Out of the World
Peter Sloterdijk



Why is it happening to me? Guesswork concerning the animal that stumbles upon itself, that makes great plans, that often does not move from the spot, and that sometimes is fed up with everything

Anthropology is that interpretation of man that already knows fundamentally what man is and hence can never ask who he may be. For with this question it would have to confess itself shaken and overcome. But how can this be expected of anthropology when the latter has expressly to achieve nothing less than the securing consequent upon the self-secureness of the subiectum?

—Martin Heidegger, The Age of the World Picture1

1. Self-foundlings

On the northern edge of the Alps and the southern edge of the Scandinavian glacial zone, amid gently hilly or flat grasslands, lie great chunks of rock whose origin has always seemed mysterious. The folk tongue calls these randomly arrayed megaliths Findlinge, perhaps to express the fact that hardly anyone at the sight of such an object can help feeling that they are standing before a remarkable find. Whoever encounters a Findling faces an object whose nature or mode of occurrence implies conspicuousness. Conspicuous is what is not understandable in terms of its surroundings. Perhaps the name also echoes the feeling that they were abandoned by some faraway stepmotherly mountain, like mineral foundlings [Findelkinder], whose human equivalents used to be laid by unfaithful parents on the steps of churches or at hospital entrances.

Enlightenment doesnt stop at stones; needless to say, the geological research of our century has solved the mystery of the Findlinge and explained their origin to us in detail. We know that the rocks were transported during the last ice age from the mountains to the plains, where they remained erratically after the glaciers melted, witnesses of a history that reaches beyond any human memory.

Why talk of stones when the subject is mankind? There seems to be no path from the mode of being of stones to that of people. To be sure, the Egyptians, if the impression they left does not deceive, took pains to convert men to stones; people were also named after stones; in fact, the church is supposed to have been built on a human rock. Nevertheless, it remains that the stone is, whereas of man and only of him can it be said that he exists. Ovids hint at the end of his poem of the world-ages, that the current human race descended from the stones sowed by the original parents Deucalion and Pyrrha after the fall of the iron race, can no longer expect any contemporary understanding. He who sows stones shall reap peoplethis is not a possible sentence of modern anthropology.

[16] The only reason to come from stones to humans stems from the foundling-effect, which undeniably also occurs in human subjects. It may not happen often, but it does happen that humans pause in the midst of the landscape of things and become aware of their egos. Suddenly they stumble upon the incomparable fact that they are there”—a circumstance that is the opposite of a physical find but that nevertheless strikes self-consciousness like an abrupt occasion for finding. Unfortunately, the word existence has been so worn down by the palaver of the century that it no longer really serves to designate this abyssal conspicuousness of a persons own being-there. The concept of existence has long become a mere academic tokenwherever it turns up, it has a nostalgic effect, like a postcard from the Paris of the 1950s. It hardly still points to the unexpectedness, illegitimacy, and uncanniness that can be characteristic of ecstatic self-finding. What remains of it is a philosophically pasteurized anxiety and alterity. What this word truly wagers was captured byto name one exampleErnst Bloch, in a spoken autobiographical remark that seems as valuable to me as his entire system. One day, as a child of perhaps ten years, out of the blue he felt his ego; it rushed into him like a thunderbolt that he was truly and irrevocably himself, and that he could no longer escape himself and his body alive. Such terrifying enlightenments occur only episodically. No discourse and no practice leads to this panicked self-experience of being-there. The unprepared ego bumps into itself as an unconditional finding. [17] The self-foundling [Selbstfindling] experiences itself in this moment as the uncanny being that positively is not a thing and that cannot be understood in the light of things. I am not one of the thingsthat means: I find no refuge in the inhuman anymore. I amand now I know itno stone, no plant, no animal, no machine, no spirit, no god. With this sixfold denial I circumscribe the uncanniest of all spaces. Whoever is human lives in a place that absolutely stands out to itself. From then on I am only the scene of a question. My life is a theater of trembling over the fact that I have to be different from everything that enjoys the comfort of being a thing among things, a being among beings. Why is it happening to me?

One of the characteristics of this experience of being in I-ness [Seins im Ichsein] is its suddenness. A rupture in the brain cinema that takes itself to be thinking, and there gapes the abrupt presence of the basic questionableness for which even the richest concepts: Being, reason, God are only conventional images. One could speak of this unexpected gaping as a trapdoor through which I fallif only I could say whereto. One often marks the direction of falling by pointing to oneself, whereas it would be more correct to admit that the direction of the fall remains unclearone falls into the inner non-thing, into the subjective galaxy. Who could say where it leads? If the human were a being that searches for itself by nature, then self-discovery would be less alienating. But the scandal of the human being is that it can find itself without having looked for itself. One can be twenty-three or thirty-one or older and discover, while crossing the street, [18] or when ones keys drop on the floor, that one exists. From this there is no secure shelter. Neither theory nor alcohol can guarantee a foolproof contraception of Dasein. Safer thinking, safer drinking—that doesnt help in every case. Even someone who regularly jogs in the woods, and from age thirty onward has regular doctors checkups, cannot preclude that existence will break in during the night. Whoever this happens to joins those individuals who have been shattered by wonderthe self-foundlings in an uncanny landscape in which it is impossible to orient oneself”—I transpose a famous formula of Wittgenstein from the context of the investigation of language into that of the interpretation of Dasein. Under the self-foundlings, too, the glaciers have melted away. Enigmatic to themselves, each one lies uneasily and randomly in the landscapea breathing monument to a prehistory that escapes its own memory. I sit on the table and exist; I see a chestnut trees root and I feel a choking in my throat: existence. How lucky that I exist is not a thought that must accompany all my ideas. When will it be over? Self-foundlings stand amid the landscape of fellow human beings like siblings of the megalithic heads on the Easter Islands, apparently permanently unwilling to reveal the secret of their origin to any investigation. Whatever we are dealing with here, they are no positive plasticsmore like negatives of such, omissions in the circle of things, gaps in the continuity of beings, holes in being, groundlessly agapefor themselves and their kind as conspicuous as they are unintelligible. One has bumped into oneself and can make no use of it.

[19] All this seems to call for psychoanalysis. For modern rationality, it is unacceptable that precisely the central organ of enlightenment, the developed, project-oriented ego, should be inherently affected by an unreasonable uncanniness. Was the psychoanalytic concept of the ego not invented ultimately to ban the uncanny to the outer edges of the autonomous life and to contest all its claims to a place in the center? It is characteristic of the psychoanalytic conception of man that it cannot accept the groundlessness of the self-foundlings finding. For it, even the phenomenon or episode of sudden self-finding must be grounded in the subject matterwhere matter itself here means the history of the subjects ego-formation, with its stages and crises. Psychoanalytic concepts of individuation refer to this historyhere I am thinking more of Margaret S. Mahler than C. G. Jung, more of the vicissitudes of the second birth in the extrauterine separation of children from the mother than the archetypal dive trip of the Jungian analysand, who is supposed to traverse his shadow and integrate it. We discover the most significant indications of a real reason for the groundless self-finding of individuals midway through life in Otto Rank, the student of Freud who first developed the psychoanalytic interpretation of myth into a real archaeology of the subject. Thinking that he was nothing but a faithful student of the master, early on he unhinged the schematism of classical analysis. By the year 1909, Rank had already begun to drive the prehistory of subjectivity far beyond [20] the specifically Freudian Oedipal drama. Ranks paleontology of the ego goes back to the border that separates the intrauterine life of the human being from the postnatal world-light and day-light. What Rank began to develop at that time signified no less than the birth of heroic subjectivity out of the spirit of concealed attempts at infanticide. This makes us prick up our ears, because insofar as heroes, from a historical perspective, represent the prototype of subjectivity, their stories belong to the prehistory of even the most prosaic life that today says I.

Ranks short text on the Myth of the Birth of the Hero seems at first glance to be only one of the countless psychoanalytic interpretations of myth that float around in the no-mans-land between profundity and irresponsibilityand which, incidentally, have not bothered anyone for a long time. In truth, Rank begins the breakthrough of mythological analysis through the layer of secondary symptoms and their interpretation. He ventures for the first time into a real history of the still weakly structured self and lays open contents of the primary process.2 These are not yet the dramas of gifted children that later became famous; Rank also doesnt speak directly about the invisible infant mortality that today in the First World is much higher than the visible infant mortality of the Third World. Ranks great discovery orbits the drama of the child brought to the brink of death who escapes an archaic attempt on its life as if through a miracle, and later sets off on a path to change from a survivor of abandonment into a living subject in full possession of the truth of its origin. [21] The heroic stories compiled by Rank are, without exception, about self-foundlings in the literal sense of the word. Their common template is the abandonment of newborn children in wild mountains or dangerous rivers. Most often the heroes were objects of murderous intentions on the part of the father and the mothersometimes it is alien political forces that forced the mothers to abandon the childthe Moses and Oedipus legends come to mind. These stories also have in common the fateful figure of fortune in misfortune [Glück im Unglück]. Through a miraculous stroke of fate, a helpful being intervenesa surrogate mother willing to sacrifice herself, a goat, a wolfess, a midwife, a water bearer, a pastor, a childless couple. These providential helpers rescue the foundlings from certain demise; they bring them into their caves, their houses, their palaces, to nourish them, give them clothes, and names, and raise them until adulthood. After this holding3beyond the blood relation with its terrifying truthbegins the third act of the heros life, which overtly drives the heroic individuation forward. Through some catalyst, the subject-to-be is led to the trace of its true provenance and of its faraway murderous own blood. The hero picks up the scent that guides him back to the site of the original crime. He thus returns to the scene of his abandonment, his violent estrangement. But there, according to the mythical text, he discovers his real destiny. He becomes the exemplary proprietor of the titles that were initially withheld from him. He rises to become the successor of the father or the ruler in all functions, [22] in one famous case even to the point of the sexual possession of the mother, upon which Freud placed so much emphasis that he elevated Oedipus to the first rank among all heroes, even if sleeping with the mother is the exception, while the treacherous abandonment by the motheror at least the near-fatal violent separation from heris the rule.

Now it seems as if the heros early endangerment is what first poeticizes his life and equips him with the compulsion to elevate himself. The foundling who retrieves his lawful rights becomes a charismatic ruler, the leader and pioneer of the collective, even the savior. One is tempted to see a causal relationship here: just because the hero was first the victim of abandonment, he has the motivational talent to later become an autonomous perpetrator [Täter]. Listeners to his story hear a prophecy of the later deed born of the earlier suffering. In that sense myths are not infrequently prophetic. As stories of heroic self-discovery, they predict that victims become perpetrators, and that those who in the end find themselves and set themselves into their rights are recruited from among the abandoned.

At the core of heroic subjectivation we thus discover, following Otto Ranks suggestions, the drama of a very early, all-permeating insult. What drives the hero, the charismatic, or the prophet to find himself, is the silently endured, still-active memory of an absolute objectification. Life revealed itself to him before all reflection as an unmitigated totality of pain. For the hero, [23] no specific part of his being hurts, except: all. There is no spot that is not in distress. The motor of heroic ego-formation is full self-elevation out of full sunkenness in the ocean of helplessness. The hero is the man who comes ashore from the sea of despair. In him, the adventure of civilization begins as the colonization of egoic solid groundthe inhabiting and throning of a new continent: autonomy, power, will, and knowledge. That is why heroes are the psychological pioneers of culture; they clear the jungles of impotence and confusion. In the wake of the early heroes, it becomes possible for humans to secure themselves by routinely learning what is humanly possible in their time. On this view, heroes are not just subjects of force with sonorous names; their ego is not simply an appendage of their energy. Rather, heroes, with all their force, are nothing other than heroes of being an ego, champions of self-elevation to ability and to the conquest of their own names. As such, mythical heroism is always protagonisticits essence is the First Fight against a First Defeat. But this also remains, albeit tacitly, my, your, his, her, their, our fight. The fight is so universal because the experience of despair in imposed objectification encompasses much more than just the murderous abandonment of infants in hostile elements. Ever since humans became numerous, there have been many forms of casual attacks on childrens lives, and just as many forms of self-recovery and self-discovery along non-heroic life paths. Countless individuals look back in diffuse ways [24] at deep and early abandonments without mounting a heroic counterattack.4 A survival syndrome ubiquitous in trace elements forms the nervous substructure of higher civilizations. To it belong the needy and the addicted, the manipulable and the irritable, the biding and the refusing, the furious and the moody, the salvation-hungry and the dreamers. All of them, to varying degrees, show traces of archaic self-objectifications. Because of them, and because they grew numerous, resentment could become, as Nietzsche recognized so sharply, a superpowerfor resentment is the sentiment of subjects who have fallen among the things. These individuals are given to themselves like a difficult dowry; for them, the gift of life remains swathed in a diffuse catastrophe. Resentment reflects the crankiness of an existence that is thrust ever again into the consequences of its initial violent abandonment. This also means that the ego of heroes and prophets is primordially related to that of migrainic and hypochondriac subjects. Are hypochondriacs not then athletes of ill temper, heroes of horror at oneself? What are the labors of Hercules but the official counterpart to the hypochondriacs twelve struggles against the treacheries of life? Must not death be vanquished again and again in both the heroic and the hypochondriac sequence of acts? While the positive monolithic hero unfolds his power in a counterstrike on the initially unfriendly world, neurasthenic subjects remain [25] in their out-of-tune life as if in an eternally undecided battle. The hypochondriac ego clings to itself like the desert anchorites to their cussed naturalness. In a sixth-century legend it is said of John Climacus, the Christian psychagogue who consumed himself in ascetic practice for forty years in his desert hut near Thola, that he shared his cell with a sea monster, this heavy and wild body.5 Contemporary subjects, whether heroes or hypochondriacs, share their four walls with an even wilder monster, the uninhibited and future-pregnant brain.

2. The determined, the called, the inspired self

An influential tradition explains the origin of human self-consciousness from shame. Ever since the biblical myth of original sin and the expulsion from paradise, becoming a subject has been associated with becoming aware of nakedness; from this emerges, as if spontaneously [von selbst], the urge to hide the genitals, that is, the monuments of painful differentiation. Through the disgrace of being naked and different, sexuality becomes conspicuous and conscious to the subject. In beings who have become conspicuous to themselves, shame is the impulse to withdraw into inconspicuousness, invisibility. The ashamed wants to get off the stage on which his or her banishment from the plenum of being was exposed. Accordingly, shamealong with guilt and separationwould be the oldest and most powerful instance of the self-reference through which individuals form an image of themselves. In this image, the deepest traits of being-there are marked as an existing lack. The ability to be ashamed remains the proof of human freedom for Kant. Thus, Kant thinks that depictions of the naked human body require the fig leaf6 in order to spare the moral subject from remembering the tools that fabricated it, without being asked and with an uncivilized gasp.

In feeling guilty or ashamed, man turns on himself as the object of a comprehensive negation. Because every determination implies negation, we find the self-ashamed human in a primal scene of self-negation; this entails a first, and if not first, then at least early, self-determination. Determinations, understood thus, are not only logical operations but passionsimprints, tattoos, and primary programmings of the soul. From the first beginning of their determination process, subjects start to grasp themselves as objects of suffering and negation. Whoever doesnt wish to sink into the ground lacks one of the essential experiences of subjectivity. Only a theory of self-destruction and suicide could provide insight into the general human fate: [27] to be for oneself an object of partial or global negation. The suicide shames himself to death by his own hand, self-administering a determination by completely negating himself. In Japanese suicide culture, the negatio is expressly developed into an extreme performance of determinatio—hara-kiri or seppuku is the thrust of the knife from the center into the center, from the negator into the negated. Thereby the determined-determining subjectivity celebrates a precarious triumph; it appropriates shame as its own act and does not cede total self-negation to an external force. In extreme cases, it becomes evident that high-cultural subjectivations are impossible without the erection of a relation of violence in the interior of the subject. What holds true for shame and the age-old turnings against oneself is, however, even for turnings to the world and heroic voyages and missions. The violence within the subject emerges as the passion for destiny and self-determination on the open world stage. In this sense, becoming-human rhymes exactly with aggression and self-projection. Thus can ardent followers of destiny become a force majeure for themselves and others.

How can a historical anthropology be about heroic, prophetic, inspired individuals? Is there not an unbridgeable methodological gap between a vulgar theory and a noble object? Can an unsuffering, unheroic, and uninspired theory approach that high plateau of heroic passion and prophetic inspiration that undeniably belongs to human facticity? [28] Should there be a passion of anthropological observation that rivals the self-determining tension of those who have demanded the extreme of themselves? With these questions I want to suggest that a noble anthropology may become possible if the methodically vulgar study of man finds a way to surpass itself with regard to the noblest exemplars of the species. Anthropologists must enhance their ability to describe human beings to the point that they can speak of heroic and prophetic subjects from a perspective other than that of a valet or republican. A historical theory of humankind that would not underbid the human condition faces the task of a contra-heroic observation of heroism and a contra-prophetic description of prophetismwhereby the theorist of humankind, without being a hero or a prophet, qualifies as the third in the band of those who seek to understand and represent the extreme high end of the spectrum of human phenomena. Traditionally this third is called the philosopher. Without a philosophy that perceives the human in his heightor his hypertensionwe are condemned to remain mere onlookers at humanity, which means being anthropologists in the disparaging sense Heidegger gave to that word. Therefore anthropology must become a philosophical oneor else it insists on remaining vulgar, that is, null with respect to noble and eminent objects.7

[29] At the core of a noble anthropology we find a language-theoretical discipline that for the vulgar intellect ipso facto cannot exist: a linguistics of inspiration. Starting from the theorem that the human is the animal that predicts itself, it studies the speech acts with which people announce coming people. This formula makes clear that the self-prediction of human being must be understood not as solipsistic, as in a soliloquy, but rather as fait social; humans experience what they can be out of a perpetual storm of announcements, appointments, and callings. Humans announce humans by speaking, even in the loftiest tones, of human possibilities. It is language as melos, as mythos and as logos in which people tune their kind to become human. Whoever follows the invitations spoken from the higher human possibilities becomes caught up in the human Bildungsprozess. In being imbued with such speeches, individuals experience the impulse not to remain a mere hearer of the word but to become its enacter [Täter]. All along, hominization was a process in which eminent speakers suggested models of human being to their fellowsexemplary tales of ancestors, heroes, saints, artists. I call this demiurgic power of speech the promise [Versprechen].8 [30] The human must be promised the human before he can test out his own potentials. One who has never heard the histories of gods, heroes, saints, prophets, and artists will hardly want to or be able to become a god, a hero, a saint, a prophet, an artist. There must have been talk of great men in the third person before an individual can arrive at the idea of becoming such a subject himself.

The linguistics of inspiration deals with these transitions. It is plain to see that the critical point of manic subjectivations is the transition between he and Ior, in the case of female inspiration, between she and I. Apparently, the decisive processes of hominization are tied to a grammatical riddle. Charging the subject with the manic propulsion-system requires counting down from three to one; a third person must inspire the first. How is this possible? As a rule, the manic countdown9 occurs only if I am the you of a poet, prophet, or founder who moves me, elects me, and favors me with his address. I assume only the inspired position as the hearer of a voice that elects me as myself, predicts me to myself, and promises me my own-most ability to be [Seinkönnens].10 From time immemorial, the outstanding humans were the great addresseeshearers who took seriously what was predicted and promised, in some cases more seriously [31] than their narrators and educators had intended it. Would Alexander the Great have become what he was had he never heard of the Homeric heroes? Would Karl XII of Sweden have been tempted to lead a heros life in modern times without first reading Plutarch? Would Francis of Assisi have become legendary had he not been an enthusiastic imitator of a man he took to be greater than all men, indeed the greatest of all men: the god-man? Indeed, would this god-man have become possible had not 1,200 years earlier a certain Jesus utterly invested his I in the Rabbinic stories of a coming Messiah who would bring freedom to the Jewish people? Just as heroic subjectivation is conditioned by the story of a hero, which functions as an announcement, so too do prophetic and messianic subjectivations presuppose stories of prophets and saints, who were spoken about before individuals with their own I could fall into their role. In view of such effects, one must permit the question of whether the spiritual history of humanity is not carried forward by the fact that individuals always seek anew the risk of falling into the role of the announced, the promised, the declared-possible Great One?11 The core of prophetism [32] is not the prediction of the future, or moral exhortation, but rather the announcement that one day, maybe soon, a prophet or a messiah will reappearmaybe you.

The risk of letting oneself be decisively inspired can be taken only where a current excitement leads to the deactivation of mental reserves; then, on the narrators side the irony and on the listeners side the admiring skepticism fade away. Now speakers emerge who are no longer narrators or mythologues but baptists and appointers; through them, the offer of manic subjectivation is sharpened into direct address. Tua res agitur. This is no longer about art but about salvation, not about entertainment and contemplation but about decision and redemption. Severe speeches in crisis renew the promises attached to the inspired life with its sacrifices and blessings. While literature blooms only when its not a matter of all or nothing, mania in its sacred or profane versions requires a climate in which subjects are prepared to go to the extreme. Seriousness divides not only spirits but also inspirations. We know: irony cheapens everything, and the aestheticization of life bets on the thesis that ultimately nothing can be entirely serious and grave. Mania, in contrast, is in its element only in the emergency; its beacons are the difficult, the severe, the single necessity. Thus, it is no wonder that heroes and prophets permanently hover in the self-imposed danger of being swallowed in the vortex of self-overload. Whoever seeks the emergency will perish in it. But what are the grand narratives about [33] if not the successful resistance of such dangers by eminent subjects? The purpose of telling about great men is to establish that certain individuals, under the most extreme pressure, were able to withstand the imminent demise of the ego in overwhelming clashes of self-determination. In a certain sense, all storied heroes are, like Odysseus, divine sufferers or patients. Without patience, no narration. The heroic histories narrate subjects whom no outer-worldly opposition could rob of their purposefulness; because the hero keeps his goal in mind to the end, the narrator, too, remembers the path and the deeds along it until the end. Thus, the hero and his poet together defend the honor of unconditional effort against the indolence that changes intention halfway or forgets it. Hagiography, in contrast, reports on individuals who turn their backs on the frivolous, sensual, ambivalent common world [Mitwelt] in order to orient themselves, amid an age of consummate sinfulness and in spite of all complacent worldliness, exclusively toward the godly. Together the saint and his hagiographer defend the honor of radical interiority against drifting about in external affairs. Finally, the stories of prophets remember individuals who did not let the alien, cynical, ambivalent discourses in their environment muddle their mission to say what was dictated to them as truth. The prophet and his scribe defend the honor of the non-arbitrary decisive language against the baseless chatter of the indecisive multitude.

As the crisis heats up consciousnesses, the stories produce a suction in their hearers that [34] places their ego in the position of the subject being talked about. In the drama of actualization, the storied subject is supposed to become the real present agent; as if from within, the subject springs onto the stage of beingthe theater of the greatest acts and meanings. Where he was, I shall be. But the inverse of this sentence would also apply: where my previously trivial ego was, he shall splendidly enter the stage. The crisis is the wardrobe where the inspired costume change takes place.12 I exchange ego for higher selfso goes the perennial ad for manic soul-searching; manic subjectivity emerges through possession from above. I live not, but Christ lives in me, writes Paul exemplarily in Galatians 2:20. But those who change from Saul to Paul, from the uncalled to the called, from the indeterminate or falsely determined to the man with true determinationcannot simply be said to have been twisted or violated; their missions are experienced as elevated lives, however high the price of the passions may be. Therefore, to draw a fairer if also riskier picture, one would have to say: the called one leaps with his entire being through the burning hoop of the possibility of becoming a hero, saint, or prophet himself. Such a subject exists only as leap; indeed, one must recognize that his inspiration remains entirely the possession of the leap.

Oswald Spengler has reconstructed, with intense empathy, the critical moment [35] of Jesus messianic individuation in the midst of apocalyptically agitated Palestine two thousand years ago. He reminds us that Jesus was thirty years old when the awakening came upon him. At that moment Jesus went to John the Baptist and let him baptize him in the river Jordan and became his discipline. His consciousness, according to Spengler, was at that time hardly different from the Mandaic apocalypticism that predicted the coming of Barnasha, the Son of Man; this of course wouldnt have been understood as the national messiah of the Jews but as the bringer of world-ending fire and paradise:

That “he” would come now and end this so-unreal reality was his great certainty, and for it he stood as a herald, like his master John. Even the oldest of the gospels that were integrated into the New Testament are still permeated with that time in which he in his consciousness was nothing more than a prophet. But there comes a moment in his life when the notion, then the certainty comes over him: you yourself are it. It was a secret that he at first hardly admitted to himself, then admitted to his friends and companions, who now shared with him the sacred gospel in silence until they finally dared to reveal the truth in the fateful walk from Jerusalem before all the world.13

Here Spengler could have introduced two elements that are indispensable to understanding the critical moment. [36] First, the fact that after the decapitation of John the Baptist, Jesus no doubt came under an inner pressure to succeed himinasmuch as the baptism in the river Jordan must have constituted an indissoluble bond between him and the baptist. Then, that disquieting scene of self-revelation in Caesarea Philippi, which exposes the secret that the messiah, not least through the disciples confession of him, was in the fullest sense of the word determined to become what he was to become. I quote the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

On his way through the far north Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi. There he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do people say that I am? And they replied, Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, returned from the realm of the dead. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for men have not revealed it unto thee, but my Father in heaven has put it in your heart. And I say also unto thee, who you are: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.[] . . . But he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

The dialogue has lost none of its power almost two millennia later. Despite the obvious [37] Matthean tendency to counterfeit in favor of the Jerusalem Petrine line regarding the legitimacy of Jesus succession, the structure of the drama clearly shows: awakened by a wink from the master, Peter, the enchanted enchanter, plays the fateful partner in the play of messianization; he holds up the burning hoop—“you are Gods commission”—and Jesus leaps through to his destiny by accepting the identification and saying I. This is the real primal scene of Christendom. Here the word overtakes the flesh in order to lead it into the holy catastrophe. Omnis determinatio ist negatio. The rest is half written in the Passions of the canonical gospels, the other half in the missionary and criminal history of Christianity.

It has become customary to characterize the ideological movement of modernity as a detachment from the Christian determination of man via secular or humanistic self-determination programs. This is reflected in the fact that, since the eighteenth century, the discipline of anthropology has emerged as a new form of anthropodicy. In it, the human begins to take itself empirically and to research its nature on the basis of its own appearance. This also expresses a new ethos that wants nothing other than for the human to now take itself absolutely humanly. Being the image of God increasingly becomes an embarrassing idea from the theological nursery of the genus. From now on, the adult of modern times is content to emulate the best of its own specieseven and especially if [38] these are not images of god but only humans. Anthropology is the science of the condescension of man to mere humanitya self-confident condescension, of course, which fundamentally already knows how man ought to take man. Thus, from the outset anthropology itself is designed to become human, all too human. It accompanies and causes a development at the end of which Nietzsche will be able to say that wethe humans who are experienced with the humanare tired of humanity.

What Nietzsche had in mind in his vision of the dawning age of the last men is the seemingly unstoppable descent of man from the old manic heights to a universally self-satisfied, semi-depressed mediocrity. The last men are those who celebrate mans underbidding of man as his fulfillment. Who could deny that the media age has led to a triumph of dispirited vitalityoriented toward the model of athletico-musical borderline debility? The last man: the bystander with a microphone. Nevertheless, the process of civilization is not a linear decadence; the dynamics of life still encompass more than just the manic initial forces burning out to the final disenchantment. No doubt every wakeful European sees this descending line on which first God becomes man and then man becomes a smurf. But modern people can also have a manic rising sign that climbs when the zeitgeist is falling. For Nietzsche, the sentence God is dead signals the bet that people after Ecce homo can learn to manufacture their own inspirations. The word Übermensch is a cipher for the transition of mania into the age of its artificial reproducibility.14

[39] I would now like to briefly suggest that the most instructive form of the announcement of great men in the age of the human image goes back not to the doubtless significant drafts of Herder and Kant, but to Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He is the only of the great authors of the founding years of anthropology before and circa 1800 who fought the condescension to empirical man from the very beginning. Whereas Kant and Herder are for good reason taken to be the fathers of descriptive anthropology, Fichte is falsely regarded as the author of a modern propheticone could also say manic and agitatinganthropology. His little-read treatise The Determination of Man—one notes the double meaning of determination—contains an underappreciated draft of a theory of the inspired human.

Fichte first of all subjects the empirical ego, which believes itself to be dependent on nature and the external world, [40] to a hellish journey into complete self-loss by showing how each of my states is produced by the foreign rule of an infinite chain of natural and social determinants. Whatever I previously imagined myself to be disintegrates into a mere haunting. In every moment of my being-there, I now realize, what is really there is not me, but rather the nature in methe not-I, the external, the dead, in my place. Along the path of seeking myself in nature, I dissolve into an abyss of illusion and alien determination; I am nothing, the energy is all; energy here is not a synonym of life but simply means death in motion as distinct from death at rest. And this death am I, so far as I stand in nature and put a being before myself and let it rule.

Now so-called epistemology intervenes. It resists the loss of self in external determinations; it sets itself the goal of shattering even the last semblance of objectivism and determinism so that I can no longer misunderstand myself as a determinate thing among determinate things. For if I present myself to myself as a determinate something without seeing through this determining operation as my own deed, then I have reified myself, forgotten myself, negated myself, and delivered myself to death. I have handed my life over to a sham life. Fichte never tired of making these fatal diagnoses to his readers: that through undetected self-objectifications they have already thought themselves dead. The penetrating call-structure of Fichtes lectureslike a gnostic barker he thinks thoroughly in the appellativeis based in the urge to blast open the slavish worldview of melancholic majorities and the dreamy worldview of elite aesthetes. [41] Both groups, the materialists as well as the idealists, drift in a more or less comfortable irreality. Against these irrealities the “determination of man” aims itself like an apocalyptic sermon on the will to realization; it rifles through the materialists and idealists respective unrealities and drives them to the edge of the decision to live; the single theme of this philosophy is the resurrection of man from the dead which he already is. Existing, then, means calling oneself out to a radically active life. This, however, is not an originary operation that strives back into some ancient saintly womb or lets itself be overwhelmed by a pre-given Beingrather, it is nothing other than the leap into the inspired upswing of pure will. The spring of this origin bubbles always now onlyand what comes forth from it is a beam of absolutely benevolent aliveness.

The sentence where he was, I shall be seems to apply to Fichte as well. He, however, is no longer merely the hero of mythical narration or messianic oration. All that I have hitherto thought about myselfand thus have thought about he or she as whom I present myselfsuccumbs to the demand that it cancel and consume itself in the vital, active, and absolute life that exhausts itself in goodness. The ego that I am to become is not the one I have previously imagined as myself but rather the godly life in my stead. Fichte as philosopher of religion installed himself without further ado to the left of God, [42] the right being already occupied for obvious reasons. In his case, though, the left wanted by all means to know what the right was doing. Jesus is of interest to the self-aware philosopher not so much as a savior but as a naïve colleague who acted correctly on the fly but would have been unable to give a reflective account of why his actions were correct. Thus, for Fichte there is a thoroughly collegial Christologywith stark Johannistic tones, from which horrified contemporaries saw the atheists cloven hoof sticking out. The naïve and the reflective acosmists are colleagues in the act of recalling fellow human beings from their self-reification to drive them into the abyss of the triumphant god withinno doubt a thankless task. Both of them feel the sarcastic inertia of the worldlings who would rather go a little further with the liberal devil than surrender unreservedly to a good god who takes everything.

Fichte, one might say, raised mania to the rank of a science and a technology; according to his own claim, he discovered the procedure by which every consistently thinking ego can drop into the inspiring ground of the world, that is, into an absolutely world-awake life, to then throw itself forth as a divine medium in deeds of spontaneous goodness. Along with directions to the blissful life, the Fichtean art of thinking contains instructions for the annihilation of the stubborn, sluggish ego in favor of a godlike, dynamic, strong-willed imagination of cosmogonic spontaneitya thought that foreshadows Nietzsches immortalistic voluntarism. [43] Fichtes god through me of course cannot help but always behave in an exceedingly noble and decent way, while the Dionysus summoned by Nietzsche stands out unpleasantly in his godlike lack of restraint. Incidentally, one can see in the contrast between Nietzsche and Fichte that even modernized, self-reflexive, and certified manias occur in the plural, and that the war in heaven continues, even if there are no longer gods in the old style. The clash of gods and titans has become the clash of manias and morals. Fichte already seems to suspect that amoral inspirations, too, will theoretically retrofit themselves, and so with great clairvoyance he hurls his declaration of war on the fanaticism of perversion into the future; one might call this a prelude to the task identified as the critique of cynicism”—initially as a critique of the pride of false prophets and narcissistic self-made gods:15

Just as . . . one who is inspired by God wishes . . . that God only radiate back to him how he is in himself, so too, conversely, one who is inspired by himself wishes that . . . from all sides . . . only the image of his own unworthiness radiate onto him. (Die Anweisung zum seligen Leben, Werke 5:547)

For Fichte, great logician of domesticated manias, the world is tasked only with being a radiating-back or affirmative mirroring of what [44] the subject radiates into it. He at least admitted, in a manner as deeply sensible as ambiguous, that the initial radiation cannot originate in the individuals proprium. Only shone-through can the ego shine by virtue of an older, deeper, more productive incandescence; a well-formed ego is at bottom nothing but the glittering in the eye of God.

Fichtes reflections open out into a technology of autogenous ascension; with its help, the subject should detach itself from the illusions of earthly gravity. After the desperate passage through self-loss in the external causality of nature and the equally desperate attempt to procure meaning and stability through reflection on absolutely certain but totally contentless knowledge, the subject is finally ripe for the leap into the moral self-calling that initiates self-creation. For this explosive endeavor Fichte uses the disappointingly conventional expression belief. A belief is supposed to be what delivers the self from gravity and, even if it cannot yet move mountains, promotes it to a real Being for the first time. Ultimately, the reader, ignited by the author, is supposed to reach the summit of self-inspiration and to be able to say with the book-ego:

I am thoroughly my own creation . . . I will be not Nature but my own work; and I have become it by having willed it. (Werke, 2:256)

It disappears before my eyes and sinks into the world that I only just now marveled at. For all the fullness of life, for all the order and prosperity that I see in it, it is still only the curtain that conceals an infinitely more perfect one. [45] My belief moves behind this curtain . . . It sees nothing determinate, but it expects more than it will be able to grasp within time.

So do I live and so am I, and so I am unalterably and consummately for all eternity; because this beyng [Seyn] is not recognized from the outside, it is my own true beyng and essence. (Werke, 2:319)

Looking back at the Fichte event, one can venture the claim that a brave new world of enlightened enthusiasms has begun. Be it mania, it also has method. Letting oneself drop into God or into an active ground of drives is from then on divulged as the secret of the enterprising life. Since the year 1800 modern humankind lives, without officially recognizing it, under the law of thoroughly reflective manias; with this, post-critical conditions are generated in principle. The neo-manic or neo-mediumistic ego-constitutions of the past two hundred years remain unintelligible as long as one doesn’t know about the new disinhibitions of the ego toward god or power or determination.16 Whoever wished to intervene in the world-game on a higher level had to partake in the now-half-aerated manic secrets of human history; accordingly, ambition, will, and success are only superficial expressions for the basic relationship, [46] that it is “a god” that lets himself go within me and likewise that it is “a god”—one could also say an “anonymous energetic ground” or, with Wagner, a delusionthat builds up powers of will and knowledge in me to the point of actualization. If one takes Fichtes and Nietzsches fundamental insights together, it becomes clear how the world of actualized enthusiasms generates itself; the power of realization springs from the point of indistinction between vision and unscrupulousness. In manic élan, the clarity of knowledge and the darkness of risk merge in a coincidence of near-irresistible energy.

In no issue is modernity more blind than in the question concerning the driving forces of eminent men. In the epoch of greatest unleashings, there is also the greatest willful ignorance regarding the sources of subjective power. It seems as though the sheer magnitude of the game drives countless people into wanton distractions and into a freely willed stultification that lets itself pass for enlightenment. The neo-religious shuteye that lets itself be carried by dark causes works just the same in this regard.

To the philosopher who would like to consider himself an accomplice of mankind at the heights of human facticity, the following task presents itself: to be the third in the manic leagueand at the same time the skeptical witness. Faced with a multifacetedly and contradictorily inspired humankind, the role falls to him to act as a comparativist of manic campaigns. This becomes all the clearer in a time that is characterized by a renaissance of monotheistic energies, which remains incomprehensible to manyto remain silent for the moment about the synthetic manias of the Californian and neo-oriental types. [47] Surrounded by prophets, fortunetellers, and proclaimers of all kinds, philosophy becomes, nolens volens, an expert school for comparative fanaticisms, to cite Amos Ozs quick-witted remark. In view of the manic wing of humanity, tasks of exorcism enter the house of philosophytoday more than ever. One must ever again drive out compulsive spirits to clear space for the free spirit. The differentiation of inspirations is the most serious task of intelligence. It knows, by virtue of its office, to speak neither of nihilistic despair nor of being overpowered by self-authorized energy gods. Without succumbing to mania itself, philosophy must harbor the dangerous knowledge that the history-perturbed world can be grasped only from the center of the manic cyclone. Inspirations have hitherto only overflown the world in various ways; the point, however, is to come to the world.


1. [English translation by William Lovitt, in The Question Concerning Technology, New York, 1977, 153.]

2. For a more precise definition of “primary process,” see comments in this chapter on determination and passion.

3. [English in original—referring Donald Winnicott’s concept of holding or containing.]

4. Cf. Otto Ranks’ reflections concerning the heroic compensation in The Trauma of Birth.

5. Hugo Ball, Byzantine Christianity, Frankfurt, 1979, 19.

6. Cf. Manfred Sommer, Identität im Übergang: Kant, Frankfurt, 1988, 75ff., “Feigenblatt, Blendwerk und Selbstdarstellung.”

7. The so-called philosophical anthropology of our century (e.g., that of Max Scheler) remained on the whole a failed attempt to win back the height of humankind by describing it. Limited by aestheticism it persisted patrician abstractions.

8. In two earlier publications I have laid out provisional exposes of a theory of essential speech as promise: Zur Welt kommen—Zur Sprache kommen [Coming to the world—coming to language], Frankfurter Vorlesungen, Frankfurt, 1988, ch. 5 “Die Welt als Poesie und Versprechen” [The world as poesy and promise], and Versprechen auf Deutsch—Rede über das eigene Land, Frankfurt, 1990.

9. [English in the original.]

10. Such a linguistics of the You, founded in a metaphysics of the appellative, unfolded in grand style: Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts. Eine leibhaftige Grammatik in vier Teilen, 2 vols., Heidelberg, 1963, 1964.

11. This falling-into-a-role is a far-reaching, unresearched principle of spiritual history, or, better, spectral history. In the contemporary epoch there is a theosophical and pseudo-Indian motivated introduction of the thought of reincarnation into the occidental economy of ideas; it allows for countless obscure and prominent individuals to interpret themselves as revenants of great personalities. “Roles,” in this perspective, are identical with significant names and forces, of which we are informed thanks to our cultural historiography: we read them as if they were manic sample-catalogs from which we order our shipments [Sendungen].

12. That this clothing metaphor isn’t just a superficial one becomes evident in the investigations of the new-testament and gnostic use of language, which often operates with an equivalence between clothing and the self.

13. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Munich, 1972, 818–19.

14. It is perhaps not superfluous to note that the expression mania, in this entire section, doesn’t have a psychiatric meaning but alludes to the doctrines of Plato’s Phaedrus that deal with the benefits of inspiration for humans in general and for philosophers in particular. Concerning the expression Übermensch it should be clear that we don’t take it as the idiosyncratic idea of the megalomaniac Friedrich N. Wherever in the story of humankind the idea of theandry—that is, Godmanhood—appears, there exists de facto a thought of the Übermensch—in old Brahminism no less than in Lamaism or in the Catholic and Orthodox teachings of the saints. Nor does Judaism entirely lack a thought of the Übermensch, insofar as, in accord with the teaching of some “radicals” (e.g., Lubavitch Hasidists), the members of the chosen people are as different from the rest of humanity toto genere as normal humans are from animals. Cf. Gilles Kepel, La revanche de Dieu: Chrétiens, juifs et musulmans à la reconquéte du monde, Paris, 1991, 251–52.

15. [English in original.]

16. A further step toward the explication of autogenous manias presents itself with William James pragmatic teaching about the “will to believe” (The Will to Believe, 1886); on the line of James’ suggestions, since the 1960s a post-psychoanalytical neo-autohypnotism has been sweeping the entire psychological field, starting in the United States.