In a time when physiological explanations for human action reign, Peter Sloterdijk has written an important novel. 


42524Surprisingly, the German philosopher and cultural theorist Peter Sloterdijk has chosen the erotic letter novel for his latest publication titled Schelling Project. This is his second novel; the first, The magic tree from 1985, was about the roots of psychoanalysis in Mesmerism in the 1700 century.

Peter Sloterdijk: The Schelling project
Suhrkamp Verlag, 2016

The story is briefly that five academics decide to apply to the German Research Council for funding for a development theory project to study the woman's orgasm. They get rejected, and then exchange letters about a mix of their own erotic experiences and general views on the sexuality and research project that has the parodic title:

"Between Biology and the Humanities: On the Problem of Empowering an Enhanced Female Sexuality on the Way from the Hominid Females to the Homo-Sapiens Feminine from an Theory of Evolution with Continuous Consideration of the Natural Philosophy of German Idealism."

The interdisciplinary research group consists of Peer (not Peter!) Sloterdijk, Kurt Silbe, Desiree zur Lippe, Beatrice von Freygel and Guido Mösenlechzner. One of the starting points is that orgasm research has been stagnant since Masters & Johnson and the Hite report. These researchers are accused of being hard core positivists, "light years away from a standpoint from which one could have asked interesting questions".

Mystery. Male orgasm is easy to explain functionalistically and evolutionarily biologically from the species' reproduction: There is an obvious connection between orgasm and passing on the genes. The woman's orgasm is more difficult to explain: Here the orgasm does not seem to have any clear function, since the egg is fertilized through the man's ejaculation whether the woman has an orgasm or not. And even more difficult is to explain that the woman's sexual desire increases after menopause. Since the woman's orgasm is problematic from an evolutionary-biological perspective, Sloterdijk sees an opening for the human sciences, in this case Schelling's philosophy.

The connection to Schelling is not easy to obtain, nor is it particularly elaborated. Sloterdijk has clear allusions to Schelling's thesis About human freedom (1809), which is found in Norwegian translation with a long and educational preface by Jan Erik Ebbestad Hansen. Schelling interpreted natural history as the developmental history of the spirit. IN The system of transcendental idealism (1800) Schelling set art as the highest expression of the human spirit, as a synthesis of consciousness and unconsciousness, nature and spirit. The reflection on the role of orgasm in evolutionary biology triggers the creativity of Sloterdijk's novelists. Artistic expression and release of sexual energies among academics becomes a kind of utopian synthesis of nature and spirit. The woman's orgasm becomes a natural historical highlight, the secret goal of evolution.

The German criticism. The reception in Germany of Sloterdijk's book has been mixed. Some have taken the proper names: Guido Mösenlechzner, for example, could have been the artist's name for a porn star. (Neither the German word "Möse" nor the corresponding Norwegian "pussy" is listed in Gerd Paulsen's German-Norwegian and Norwegian-German dictionary from 2011 [5th edition], published at Kunnskapsforlaget). has a weak tradition in Germany, compared to England and the United States. In order not to be regarded as junk, Sloterdijk probably would have liked to drop the sexualized names, which the novel would have done just fine.

The woman's orgasm becomes a natural historical highlight, the secret goal of evolution.

Others have placed the book within the genre of philosophical pornography. The research of Robert Darnton (b. 1939) on banned bestsellers in France in the last 20 years before the revolution has shown that the genre was widespread. IN The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (1996) Darnton found over 700 pornographic books between 1769 and 1789. They were smuggled in from Switzerland and Holland. Darnton has his own chapter on philosophical pornography, a genre that was also used by well-known authors such as Diderot and – of course – Marquis de Sade. It is in this tradition that Sloterdijk enrolls.

Faves. Is the book an expression of a delayed "sexual revolution" from an old 68? Some accuse Sloterdijk (b. 1947) of writing old man's prose ("Altherrn prose"). He is suspected of being one dirty old man who is trying to spice things up by writing philosophical pornography, a genre that also has a tradition in Germany. In the Berlin Zeitung, however, Markus Schwering draws the parallel to Friedrich Schlegel's letter novel Lucinda (1799), which caused scandal when it came out. And Schelling fell in love with Schlegel's wife, whom he later married. Many critics read the book as a science critic, but are unsure of who hit the satire, such as Jens Jessen in Die Zeit. Alexander Solloch slapped the book on NDR: a boring novel with talkative academics at idle. So did Stefan Cartier on Radio Bremen. Elke Schmitter in Der Spiegel was also not gracious. Under the title "The Woman Who Revealed" she notes that Sloterdijk now threatens to be more notorious than famous. She introduces him to the tradition of mature men who, in a talkative way, embrace the audience's experiences of female sexuality: de Sade, Schnitzler, Casanova, Houellebecq, Philiph Roth and Henry Miller.

This kind of criticism really demonstrates its own lack of knowledge. None of the reviews show any knowledge of the debate about female orgasm and human development history in evolutionary biology and science theory. Although Sloterdijk's science parody is explicitly interdisciplinary, the critics' references are purely fictional. Is "the land of poets and thinkers" beginning to decline intellectually? Those who have taken part in the evolutionary biology debate would see that Sloterdijk has once again struck with the choice of theme.

The debate about female orgasm. For the past five years, female orgasm has been discussed in journals such as Feminist Review, Biological Philosophy, Animal Behavior, Journal of Sexual Medicine, Evolution and Human Behavior and Hormones and Behavior.

Elisabeth A. Lloyd's book The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution (2005) led to an extensive debate in the professional journals that is still going on at full strength. Lloyd criticized the assumption that the orgasm could be explained functionally, that is, it increases fertility or ensures success with reproduction. The statements also modeled unjustly female sexuality on the male, according to Lloyd. The starting point for Lloyd's book was that the research on female orgasm was driven by "bias", that is, based on ideological paradigms or notions. And that's precisely at this point Sloterdijk puts in the shock!

Female orgasm becomes a parallel to nipples in men. Why do men have nipples? Because the women have it.

She cited 21 evolutionary explanations for the female orgasm, which broadly fall into three distinct categories: explanations based on the benefit of mating, choice of partner, and increased fertility. Desmond Morris featured in The naked monkey (1967) the selection advantages of pair formation. The orgasm was the reward that held the couple together. Lloyd criticized Morris for assuming a higher correlation between sexual intercourse and female orgasm than is empirically covered. Selection theories argued that female orgasm encourages repeated sex with high-quality men that increases the offspring's chances of survival. Fertility theories claim that female orgasm enhances physiological processes that promote the transport of semen to a woman's egg, a kind of suction effect that pulls semen from vagina to uterus.

Lloyd instead explained female orgasm based on a non-adaptive model originally promoted by D. Symons in The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1979). The female orgasm has no important adaptive function, but is merely a by-product of the evolutionary process that has created the developmentally important male orgasm. Female orgasm thus becomes a parallel to nipples in men. Why do men have nipples? Because the women have it.

In the journal Animal Behavior, Australian researcher Brendan P. Zietsch and his Finnish colleague Pekka Santtila in 2011 settled with the by-product theories of female orgasm. The study was based on a large number of Finnish twins, both single (864) and non-same-sex (2287) and opposite-sex (1803). If it is true that the woman's orgasmic function is only maintained through selection of the male orgasmic function, then one will be able to predict a strong correlation of the opposite-sex orgasmic function. Zietsch and Santtila found no such correlation, arguing that it is still possible that the female orgasm has an adaptive function separate from the male orgasm.

More research. However, the rejection of one explanatory model does not mean that knowledge of the topic has increased. Zietsch and Santtila concluded that "the evolutionary basis of female orgasm is both important and unknown, making it a primary target for future research." The input triggered a critique from Lloyd and a response from Zietsch and Santtila. In a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Lloyd, Garcia, Wallen and Fischer found that there are significant variations in orgasm for women when it comes to sexual orientering, but not for men. The orgasm percentage for women was 61,6 percent for heterosexuals, for lesbians 74,7 percent. They concluded that women, regardless of sexual orientering, has less predictable and more varied orgasm experiences. Along with the orgasm variation related to women's sexual orientering, this invites more research, they conclude.

It is in this context that Sloterdijk's input must be understood. Evolutionary theory, sociobiology and brain research need scientific criticism, and this Sloterdijk has given us in this parodic letter novel. This is welcome and most necessary, since brain-physiological and biological explanations of human action are now spreading as if the criticism of positivism has never existed. Here it is important to strike back! A literary scientist who denies philosophical issues in favor of the theoretical practice of his own professional tradition is extremely ill-equipped to encounter books such as Sloterdijk's latest novel. When the critics downplay the book based on this lack of knowledge, it says most about their own prejudices.

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