Amor Mundi 04/10/1604-10-2016
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.
Roger Berkowitz reviews the new documentary, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt. He finds particularly impressive is the choice to employ Arendt’s own words. “While the film features interviews with excellent scholars, the overwhelming majority of the film is dedicated to Arendt’s words. Long segments show Arendt speaking in television and radio interviews. And when Arendt’s recorded voice is unavailable, the Canadian actress Allison Darcy gives voice to Arendt’s written words. In more than 30 extended quotations, Darcy reads Arendt’s sentences to us, quoting Arendt in extended arguments about refugees, totalitarianism, ideology, and evil. The film, Vita Activa, begs to be taken seriously as a sustained and passionate essay.” And yet, the movie has a problem. The director, Ada Ushpiz, changes Arendt’s words in every single quotation used in the movie. While many of these changes are cosmetic and minor, some are not. “Why does Ushpiz reorder Arendt’s sentences without alerting us to the change? Why does she change “fortuitousness” to “random nature”? And why does she change Arendt’s phrase “totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency”—one of the most iconic and felicitous of Arendt’s many quotable aphorisms—to read “totalitarian movements conjure up a false ideological and consistent world”? Ushpiz had an editor go over Arendt’s text to make it read better, to simplify it, to make it more accessible to a film audience. Doing so would be understandable in a fictional film, but it is dishonest in a documentary.Still, we might wish to excuse these changes as minor. Do they change the meaning of what Arendt says? Not materially. And, yet, we should worry about these changes for two reasons. First, the ease and deceptiveness with which Ushpiz has chosen to alter the factual reality of Arendt’s words is a direct refutation of Arendt’s insistence on the need to deal with a complicated and messy reality, whatever it may be. Thinking, for Arendt, is in part the practice of resisting simplification. Ushpiz’s understandable desire to clean up Arendt’s words—the factual reality of what she wrote—violates the very sprit of Hannah Arendt’s work that the film’s subtitle—“The Spirit of Hannah Arendt”—promises to uphold. Second, it turns out that her decision to change the factual record of Arendt’s words and sentences is extensive, shockingly so. After an analysis of the quotations used in the movie, I can say that Ushpiz changes Arendt’s words in every single one of the more than 30 extended quotations. While many of these changes are cosmetic and minor, some are not.” —RB
On the eve of the publication of the new edition of the MLA Handbook, the organizations Associate Executive Director Kathleen Fitzpatrick waxes poetic about the continued importance of citation in the age of the internet: "Tim Parks has argued — and is far from alone in doing so — that the apparatus of scholarly citation is a pointless burden in the age of Google, and that writers should merely incorporate their borrowings, trusting readers’ abilities to track down the originals as needed. Search engines, so the argument goes, can more reliably and seamlessly lead us back to the source of a quotation, or near enough to it. The antiquated system of references scholars employ — hyperlinking avant la lettre — has become less a means of connecting texts and more a stumbling point for readers (and worse, maybe, a pointless roadblock for writers). Why not simply let the webbiness of the web do its work, and leave it at that? One good reason, of course, is the work that the web has already done: the digital textual landscape has produced a proliferation of copies with varying degrees of reliability. And search engines, for all their utility, are not terribly good at discerning distinctions that actually do make a difference. So when a reader searches for a quotation, she is likely to turn up not just the original source of that quotation but also a host of copies, borrowings, and reuses, texts in which that quotation appears but from which it did not originate. Even when the search turns up the proper source, it might not turn up the proper edition of the source, and for scholars, that level of distinction very often matters. In order to ensure that Reader B has every possibility of seeing the same thing in a source text that Reader A saw, B needs to know whether A read the edition of a book published in 1819 or the revised edition published in 1831, or whether A read an article as originally printed in the journal or as it was repackaged for inclusion in a later edited volume. Much like the situation in a laboratory, these variables matter, and so this level of precision in their citation matters. If anything, the reference system provided by a good citation style has come to matter even more in the age of the internet, rather than being rendered obsolete by the seemingly infinite networking and searchability of texts and other cultural resources online."
In the wake of last week's leak of the trove of incriminating documents that has come to be known as the Panama Papers, Brooke Hamilton suggests that legality is the wrong framework to evaluate the extent of the wrongdoing the leak describes: "Anyone reading this article can evade taxes, or even dabble in offshore finance, without expert intervention. With just an Internet connection and a few thousand dollars, anybody can create shell corporations and other offshore vehicles in a matter of minutes. It’s child’s play to dodge taxes, debts, child support, and so on by putting assets in one of those structures—though there is a risk of getting caught, audited, and possibly prosecuted.... But that’s not what many of the world’s richest people are doing: They can afford the privilege of defeating the spirit of the laws without violating them formally. What Mossack Fonseca and its counterparts all over the world really provide is the expertise that allows their clients to stay just on the right side of the law—or far enough into the legal grey zones that the clients have a real chance to prevail if they end up in court. That’s why many of the people who have seemingly been exposed by this leak will likely never face charges of any kind. To the extent that Mossack Fonseca’s work facilitated crime, that was a bug rather than a feature."
Laura Kipnis unpacks the incoherence of our new campus sexual politics as can few others. As Kipnis writes, “The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method. And in that sense, we’re all the victims.” Especially strange is the contradiction between theoretical sophistication around power relations and the crudeness of student complaints about powerlessness. “Everywhere on campuses today you find scholars whose work elaborates sophisticated models of power and agency. It would be hard to overstate the influence, across disciplines, of Michel Foucault, whose signature idea was that power has no permanent address or valence. Yet our workplaces themselves are promulgating the crudest version of top-down power imaginable, recasting the professoriate as Snidely Whiplashes twirling our mustaches and students as helpless damsels tied to railroad tracks. Students lack volition and independent desires of their own; professors are would-be coercers with dastardly plans to corrupt the innocent.” Kipnis skewers the sanctimony of the new governance feminists who would impose a security state of regulations around sexual matters. She takes on the sanctimony of faculty training sessions, the ambiguity around triggers, and the overriding question of how to teach young women to stand up for themselves. Kipnis pleads for a willingness to respect the sexual choices of young adults. “When I was in college, hooking up with professors was more or less part of the curriculum. Admittedly, I went to an art school, and mine was the lucky generation that came of age in that too-brief interregnum after the sexual revolution and before AIDS turned sex into a crime scene replete with perpetrators and victims—back when sex, even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt, fell under the category of life experience. It’s not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes, or act stupidly and inchoately, but it was embarrassing, not traumatizing. As Jane Gallop recalls in Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment (1997), her own generational cri de coeur, sleeping with professors made her feel cocky, not taken advantage of. She admits to seducing more than one of them as a grad student—she wanted to see them naked, she says, as like other men. Lots of smart, ambitious women were doing the same thing, according to her, because it was a way to experience your own power. But somehow power seemed a lot less powerful back then. The gulf between students and faculty wasn’t a shark-filled moat; a misstep wasn’t fatal. We partied together, drank and got high together, slept together. The teachers may have been older and more accomplished, but you didn’t feel they could take advantage of you because of it. How would they? Which isn’t to say that teacher-student relations were guaranteed to turn out well, but then what percentage of romances do? No doubt there were jealousies, sometimes things didn’t go the way you wanted—which was probably good training for the rest of life. It was also an excellent education in not taking power too seriously, and I suspect the less seriously you take it, the more strategies you have for contending with it. It’s the fiction of the all-powerful professor embedded in the new campus codes that appalls me. And the kowtowing to the fiction—kowtowing wrapped in a vaguely feminist air of rectitude. If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.”
Evgeny Mozorov welcomes them: While the financial industry has historically been key to “buying time” and staving off the populist rebellion, in the future that role will be assigned to the technology industry, with a minor role played by the global advertising markets – the very magic wand that allows so many digital services to be offered for free, in exchange for our data. The contours of this new accommodation between governments and industry are already beginning to emerge. Real incomes might be stagnating and the population might no longer want to take any more debt but there is no cause for panic: after all, a growing number of services, from communications to preventive healthcare, are already free. Plus, we have new ways to make our ends meet, mostly by prostituting our free time and other possessions. And the government, as the latest budget reveals, would even be happy to offer tax allowances to such micro-entrepreneurs! Since all this data generated on digital platforms has an immense market value, it can be profitably sold off to fit any holes in the budget – including by governments themselves. Universities, insurance firms, banks: plenty of companies would be happy to buy it. Finally, technology firms – thanks to data they collect – can always position themselves as essential to fighting the terrorist threat. For every Tim Cook fighting the FBI, there’s a Peter Thiel, the famed venture capitalist and the chairman of Palantir, a $20bn machine-learning giant that caters to the defence establishment. In a recent interview, Thiel even boasted that Palantir’s technology had helped thwart terrorist attacks. The grim reality of contemporary politics is not that it’s impossible to imagine how capitalism will end – as the Marxist critic Fredric Jameson once famously put it – but that it’s becoming equally impossible to imagine how it could possibly continue, at least, not in its ideal form, tied, however weakly, to the democratic “polis”. The only solution that seems plausible is by having our political leaders transfer even more responsibility for problem-solving, from matters of welfare to matters of warfare, to Silicon Valley. This might produce immense gains in efficiency but would this also not aggravate the democratic deficit that already plagues our public institutions? Sure, it would – but the crisis of democratic capitalism seems so acute that it has dropped any pretension to being democratic; hence the proliferation of euphemisms to describe the new normal (with Angela Merkel’s “market-conformed democracy” probably being the most popular one).”