By N.A.J. Taylor[i]
“The horror that swept over mankind when it learned about the first atomic bomb was a horror of an energy that came from the universe and is supernatural in the truest sense of the word. The scope of the devastation to buildings and boulevards, even the number of human lives destroyed, was relevant only because, in unleashing death and destruction on so vast a scale, this newly discovered source of energy had eerily impressive symbolic power from the very moment of its birth.”
-- Hannah Arendt (2007b, 1977), The Promise of Politics
Although Arendt wrote relatively very little on the nuclear age, we know from her earlier writings what she thought about the existence of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war. From such disparate references to the nuclear age, a strikingly simple yet prescient idea emerges that arguably bears more resemblance to Eastern cosmology than any Western tradition: the human condition must be properly understood as being co-constituted and mutually implicated in the cosmos.
Kate Bermingham, a graduate student in political theory at the University of Notre Dame, recently shared an image with us of her personal Arendt library. Please see below:
Here is what Kate has to say about her image:
"I work primarily on Arendt and the Frankfurt School, but--a la Arendt--my interests span the history of political thought. Right now, my questions are especially focused on the interaction between theories of modern alienation, civic belonging, and aesthetic experience. Other areas of interest include critical feminist theory and politics and literature.
"This bookshelf contains most of my political theory collection from Homer and the Greek tragedians (political through and through) up through Rawls and Habermas. Arendt is prominently placed on the top right (along with Heidegger, Benjamin, and Adorno). (See Right.)
"I didn't start reading Arendt's work seriously until graduate school, but as soon as I did, I felt I understood what Heidegger must mean by "a clearing"; for me, Arendt brought a world into view. More than any other thinker I've read--even more than Machiavelli or Nietzsche who can be so scathing--she seems to breathe life into the tradition, a tradition she clearly loves even as she breaks with it (and breaks it).
"Stylistically, I admire the vitality and confidence in Arendt's writing. I also admire her for being a thinker who confounds categories, drawing on and recovering perspectives sometimes so far afield from her own."
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"If you strike upon a thought that baffles you, break off from that entanglement and try another, so shall your wits be fresh to start again."
Aristophanes, (born c. 450 bce—died c. 388 bce), the greatest representative of ancient Greek comedy and the one whose works have been preserved in greatest quantity. He is the only extant representative of the Old Comedy—that is, of the phase of comic dramaturgy (c. 5th century bce) in which chorus, mime, and burlesque still played a considerable part and which was characterized by bold fantasy, merciless invective and outrageous satire, unabashedly licentious humour, and a marked freedom of political criticism. But Aristophanes belongs to the end of this phase, and, indeed, his last extant play, which has no choric element at all, may well be regarded as the only extant specimen of the short-lived Middle Comedy, which, before the end of the 4th century bce, was to be superseded in turn by the milder and more-realistic social satire of the New Comedy.
To read additional Thoughts on Thinking, please click here.
By Jerome Kohn
Hannah Arendt died forty years ago today, December 4, 1975.* Recalling her death somehow brings to mind Socrates, who died more than two thousand years before.
Socrates’ friends, some of whom were present at his death, were for the most part worldly, intelligent, and respected citizens of Athens, confident in their ability to define ideas, suprasensory entities, such as knowledge, justice, piety, courage, and friendship. Often Socrates opened their discussions by distinguishing the chosen topic from what it was not, as in separating friendship (фῐλία), for example, from love (ἔρος), a distinction that may have been easier for Greeks than barbarians -- then as now -- to overlook. Here we must wonder: if not love, what is friendship? Is it the aid given a friend in need, as the old adage “a friend in need is a friend indeed” may imply? Or as Aristotle more subtly suggests, is friendship the need that calls for aid from a friend? Or does speaking of friendship in terms of needs and aids somehow degrade it? Does not the idea of friendship transcend any and all concerns that might be considered utilitarian?
By Jeffrey Champlin
"[W]hat is wrong with the world in which Kafka's heroes are caught is precisely its deification, its pretense of representing divine necessity. […] The modern reader, or at least the reader of the twenties […] is quite serious when it comes to Kafka's sarcasm about the lying necessity and the necessary lying as divine law."
-- “Franz Kafka: A Revaluation (On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death)”, Essays in Understanding
Arendt's reflection on Kafka emerged during World War II, appearing for the first time in the Partisan Review in 1944. The passage cited above occurs in the essay's section on The Trial. The manuscript then moves to The Castle, the stories in general, and concludes with an analysis of "A Common Confusion." Throughout the piece, Arendt repeatedly returns to the question of Kafka's modernity. She contrasts his contemporary readers of the 1920s with those of her time, who saw his prophecy of bureaucratic totalitarianism come true. The issue of Kafka's sarcasm has a key place in this contrast, and I see it pointing to a broader question of the relation between fiction and action in the present day.
By Jennifer M. Hudson
“The force of the machinery in which the K. of The Trial is caught lies precisely in this appearance of necessity on the one hand, and in the admiration of the people for necessity on the other. Lying for the sake of necessity appears as something sublime; and a man who does not submit to the machinery, though submission may mean his death, is regarded as a sinner against some kind of divine order.… It has been characteristic of our history conscious century that its worst crimes have been committed in the name of some kind of necessity or in the name--and this amounts to the same thing--of the ‘wave of the future.’”
-- Arendt, “Franz Kafka: A Revaluation (On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his death)”, Partisan Review
Necessity signifies the absence of choice; therefore, freedom and necessity, as principles, are logically opposed. Enlarging the concept of simple necessity, imagining it as a type of perpetual motion “machinery” or “the ‘wave of the future’ amplifies this opposition. Necessity as “progress,” or providence, becomes a deterministic force that would take away our capacity to shape our human world and future. Arendt’s concern in this passage is not, however, the myriad ways in which real human needs restrict sovereign human action. Instead, she points to an ideology of necessity--“the admiration of the people for necessity”--through which human beings abdicate responsibility for their common world by way of false beliefs in their own helplessness in an uncertain world and, simultaneously, their power to control this world using artificial means. Bureaucracy, both symbolically in Kafka’s novels and in Arendt’s appraisal of actually existing configurations, is the tangible manifestation of this ideology.
On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Library, we came across this complete collection of Adolf von Harnack's seven-volume work, History of Dogma.
Kathleen O'Bannon, a staff member at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), comments on von Harnack's work below:
Harnack’s multi-volume work is considered a monument of liberal Christian historiography. For Harnack, applying the methods of historical criticism to the Bible signified a return to true Christianity, which had become mired in unnecessary and even damaging creeds and dogmas. Seeking out what “actually happened,” for him, was one way to strip away all but the foundations of the faith. With the History of Dogma series, Harnack sets out on this project, tracing the accumulation of Christianity’s doctrinal systems and assumptions, particularly those inherited from Hellenistic thought. As Harnack explains, only since the Protestant Reformation have Christians begun to cast off this corrupting inheritance, which must be entirely cast off if Christianity is to remain credible and relevant to people’s lives. Rather controversially, the historian rejects the Gospel of John as authoritative on the basis of its Greek influences.
You can read the first volume of History of Dogma for free via the work of Project Gutenberg here.
Adolf von Harnack's Biography
Adolf von Harnack (7 May 1851–10 June 1930), was a German Lutheran theologian and prominent church historian. He produced many religious publications from 1873-1912. Harnack traced the influence of Hellenistic philosophy on early Christian writing and called on Christians to question the authenticity of doctrines that arose in the early Christian church.
(Sourced from the CCEL.)
Want to share pictures of your own Arendt library? Please send them to David Bisson, our Media Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we might feature them on our blog!
“The earthly home becomes a world only when objects as a whole are produced and organized in such a way that they may withstand the consumptive life-process of human beings living among them – and may outlive human beings, who are mortal.”
--Hannah Arendt, “Culture and Politics”
In reflections upon the writings of Hannah Arendt, specifically The Human Condition, scholars traditionally respond to her concepts of politics, action, and the public realm. And rightly so: these concepts are undeniably at the core of Arendt’s philosophy, sometimes quite ambiguous in their definition, and hence often in need of scholarly analysis. However, meaningful responses to Arendt’s interpretation of work are quite rare. That might not be a surprise. In her writings, the category of work remains underexposed. One might even argue that beyond the chapter on Work in The Human Condition, only in the essays “Crisis in Culture” (1961) and the preceding “Kultur und Politik” (1959) does work receive any significant attention. Of course, scores of her critics have argued that the categories of human activity – labor, work, and action – are much more intermixed in real life than how Arendt understands them. But this does not undermine the basic tenets of Arendt’s philosophy.
“Scientific and philosophic truth have parted company.”
—Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 41.290
What can it mean that there are two different types of truth—scientific and philosophic? And how could they not be connected?
**This article was originally published on April 9, 2012. You can access the original article here.**
"It is true that storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it, that it brings about consent and reconciliation with things as they really are, and that we may even trust it to contain eventually by implication that last word which we expect from the Day of Judgment”.
--Hannah Arendt, “Isak Dinesen: 1885 – 1963” in Men in Dark Times