Our Greatest Dignity Lies in Weird Humanity, Jamming, 12/09/2017

What I admire most about Hannah Arendt is her fearlessness. There’s an intellectual daring running under so much of her work that’s remarkable in the philosophical tradition. She had a force of spirit to stand at the same levels of the great philosophers of the 20th century.

She does. Read her work and take it seriously as philosophical creation – not as an instance of any other field, not as political history, feminism, the theory of human rights. Michel Foucault’s skills included the same versatility across disciplines as she did. But Michel is called a proper philosopher a lot more easily than Hannah.

There's a tension in our relationship to numbers. We resist being called
by number. "I am not a number! I'm a free man!" We think of it as a
means to destroy our humanity, maybe when we see numbers tattooed
on forearms. Yet each number is a uniqueness, as each of us are.
Here's the solution to that problem: 2 can't become 3.
Funny, that.

Arendt’s philosophical talent operates most freely in The Human Condition. I’m going to spend the next little while working through the book again for the first time in about ten years.

Reading the introduction of the latest edition, scholar Margaret Canovan discusses how many people consider this book impossible to categorize. Its subject matter ranges over so much of human concern, you could call it an investigation of universal thoughts.

To me, I read it and it’s clearly a work of philosophy. Yet a scholarly plurality (the best scholars’ consensus can ever get) maintains that The Human Condition is somehow frustrating, difficult to pin down, unexpectedly difficult. From the ordinarily popular and accessible Arendt. Yes, Hannah.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Creativity is the essential power of humanity, Arendt says. We are creatures whose greatest power is our ability to create. So the greatest human freedom is always the freedom to create, to be unique.

As I think about it, to become singular – to live a life whose character diverges more and more from the ordinary of society. The unique as a path in phase space, a continuing development that gets continually deeper into weirdness.

Becoming weird is the best use of our freedom. It’s the freedom to create the new, a different direction by choice and plan. There are few more weird things to create than an entirely new concept, a new framework of thinking itself. Philosophical creativity creates launchpads for new paths of becoming weird.

In The Human Condition, Arendt got weirder than I think she ever did in any of her other books. Her writing was at its most free.

As much as Bertrand Russell himself lived a full, worldly life,
especially in his political activism, I can't turn down this image. He
embodies the destructive stereotype of philosophy as the armchair
intellectual, if only as an icon, a figure.
It’s a wonderful rebuke to academic orthodoxy. It’s not a rebuke to Martin Heidegger, her former older professor lover. For one thing that’s a really insulting way of reducing her original thought to the mere expression of jealousy.

Funny, isn’t it? How a woman gets her work reduced to an expression of obsession with a man.

Her personal feelings about Martin were much more complicated than even the most complex philosophy. Besides, she was a powerful enough thinker that any attempt to reduce her ideas to anything less than their own scale is laughable.

Try to tell me that Arendt was a mere reactive woman after actually reading her work and letting it stimulate your own thinking. I’ll tell you that you must be an illiterate.

Heidegger becomes, at most, a distant symbol in her work. He indicates everything that can go wrong in a thinker thanks to his masculine, dominating, self-certain ego. In his nature as a figure in Arendt’s thinking, he becomes just the most intense expression of a philosophical and scholarly ego that was bloody everywhere.

That’s at the centre of her confrontation with the philosopher’s focus on contemplation, retreat from the world and society inside the mind to search for truth. Forget politics and science, says the philosopher, I can find the truth of God in my office armchair.

Thought mutates into stir-craziness when it turned inside itself. Real creativity comes from thinking in the complex mess of worldly life.

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