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You Must Change Your Life Hardcover – 23 Nov 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Polity Press; 1 edition (23 Nov. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745649211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745649214
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4.3 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 244,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Breathtaking ... A superb and wide–ranging analysis of those moderns who have refused to be pampered or to dwell in capitalist decadence."
The Guardian

"Make(s) it possible to begin to come to grips with Sloterdijk as a stirring and eclectic thinker, who addresses himself boldly to the most important problems of our age."
New Republic

"A tour de force that engages the history of philosophy, religion, and thought, both Western and Eastern, in ways that make you think deeply about the evolution of the human being these past few thousand years."
Los Angeles Review of Books

"Sloterdijk is both seriously learned and brilliantly creative, and he has a talent for wit. He deserves shelf–space alongside Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault."
New Humanist

"Sloterdijk has constructed in this beautiful text a supreme heterotopology – a place from which to think and see differently."
Eduardo Mendieta, Stony Brook University

"A challenging, powerful, and at times frustrating read. Sloterdijk ranges widely across literatures and topics, inspiring and provoking in equal measure. He is fortunate to have Wieland Hoban as his excellent translator. A very good antidote to the chicken–soup banalities of other life–changing philosophy."
Stuart Elden, Durham University

"Challenging the pious and self–righteous alarm of those who have declared war on the return to religion, Sloterdijk in his typically original irreverence argues that we cannot see today s religiosity as any sort of return. What is really at stake is the formation of the self through practices. Charting a path beyond liberal critiques of religion and post–secular pseudo–returns to spirit, Sloterdijk provides a genuinely twenty–first century approach to the problem of life–formation. This book opens up new ways of thinking about life after humanism without lapsing into the simple affirmations of the post–human."
Claire Colebrook, Penn State University

"Peter Sloterdijk has assembled in this book the most amazing series of practices invented in history to hold humans souls suspended to a virtual hook slightly above their head. The result is a totally original analysis of religion by the most important philosopher or rather educator of today."
Bruno Latour, Ecole des mines, Paris

About the Author

Peter Sloterdijk is Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics at the Karlsruhe School of Design and the author of many works including Critique of Cynical Reason.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Wieland Hoban on 9 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback
As the translator of this book, I would like to point out a mistake: p. 38, first paragraph, third line from the end: 'popular music, that devotio postmoderna' should be 'popular neo-mysticism, that devotio postmoderna'.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A valuable philosophical-historical exploration of "anthropotechnics" - of practices that have reshaped human possibilities 9 May 2013
By Nathan Andersen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When the German poet Rilke wrote of standing before an armless and legless, even headless, Greek statue of the god Apollo, that he felt it staring back at him, challenging him with the absolute imperative - "you must change your life" - he gave voice to an experience prepared over millennia. The first recognizably human beings found ways to step outside of themselves, they learned to observe and criticize and thereby redirect and elevate their activities, and of those within their sphere of influence. The same tendency, intensified at first within armies, among athletes and spiritual acolytes, has in the modern world been generalized in schools and in society to the point where no one is immune to the call, perhaps the only truly universally felt moral impulse, that of self-improvement. We all feel, and various charlatans and ad agencies know how to appeal, to the sense we all ought to make more of ourselves, to become better.

The basic theme of this book - that human beings are ultimately responsible for shaping and reshaping what it means to be human, and that we have become increasingly conscious of that responsibility - is not novel. It has been maintained by thinkers from ancient times that while other creatures have a nature, it is the nature of human beings to create their own nature, or to establish through habit and custom a character that becomes what Aristotle called a "second nature." While the theme is familiar, the mechanics are often obscure, and what is so rich and useful about this book is its detailed investigation of a range of movements that have encouraged and enforced training regimes. The book highlights historical continuities between both secular and sacred approaches to transforming people, making them capable of effortlessly accomplishing what had once been thought impossible, by way of indoctrination and training, by imposing upon others and oneself a wide variety of disciplines and rituals.

The book starts out with an attempt to debunk what Sloterdijk calls the "myth of religion," the faith in faith. "Religion" (a relatively modern term) is not a very coherent concept, as the various institutions that fall under its scope often have as much or more in common with secular movements than they do with each other. He claims that what we call "religion" and that we oppose to "humanism" is better understood on the model of what he calls "anthropotechnics," the network of deliberate practices whereby we shape ourselves and our institutions, remaking in the process what it is possible for "human being" to be. In a move analogous to Marx's critique of Hegel for focusing on ideology rather than economics, Sloterdijk wants to challenge mainstream thought for focusing too much on what people say or think about what they do and attending less to what they actually do - especially what they do over and over again, their exercises - and how these practices end up informing their identities and shaping their world.

The most prominent thinker in the backdrop of the study is Nietzsche. The book as a whole explores Nietzsche's claim that it is only as a result of asceticism, understood as both the ideology and practice of turning away from the immediate satisfaction of desires and redirecting them towards a higher goal, that human beings have accomplished anything worthwhile, even if they have also at the same time managed to make themselves feel miserable and guilty. The book, though, shows the connections between regimes of practice that appear motivated by spiritual aims - such as those in place in various monastic orders, both in the East and in the West - and those that appear to be secular - such as athletic and military training programs. The range of references - from Rilke and Kafka to Coubertin, the founder of the Olympics, and L. Ron Hubbard, and a wide range of philosophers and priests and social theorists - is astonishing, and if at times the approach seems a bit too reductive and repetitive, it nevertheless offers a rich perspective from which to reconsider a wide range of historical, literary philosophical, cultural and ideological developments.

It is rich in detail, and occasionally quite dense, and every once in a while can be opaque but is for the most part quite readable and occasionally quite witty. It is an essential read for anyone interested in religion and in philosophy and in anthropology. I know I learned a great deal on my first read through, as it gave me a new lens through which to consider a number of institutions, movements and theories that I thought I'd understood. I definitely expect to come back to it, and read it again more slowly, this time taking in and following up on some of the copious references. It even has me thinking about developing a philosophy course exploring the theme of moral perfectionism and self-knowledge, a theme towards which the more "materialist" emphasis on practices in this book would contribute important insight.

A central idea of the work is that communities defined by disciplines can be understood as operating in the interests of a cultural auto-immunity. Their practices and rituals are designed to reinforce the group and its members' sense of belonging, and to undermine their susceptibility toward dissolution and dissipation. In the course of history, the disciplinary networks have tended to expand from private and elitist towards greater inclusivity, to the point where we all feel the imperative to self-improvement to some degree or other and in some direction or other. What he argues, though, is that the vertical movement up "mount improbability" - towards ever greater virtuosic capacities on the part of human beings - is constrained by the simple fact that any elevation we achieve must remain grounded on the earth, that our flourishing and improvement is inseparable from the well-being of that place wherein alone we can accomplish more. Yes "you must change your life" and you might change the human context in the process but you can't change the earth in just any way without threatening to jeopardize it. Whatever new practices we decide to develop - and we have to act now! - must be formed in cognizance of the fact that in shaping ourselves we are reshaping the earth. So that an addendum to the imperative to change, to improve, is the maxim by Hans Jonas that Sloterdijk cites: "Act in such a way that the effects of your actions can be reconciled with the permanence of true human life on earth."

For a more practical, and more concise, philosophical guide to the difficulties and promise involved in changing one's life, see John Russon's excellent study Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Time is of the essence 30 Jan. 2013
By Timothy Lavenz - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Time is of the essence" --in two senses:

(1) It is imperative that you start now, and it is your "innermost not-yet" which calls you, tells you this. It induces you to feel unsettled with your status quo by pulling you in the opposite direction. It attracts you vertically with a potentiality that you do not currently know-- and will never exactly know. You are seduced to the exact thing you doubted was possible-- and precisely for that reason.

This initial imperative-- "Change your life!"-- is applicable at all times and to all humans, no matter their level, and forms the essential reflecting pool of this book. It begins by rethinking "religiosity" itself in terms of one's ability to hear this call coming from "elsewhere" (e.g., from the words you are reading right now). Quite apart from so-called "religions" (which Sloterdijk argues do not exist), religiosity has to do with one's ability to experience an object as a subject, one's ability to experience things or situations as "saying something to you," something that pulls you to the more "mysterious" aspects of yourself and things-- the strange, difficult, surprising, and Improbable. Examples include koans, chance encounters, statues of gods, relics, weathered stones, theological summa, mediation handbooks, warrior manuals, snowstorms, and so on. In each case, it is a matter of hearing an obscure mandate, an "unconditional instruction" seemingly tailored just for you in that very moment. This call thrusts you into a previously unknown understanding of yourself, and more importantly, catapults you into a new application. This implies minding your dissatisfaction with the current "givens" and doing something about it, which in turn implies "seceding" or "receding" from your conventional totalities and re-orienting your life-practice along the vertical, singular-to-you axis, which is demanding your devotion. There is no upper limit to this axis: it is your Impossible (you'll never know how high you can go unless you go there); and therefore, the call is Infinite (so long you keep listening). "Religiosity" made explicit means listening in to the call that concerns you: paying attention, "listening up."

In tracing out the modern scene-- which everyone will note is rather vertically challenged--, Nietzsche becomes a key player. First, he realized that every man is product of what he does, of how he spends his time. To that extent, he tried to salvage "ascetic" practices from their life-denying and life-diminishing for the sake of life-affirmation and life-empowerment instead. Second, we owe him the figure of the Übermensch, who ensures, "the possibility of fastening new ropes overhead that are worth looking up to" (that is, after the so-called death of God). Now, the overman does not point to any specific concept or type of man, but rather to the fundamental fact that to be "human" is to be charged, defined, and structured by the "over-" itself. To be human is to understand that, no matter what our present maximum is, there is always room for increase, and that no goal in heaven or on earth ought to, nor can, stop our upward march. Combining these two insights, what is required here is an "athleticism of the incredible," which has no limit except an infinite "over-," an endless "more-than-."

(2) What opens up in response to such high callings is what Sloterdijk calls the "time of inner exertion," which is, "meant to overtake the sluggish time of the world. Where more advanced civilization begins, people come forward who want to hear that they can do something besides waiting. They look for proof that they are moving themselves, not simply being carried along by the course of things..." In this time, one raises questions: what shall I expose myself to? who shall I admire? what is worthy and unworthy, in general, of being repeated? what practices should I take up and leave behind? and how will I keep in tune with my driving force? what alienates me from it? and why have I not taken up more rigorous assignments-- acted wiser? Such questions, often ignored, have to do of course with habits and inertias, laziness and wakefulness, and above all with what, on the one hand, binds us to the streams of information that impinge on our drive and what, on the contrary, keeps us in contact with it, in conversation with ourselves. To repeat, such a conversation MUST be cultivated, nurtured, practiced at countless levels (for it would be foolish to say it comes naturally). To nurture this infinite conversation indeed requires the "time of inner exertion"!

Taken more broadly, the above questions become: which praxes throughout human history have kept us in conversation with ourselves and with our own longing to advance (singularly and as a civilization)? How do we become, and best become, technicians of ourselves, conservationists of our world? With such questions in mind-- at the personal, social, and symbolic levels-- Sloterdijk outlines a "General Ascetology", cataloging, studying, and pursuing the practices that make humans human. His goal is to "make explicit what was implicit" in them, whether they be religious, philosophical, vocational, social, or artistic: culture in all its forms and facets because every culture "cultivates" somehow. But by unlinking these practices from ultimate-truth-procedures-- that is, unlinking them from the ground they seemed to be chained to--, they are set free for our own pragmatic applications as practicing beings. "The main thing is to carry out the exercise, not to reason over it." If this book drives home one point it is that, "one can neither not practice nor not learn to live." One is always already caught up in huge programs of practicing behaviors, most of which go unnoticed. What matters is to become aware of this.

"Being human means existing in an operatively curved space in which actions return to affect the actor, works the worker, communications the communicator, thoughts the thinker and feelings the feeler." That means: every second counts, every fact factors in. There's little room for sideshow antics when what happens to us shapes and trains us constantly. "Even being a poor student must first be learned." Practices transform, first, last, and always, their agents, absolutely. One's usage-of-time "is" one's being-in-time (the being that is made out of one's expenditures). The "subject" is simply a carrier for multiple practices that selects out of many those to develop and those to avoid, conscious of the fact that each practice affects (constitutes) the "practitioner" instantaneously. This means that before you are "you" (self, presence, origin), you are an operation, a function, a TECHNIQUE. "From that point on, being human mean[s] running oneself as a workshop of self-realization."

Becoming aware of ourselves as the "products" of our own techniques and technologies leads us in the direction of what Sloterdijk calls a "General Immunology": how do we preserve ourselves in our own singularity? how do we do difficult things efficiently-- so that we can do more difficult things? how do we last longest, doing the hardest, most "effortlessly," at the least cost (materially, energetically, and temporally)? Overall, it is an attempt to approach human HEALTH in every sense, from biological metabolism to international law to artistic-symbolic confrontations with death. Sloterdijk of course focuses only on the latter in this book, as it constitutes the highest sphere of immunology (formerly known as metaphysics). It gives the axis and aim of our anthropotechnics: to pivot upwards in ways unimaginable and to hold each step gained, because in point of fact, we are really only "ourselves" when we assume our destiny as "acrobats of the impossible" and find our place in the truths we have yet to acquire and undergo. A question of our "form of life" above all: our countless acts of tweaking ourselves, our time, and our world. We're forced to remind ourselves of that ever-unpopular truth: "nothing happens unless you do it yourself."

A simple injunction, a challenge and a question rolled into one, posed not generally but to you singularly, internally, eternally, from way out there: "You must change your life, sooner than you think. Time is of the essence."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and affecting work 11 May 2013
By The Bee Bee - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk's new book, "You Must Change Your Life" is a delightful and deep dive into the Nietzsche-influenced belief that as a body human beings need to walk away from the trappings and temptations of the world and journey into the "posthumanist" world in which each of us is a free agent, but with the responsibility to fully self-actualize. Sloterdijk's perspective remains consistent over the years and his new work picks up some of the central themes that made "Critique of Cynical Reason" such an oft-discussed and debated work. As he wrote then, "Philosophy that does not speculate past the structures of the modern world is basically practical philosophy. As such, it must equate what is intelligible in the world with what is rationally feasible, thinkable, examinable, and articulable." And that's precisely what he did in the very worthy follow-up, "You Must Change Your Life."
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Dense, demanding, but ultimately quite rewarding 20 Aug. 2013
By William Timothy Lukeman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In a world where narcissistic kindergarten aphorisms are touted as wisdom -- and used to create celebrity status & lifestyles for those who successfully spout & sell them like the snake oil they are -- few will take the plunge into a book like this, one that demands thought & engagement with philosophy, culture, myth. And that's a pity, because this sort of complex exploration is clearly required to maintain one's soul in the contemporary world.

Previous reviewers have provided in-depth summaries of the ideas presented in these pages, and I recommend them. It's true, this is no easy read: Sloterdijk is intellectual, philosophical, and brings a lifetime of learning & thought to his book. I'm still in the process of digesting it, and expect to re-read it several times before I can even begin to claim that I have a reasonably good grasp on all that it's saying. But it's already obvious that at its heart, this is about life as becoming, flowering into greater potential, becoming more meaningful, wider, deeper. To try & reduce its nearly 500 pages to catchphrases or bullet points would be to miss everything. It's anything but New Age self-help fuzziness -- the demand to change your life begins with thinking as you read, and then thinking about it afterwards.

In many ways, this is a preliminary review. There's such a wealth of knowledge & breadth of scholarship here that it's all a bit overwhelming, to be honest. I understand the confusion of some reviewers here, because I've felt it myself. But I also know that this book has made me stop & reflect on my own life in a way that hasn't happened for a long time, as well as forcing me to think about what I truly want for myself as a human being. This is definitely an ongoing project! For that reason, I recommend this book -- but be prepared to do some heavy lifting. It's worth the effort.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, Sloterdijk 7 May 2014
By Maxwell Syndstrom - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the latest in a long line of thinking about classical philosophy evolved through variants of phenomenology, and evidence -- despite Stephen Jay-Hawkings' logical-positivist claim that philosophy is dead, yet again -- that philosophy is very much alive.

I remember first encountering Critique of Cynical Reason -- which is in fact an ongoing critique of the critique that began with Plato, really -- when it was first translated into English in the 1980's. Despite having immersed myself thoroughly in the currents of philosophy, psychology, literature and history present at the time, and au courant in pop culture then, it was too difficult a read for my younger self. I had no idea of the sensitivity of dialogue with the philosophical tradition Sloterdijk was engaged with back then, from the most aphoristic to the most wide-sweeping conceptualizations. While some might call his writing "sloppy" (?!), in fact every phrase resonates with thoughtful consideration of the depth of that tradition, and its continual cycles of critique. In the ensuing 30 years, I have gained a more detailed understanding of the history of the modern phenomenological tradition, having read all the primary core texts of that tradition. Sloterdijk's work is intimately engaged with same, at every level.

One of Sloterdijk's early critiques of critique is that in its act of "unmasking" (the academic knee-jerk fundamental claim of, "what is REALLY going on here is....."), it continually risks replacing dogma with dogma. It is the very nature of contention with habits of thought that crystallizations of proposal -- be they in science, philosophy, art or politics -- require an ossification of the concept in contention with habits and tradition. The irony of Sloterdijk's philosophy is that it is the very fundamental act of war inherent in the contention of one kind of truth's displacement by another that forces all spirituality, thought, religion, science inevitably into the realms of dogma, coercion and power. My belief is that Sloterdijk's own critique is that it is this temptation to achieve truth -- and its inevitable seduction by the desire for power, for "winning" -- that undermines the continuation of both science, and philosophy. To boil it down to its simplest statement: dogma stops thinking. Thinking only lives when it refuses to take any given as final. Life is best and most interesting when all assumptions and truths remain subject to continual questioning. For all its richness, Sloterdijk's writing is a history and critique of Socrates' original, simple philosophical thought: the unexamined life is not worth living. It is, perhaps, not even living, but simply automation

This aspect of You Must Change Your Life in particular, I should not forget to emphasize, is absolutely one of the best things about this volume in Sloterdijk's opus: thinking is, as he puts it, "practice." The metaphors of shells, spheres, immunology, resistance to ideological shift, etc., are all the products of human practice. Receiving them passively is living Within the Shell. Actively questioning them is, the book proclaims, the right and necessity to peek out from outside the shell, to contemplate the metaphysical border traffic.

Why is this so important, now? It is the fundamental question, worldwide, for education. Anyone interested in "improving" education needs to consider how that might take place through a practice of encouraging independent self-reflection, encouraging the individual urge to practice, train, habituate then unlearn by new practice everything that has come before. How does one inculcate the urge to practice, in the sense Sloterdijk's work uses the term? That is one of the key questions of the text, as well as of education.

So this is not just the moral imperative behind Sloterdijk's work, but the inherent liberatory aspect of its working-out: self-reflection must continue.

Sloterdijk is particularly adept at teasing out the history of stops and starts that critique has engaged in for centuries, if not millennia; he contextualizes that process to reflect upon the ironies inherent in both its achievements and failures.

An entire twenty years past post-modernism has misconstrued such ironic -- or kynical -- philosophy as sheer relativism, madness, social, political and cultural illness.

While it was born in the seeds of a post-Hegelianism that worked itself out from Feurbach through Marx and Freud and Husserl and the school of philosophy evolving therefrom -- a philosophical discussion you really must immerse yourself in, particularly with concentration on Husserl's "Ideas" as a nodal point in the history -- Sloterdijk's thinking is best construed as a call to renewal in the process of critique -- a renewal that is less contentious, less power-mad (the irony of the period of post-modernism, where dialogue inevitably trapped itself in petty wars, academic and non-academic alike) and most importantly, more kind to the supposedly "defeated" than post-Enlightenment thought has been self-aware enough to understand -- and a call to re-engagement with the entirety of human thinking, with the understanding that no parts of the dyads we evolve as true or false are ever completely wrong, nor are any critiques ever completely right -- or completed. This, I think Sloterdijk's voluminous argument suggests, is where we as a species need to go next. It is a philosophy of hope, therefore, inclusiveness and acceptance.
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