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Sloterdijk's theory of cynicism, ressentiment and ‘horizontal communication’

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This article attempts to bring the work of the German philosopher and cultural theorist Peter Sloterdijk to a wider audience in the English-speaking world. The article makes the case for Sloterdijk's ideas being an important contribution to the analysis and critique of contemporary culture, in particular to the diagnosis of cynicism, the position of the intellectual or critic, and the nature of communication in relation to the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘mass’ culture. The article firstly discusses Sloterdijk's analysis of contemporary cynicism as ‘enlightened false consciousness’ and distinguishes this from gestural critique, or ‘kynicism’. This is then related to the decline of enlightening communication and to what Sloterdijk calls the ‘self-abdication’ of the critical intellectual. In the second part of the article, Sloterdijk's analysis of cynicism is related to communication, in particular to the replacement of ‘vertical’ communication, communication that seeks to make distinctions in cultural value, by ‘horizontal’ communication, which does not. The replacement of ‘vertical’ by ‘horizontal’ communication is then related to Nietzsche's idea of ressentiment, which Sloterdijk sees as evident in contemporary culture.

Keywords: cynicism; distinction; mass culture; postmodernism; ressentiment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The Robert Gordon University.

Publication date: September 1, 2005

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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