ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hannah Arendt and the Problem of Our Age

The moment we stop asking questions or are killed for asking them a new kind of history writing takes place. And it is here that the works of three Jewish thinkers, Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber and Simone Weil, become significant. The connecting thread between them is their struggle for freedom in circumstances which were devoid of human reason. They dealt with violence and injustice in ways which were deeply rational and humane.

Hannah Arendt writes that those who joined the resistance found themselves free because they had become challenged. “At every meal that we eat together, freedom is invited to sit down. The chair remains vacant, but the place is set” [Arendt 1968:4].

It is this challenge, this openness to danger that masks the quest of dialogue. It essentially consists of working thought and action through experience. Thus there is no fixity to dialogue theory. Its volume is immense and the arguments shift and turn according to necessity. Clearly then, the very act of reading becomes marked by a certain variability. Much of this reading constitutes an engagement with the past. Every text we read becomes historical since these are bound by the problem of time and context. This is in stark contrast to the ethnographic presence. Yet while chronicles are open-ended, beginning somewhere and culminating elsewhere, the ideological implication of a essay such as this is clearly defined. It is a contestation of monologue. The debates on pluralism have been myriad, but we now expose ourselves to a time when we are clearly marked. Which side do we stand on? What is justice? What is truth? More significantly, what is reality and how do we as human beings make choices about the lives that we live and the directions that civilisation takes? History itself becomes variously produced, where the debates on rationality, logic, objectivity are substituted by a “fabulous historiography” that suits the need for carnival and circus. And yet as forms of history writing are being contested, history itself is being made and being written. It is not difficult to congeal into a state of unquestioning tyranny. The very nature of power becoming authority as we well know rests on convenience. The moment that we stop asking questions or are killed for asking them a new kind of history writing takes place. And it is here that the work of three Jewish thinkers: Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber and Simone Weil become significant. The connecting thread between them is their struggle for freedom in circumstances which were devoid of human reason. They dealt with violence and injustice in ways which were deeply rational and humane.

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