Lying & Truth in Politics: Hannah Arendt and the Fragility of Democratic Life
Amir Eshel and Ulrich Baer
April 25, Saturday, 12 noon EST, online
Nobody should feel excited about the renewed relevance of Hannah Arendt’s work today. Her foresight about the fragility of democratic life is relevant for the worst possible reasons: populism, white supremacy, mass deception, the rise of fascism around the world, the coordinated assault on serious journalism, academia and any kind of responsible thought. Really, there’s no reason to celebrate why the great analyst of totalitarianism, fascism, and anti-democratic forces and a thinker “in dark times” is so timely today.
But Arendt also insisted, in the preface to her 1968 collection of essays, “Men in Dark Times:” “Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination.”
In our seminar, we consider two seminal texts by Arendt: “Lying in Politics” (1971), and “Philosophy and Politics” (1974). The first text has been widely discussed, because it proves so relevant and is also so surprising in Arendt’s apparent acceptance of the fact that lying is part of politics. The second essay is not very well known and considers the role of truth in politics via the scandalous case of Socrates, who was condemned to death by his fellow Athenians for speaking the truth—and here as well Arendt takes unexpected sides.
Facilitators: Amir Eshel is Professor of German, Comparative Literature and Jewish Studies at Stanford University. Among his books are: Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past in German (with Suhrkamp Verlag) and English (The University of Chicago Press) in 2012. He previously wrote Zeit der Zäsur: Jüdische Lyriker im Angesicht der Shoah (1999), and Das Ungesagte Schreiben: Israelische Prosa und das Problem der Palästinensischen Flucht und Vertreibung (2006). In recent years, he has published essays on writers such as Franz Kafka, Paul Celan, W.G. Sebald, Günter Grass, Alexander Kluge, Durs Grünbein, Barbara Honigmann and S. Yizhar. Before joining the Stanford faculty in 1998 as an assistant professor of German Studies, he taught at the University of Hamburg, Germany. He has received fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt and the Friedrich Ebert foundations and the Award for Distinguished Teaching from the School of Humanities and Sciences. Professor Eshel received an M.A. and Ph.D. in German literature, both from the University of Hamburg.
Ulrich Baer received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Yale in Comparative Literature and has been awarded Guggenheim, DAAD, Getty, and Humboldt Fellowships. He is University Professor in Comparative and German Literature and Photography and Imaging at New York University and has published, among other books, Hannah Arendt: Between the Disciplines (with Amir Eshel), What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth and Equality on Campus; Remnants of Song: The Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan; Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma; The Rilke Alphabet; 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (editor); Beggar’s Chicken: Stories from Shanghai; We Are But a Moment; The Claims of Literature: A Shoshana Felman Reader (co-editor), several books in German, and, as translator and editor, The Dark Interval: Rilke’s Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation and Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters on Life. He has also published widely on photography, poetry and culture in museum catalogs, academic journals and leading newspapers. His podcast, Think About It, is devoted to in-depth conversations on powerful ideas and transformative books. He lives in New York City.
Amir Eshel and Ulrich Baer have edited a volume of essays of Arendt: Hannah Arendt zwischen den Disziplinen (Hannah Arendt between Disciplines).
Readings: Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics;” “Philosophy and Politics”
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Lying and Truth in Politics
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