Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.
Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.
Fenton Johnson in Harpers meditates on a fundamental question of our loud and distracted age: “What is the usefulness of sitting alone at one’s desk and writing, especially writing those vast seas of pages that will see only the recycling bin? What is the usefulness of meditation, or of prayer? What is the usefulness of the solitary?” Being alone, avoiding society and choosing to live on one’s own, is an art, something we need to practice and learn. And Johnson argues it is worth the effort. “I do not wish to say that being solitary is superior or inferior to being coupled, nor that the full experience of solitude requires living alone, though doing so may create a greater silence in which to hear an inner voice.” That inner voice of solitude may, for one thing, speak differently than our outward voice: “Could solitaries model the choice for reverence over irony? Instead of conquering nations or mountains or outer space, might we set out to conquer our need to conquer? If that seems a tall order, I offer you Paul Cézanne, painting himself to the point of diabetic collapse, reinventing painting. Think about the hallucinatory quality of his late work; think about how modern art owes itself to solitude and low blood sugar. I offer Eudora Welty, writing magical realism when Gabriel García Márquez was a teenager. Henry James, portraying the caustic corruptions of fortress marriage, living alone in Lamb House by the sea. Zora Neale Hurston, who nurtured a flame of mysticism in a world hostile to it, and who showed that through her wits alone a black woman could live by her own rules, and who died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field. Thomas Merton, who spent twenty years in a monastery preparing for his true vocation, which was solitude. Walt Whitman, who taught us how to be American. Emily Dickinson, his sister in solitude, who taught us how to be alive to the world, most especially to the suffering of its solitaries. I offer you Jesus, that renegade proto-feminist communitarian bachelor Jew, who reminded us of the lesson first set forth a thousand years earlier in the Hebrews’ holy book: to love our neighbors as ourselves. I offer you Siddhartha Gautama, who sat in solitude to achieve the understanding that everyone and everything are one.” As does Hannah Arendt who distinguishes solitude from loneliness and writes that solitude is the precondition for thinking, Johnson suggests that amidst the “chatter and diversions of our lives,” solitude is what can “keep the demons at bay.” The question, unasked and unanswered, is how to find and nurture solitude in a world increasingly devoid of private places.
Gabriel Weinberg, whose DuckDuckGo search engine does not track users’ web searches, thinks that the country is now ready for a thoughtful debate about data privacy. “Any day now President Obama is going to propose a new privacy bill of rights that will give you much more control over your personal information. A healthy debate will then ensue, and you can and should be a part of it. You can actually move the needle on this one. Let me try to convince you. First things first, this is not a partisan issue. This is not Obama’s debate. This is our debate. It’s our personal information. Obama is just sparking the flame. In 2012 he proposed something similar and it didn’t catch. Three short years later, enough has changed in the world to expect this time it will be different…. The question in the upcoming debate will quickly become: what limits? The status quo of collect it all and reveal as little as possible has to go, but there is a massive range between maximum possible collection and minimum necessary collection. Here are a few things we could do. Companies (and governments) could explicitly tell you what is happening to your personal information. They could allow you to opt-out. They could give you granular control of your data. They could even tell you exactly what you’re getting when you give out specific pieces of information. Disclosure requirements could mimic those in other areas like credit cards and mortgages where the most relevant risks are highlighted. In other words, there are a lot of options.” Weinberg writes that people are beginning to care and that it is time to pass new regulations limiting the use of private data. That will only happen, however, if we the people actually see the gathering, use, and selling of immense amount of our personal data as a danger. Weinberg believes that this is happening: “We’ve all noticed those annoying ads following us around the Internet. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most people still don’t know that private companies build and sell profiles about them or that many retailers charge different prices based on these data profiles.” The question is, once we know this is happening, will we change our behavior? Is the answer only if and when we understand what is truly lost when we give up our privacy? This is the question being asked at the Arendt Center Fall 2015 Conference “Privacy: Why Does It Matter?” Save the date: October 15-16.
Babette Babich publishes a long meditation on Margarethe von Trotta’s film “Hannah Arendt,” in which the theme is the celluloid expression of internal states. “Like Adorno, Arendt would be vigorously denounced for arrogance, an arrogance von Trotta’s film also documents (Arendt’s colleagues indict her in just this language and von Trotta’s film thus illustrates a common side of academic non-collegiality). It is also Arendt’s arrogance that colors von Trotta’s depiction (this is more of the film’s signal syncretism) of the falling out between Hannah Arendt and the Hans Jonas who would go on to make what one might describe as monotonic ethics his personal calling card. In von Trotta’s film, Jonas is represented as the injured party, a favoring that is unsurprising as the film drew on Jonas’ Memoirs (and therewith his point of view). The contrast between arrogance and the steadfast adherence to a conventionally received ethical viewpoint is key. Where arrogance is regarded as a vice, modesty is a virtue, most especially for a woman, a troublesome demand for an academic and an intellectual like Arendt. The vice of arrogance is also supposed to be emotive (though on whose side remains an open question) and perforce irrational.”
Novelist Tom McCarthy thinks that while the best and most creative among us once turned to art, they’re now working for Google: “It is not just that people with degrees in English generally go to work for corporations (which of course they do); the point is that the company, in its most cutting-edge incarnation, has become the arena in which narratives and fictions, metaphors and metonymies and symbol networks at their most dynamic and incisive are being generated, worked through and transformed. While ‘official’ fiction has retreated into comforting nostalgia about kings and queens, or supposed tales of the contemporary rendered in an equally nostalgic mode of unexamined realism, it is funky architecture firms, digital media companies and brand consultancies that have assumed the mantle of the cultural avant garde. It is they who, now, seem to be performing writers’ essential task of working through the fragmentations of old orders of experience and representation, and coming up with radical new forms to chart and manage new, emergent ones. If there is an individual alive in 2015 with the genius and vision of James Joyce, they’re probably working for Google, and if there isn’t, it doesn’t matter since the operations of that genius and vision are being developed and performed collectively by operators on the payroll of that company, or of one like it.”
Robert L. Kehoe III considers sociologist David Goldblatt’s new book The Game of Our Lives on the newfound (at least, newfound to Americans) prominence of English soccer: “Borrowing from Don DeLillo’s Underworld, Goldblatt’s investigation of British football reminds us that ‘longing on a large scale is what makes history.’ Today those grand longings have become ‘increasingly colonized by commercially manufactured imagery.’ Gone are the days where witnessing a live sporting event was principally a physical and communal experience. Now, ‘distant, mediated, artificial events’ have become ‘the central nodes of an atomized culture held together by a shared addiction to stupefaction and the spectacle.’ Subsequently, intimacy, immediacy, spontaneity, and authenticity have been replaced by hype, cliché, and exaggeration, leaving the concrete human realities of sport in the shadows of the circus. According to Goldblatt, any institution or activity subject to mediation (and especially mass-mediation) is vulnerable to its 21st-century simulacra. Taken to its logical conclusion you arrive at the overt farce of professional wrestling, and while football faces similar dangers under the influence of organized match-fixing, its salvation is ‘that the raw material out of which the media-football complex constructs the spectacle remains intensely local.’ Still, vividly capturing the drama of English football through enhanced production methods can only create the illusion of a tangible social relationship between say fans at Anfield and a bar in Los Angeles. Illusory or otherwise, English football has a growing international consumer base that doesn’t just enjoy the spectacle: they feel as though they’re a part of it. Goldblatt calls this an imaginary community; full of religious fervor but devoid of any tangible communal purpose.”
In an essay about the relationship between Charlie Brown and Charlie Hedbo, Sarah Boxer pens a paean to Peanuts: “Back in 1969, when Snoopy helped launch Charlie Mensuel, Peanuts was still seen as pretty subversive. It had a minimalist look and an existentialist twist that no other strip had. Timothy Leary, four years before writing his work on psilocybin mushrooms, praised Peanuts as ‘masterful.’ The English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wanted to use a picture of Linus with his blanket to illustrate what a transitional object was. And, according to Michaelis, it was ‘the first mainstream comic strip ever to regularize the use of the word “depressed.”‘ ‘Nobody was saying this stuff,’ said the cartoonist Jules Feiffer. ‘You didn’t find it in The New Yorker. You found it in cellar clubs, and, on occasion, in the pages of the Village Voice. But not many other places.’ Schulz himself knew that he was doing something new, showing that even ‘little kids can be very nasty’ to each other–and miserable, too. With a subtlety that Charlie Hebdo would never dream of, Peanuts also made people look at their own meanness and zeal, including the religious kind. In 1965, according to Michaelis, Schulz got a letter complaining that ‘the Great Pumpkin was sacrilegious.’ (Schulz agreed.) And in a memorable strip penned shortly after Snoopy’s doghouse went up in flames, while Snoopy was still mourning the cinders–his lost pool table, his books, his records, his Wyeth–you see Lucy yelling at him, in triumph: ‘You know why your doghouse burned down? You sinned, that’s why! You’re being punished for something you did wrong! That’s the way these things always work!'”
Peter Levine asks what Hannah Arendt might have meant when she praised Martin Heidegger for bringing thinking to life in his classrooms. Levine writes that philosophers can do three things: they can interpret the philosophical tradition, make rational arguments, and practice reflection and introspection. For Levine, Arendt was one of the last thinkers to do all three: “Arendt perceived Heidegger as putting these parts back together. Reading classical works in his seminar (or in a reading group, called a Graecae) was a creative and spiritual exercise as well as an academic pursuit. Karl Jaspers held different substantive positions, but he had a similar view of philosophy, the discipline to which he had moved after a brilliant career in psychiatry. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl writes that Jaspers’
new orientation was summarized in many different ways, but this sentence is exemplary: ‘Philosophizing is real as it pervades an individual life at a given moment.’ For Hannah Arendt, this concrete approach was a revelation; and Jaspers living his philosophy was an example to her: ‘I perceived his Reason in praxis, so to speak,’ she remembered (Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World, pp. 63-4).
Arendt fairly quickly decided that ‘introspection’ was a self-indulgent dead-end and that Heidegger’s philosophy was selfishly egoistic. Then the Nazi takeover of 1933 pressed her into something new, as she assisted enemies of the regime to escape and then escaped herself. She found deep satisfaction in what she called ‘action.’ From then on, she sought to combine ‘thinking’ (disciplined inquiry) with political action in ways that were meant to pervade her whole life. That combination is hard to find today, if it can be found at all.”
Writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, reaching way back into his past, wonders what it means to derive, to plagiarize, in the age of mass culture: “The amusing truth of the matter is this: often–especially in a mature career in a medium with six decades of mass visibility–you will hear a pitch that is derivative of something that was, itself, derivative of something else that the pitcher is not aware of. More than once I have heard a younger writer say, ‘Do you remember that old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Riker passes out in the teaser and wakes up 16 years later as captain of the Enterprise, but he can’t remember anything … and he cleverly realizes that his amnesia is really a Romulan ruse to get him to give up sensitive information?’ only to be shocked when told, ‘Yeah, it was a takeoff from an even older James Garner movie–based on a Roald Dahl short story–where he’s an Allied spy who passes out before the D-Day invasion, wakes up in a U.S. Army Hospital six years later, and can’t remember anything, then cleverly realizes that his amnesia is a German ruse to extract from him the location of the invasion.’ Derivation is the air we breathe.”
Synopsis: A diverse group of South African actors tours the war-torn regions of Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia to share their country’s experiment with reconciliation. As they ignite a dialogue among people with raw memories of atrocity, the actors find they must once again confront their homeland’s violent past, and question their own capacity for healing and forgiveness.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Weis Cinema, Campus Center, 6:30 pm
Putting Courage at the Centre: Gandhi on Civility, Society and Self-Knowledge
Invite Only. RSVP Required.
HAC members at all levels are eligible to participate in a monthly reading group led online via a telecommunication website by Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center.
For questions and to enroll in our virtual reading group, please email David Bisson, our Media Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, April 3, 2015
Bluejeans.com, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Property and Freedom: Are Access to Legal Title and Assets the Path to Overcoming Poverty in South Africa?
A one-day conference sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, the Human Rights Project, and the Center for Civic Engagement, with support from the Ford Foundation, The Brenthurst Foundation, and The University of The Western Cape
Free and open to the public!
Monday, April 6, 2015
Bard College Campus Center, Weis Cinema, 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
“The Right to Literature”
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Hannah Arendt Center, 6:00 pm
“Relations Between Hannah Arendt’s Council System and the Human Condition”
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Hannah Arendt Center, 12:00 pm
Invite Only. RSVP Required.
Thursday and Friday, October 15 and 16, 2015
The Hannah Arendt Center’s eighth annual fall conference, “Privacy: Why Does It Matter?,” will be held this year on Thursday and Friday, October 15-16, 2015! We’ll see you there!
This week on the Blog, Philip Walsh discusses Hannah Arendt’s critique of the consumer society that was emerging in the 1950s in the Quote of the Week. Psychiatrist and academic Thomas Szasz provides this week’s Thoughts on Thinking. And we appreciate a student’s personal Arendt library in our Library feature.