Overcoming burden: Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life

This is the sixth set of reflections on Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). The first set of reflections can be read here. A summary of Stoterdijk’s principal theses is available here.


Recall that Stoterdijk is singularly focused on how the practicing animal can become more than he is. Having seceded from the buzz and chatter of ordinary life, the practitioner has now made the aim of his life that of putting his life to the test.

In Chapter 12, ‘Exercises and Misexercises,’ Stoterdijk suggests that there are five main fronts upon which they have fought. These are ‘material scarcity, the burden character of existence, sexual drive, alienation and the involuntary nature of death’ (416).

In the last post, I analyzed Stoerdijk’s claims concerning how the practitioner overcomes material scarcity. Not far from the layperson’s fear of hunger is that of the ‘burden character of existence’ (417). When one takes oneself to be overtaxed by the task of living, he either seeks forms of ‘hardenings’ or moments of ‘little escapes’ (417). We can tease out the implications of these two strategies. On the one hand, one can harden oneself to the point of ‘coldness’ (Adorno) so that one becomes as insensible to the vibrations of life–of the well-cultivated mind and senses–as to the ethical claims of others. On the other hand, one can fantasize about the kinds of escapes from burden that will count as times of pleasure and enjoyment. This form of momentary release is called vacation. Both strategies are foolish.

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