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Jerome Kohn Guest Editor’s Introduction WEST, EAST, NORTH, AND SOUTH— FROM HAWAII TO SOUTH KOREA, FROM Finland to Australia, in most of the major cities of western Europe, in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, in Istanbul, Malta, and Tel Aviv, in multiple locations in North, Central, and South America—Hannah Arendt’s centenary was celebrated with conferences and colloquia, art exhibitions, dramatic and musical performances, in film, on radio and television, as well as in new monographs and biographies, and in new editions of her own works. These events started before Arendt’s one hundredth birthday on October 14, 2006, and have not yet concluded. Arendt herself, of course, was present at none of them. She did not hear what others—the “newcomers” whom she always welcomed—have to say about her, or read what they write about her, or perceive the images they make, intended to represent both her person and her thought. An irresistible though futile question to ask is: What would she make of all this fuss? Though no one can possibly know her answer, we can, I believe, be fairly certain that it would not be one of outright grati­ fication. “W hat,” one could almost hear her whispering when clever­ ness and erudition were displayed for their own sake, “has become of action?” On the other hand, her response surely would be one of grati­ tude for the poetic exhibition “Von den Dichtem erwarten wir Wahrheit”1 curated by Barbara Hahn and Marie Luise Knott for Literaturhaus Berlin; for the astonishing political images created by Volker Marz in DosLachen der HannahArendt (2006) shown in a variety of venues in Berlin and else­ where: and, one would like to think, for the papers included in this and the next issue of Social Research. Copyright © 2007 Jerome Kohn social research Vol 74 : No 3 : Fall 2007 xiii A more reasonable question is: How does it happen in a world that has become increasingly thoughtless that a thinker, and by no means an easy thinker, is proving increasingly provocative, and nowhere more so than among young people? How has it come about that a Jewish woman who was born in Germany eight years before the outbreak of total war in 1914, who had to flee her native land in 1933, and who died in New York in 1975, summons more attention today than when she lived? Though she was far from unknown during her lifetime, the conspicuousness of her books in college and university curricula is both a recent and ambiguous phenomenon, for the most part best understood as a typical academic reaction to a groundswell of interest that bears little if any relation to the academic environment, especially in contemporary America. Arendt insists that the activity of thinking is initiated by experience and must remain bound to experience if it is not to lose contact with the phenomenal world in which we live active lives—laboring to sustain life, working to make it palatable, and most important for Arendt, acting to manifest our freedom as human beings. In other words, Arendt’s thinking is nothing like donning a thinking cap for a limited period of time, to listen to a lecture, for example, and then, when the lecture has come to an end, pulling offthe cap to re-enter and resume active life, better “trained,” as the phrase goes, to do so. This description fits a lot of what passes for, and is accepted as, education, but Arendt’s prescription for the activity of thinking does not. However, nothing chez Arendt is ever as straightforward as the foregoing may seem. Although she finds corroborating hints in the recorded experiences of other thinkers, none has more consistently held that thinking is the sheerest, least impeded of all activities, and that the condition sine qua non of encountering oneself in that activ­ ity is withdrawal from the world of appearances. Arendt’s thinking is not contemplative or even philosophical (as she understands the latter term). It does not seek to behold metaphysical truths beyond appear­ ances or to explain them causally or historically, but to disclose the meanings of appearances concealed in appearances. Her withdrawal does not take...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. xiii-xxi
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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