”. Nevertheless, the teachers at the University of Art and Design — Sloterdijk confesses — all have secretly taken courses that reshaped them to androgyne beings in order to be able to endure the stresses and strains of their profession. (As anyone who is equipped with even a fraction only of sensibility can see: this was the last and concluding remark. The title fulfilled its prophecy, and no results were produced.)

The Chalk Cliffs At Rügen Island, Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

The Chalk Cliffs at Rügen Island (Kreidefelsen auf Rügen), Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

As a former student in discursive karate — here, and at this moment — I claim the right to utter a last remark. I do not necessarily suggest that it complies with a voiding.

It came to my mind that there is another painting that is at least as famous as the ones which were mentioned in the discussion, and which are displayed at the beginning of this post. It might be more appropriate in illustrating the philosophical excursion to the summit talk à la Karlsruher Nicht-Schule: Caspar David Friedrich’s The Chalk Cliffs at Rügen Island

With the head slightly lowered one may actually see the sea, and on it the vessels of hope.






Video recording of the “G4 Summit”, with Peter Sloterdijk, Boris Groys, Beat Wyss and Wolfgang Ullrich:

[1] “Ohnmacht” means also faint(ing), unconsciousness. It commonly denotes a state of powerlessness. However “Ohnmacht” in contrast to “Machtlosigkeit” (powerlessness) indicates a state of powerlessness that results from the human condition, i.e. from the fact that the capacities of human beings are limited.

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