Sunday, June 5, 2016

Amor Mundi Newsletter - June 5th, 2016

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From: Hannah Arendt Center

Date: Sun, Jun 5, 2016 9:32 AM

To: bigredjbird@hotmail.com;

Subject:Amor Mundi Newsletter - June 5th, 2016


T.J. Clarke, writing in The London Review of Books, suggests that the different tones that distinguish Hannah Arendt's 1950 and 1966 prefaces to her book The Origins of Totalitarianism parallel Picasso's shift from Guernica (1937) to his "Fall of Icarus" mural for the UNESCO headquarters done in 1958. Clarke sees in both Arendt's tonal shift and Picasso's artistic retreat a movement away from seeing the 20th century as an epic age, one characterized by existential battles.

"Already by the mid-1960s, the moment of The Origins of Totalitarianism's second edition, the tone and even the substance of her 1950 reckoning with fascism and Stalinism had a period flavour. The world - or at least, the world of European and European-in-exile intellectuals - had decided that the 20th century's long catastrophe was over. Many thought that 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, had marked its ending. And whatever crisis of civilisation had succeeded the earlier terrible catastrophe - Arendt and her friends were far from certain how to characterise the new situation, and certainly not inclined necessarily to see it as a respite from ongoing decay and powerlessness at the level of civil society - it could no longer be written about (or depicted) in epic terms. The fall of Europe had happened, tens of millions had perished, but the fall of Europe had not proved a new fall of Troy. After it had not come the savage god. Maybe 'the essential structure of civilisation' had broken; but the breakage, in the years after 1950, had failed to give rise to a new holocaust or a final nuclear funeral pyre. In place of the banality of evil had arrived the banality of Mutually Assured Destruction. 'Two world wars in one generation, separated by an uninterrupted chain of local wars and revolutions': perhaps it goes without saying that for Arendt's generation the revolution that summed up the previous horror - staging, as it had seemed to, the essential combat between fascism and communism with special concentrated violence, and drawing into it left and right partisans from across the world - was the Civil War in Spain. It was, for them, the epic event of the mid-20th century. Picasso's Guernica had given it appropriate, unforgettable form. The painting still does, of course. Arendt may have been right to feel a twinge of embarrassment at the tragic, exalted, 'catastrophist' tone of her 1950 preface, and to have thought by 1966 that the fate of mass societies in the late 20th century needed to be approached in a different key. But her thinking has not carried the day. The late 20th century, she argued, would only truly confront itself in the mirror if it recognised that the battle for heaven on earth (the classless society, the thousand years of the purified race) was over. It had given way (this is Arendt's implication) to a form of 'mock-epic' or dismal comedy - still bloodstained and disoriented, but divested, by the evidence of Auschwitz and the Gulag, of the deadly dream that everything is possible. And it is this post-epic reality we should now learn to live with, she believed - maybe even to oppose. We shall only do this, her 1966 preface says, if we manage to look back on the hell of the totalitarian period with thorough bemused disillusion. We have to learn how not to allow the earlier 20th century to stand for the human condition. We have to detach ourselves from its myth."

By Stephen Melkisethian
"We should forever fight the phenomenon of hateful speech in its many forms, but it's time to retire the term "hate speech." Its meaning is inexact, elastic and often misunderstood. If we want to combat the harms of distasteful, denigrating and dangerous ideas, we need precise tools and precise terms. The first problem with the term "hate speech" is that we use it to denote three distinct categories: speech that is unlawful almost everywhere, such as direct threats and calls to immediate acts of violence; speech that is protected under international law and in most jurisdictions, such as garden-variety insults directed at a particular gender, race or religion; and speech that is illegal in some places but not others, such as Holocaust denial."

For Nossel, the confusion of hate speech with hate crimes is often an excuse to criminalize or censor opinionated speech, and threatens well-established norms of free speech:

"In recent years, important new movements have re-energized the drive to eradicate xenophobia, sexism, racism, homophobia and religious discrimination. In many circles, including on campuses, there is a new, more acute awareness of the ways once-tolerated remarks, including casual expressions and off-color humor, can cause lasting harm. We now have trigger warnings, gender-neutral pronouns and the concept of microaggressions. As students graduate, some of these new norms will migrate into workplaces and communities. In this context, defending provocative or even offensive speech - once proudly undertaken by civil libertarians-has become a more complex task. When ugly but legally defensible expression is dubbed "hate speech," standing up for it can be misconstrued as sympathizing with offensive views. When Yale faculty member and administrator Erika Christakis sent a memo to Yale students defending their right to wear Halloween costumes that might be considered offensive, her message sparked a vociferous outcry from students who argued that she was undercutting the position and even the safety of marginalized students. She was accused not just of being wrong in rejecting the university's caution to avoid offensive costumes, but of being racist herself. She resigned her teaching position at the university. This kind of precedent casts a chill not only on provocative speech but also on free speech's would-be defenders."

"A couple of hundred Muslims live in northeastern Wyoming, and last fall some of them pooled their money to buy a one-story house at the end of Gillette's Country Club Road, just outside a development called Country Club Estates, in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. They placed a sign at the end of the driveway, laid prayer rugs on top of the wall-to-wall carpeting, and began meeting there for Friday worship-making it, in function if not in form, the third mosque in the state. Most locals reacted to this development with indifference or neighborly interest, if they reacted at all. But a small number formed a group called Stop Islam in Gillette to protest the mosque; to them, the Muslims it served were unwelcome newcomers to Wyoming, at best a menace to the state's cultural traditions and at worst incipient jihadis. When those protests darkened into threats, the local police got involved, as did the F.B.I... Contrary to the claims of Stop Islam in Gillette, however, the Muslims who established the mosque are not new to the region. Together with some twenty per cent of all Muslims in Wyoming, they trace their presence back more than a hundred years, to 1909, when a young man named Zarif Khan immigrated to the American frontier. Born around 1887, Khan came from a little village called Bara, not far from the Khyber Pass, in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. His parents were poor, and the region was politically unstable. Khan's childhood would have been marked by privation and conflict-if he had any childhood to speak of. Family legend has it that he was just twelve when he left. What he did next nobody knows, but by September 3, 1907, he had got himself a thousand miles south, to Bombay, where he boarded a ship called the Peno. Eight weeks later, on October 28th, he arrived in Seattle. From there, he struck out for the interior, apparently living for a while in Deadwood, South Dakota, and the nearby towns of Lead and Spearfish before crossing the border into Wyoming. Once there, he settled in Sheridan, which is where he made a name for himself, literally: as Hot Tamale Louie-beloved Mexican-food vender, Afghan immigrant, and patriarch of Wyoming's now besieged Muslim population."

Suburbs have a bad name. And yet, more and more Americans live in suburbia. Writing in Curbed, Amanda Kolson Hurley notes that

"Despite the hype around an urban revival, the share of Americans living in urban neighborhoods actually dropped from 2000 to 2014. Suburban millennials outnumber their urban counterparts, and as they start to buy homes, most are buying in the 'burbs."

Kolson Hurley argues that the suburbs remain not only our past, but our present and future. Thus, she seeks to explore the suburban American by reading mid-20th-century fiction, and its critics. She writes that

"the books that didn't last - forgotten volumes of pop sociology and psychology like [John] Keats's, and pulp fiction - can also tell us a lot about the preoccupations of midcentury Americans. Most strikingly, they reveal deep and widespread concern over the stability of mental and physical health in the new suburban environment. This was not confined to popular reading material; at academic conferences, speakers struck worried notes about the "one-class community" and the "filtered experience" of children growing up in a suburban setting. In the years after World War II, suburbs represented not just new places to live but a whole new manner of living, separated by more than physical distance from the big cities and small towns from which their residents hailed. Between the late 1940s and 1960, millions of Americans moved into raw neighborhoods containing people of about the same age, making about the same amount of money, starting families at about the same time. It was a social experiment unprecedented in U.S. history. The first suburbanites themselves were well aware of this. Although they felt the optimism of pioneers, they shared in the widespread anxiety that the experiment might not work, an anxiety that manifested as worries about unanticipated health effects. These ranged from the daily, cumulative frustrations of a Mary Drone to more significant problems: stomach ulcers, heart attacks, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, and juvenile delinquency."

Nan Z. Da on the experience of having her child language, Chinese, standardized, in part through children's radio and television programming:

"Here's an unhappy truth about using language. Every minute of your life feels like l'esprit de l'escalier: replaying in your mind the too-late retort. This wretched condition that overcame Denis Diderot as he was leaving a party afflicts particularly the non-native speaker. He is put in his place long before he can come up with a comeback, which can itself feel like self-stereotyping. For the non-native speaker, the fantasy of having said things otherwise provides a kind of poor man's counterfactualism. But l'esprit de l'escalier can be used to describe a more universal and egalitarian phenomenon: that, just by using the language that's available to you, you've already made things wrong for yourself and others. Without exactly intending it, you've misdescribed the world and cannot go back. Let me give you an example. When I was a little girl, before our family had immigrated to the United States, I spent a lot of time listening to stories on cassette tapes. At the time, the most famous children's raconteur in China was a TV and radio persona by the name of Sister Ju Ping 鞠萍姐姐. Sister Ju Ping's voice and perfectly intoned Mandarin (in mainland China, Common Speech or Putonghua 普通话) conditioned the speech of Chinese children who grew up in the '80s and early '90s. We were fixated by the voice mediated by the new kind of sound production and sound editing. Sister Ju Ping's stories, most often cautionary tales set in nondescript places, de-nationalized the narrative space and at the same time hyper-nationalized the language used in the telling. The deliverance of the endangered animals and children in her stories seemed tied to the accurate pronunciation of the "zhi," "ci," "shi," "zi," "si" sounds, precision environments in which dialects, accents, and speech pathologies can have no part. In these programs, Sister Ju Ping would gather a group of red-kerchiefed students around her using the simultaneously endearing and menacing address of "little friends 小朋友们." The slight threat in her narrative voice, as if to speak is always to speak in warning, was a large part of her appeal. Perfect Putonghua, which in reality exists nowhere but on CCTV broadcasting and in Sister Ju Ping's studio, became associated with vignettes of the not-too-late. Last summer I accidentally followed a CCTV youth opera-singing competition for which Sister Ju Ping served as honorary judge. Unsurprisingly, Sister Ju Ping, like the other household Chinese language authority, Yu Qiuyu 余秋雨, is and has always been a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, doing its ideological work through her speech. Perhaps we all knew it back then. And yet my parents, who could sniff out party propaganda in just about any place and who were otherwise immune to centralized "education," loved Sister Ju Ping and welcomed the standardization of the Chinese language. For people who had just witnessed and endured Mao's China, Putonghua promised a move toward greater communicative clarity and transparency and also more geographical mobility. It signaled the turn away from megalomaniacs with thick dialects and the emergence of student-led grassroots politics. When Deng Xiaoping opened his mouth after the Tiananmen Square massacre, both assumptions would prove false. And despite this, despite their forced name changes during the Cultural Revolution, despite their Chinese language use being circumscribed by apparatchik in so many ways that it could no longer be called the same language, my parents were still emotionally invested in Putonghua. Independently of the impact of English on Chinese, the intense desire to normalize language emerged when China introduced (relative) freedom of speech in the '80s and many people could finally speak for themselves."

Wed. June 1 - Wed. June 22

The Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science and The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College Presents: A Global Dialogue in Courage with Drs. Joe Loizzo and Roger Berkowitz.

What do political philosopher Hannah Arendt, spiritual leader H.H. the Dalai Lama, existential theologian Paul Tillich, and non-violent activist Mahatma Gandhi have in common? For all four, moral courage is at the center of their ethical and political visions, and is vital for the future of humanity and of our planet. Embodying the traditions of Western philosophy, Buddhism, Christianity, and Indian non-violence, these world leaders stand together as torch-bearers of human wisdom and courage. In this four session dialogue, we bring these brilliant minds together to ask how courageous action can rekindle the innate clarity we need to make our lives more meaningful and impactful.

Four Wednesdays: 7-9 PM
June 1, 8, 15, 22, 2016

For more information, click here.

Each class is $25, or attend the entire course for $100.


On OCTOBER 20-21, 2016 we will host our ninth annual fall conference: "Real Talk: Difficult Questions about Race, Sex and Religion." We'll see you there!

From Our Medium Collection

We look back at a piece by Hans Teerds titled, "Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and the Importance of the Interior."

The French have become masters in the art of being happy among 'small things,' within the space of their own four walls, between chest and bed, table and chair, dog and cat and flowerpot, extending to these things a care and tenderness which, in a world where rapid industrialization constantly kills off the things of yesterday to produce today's objects, may even appear to be the world's last, purely humane corner.

--Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

To view Hans's piece, click here.

About Amor Mundi


Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. What is most difficult, Arendt writes, is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it. And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all 
it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.


Every Sunday, The Hannah Arendt Center Amor Mundi Weekly Newsletter will offer our favorite essays and blog posts from around the web. These essays will help you comprehend the world. And learn to love it.


Until next time,
The Hannah Arendt Center
Become a member of the Hannah Arendt Center here.

Hannah Arendt Center, P.O. Box 5000, Annandale, NY 12504
Sent by arendt@bard.edu in collaboration with
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