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Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition

Links to four variant presentations of Chapter VI are below.

First: here are two example pages for the Arendt 1958 Acknowledgments and the 1998 Publisher's Note.

    a page with plain excerpts.

    a page with excerpts with my emphasis added.

The only difference between the pages is the Curl page embedded in the HTM in which top-level Curl imports the same source file of text. There is only one text file loaded by each of the different top-level pages - as is the case below with the one text file of Chapter 6.

The first top-level page defines My-Bold or {mbold } as merely {text } and shows no text emphasis.

The second defines My-Bold or {mbold } as the usual Curl {bold } and the affected text passages display as bold.

In comparing the pages, it should be more evident on the second page that the funding organizations did not require the resulting 1958 book to have an adequate index.  Nor did the publisher require this through many subsequent reprints.

It is my contention that an adequate index would have readily revealed the debt to Heidegger with such entries as Being.

The lack of a bibliography allowed the book to appear with no reference to Heidegger whatever (two occur in the 1998 Canova introduction.)

A comparison with the early writings of Guenter Stern aka Anders is also subverted by both the acknowledgments and the lack of bibliography.  Today in hindsight the lack of any reference to Hans Jonas or Karl Löwith is astonishing.  Karl Jaspers does find mention once in the text and once in a footnote but both times in connection with Descartes.  This is remarkable in that the current view of intellectuals is that Heidegger stands as one of the two anti-Cartesians of the previous century - matched only by Wittgenstein.  Kierkegaard is in the text as well as Augustine (who is there more often.)  These observations on quotations, citations, notes and references are based on digital full text search and not the 1958 or 1998 indices.

Today it can only be hoped that criticism would induce an author such as Arendt to issue a revised second edition in her lifetime - if only in electronic form.

To view the pages linked above you may need to install the Curl RTE or runtime plugin for your web browser.

The top-level Curl pages embedded in each HTM page load the same text file of Chapter VI for each linked "version" or "view".

Additional Notes:

A stronger case for Chapter VI on science (physics) and the mind can be found in Jean Ullmo's 1969 La Pensée Scientifique Moderne but that is on the basis of quantum mechanics and Bergson and not Heisenberg and Heidegger. I have a note started at my marburg-eros blog.

A key term missing in Chapter 6 is "acceleration". While cognates are highlighted in the "my emphasis" version, the annotated version comments on her repeated use of "speed" - a favourite preoccupation of Heidegger - a "hobby-horse" of his (although at least one time he says in a letter to Jaspers that he took the express train (or was he with Arendt?)

Defective as both phenomenology, philosophy of action, history of philosophy, the text is nonetheless the subject missing in a paper of Jacques Taminiaux in "the Heidegger Case".  Chapter Six passes without comment.  As well it might.  Should it have been dropped from the second edition?

Margaret Canovan's introduction states,

"When she published The Human Condition  in 1958, she herself sent something unexpected out into the world, and forty years later the book's originality is as striking  as ever. Belonging to no genre, it has had no successful imitators, and its style and manner remain highly idiosyncratic."

Even in 1998 there was no excuse for this assertion where Chapter VI is concerned: it rehashes the lectures all too carefully cribbed by her first husband Guenther Stern and which formed the basis for much of his published work under the name Guenther Anders.  Some phrases are rough translations of vintage Heidegger, making her the imitator.

Was she aware of the role of German engineers and others in the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik?  The use of slave labour in the mountain rocket factories of the Nazis?  More importantly: did she even understand the physics of acceleration?  She appears not to have understood the basis for Einstein's 1905 prize.  Her repeated use of secondary sources should have concerned the Rockefeller Foundation (see her correspondence at the Library of Congress web site) as should have the lack of bibliography and the utterly inadequate index.  Many of her claims were preposterous even in 1958.  Many more are irrefutable opinion and half-baked journalism.  The worst is the utter suppression of any mention of Heidegger, Jonas or Stern.  In the name of originality of thought?

The saddest moment may be the close of the book, where she appears to miss the irony of seeking a measure of the extent of action in thinking. The lone thinker. Humbug and worse. The anti-science of the book is undisguised and bears no relation to a phenomenology of slavery, a phenomenology of servitude or a phenomenology of action - even within the limitations imposed by Merleau-Ponty or Ricoeur (remarkably, according to her letter to Heidegger, Arendt would not read Merleau-Ponty on the body until 1972.)  To what extent does the book satisfy the Harry Frankfurt notion of bullsh*t?  Most everything she says about post-1900 physics and a great deal of what she says about the development of modern science.  Her ignorance about the actual problems faced by the "makers" of telescopes is another face of her ignorance of optics in a thesis on a pivotal instrument, the telescope.  Had she ever looked at a planet under magnification?  Split a binary star? Did she know the nature of the moon illusion?  Did she know that Hubble used a classification of stars (the Cepheid variables) in his work on nebulae?  That he could have been a boxer? A man of action?

To view the pages linked above you may need to install the Curl RTE or runtime plugin for your web browser.

Robert Shiplett, Minnesota, 2010


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