Mon, 21 Aug 2017

Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt's Denktagebuch

Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt's Denktagebuch

Hannah Arendt’s intellectual diary, her Denktagebuch, is a unique record of an intellectual life and one of the most fascinating and compelling archives of twentieth-century literature, political thought, and philosophy. Neither an Augustinian confessional nor an autobiography like those of Virginia Wolff, still less a narrative journal like the diaries of Samuel Pepys or Andy Warhol, the Denktagebuch is an uneasy fit in familiar literary cat- egories. It is far more structured than the collection of musings and quotations that comprise Thomas Jefferson’s commonplace book, but less formal than a collection of drafts and unfinished essays.

The majority of entries are thematic, and some of the most common themes (often announced in Arendt’s own subheadings) include “Thinking and Acting,” “Plato,” Plurality,” “Means—Ends Categories in Politics,” “Metaphor and Truth,” “The Path of Wrong,” “Love,” “Marx,” “Hegel,” “On Labor,” “On Lone- liness,” “On Heidegger,” and “On Philosophy and Politics.” Arendt’s utterly unconstrained intellectual range, combined with the unusual form of the record, makes it nearly impossible to align the Denktagebuch with any familiar genre or subject heading, as the humorously strained classification of the work by the Library of Congress under “Political Theory. Theories of the State: The Modern State” attests.

The notebooks manifest Arendt’s thinking and writing process and betray the intensity of her reading and thinking in a community of thinkers, but Arendt herself as a thinking subject occupying the privileged seat of I, remains elusive.

This question of how to read, interpret, and employ the immense wealth of the Denktagebuch guides all of the essays in this volume, and each author has tried to approach these questions explicitly and to do so in a way that uses a substantive concern or theme in the book to model their approach. Taken together, the essays, most of which began their life during a week- long workshop in the summer of 2012 sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College, attempt to present a conversation on how to begin what will be a long, slow, but infinitely fruitful process of integrating the Denktagebuch into our understanding of Hannah Arendt and her world. 

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