Overcoming sexual desire: On Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life

This is the seventh 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 Sloterdijk’s principal theses is available here.


Sloterdijk has written a book on anthropotechnics. He wants to redescribe human beings as those creatures who train themselves–some doing so explicitly, most implicitly–to become who they are. He wants to show, based on Nietzsche’s vitalizing distinction, that some training programs are life-enhancing while others are life-degrading.

In more recent posts, I have been examining how the adept, who has already seceded from ordinary life, trains himself to become extraordinary. Sloterdijk claims that material scarcity, life as a burden, sexual need, alienation, and death are the ‘five fronts’ upon which practitioners have fought. Today, I turn my sights on the third front with an eye to exercises concerned with overcoming sexual desire.

The dilemma of sexual desire has to do with rejection and affirmation. If one rejects sexual desire, then one’s desires can become infinite and perverse (call this the transgressive path). Yet if one simply affirms one’s sexual desire as it is, then the latter remains crude, course, unrefined (call this the pornographic tack). Hence, certain periods of human history have been deemed prudish or repressive with the response being that what is called for is sexual openness. Thus, the various dyads: pagan/Christian; Epicurean/Christian; Victorian/fin de siecle; 50s/sexual revolution–the list could be extended almost indefinitely. From a philosophical point of view, these dyads are not ways of overcoming sexual desire but rather forms of mutual reinforcement. In The Scarlet Letter, Arthur Dimmesdale first has sex with Hester Prynne, only to lacerate himself afterward. The two go hand-in-hand.

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