The Cherry Battle02-13-2012
I won Hannah [Arendt] at the Ball with a comment made while dancing, that loving is that act by which something aposteriori--the by-chance-encountered other is transformed into an apriori of one's own life. --This pretty formula naturally has not been confirmed.
In honor of Valentine's week, we offer this account of Günther Anders courtship of Hannah Arendt. The quotation is taken from Günther Anders book, Die Kirschenschlact: Dialoge mit Hannah Arendt (The Cherry Battle: Dialogues With Hannah Arendt). The Cherry Battle is an extraordinary window into Arendt's early thinking.
I am always wary reading a book of biographical or personal content about Hannah Arendt. Her life is fascinating. I am always on guard against the seductive danger of reading too much of her biography into her work. And wow is this a riveting read.
Anders was Arendt's first husband. A fellow Jew, they met in Martin Heidegger's lecture hall where they both heard lectures on Hegel's Logic and participated in a seminar on Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Arendt, at the time in love with their Professor, had little time for Anders (who went by his family name Günther Stern). Five years later, in 1929, they met again at a masked ball in Berlin, where he spoke the above words to Arendt while dancing.
Arendt and Anders were married not long afterwards and moved to Drewitz (now Potsdam) where they tried to make lives for themselves as independent writers. It was there, on the balcony of the apartment they sublet, that Arendt and Anders would eat bowls upon bowls of cherries.
We sat across from each other on the tiny balcony, between a colossal basket of cherries; on the left and right were empty marmalade jars, for we pitted the black, plump fruit, in order to cook it—what for her was a great joy, like cooking in general, which she mastered even as well as philosophy. We put the pits in one jar, the fruity flesh in the others. And always a few in our mouths—especially [Hannah], for she was just as desirous of cherries as she was of cigarettes...
Aside from Arendt's passion for cherries, there is much to learn from Anders' account of their early conversations. This is true even though the book is a reconstruction, part truth and part fantasy. As he writes, the dialogue itself is real (as is the scene of the cherry battle), but the words themselves are "just as much poetry as truth."
The topic of the dialogue is one that would occupy Arendt and Anders both for much of their lives: "The Irrelevance of Mankind." That is Anders formulation. What comes through in this magical dialogue is the joy in thinking and sparring by two young and gifted thinkers (Arendt was 22-23 at the time, Anders around 30). They punch and counterpunch, Anders taking up the Darwinian and scientific position that man is, in the end, merely one creature among others, not special or particularly relevant in any way. Or, as Arendt asks him, astonished: "You mean we are fully irrelevant? And unknown? And purely busybodies, things with no sense? Metaphysical busybodies?"
Arendt is, in Anders' words, "too Jewish" to concede that human beings were simply "pieces of the world." The world was, and remained for Arendt, "created for mankind."
At one point Anders insists: "we are simply not mature enough to concede the fact of our cosmic irrelevance; that we are too cowardly and possess too little civil courage to learn to accept that which has been that human modesty that follows from Copernicus."
Arendt counters that all species think of themselves as the center of the world, to which Anders parries: the fact that we share a defect with other species does not make us better than they. To be met with what Anders calls Arendt's "winning argument": "Naturally not. But perhaps we are the only species that is conscious of this defect; that at the least has a monopoly on the insight into its non-monopoly position."
We'll have a full review of Die Kirschenschlacht: Dialoge mit Hannah Arendt before long. For now, just think, it is only a few months before the cherries are ripe.