Thinking and Solitude

At a recent conference held at Stanford University, Professor Robert Harrison spoke about the relationship between thinking and solitude in Arendt’s own thought. Harrison rightly argued that the loss of thinking has much to do with the loss of solitude.

“Not only in the university, but in society at large, everything conspires to invade the solitude of thought. . . . Everywhere we see the ravages of this on our thinking. The ability for sustained, coherent, consistent thought is becoming rare” in the “thoughtlessness of the age.”

Gerhard Casper, a friend of Arendt’s and former Provost of Stanford, described Arendt as guarding dearly her own solitude. She attended conferences infrequently and was “always thinking … always fiercely independent,” protecting her “private time, time for study, time in her apartment on Riverside Drive.”

For a report on the Stanford Conference, read more here.

For more on Arendt and Solitude and the Activity of Thinking, Read here:

Abstract: This paper reflects on the political importance of the activity of thinking and suggests that Arendt’s space of politics may not be limited to its traditional abode within the public realm. Beyond the public realm of politics, Arendt’s defense of political action requires attention to the private as well. What has been overlooked amidst all the attention to Arendt’s defense of the public realm of politics over and against the rise of the social is her equally strong insistence upon a vibrant and secure private realm where active thinking is possible. Arendt’s private realm is a space of solitude that is the necessary prerequisite for the activity of thinking. Indeed, it is solitude that nurtures and fosters thoughtfulness and thus prepares individuals for the possibility of political action. To create a meaningful politics amidst the loneliness of the modern world, Arendt suggests, requires solitude, which she sees as the cradle of thinking. Read the Paper

Wyatt Mason, Senior Fellow at the Arendt Center, has a fantastic new essay on David Foster Wallace in this week’s New York Review of Books.


Wallace, pace Mason, struggles to break through the, in Wallace’s words, “five hundred thousand discrete bits of information” by which we are all daily barraged. All this information makes it incredibly difficult to reach readers, to make them think.  “Wallace was an avant-garde writer. He believed that one of fiction’s main jobs was to challenge readers, and to find new ways of doing so.” Mason details the formal rigor in Wallace’s writing, all in the service of probing “at the most injured parts of being.”

Read More–

By the way, the article just before Wyatt’s is Ian Buruma’s excellent review of Christopher Hitchens’ new memoir. So the first two essays in the NY Review are by friends of Bard and the Arendt Center.

The New York Times on being human in an Inhuman Age

The theme of The Arendt Center’s upcoming conference Human Being in an Inhuman Age is also the subject of an ongoing series in The New York Times, called “Smarter Than You Think.”

From Fritz Lang's Metropolis

The first installment was a wide-eyed look at the Singularity movement, profiling Ray Kurzweil who will be speaking at the Arendt Center Conference on Friday, Oct. 22. Kurzweil will speak for an hour, followed by a discussion between Mr. Kurzweil and Bard President, Leon Botstein.

The latest entry looks at the rapid advance of speech software and artificial intelligence that allows machines to have meaningful conversations and perform tasks that require comprehension, conversation, and some level of thinking and learning.

For decades, computer scientists have been pursuing artificial intelligence — the use of computers to simulate human thinking. But in recent years, rapid progress has been made in machines that can listen, speak, see, reason and learn, in their way. The prospect, according to scientists and economists, is not only that artificial intelligence will transform the way humans and machines communicate and collaborate, but will also eliminate millions of jobs, create many others and change the nature of work and daily routines.

This raises as well the question of what the role of humans will be in the world when machines do more of the work that we have traditionally done. As Bill Joy worried in Wired, what besides altruism will lead our political leaders to keep superfluous workers alive when not only factory work but also teaching, warfare, and administration can be done by an automated workforce?

The advances, according to The Times, herald an era in which we interact with machines much as we do with friends and co-workers:

“Our young children and grandchildren will think it is completely natural to talk to machines that look at them and understand them,” said Eric Horvitz, a computer scientist at Microsoft’s research laboratory who led the medical avatar project, one of several intended to show how people and computers may communicate before long.

The question here, as with so much in the world of artificial intelligence, is what actually distinguishes humans from machines. If it is simply the ability to think, to reason, and to calculate, the day is coming when that difference will be no difference. This requires that we ask about the soul, the heart, and the ineffable nature of humanity. And as more and more of the beings we interact with and institutions we work with are governed by computer rationality, what does it mean today to be human?

Read More

2010-2011 Arendt Center Fellows

Congratulations and Welcome to the Newest Hannah Arendt Center Fellows, Wyatt Mason, Bill Dixon, Laura Ephraim, and Ursula Ludz.

Wyatt Mason (Senior Arendt Center Fellow) is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine and a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. His writing also appears in The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. Modern Library publishes his translations of the works of Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud Complete and I Promise to be Good. A 2003-2004 fellow of the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, he received the 2005 Nona Balakian Citation from the National Book Critics Circle and a National Magazine Award in 2006. He teaches non-fiction in the Bennington Writing Seminars and will be Senior Fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College for 2010-2011.

Charles (Bill) Dixon (Post-Doctoral Fellow) is a political theorist and a PhD. candidate in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. Dixon’s research interests include ancient and modern theories of democracy, political judgment and action, political economy, and ontological problems in social science. He is currently working on a project on the politics of capitalist globalization and global warming.

Laura Ephraim (Post-Doctoral Fellow) recently finished her PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University. Her research scrutinizes several iconic texts from the origins of modern science in order to reopen a question that Hannah Arendt posed in The Human Condition, among other works: namely, what is the role of science in a democratic society? While at the Arendt Center, Laura will begin work on a book manuscript to extend the themes of her dissertation and will teach in the Language & Thinking Program and the First Year Seminar.

Ursula Ludz (Visiting Scholar) is editor of Letters: 1925-1975 by Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger and Arendt’s Denktagebuch among other publications. She will be in residence at the Center in the Fall, 2010.

From the Archives

We want to share an audio treasure from our archives with you:

In December of 1968, Hannah Arendt delivered a lecture at Bard College.  Following a climate of student unrest and  protest in the spring of 1968, Arendt spoke on “Power and Violence.”

Listen to the “Power and Violence” Lecture audio and subsequent Question and Answer session here.

[Audio was digitized in 2006 from reel to reel analog tape archives.]

Arendt published “Reflections on Violence” in the February 27, 1969 issue of The New York Review of Books)  This was later included in her book On Violence, published by Harcourt Brace in 1970.


to the Arendt Center blog!  On this site, you can find  audio and video documentation of past events we have put on, as well as  information about  future events at Bard College and elsewhere.  As with all our endeavors, we hope to promote thought and discussion here.

We look forward to your readership and comments!