The Courage to Be With: Risking the World
“Courage is to put the world before yourself.”
The word courage evokes images of heroic individualism, sacrifice, and lonely opposition that may seem outdated in a world in which the biggest challenges arise from the problems of living together. Yet, originally courage derives from ‘cor’ (the heart) and used to refer to “the heart as the seat of feeling [and] thought” (OED) in general. As a way of describing disposition, desire, and mood, this derivation captures the fact that it takes courage to act even in very ordinary circumstances. Exposing ourselves to others is a risk not only insofar as we ultimately have to face and “own up to” our interdependency but due to the contingency of every encounter. We can never predict how others will react to us. Thus, making ourselves available to them always involves taking a step into the unknown. The courage to be-with – with others, in relation, dependent on one another – may therefore be the most basic condition for living in a human world. It involves trust in the face of disappointment and harm, a desire to connect in spite of frustration or rejection and, at times, even a commitment to precarity.
As Hannah Arendt reminds us, “It requires courage even to leave the protective security of our four walls and enter the public realm, not because of particular dangers which lie in wait for us, but because we have arrived in a realm where the concern for life has lost its validity.” In this realm, being courageous means embracing the world as the “in-between,” a construct not of a singular will but of the unpredictable interplay of a near endless plurality of actors. The 2023 “Courage to Be” Courses address the multifaceted ways of expressing what we might call, with French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, the courage to ask the question of the world. They will inquire into the notion of risk (What does it take to act in the world?), the role of shared vision (How do we want to live together?), and the peculiar brand of courage it takes to hold the world with others (How to think and act in plurality?)
The Courage to Be With: Achilles, Socrates, Antigone, Mother Courage, Barbara Lee
In 2001, Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the sole member of the United States Congress to vote against the Authorization for Use of Military Force that formed the legal foundation for military action in Afghanistan, and subsequently, many additional deployments of the U.S. military. Her vote was praised by many as courageous, and condemned by many others. Lee was celebrated in a poem by Fred Moten as “the unacknowledged legislator.” What is courage? In this course, we shall approach this question both directly and obliquely. We begin with Homer’s Iliad and with philosophical accounts from 5th century Athens. Should courage be understood the same way in all contexts? Is a warrior’s courage the same as that of a philosopher or a legislator? Who is truly courageous, the one who defends the regime, the one who critiques it, or both? Is the courage of Hektor or Achilles the same as that of Socrates or Antigone? In this course, our discussion of courage will proceed through close readings of philosophical and essayistic texts, both ancient and modern (Plato, Aristotle, Tillich, Arendt, Baldwin) and imaginative representations in literature and film (Homer’s Iliad, Sophocles’ Antigone, Brecht’s Mother Courage, Fugard’sThe Island, Zinneman’s High Noon, Bertolucci’s The Conformist). Among other things, we will be asking whether and in what way it makes sense to speak of a single virtue, courage, as being manifest in varying circumstances and in different times and places; whether and in what sense courage brings people together or sets them apart; and what we may mean today when we characterize people or acts as courageous. This course includes lectures, dinners, and other activities undertaken in common with the other sections of this Common Course.
The Courage to Be With: Black Contrarian Voices
Thomas Chatterton Williams
Though many racists and anti-racists engage and portray “black” thinking and sensibility as homogenous, for as long as there has been a tradition of black thought in America there has also been a robust and formidable thread of contrarianism and heterodoxy to defy it—even to deny there is such a thing as “blackness” (or whiteness, for that matter) to begin with. It has become a cliché to pay lip service to the notion that "blackness is not a monolith," and yet so many of us continue to speak and act as if it were. In this common course, which will be comprised of shared texts as well as the work of iconoclastic and independent black thinkers—from Zora Neale Hurston, Albert Murray and Ralph Ellison to Barbara Fields, James Baldwin and Adrian Piper—we will examine the question of what it means to create and define the self in a shared world that too often imprisons us all in ready-made categories. We will explore the tension between the courage-to-be-with and the courage-to-be-apart, specifically focusing on the idea of acting in common and the intellectual and moral courage it takes to stand alone and the price of prioritizing self-authenticity over consensus and group cohesion.
The Courage to Be With: Arrivals: Encounters in Exile
When German-speaking Jews arrived in the United States in the 1930s and 40s as part of a small minority that had managed to escape exterminatory antisemitism they found themselves guests in a deeply segregated society. Though most apparent in the American South (where some of these refugee intellectuals obtained teaching jobs at HBCUs), anti-Black racism was thriving in the post-Great Migration North as well. Discriminatory practices like racially restrictive covenants and systemic job discrimination limited Black mobility and life opportunities everywhere while extreme violence continued to exert its disruptive force from police harassment to lynchings. The specter of the exile as an outside observer newly relocated, and both unacquainted with the codes of American racism yet eerily familiar both with European colonial attitudes and segregationist policy can serve as a lens for focusing in on questions of political solidarity, “relational memory,” and the narrative temporalities of trauma and exile. This course will go in search of encounters between the exiles and Black Americans, who frequently perceived themselves as ‘exiles’ in their own country. Though substantial contacts and collaboration between the two groups were far from the norm – and thus we won’t be after a survey of this history – the course’s wager is that highlighting momentary friendships, political coalitions, joint artistic projects, and even encounters that never happened can expand our sense of the contingency of our present moment. Through memories of joint action and the retrospective interweaving of historical memory, exiles and Black Americans created openings for an alternative experience of the now. As the Italian philosopher Paolo Virno writes, in “throwing [reality] back into the past” memory can offer us a sense of potentiality, thus restoring the radically open moment of a history that could have been otherwise. Responding to the impulse of “multidirectional memory,” this course provides an introduction to contemporary memory studies and to the little-known literature of encounter between German-speaking refugee writers and Black Americans. We will ask what it means to be hospitable to a stranger as a stranger, whether and how memory can create lines of solidarity, how prejudice hinders but may also initiate relation, and what political possibilities reside in the exile(d) position. Readings may include writings by Siegfried Kracauer, Paul Robeson, James Baldwin, Charlotte Beradt, Hilde Domin, Herbert Marcuse, Bertolt Brecht, and Saidiya Hartman.
The Courage to Be With: Transcending self and other for the benefit of all
Tatjana Myoko von Prittwitz und Gaffron
In the description of Jewel Net of Indra in the 2500 year old Avatamsaka Flower Garland Sutra, everybody is depicted as a jewel, infinitely connected through space and time. If one dot is put on one jewel, it mirrored in all jewels. Are we one or are we many jewels? This year‘s Courage to Be With: Risking the World course examines the intersection of self and other, taking into account both the notion of oneness (I am you and you are me) and duality (I am not you and you are not me). How can we overcome differences realizing our shared human nature? Sangha, the community, is one of the three jewels in Buddhism. We can not be without the other, in fact, we are asked to polish each other. Any tension that arises, shows our own conditioning. What is that troubling self? How can we BE without standing in our way and for that matter practicing harmony?
We will look at models of Buddhist Psychology defining the construction of the self (William James: Stream of Consciousness), examine the solidification of otherness (Primo Levi: Survival in Auschwitz) and recognize efforts to overcome barriers (David Foster Wallace: This Is Water). Special attention will be given to attempts realizing unity within tension (Jarvis Jay Masters: Finding Freedom. Writings from Death Row & Angel Kyodo Williams: being black. Zen and the art of living with fearlessness and grace), actually based on scientific research (Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish, Primo Levi: „Carbon“ in: Periodic Table).Together we will identify courageous individuals that are breaking down barriers (Julia Butterfly, Angela Madsen, Norrie, Helmut Öhring, Esref Armagan, Tehching Hsieh) and feel inspired by those whose world view is based on complete interconnection (Daniel Everett on the Piraha in the Amazon).
The goal of this Courage to Be With course at the Hannah Arendt Center is to see the challenge of otherness as a motivation for self examination and thus the recognition of our one human family, in fact the preciousness of life in this vast cosmos. „Peace will come to the hearts of men when they realize their oneness with the universe; it is everywhere.“ (Black Elk)