Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy

Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy

Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy

Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy

Synopsis

In this fresh interpretation of the political writings of Hannah Arendt, Disch focuses on a question that remains central to today's debates in political philosophy and feminist theory: the relationship of experience to critical understanding. Discussing a range of Arendt's work including unpublished writings, Disch explores the function of storytelling as a form of critical theory beyond the limits of philosophy.

Excerpt

Since the mid-1980s, it has become increasingly common to claim to do theory by telling stories. References to narrative and storytelling have become an almost obligatory gesture for theorists who defy the academic norm of detached writing and refuse the privileged position of impartiality to which such writing implicitly lays claim. References to storytelling are an admission that any theorist writes not from an Archimedean standpoint but from a specific location that affords only a partial perspective on his or her society. Roughly thirty years before it became fashionable to do so, Hannah Arendt told an audience at the American Political Science Association that "no matter how abstract our theories may sound or how consistent our arguments may appear, there are incidents and stories behind them which, at least for ourselves, contain as in a nutshell the full meaning of whatever we have to say ("A," 1). What does it mean to assign "full meaning" to stories? By making such a claim, does Arendt depict critical understanding as a kind of intuition, celebrating the immediacy of experience over abstract theory? If, instead, she understands a story to be a reconstruction of experience, then what justifies the claim that stories offer critical insight?

In this book I use the political thought of Hannah Arendt to break out of an impasse that exists among contemporary theorists regarding the possibility of critical understanding and its relationship to experience. Storytelling marks this impasse: it is heralded with equal confidence by humanist critics of modernity who claim to speak from the . . .

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