Political Philosophy's Need for Literature

Listen to Liliane Weissberg's talk from the workshop "Hannah Arendt and the Humanities: On the Relevance of Her Work Beyond the Realm of Politics," Stanford, May 2010. Click here.

Ulrich Baer - Professor of German and Comparative Literature, New York University; Vice Provost for Global Programs and Multiculturalism
Sonja Boos - Visiting Assistant Professor of German, Oberlin College & Conservatory
Stephan Braese - Professor of European Jewish Literature and Cultural History, RWTH Aachen University
Nir Evron - Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature, Stanford University
Amir Eshel - Charles Michael Chair in Jewish History and Culture; Director, Forum on Contemporary Europe, Stanford University
Barbara Hahn - Distinguished Professor of German, Vanderbilt University
Robert Harrison - Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature, Stanford University
Christine Ivanovic - Visiting Professor, Department of German Language and Literature, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, The University of Tokyo
Martin Klebes - Assistant Professor of German, University of Oregon
Eyal Peretz - Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Indiana University
Liliane Weissberg - Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences; Professor of German and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania
Thomas Wild - Berlin

In the wake of 9/11 and the so-called War on Terror there has been in recent years an immense interest in Hannah Arendt's thought in a variety of disciplines ranging from Political Science through History to Cultural Criticism. While Arendt's political analysis, especially her insights into the nature of totalitarian ideologies and regimes has received much attention, relatively little has been said on the possible impact of her unique philosophical vocabulary in such works as The Human Condition, Between Past and Future or The Life of the Mind or on our understanding of literature and the arts as they address contemporary society and politics. Giorgio Agamben, as only one example, makes references to Origins of Totalitarianism, but leaves out The Human Condition or Hannah Arendt's writing on literature or culture. A recent collection of Arendt's writings on literature and culture provides a first opportunity to reflect on the status of literature and the arts in Arendt's work, and on the usefulness of her concepts for an understanding of contemporary society and culture (Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb (ed.), Hannah Arendt, Reflections on Literature and Culture (Stanford UP, 2007). But it is precisely Arendt's conviction that literature and the arts contribute indispensably to our understanding of politics and history that calls for an examination of how Arendt's work opens new perspectives and adds a critical vocabulary to address literature and the arts.

The relative dearth of attention to Arendt's possible relevance and impact on our thinking about literature and the arts is especially peculiar given Arendt's reliance on literary texts throughout her writing. The aim of the Stanford Workshop is to consider if Hannah Arendt's work offers a productive vocabulary for thinking about literature, the arts and culture at the intersection of history, politics, and ethics.

Our question is: what may be the usefulness of such concepts, terms, and figures of speech as "natality," or Arendt's conception of the "world," or of the distinction between the "public," the "private," and the "social"? We would like to consider together: what happens when one puts Arendt's thought in contact with the study of culture in its widest sense (and not exclusively within the discipline of political theory)? What may be the implications of Arendt's reliance on literature and culture, at key moments in her analysis of political and social reality, to our understanding of their possible significance to contemporary society and politics? The workshop aims to examine the relevance of Arendt's work for the humanities in the broadest sense, and to examine Arendt's work in light of some recent advances in critical thinking in turn.

(from stanford.edu)