Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hannah Arendt and Cornelius Castoriadis

As many of us are currently remembering the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Hannah Arendt, it would be an occasion to discuss similarities and differences between her political philosophy and the phenomenologyof the World, and the thought of Castoriadis. I, for one, find it very enriching to read the two together and up against each other. Where one stops, the other continues and vice versa.

My - for now - superficial impression is that CC is the strongest on ontological issues whereas Arendt has more to say on the level of intersubjectivity and praxis, e.g. what does it mean to be one human being among other beings who are different - uniquely different. The latter point is sometimes vehemently contested by Castoriadis, who claims that if you are 1 % unique and "only" 99 % socialization, you are truly a genius (quoted from memory).

The problem with this is that Castoriadis, by focusing on the two levels, society and the psyche, and playing down notions of human multiplicity and individual differences, also diminishes the concept of political creativity which he promotes in so many other ways. In other words, his concept of social autonomy would be enriched if supplemented with a meso-level of human creativity which can be found in Arendt's thought on the conditions for a common World. Keywords are politics as creation.

Viewpoints, anyone?

Ingerid S. (who's a fan of both Arendt and Castoriadis)


At 11:38 PM, Blogger Ingerid S. said...

On the other hand, Castoriadis's thought provides more political substance than Arendt's - it does not stop short in the face of what Arendt calls "the social" - i.e. questions of distribution of resources, group interests and so on - all of which accrding to her must be excluded from "true politics".

In the same vein, CC talks of politics as having goals, and given societies as having certain political goals, something Arendt would not want to do. She would leave the political field open to the extent that it becomes empty, in my view.

One philosopher who has adressed this problem of Arendt's is Dana Villa {1996). He points out that her reluctance to point out any positive contents for true politics, nonetheless has the "substance" of maintaining the political sphere itself. That is, she lives up to the need in a non-totalitarian (democratic) society of a political sphere with unending, ongoing discussions. Villa's is a fine attempt to defend Arendt, but he recognizes that this is a reason to meagre to defend her insistance on outsorcing all "social" questions to experts. In any practical situation, it will not do to maintain "pure praxis", void of all "techne", in any real kind of political discussion.

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

To Castoriadis, the aim of "true politics" is freedom, not happiness, welfare etc.
For Arendt, the nature of "politics proper" is freedom and not necessity.

Same same, but different: Arendt rules out the idea that politics may have an aim outside of itself, therefore all questions about social and economical matters must be kept outside of the political sphere proper. This leads her thought into a lacunae that is very hard to escape (except by philosophical acrobatics).
Following the radical democrat Castoriadis, it seems clear that politics is about something and has goals or aims, i.e. the bringing forth of certain institutions according to a specific imaginary "state of things". The struggle of the working class for influence would be a political matter for Castoriadis, but not for Arendt.

Thus politics may be both an instrumental activity, and one thas is valuable in itself.
The two thinkers meet again in the moral conviction of political democracy/autonomous society as the standard for critique and valuation, and the only truly human life form. On the latter point, Arendt is the most explicit one.

At 7:54 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

One hundred years ago today, on October 14th 1906, Hannah Arendt was born, as a unique beginning never to be seen before or after. Her main political project was to conceptualise politics in such a way as to keep the future open.

Politics should therefore not be reduced to institutions, but tied to the activity of human beings.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

The main problem with Arendt's thought is her view on tekhnè as mere fabrication. Castoriadis points out that tekhnè has the dual meaning, not clarified by Aristoteles, of mimesis and creation.
"Poeisis" as creation of new things has no room in Arendt's thought, even though she is very concerned about the bringing forth of new things.

"Speech and action" is to her the modalities of politics (Vita Activa 1958). She also talks about the capacity of making of promises as "maybe the foremost political capacity" (On Revolution). It seems fair to think that the promises made in by political agents are materialized as institutions. Thus she should have concepts for this bringing forth of institutions; i.e. poiesis.

At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, forgive me for my English. I’m really excited that you have come to the conclusion that creation is a keyword. I totally agree. And I believe that politics in CC’s and HA’s thought is ontological creation. It is creation of new institutions (CC) and creation of our own appearance in the public sphere (HA). The difference on focusing is obvious. CC focuses on the social and HA on subjectivity. CC’s opinion is that the whole philosophical tradition had ignored the social. I don’t use the term “social” in Arendt’s way. All philosophers, including Arendt, have ignored the psychoanalytic thesis that subject is a social creation. Kant is the only one, as far as I know, that has almost recognised the importance of the social, in his third Kritik. And Kant’s influence on HA’s thought is obvious. Of course, there are differences between the two philosophers (CC and HA). But the most important thing is to enrich our own thought using their radical opinions on political and ontological issues. We must find the line connecting their thought, if there is one. I believe that both CC and HA are the continuation of the phenomenological tradition. Merleau-Ponty’s thought can reveal this connection.
I believe that Arendt’s thought is haunted by the ghost of Aristotle. There is no doubt that he is a great philosopher and I really appreciate him. Although, HA finally accepts his oligarchic political opinions. Her political vision is similar to the Aristotelian politeia, because she accepts elected leaders in the Councils (in “On revolution”). CC believes that this is not democracy, but aristocracy and he accepts only raffled political dignities.
HA’s opinion that the social problem, the problem of necessity has covered the political problem, the problem of freedom is basic. But that does not mean, as CC has mentioned, that the social problem must be left outside the political thought. On the contrary, it must be solved in a political way. The animal laborans must not be ignored, but it must be subdued by the political subject, politis. The solution of the problem of the distinction between materialism and spiritualism is not the cancellation of either material or spirit, but their co-existence. This is the problem hiding behind HA’s distinction between labour and act.
In order to avoid misunderstandings after this critic, I am a great fun of Arendt.

At 6:56 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Thanks to you, Thanasis, for very inspiring and poignant comments. I am interested in what you say about Arendt being concerned with creation of our own appearance in the public sphere. If this means to create our own subjectivity to a certain extent, then this will be a crucial point in a CC/HA discussion. Certainly, the question of paideia and pedagogics (in a wide sense) enters the stage at this moment. For to become a conscious, autonomous agent in the political, is something that we either do to or don't do to ourselves, and to reach this state of subjecthood or agency, we need the guidance and wisdom of others. As I am working on a thesis in the philosophy of education, or rather, paideia, I would be very interested in your thoughts on this subject - once again, perhaps, seen through the lenses of Arendt and Castoriadis - ?

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

In the meantime, let me reflect a little bit on my own question. Neither Arendt nor Castoriadis are specifically concerned with pedagogics or theories of relationships between persons. This is not in itself a weakness, as no philosopher should try and cover every phenomenon in the world equally well, I think.
But the lack of conceptualization becomes a problem if one, on some ground or another, rejects the notion of personal history and intersubjectivity alltogether. I think Castoriadis's thought has a tendency in this direction.
Last year, I had a long discussion with a friend who knows Castoriadis's thought extremely well. Whenever I tried to introduce theoretical elements concerning "the personal" in our dicsussion of Castoriadis, he would bring up the same idea of CC's, that there can be no such thing as a person before, without or apart from the social. This is all very well.
But it must still be possible to think and theorize the person, and more importantly, relationships between persons where the "outcome" is not given, i.e. that we can influence each other in unexpected ways, and recreate ourselves and "become new", so as to put something new into existence. Otherwise social change and autonomy becomes impossible.

For if the project of autonomy means to theorize and effectuate radical social change, it will not do to talk about "flows" and the person as a "cutting off of a flow", (as someone suggested on this blog), or the workings of the anonymopus collective (CC). This is in my opinion simply too abstract.

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ll first try to elucidate some things about what I meant earlier talking about creation. Arendt’s view is that the political sphere is a field of competition between the citizens of polis. If I remember well, in Human Condition she writes that Achilles is great because of his great public speeches and his great public acts. So, the reason we participate in politics is mostly to present ourselves to the others. Bhikhu Parekh in Hannah Arendt and the Search for a New Political Philosophy, mentions that this important point of Arendt’s thought seems her relevance to phenomenology (appearance-phenomenon). Don’t forget her relation to Husserl and of course Heidegger. Castoriadis criticizes Arendt’s view in Domaines de l’homme (The Greek polis and the creation of democracy) [I don’t know if there is a translation in English- I’ve read the Greek one]. He says that maybe politics are really a field of competition and a field of public appearance of the citizens, but this is not the crucial point of ancient democracies. I believe that the fact that she accepts this kind of competition leads her to the aristocratic opinions that I mentioned earlier or vice versa. On the other hand, I agree with CC’s critic and we have to accept that this might have been a true element of ancient politics. I also think that talking and acting politically is acting in public [the distinction between oikos and polis (necessity- freedom) in Arendt’s thought is really severe] and it is a kind of creating ourselves. And the functions of the autonomous subject are aiming to such self-creation in both social and psychic sphere. Some thoughts of Merleau-Ponty about the style of our moves, acts etc and its ontological meaning in La prose du monde are relevant. Merleau-Ponty is working on Husserl’s idea of intersubjectivity and I believe that his thought is opening new fields of thinking. I think that his views on how subjects communicate through their invisible substance reveal an unknown ontological and existential depth. I’m sure that I cannot explain this invisible aspect further, not only because of my English, but because it is ineffable. I know that it seems “metaphysical” or “irrational”, but it isn’t.
It is true that neither Castoriadis nor Arendt have been explanatory enough about their conception of paideia. Although there is a great text of CC about this subject. It is actually a speech of CC in university of Alexandoupoli in 1993. Its title is “Paideia and Democracy” and it is published in his book “Anthropology, politics, philosophy”. I don’t know if it has been translated in English or French. In this text CC describes both art and paideia as efforts to form chaos. These perpetual efforts are trying to make several forms to come out of the chaos of human psyche and of the world. The human being itself is mostly vis formandi and libido formandi, which means desire and passion for creation. I believe that this is one of the most important texts of CC.
CC is emphasizing on social because the whole philosophy before him has been obstinately ignoring that there is not person without society. On the other hand, he never underestimates person and I think that individual imaginary is an issue of great importance in his philosophy. He also admires a lot the artists of modernism and in one of his interviews in Esprit (1979) he talks about the great amount of psychic energy that we must liberate in order to discover new, obscure since now aspects of Being. And this liberation demands personal creativity and will to become autonomous subjects. I think that being an autonomous person means to accept this responsibility and always trying to keep this will alive. Since we have accepted an autonomous way of being we have opened new ways of intersubjectivity. Sorry if I’ve been too talkative.

At 9:23 AM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Great. I like last paragraph of the above. This way of thinking opens up my own thought, and the best part is that I see a lot of interesting work lying ahead for thinkers and intellectuals - creative work inspired by CC and Arendt and not only commentary work, exegesis or world championship in knowledgeability.

For example, I've recently realized the obvious HA+CC-connection, that to build up a common world - a central point for Arendt's humanist politics - means to build up a common world of imaginary significations.
We do this by working with representations; speech and writing. We build and maintain a common world in conversation as well as in performative practices (Arendts politics). The importance of the media can hardly be overrated in this connection, I think.

When we publish texts, especially the ones we consider to be touching on something of importance for all of us, we are conscious co-creators of a common world. And this world is a world of imaginary significations. I know I am stating the "obvious" here, but I haven't read it elsewhere, so I wrote it :-)

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

The talk by Castoriadis on Paideia and Democracy from the university of Alexandoupoli in 1993, is in English titled Culture in a Democratic Society (published in The Castoriadis Reader, 1997).


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