Hannah Arendt

Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time. In the opacity of foreign places all specific references to yourself are blurred. It is easy to conquer unhappiness when the general knowledge that you are unhappy is not there to disgrace you, when your unhappiness is not reflected by innumerable mirrors, focused upon you so that it strikes you again and again. It is easy, as long as you are young, to surrender to the pure force if life, which always advises submergence and forgetfulness. It is easy to forget yourself when the reason for all your unhappiness, your “infamous birth,” is not recognized, not observed, not counted.

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3 Responses to Hannah Arendt

  1. shinichi says:

    Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess

    by Hannah Arendt

  2. shinichi says:

    Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time. In the opacity of foreign places all specific references to yourself are blurred. It is easy to conquer unhappiness when the general knowledge that you are unhappy is not there to disgrace you, when your unhappiness is not reflected by innumerable mirrors, focused upon you so that it strikes you again and again. It is easy, as long as you are young, to surrender to the pure force if life, which always advises submergence and forgetfulness. It is easy to forget yourself when the reason for all your unhappiness, your “infamous birth,” is not recognized, not observed, not counted.

    “Foreignness is good”; to submerge, to be no one, to have no name, nothing that serves as a reminder; and thus to experiment, to try out, to see what things can still give pleasure; to avoid blows, to be without pretentions, to lose yourself in all the beautiful things of this world. It is possible to fall in love with so many things: with beautiful vases, beautiful weather, beautiful people. All beauty has power, all things of the world have a character and can be beautiful, “Lovely weather and climate is the most beautiful thing on earth, This is a true good.” Out of a lovely summer day even happiness can emerge, a wholly unexpected happiness for someone who always expected it to come only from human beings. From “people no happiness comes,” Rahel concluded. But falling in love without pretensions held no perils: “He is a Roman, twenty-two, head of a brigand, wounds on his neck and leg, and handsome as a god,” she wrote from Paris to Brinckmann in February 1801. His belonging to the “race of gods” was quite sufficient, and the fact that beside him she did not feel fine at all, but simply “ugly.” For, thank God, he was by no means “extraordinarily spirituel and sensible,” already had an “engagement,” and Rahel could cheerfully “feast on his beauty,” although in one sense that was annoying, “facheux.”

    From abroad, relaxed, without pretensions, it was easier to maintain natural ties. Her brothers and their children became objects of pleasure and concern for her. In the children she most immediately found an innocent counterpart to her own joy in life, a legitimation of her own, hard-won vitality, which was constantly in need of defense. She attached herself to the children as later she attached herself to every scrap of the natural world which remained unaffected by society and personal history; to everything that could not enter into her own life and become part of her own history. “The company of children also has the advantage of having almost nothing human about it; it gives pleasure like a garden-more-leaves one peaceful.” A foreign land, beauty, weather, music and children made life worth living and loving.

    Abroad, having perspective on wishes, hopes, unhappiness and renunciations, Rahel slowly and happily learned the joy of “denying one’s own existence,” the receptivity to enjoy new things without always and obstinately referring them to herself, the freedom to love a person as he was, to have a male friend without making demands upon him. This friend, eight years her junior, was a businessman whom David Veit had recommended to her. He had come from Hamburg, his name was Wilhelm Bokelmann, and he remained in Paris for two months.

    “Until now I loved people only with my own powers; but you I love with yours.” Her spasmodic efforts to understand people had hitherto always been guided by the obsessional desire to measure herself against them, to find herself reflected in them. Here she reached the point of pure acknowledgment: “You deserve so much love.” She submerged herself in this friendship with the much younger man as she had submerged herself in the foreign city, renounced the exercise of her own forces as well as the tormenting concern with herself. In this conduct there was already a trace of insight that the world she did not know (any more than she knew the world into which she had been born), upon which she could make no claims, could be conquered and comprehended if she did not foolishly insist on examining everything solely in order to see whether it guaranteed or denied her own existence; insight that there are differences among men, and that not every encounter is equally a matter of chance. For Bokelmann “calls forth as much love as hitherto I could only give with an effort and by the noblest, finest kind of lying.”

    Still, this had come too early. In this way she would later love Alexander von der Marwitz; in the present case it remained without consequences, for it had come too unexpectedly; “I had no intention of attaining this goal.” It remained merely a gift outside of life, whose course it for a short time pleasantly interrupted. Because this happiness had nothing to do with her unhappiness, she could not demand anything, either of herself or of the man; she could not insist on something’s coming of it. “I demand nothing of you …. And I demand nothing of myself either. Not even that I should love you. Not that I always love you, not faithfulness, nothing!” And therefore she accepted this friendship as she accepted the weather, with the same gratitude and the same intensity of pleasure; in fact she loved him “as a child loves, a happiness … that may be had by anyone … who meets him. I have met him, and who can deprive me of that!” Much as she trusted herself to Bokelmann, she did not permit him to hurt her in any way.

  3. shinichi says:

    The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.

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    Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

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    The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.

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    The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.

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    There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking it-self is dangerous.

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    In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. … Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

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