The color grey, which ranges from black to white depending on the mixing ratio, is frequently associated with anything, if not essentially bad, then at the very least with nothing worth striving for. Who wants to be a figurative “gray mouse” among friends, at work, in the Bundesliga, or anywhere else?
Who wants a grey-brown face, to be labeled as a gray figure, or to be frequently asked about gray hair as they age? Who wants to be surrounded by gloomy thoughts or have to look at a gray Berlin sky all the time?
Gray is a major difficulty for the arts, especially painting, and has its own function, which is of little consolation.
“Its inconspicuousness makes it so suitable to convey, to illustrate, and albeit in an almost illusory way, like a photograph,” Gerhard Richter wrote in 1975 after painting his “Gray Pictures” and discovering that the color gray “makes no statement,” is neither visible nor invisible: “Its inconspicuousness makes it so suitable to convey, to illustrate, and albeit in an almost illusory way, like a photograph.” And it’s better than any other color for depicting ‘nothing.'”
In his new book, Peter Sloterdijk displays a “Theory of Colors” named “Who I Haven’t Thought of Gray Yet.” “.. (Suhrkamp, Berlin, 2022, 286 pages, € 28.)
the present’s authoritative color
Based on a comment by another painter, Paul Cézanne, who reportedly claimed in a meeting with Joachim Gasquet at the end of the 19th century: “Until you have painted a gray hue, you are not a painter,” Sloterdijk explores the versatility and multiformity of this color.
According to this, Peter Sloterdijk will consider himself a complete philosopher only after he has “thought” gray and examined it “as the decisive color value of the present.” This is a minor exaggeration, as Sloterdijk was hailed as “the most important philosopher in Europe” by his friend Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht well before his Grau investigations. Under no circumstances should the event’s equally lighthearted and contemplative nature be overlooked.
So Sloterdijk thinks and metaphorically spreads out his subject, not only in philosophy, but also in politics, photography, literature, and Christianity.
It all begins with Plato’s cave allegory and the cave’s dark walls, with Plato’s shadows cast on “two and a half years of old-European thinking,” as Sloterdijk laughs.
Gray was the key hue of philosophy for Hegel, Heidegger was the most important interpreter of shades of gray, and later Nietzsche saw the gray of rocks and stones as a spiritual emancipation and made it intellectually speak.
Sloterdijk, on the other hand, swiftly abandoned his department to pursue other interests, the first of which was politics, which he did brilliantly and with obvious delight, rich in language and imagination.
It involves thinking about the gray from the red: the Jacobins’ revolutionary red, Stalinism’s red, and the true socialist state experiments, social democracy’s red.
The all-encompassing gray became the endogenously formed dogma of an enterprise that had begun in deep red as the story progressed: “The all-encompassing gray became the endogenously generated creed of an enterprise that had begun in deep red.”
For example, Erfurt writer Sergej Locht hofen titled his GDR life story “Gray” and wrote: “Gray automobiles. Shelves at a gray department store. Circulars and party congress resolutions are gray (…) Gray in all its forms. As if every other color had been contaminated by mold. In a gray land, gray people.”
For example, Sloterdijk reads a full poem with “reflexes of distinctive GDR colourfulness” on two pages from Berlin poet and Georg Büchner Prize recipient Durs Grünbein, from whose earlier collection of poetry “Gray Zone in the Morning.”
But the gray wasn’t unique to the GDR: London in the 1970s was a nightmare, as British writer John Lancaster recalls in his book “Capital,” and not everything was colorful in the Federal Republic, either: from the Adenauer era’s black days, which were still colored brown, to the Merkel Republic’s gray.
According to Sloterdijk, the Chancellor pulled off the “trick” of being “lukewarm and preoccupied with power at the same time.” In this perspective, he offers a cautious assessment of the traffic light alliance, particularly the Greens’ restored government responsibility: “Without the aid of prophetic medications, the fact that grey-green or green-grey is on the horizon is foreseeable. The future belongs to an eco-bureaucratic regulatory strategy that directs the state into its post-democratic menopause, despite the fact that it is both incompetent and overworked.”
This is the way to power, which tolerates no color, but it is a sign of functional democracies, according to Sloterdijk: those seeking majorities and forced to make compromises can scarcely defend themselves against graying and retaining the purity of their political party’s hue.
Indifference zones that stretch for miles
The digression is typical of Peter Sloterdijk’s style and thinking, as well as of this interesting color theory. Color knowledge is usually enhanced by detours in this area.
This book’s organizational idea includes a “digression.” From Kafka’s heroes and their excursions “in the dark gray light of the authorities through lengthy corridors” to the explanation of the Cézanne dictum, there is a brief chapter between each of the larger ones.
However, even the “gray ecstasies,” the wandering through gray mysticism and gray ethics, gray aesthetics, and gray theology, are intermingled with less-than-rigorous studies. There is discussion on the tendency of liberalized social universes to “change into Chinese menus,” as well as Mercedes’ more than a hundred shades of gray, the connection between opium and capital, and the “aesthetics of the ugly.” “Using the Eiffel Tower as an example.
However, the substance’s non-stringency is to some extent inherent. This color theory now clearly considers “extended zones of indifference,” as well as gray as a sign of indifference. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that Sloterdijk is always amusing, and despite his claim to the present, he doesn’t go too far into it.
He discusses “passive-aggressive versions of feminism” or “juvenile Woke ideology” briefly to indicate that, despite all the gray, the Jacobean red has not yet had its day (and, of course, to show that he doesn’t think much of it).
Literature and God
Alternatively, he criticizes social media and their systems, once again far from the gray: “Half a century after Warhol, two thousand years after the thumb judgment of the Roman arena, liking proves to be the widely known sign of apathetic approbation of the somehow not very Good.”
God, God’s omnipotence, and God’s omniscience are frequently mentioned by the philosopher. He attempts to provide five explanations for why the Last Judgment has yet to occur and may never do so.
But, more than God or Christianity, he found what he was looking for in literature: in Philippe Claudel’s initiation novel “The Gray Souls,” in Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel “The Road,” in the snowstorms with Pushkin, Vladimir Sorokin, or Thomas Mann, and in Adalbert Stifter’s autobiographical depression report “From the Bavarian Forest.”
With Theodor Storm’s poem “Die Stadt,” an ode to his gray city of Husum, Sloterdijk reveals how beautiful gray can be, how tenderly one looks at it.
The perception prevails, not least because of discovered items like this one, that the indifferent, mediocre, moderate, mediating, yes, the lukewarmness of the gray has a lot of nice things to do with Peter Sloterdijk. Gray zone studies, he believes, are a type of living art.
You will feel enriched, if not delighted, by the conclusion of the reading. Imagine how opulent the gray is, and how much silver it contains! You don’t want to be able to see gray everywhere in the world if that is the case.