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THEORY AS PERFORMATIVE PEDAGOGY: THREE MASKS OF HANNAH ARENDT. By: Schutz, Aaron, Educational Theory, 00132004, Spring2001, Vol. 51, Issue 2
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Such fundamental and flagrant contradictions [as one finds in Marx] rarely occur in second-rate writers; in the work of the great authors, they lead into the very center of their work.[1]

Over the last decade "an academic cottage industry in Arendt studies" has sprung up in political science departments in the United States and in countries around the world.[2] In fact, some consider Arendt to be the most important political theorist of the twentieth century. With the notable exception of Maxine Greene, however, Arendt has been largely ignored by educational scholars.[3] Recently, this silence has begun to break, with a number of scattered articles and a forthcoming edited book.[4] These new writings, however, tend to focus on the implications of Arendt's ideas for education, exploring issues ranging from democratic education, to diversity in the classroom, to educational authority. This is certainly important work, and I have contributed to it myself, elsewhere.[5] However, in this essay I argue that one of the most important aspects of Arendt's work resides not in its explicit content but instead in its form. As important as what her writings ask us to think, is who they encourage us to be.

As Arendt found in Marx in the epigraph above, so I find at the center of Arendt's rhetorical performances a series of contradictions. And this is as it should be. For to tease out of the myriad threads of her thinking some immaculate crystalline structure of theory would be to misunderstand her most basic convictions about the place of thinking in the world. From Arendt's perspective, the contradictions she discovered in Marx actually showed, not his failure to think clearly, but instead his "integrity in describing phenomena as they presented themselves to his view" (HC, 105).[6] She learned, from her mentor Karl Jaspers, early in her academic career that "the task of philosophy is not to set out a complete system of knowledge and reality, but to engage in the process of illumination and disclosure that often reveals oppositions, contradictions, limits, and boundaries."[7] My central argument is that Arendt developed a crucial model for educational scholars and others who constantly struggle with the gap between practice -- the intricate and unpredictable contingency of acting in the world -- and the often brutal consistency and simplicity of the systems of thought that attempt to capture it.

This essay loosely follows the methodology Arendt herself used in her dissertation on Augustine's concept of neighborly love. In that work, written under Jaspers's direction, when Arendt was in her early twenties, she mapped out three different interrelated and yet opposing conceptualizations of neighborly love that threaded their way through Augustine's writings. She noted in her introduction that "the parallel trains of thought to be shown here defy systematic conjunction. They cannot be joined in antithetical form, unless we wish to impose on Augustine a systematic and logical exactitude he never had."[8] Yet, paradoxically, Arendt was forced to "systematize," if you will, Augustine's thought into three separate thematic units that did not strictly exist in order to show the ways in which his views could not, ultimately, be systematized. In attempting to be true to the complexities of Augustine's thought, Arendt was quite clear that she was "making explicit what Augustine himself has merely implied ... an analysis that attempts to pierce the very recesses not clarified by Augustine himself."[9]

Although she rejected a final synthesis, Arendt was not seeking to promote some kind of meaningless chaos. Instead, she argued that the contradictory threads in Augustine's writings arose out of a shared "base" of concerns that, in an ineradicably complex world, come inexorably "to manifest heterogeneous intentions." Thus, she did not treat these themes as if they emerged in isolation from one another, but instead explored "how [these] different intentions go together and mutually influence one another in one and the same context."[10] From a set of concerns about the world, Augustine, Arendt argued, was inexorably drawn into a series of contradictory answers that were, in their opposition, more true to the world than any consistent system could ever hope to be. Therefore, she said, "we must let the contradictions stand as what they are, make them understood as contradictions, and grasp what lies beneath them."[11]

In this essay I explore not simply themes but what Arendt called "personas" or "masks" that she wore in her writings; they reflect what I understand to be three opposing and yet, for her, inescapable ways of approaching the task of thinking "what we are doing" (HC, 5) in the modern world. She did not explicitly discuss these different masks herself, however. Instead, as she did with Augustine, I have drawn them out of writings in which they are, in fact, inseparably intertwined. While I have sought to be as true as possible to the spirit of her thought, in the end these masks are at least partially conceptual tools of my own construction. Thus, I do not argue that these are the only "masks" that could be drawn from her work, or that someone else would have found the same masks, or that this is the only way to grasp the richness of Arendt's texts. Margaret Canovan, for example, describes aspects of her thought as representing what she calls "thought trains," and elsewhere, Hannah Pitkin teases out a series of paradoxes in Arendt's view of the "social."[12] Taking my cue from Mark Reinhardt's The Art of Being Free, although I have read carefully, I have read "freely."[13]

It is important to note that while I do argue that it is possible to discern at least three different theoretical "selves" jostling for predominance amidst Arendt's writings, I do not think that there were actually three different Arendts. She explained this quite well herself in the last speech she gave before she died, describing the "persona" that one takes on as one speaks in society as a kind of mask one wears, a kind of "role" that is given one by society. These masks, she argued, "are not a permanent fixture annexed to our inner self" but instead are "exchangeable":

It is through this role [or mask], sounding through it, as it were, that something else manifests itself, something entirely idiosyncratic and indefinable and still unmistakably identifiable, so that we are not confused by a sudden change of roles.... [And] when the events for which the mask was designed are over, and I have finished using and abusing my individual rights to sound through the mask, things will snap back again; and I...shall be free...to go through it [the world] in my naked "thisness.'"[14]

The three aspects of Arendt in this essay represent just these kinds of masks: pedagogical roles that she took on in her writings and through which something we can never hope to capture -- Arendt herself? --sounds. In this case, however, these faces were not given to her by "society," but were, to some extent at least, devices of her own creation.

The three personas I call the Storyteller, the Theorist, and the Political Actor. Each modeled a different way of engaging with the world. Each recommended a different ethical stance toward the challenges of the modern era. Each was dissatisfied with -- and in the case of the Political Actor, almost disdainful of -- the other faces. And each pursued a different pedagogical project with respect to her readers. Yet each could not really exist without the others, would have been bereft without her contentious companions.

Ultimately I "let the contradictions stand" between the three, refusing any effort to bring them together in any systematic manner. As Arendt did in her book on Augustine, however, I nonetheless attempt to show how each mask reflects a common set of commitments to a particular vision of what she would call the "human condition." They emerged, as did Augustine's multiple concepts of neighborly love, out of a common "base" of concerns and interacted and affected each other "in one and the same context." Collectively, Arendt's masks grappled with the challenges and conundrums faced by any effort to bridge the gap between lived reality and intellectual understanding. I end by relating Arendt's work to more current writing in education, and by discussing some of the limitations of her particular approach to the challenges she raised.[15]


Arendt, as Storyteller, was convinced that abstract concepts and theories often detach us from the complex contingencies of lived reality. Because they allow us to interpret new situations on the model of those that have come before, they provide a "set of learned or innate rules which we...[can] apply to the particular case as it arises, so that every new experience or situation is already prejudged and we need only to act out whatever we learned or possessed beforehand."[16] She feared that such abstract guidelines are dangerously misleading, however because, in a strict sense no event in the universe is ever a simple repetition -- every situation, context, and experience is unique to one extent or another. Concepts and theories, then, create only an illusion of predictability and pre-understanding in a world in which, in truth, anything can happen.

From the Storyteller's perspective, the modern love of abstractions has "dulled" our "appreciation for what was new and unprecedented, and thus [has] failed to confront...[us] with the task of thinking morally anew in the face of the unprecedented."[17] And this was very much a pedagogical problem for her. She argued, for example, that "it seems to be easier to condition human behavior," to train people to think along set, determined paths "than it is to persuade anyone to learn from experience, that is, to start thinking and judging instead of applying categories and formulas."[18] Increasingly, she worried, we seek out theoretical "banisters" that we think can support us and give us safety amidst the increasingly rapid and unpredictable change of the modern world. Unlike a philosopher who provides readers with general guidelines for living -- preset structures of morality, for example -- the Storyteller rejected conceptual thinking entirely. Instead, she modeled for her audience a mode of world engagement that is responsive to the rich and contingent complexity of lived reality.

It was through Arendt's engagement with the horrors of mid-twentieth century totalitarianism that the Storyteller emerged most fully in her writings. In totalitarianism she felt she was "confronted with something that has destroyed our categories of thought and standards of judgment."[19] She was convinced, therefore, that to approach totalitarianism in the detached mode of a social scientist, engaging in what Seyla Benhabib calls "analogical" thinking -- an "inductive" process "of assembling ever more instances of the same law" -- would "stultify" her audience's "capacity for resistance by making it seem that nothing was new and that everything had always been."[20] Instead, as she instructed her readers in the first preface to her Origins of Totalitarianism, she argued that

comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous, deducing the unprecedented from precedents, or explaining phenomena by such analogies and generalities that the impact of reality and the shock of experience are no longer felt.... Comprehension, in short, means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resisting of, reality --whatever it may be.[21]

In explicit opposition to what she understood to be the usual methodology of social science, then, the Storyteller sought to model in her own process of writing an approach to thinking that would escape the analogical form of conceptual thought. She strove to think entirely anew, "as though nobody had thought before."[22]

Arendt met this challenge in Origins by developing a form of storytelling that invited readers to "to look upon the same world from another's standpoint, to see the same in very different and frequently opposing aspects."[23] As Lisa Disch argues, in Origins and elsewhere the Storyteller created multiperspectival narratives that could "represent a dilemma as contingent and unprecedented," positioning her "audience to think from within that dilemma." Instead of providing conclusions to her readers, the Storyteller invited her readers to engage with her "in the kind of situated critical thinking that is necessary when we are called upon, in Arendt's words, to think 'without banisters.'"[24] In fact, Arendt's efforts as a Storyteller to present different perspectives fairly to her readers were sometimes so "successful" that they could incite vehement critique. As Benhabib notes, for example, "according to some commentators, Arendt...excelled in this art of representation to such an extent that she was more successful in capturing the mind of the anti-Semite than of the Jew, of the white Boer settlers than of African natives."[25] By attempting to represent fully the perspectives of even those she abhorred, however, the Storyteller sought to dissolve our complacent commitment to a simplistic and abstract set of moral rules, complicating simple ideas of "good" and "bad" that make it easy for people to dodge the difficult work of active, contingent, engaged judgment. She sought to bring "to light the incongruity between reality and the abstract concepts that we hold."[26]

In storytelling, Arendt refused the stance of "objectivity" that she argued was required of those, like philosophers and social scientists, who would produce robust, universal theory. Instead of acting as if she were writing from some neutral "Archimedian point from which...[reality] can be comprehended," the Storyteller spoke from where she was. As Benhabib notes, "historical understanding [for Arendt] could never be the mere reproduction of the standpoint of past historical actors; to pretend that historical understanding amounted to complete empathy was an act of bad faith which served to disguise the standpoint of the narrator or the historian."[27] Instead, Arendt argued that "this process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else,...but [involves]...being and thinking in my own identity where actually I am not" (BPF, 241). She accepted, as Benhabib notes, that "all historical writing is implicitly a history of the present," writing, as Arendt said in The Human Condition, "from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears" (see also HC, 5).[28] The Storyteller sought "to recreate from the evidence available a new concept, a new narrative, a new perspective."[29]

The Storyteller's process of historical understanding was modeled on Arendt's most cherished political form, what she called a "public space." In a public space, as Arendt understood it, a group of unique actors joins together around a set of objects or issues that concerns them all. Each member listens to the perspectives of other participants, taking these "into account" as she formulates her own opinion. Because Arendt believed that all human beings are fundamentally unique, with a unique biography of experiences, however, complete consensus is never achieved in this process; each participant maintains her own distinctiveness, interpreting and responding to each others' contributions in unique ways. Out of these many different, often shifting opinions, coalesces a kind of "space" in which each participant "appears" in a unique location with respect to the common issue or project. In a public space of this kind, Arendt argued, individuals can work together "in concert," participating in a collective effort in which each member remains a distinctive and unpredictable agent in her own right. Because each participant contributes something unique to the shared undertaking, such spaces generate enormous and creative, if completely unpredictable, power.[30]

Arendt feared, however, that public spaces were rapidly disappearing in the modern world and that people were increasingly becoming absorbed into the limited and often banal roles or masks provided for them by "society."[31] By imaginatively creating a realm of multiple perspectives in her writings, then, the Storyteller generated a quasi-political realm, a kind of "public space," for her readers to enter. Thus, there is an irreducibly political aspect of the Storyteller's approach to historical understanding -- for, as I have noted, action in a public space always requires an actor to take the opinions of other participants into account. By allowing her readers to follow her through the different perspectives she recreated for them, the Storyteller gave them an opportunity to engage in this activity of public judgment, giving them practice in forming "an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints." The realms created by the Storyteller were only quasi-publics, however, because since they were created after a particular event had run its course they positioned readers more into the cool, distant, measured role of a spectator than in the contingent, shifting heat of the moment faced by the actor. The spectator does not engage with the voices of those who are present, but instead makes "present" by imagination "the standpoints of those who are absent" (BPF, 241).[32] Further, as I note below, often the perspectives presented by the Storyteller were collective perspectives coalesced out of an era, whereas a true public space, in her vision, reveals the uniqueness of every individual.

Faced with the unthinkable, holocausts before which old cherished ways of thinking and long established patterns of morality had utterly failed, Arendt developed a process of engagement that moved beyond what, as Storyteller, she increasingly saw as bankrupt abstractions. And it was ultimately more important to her that readers grasp this process than it was that they accept any particular interpretation or reconstructed perspective she happened to arrive at. Through storytelling, she sought to teach her readers "to see as she does, not what she does, affording them the 'intoxicating' experience of seeing from multiple perspectives but leaving them with the responsibility to undertake the critical task of interpretation for themselves."[33] Only by encouraging her readers to think and judge contingently for themselves could the Storyteller hope to teach them without thereby leading them astray into yet another abstract theoretical structure of concepts that would only hamper and mislead them in tomorrows that the Storyteller could not, herself, hope to foresee.


For Arendt the Theorist, stories were not enough[34] While she was sympathetic to the arguments of the Storyteller, the Theorist was convinced that the Storyteller's solution was simply unrealistic. Despite their dangers, the Theorist argued that "the human mind stands in need of concepts if it is to function at all.' Without conceptual tools, she worried that people would "accept almost anything whenever...[their] foremost task, the comprehensive understanding of reality...is in danger of being compromised."[35] If they were forced to tell stories about every decision, every momentary thought, every obstacle they faced, humans would, she feared, soon find themselves unable to act at all.

In fact, without concepts, the Theorist argued, we would not even be able to retain the past, to build upon what we have learned through experience. "If it is true that all thought begins with remembrance," Arendt argued,

it is also true that no remembrance remains secure unless it is condensed and distilled into a framework of conceptual notions.... Experiences and even the stories which grow out of what men do and endure, of happenings and events, sink back into the futility inherent in the living word and living deed unless they are talked about over and over again. What saves the affairs of mortal men from their inherent futility is nothing but this incessant talk about them, which in its turn remains futile unless certain concepts, certain guideposts for future remembrance, and even for sheer reference, arise out of it.[36] The evanescent actions of persons, the endless contingent happenings of lived reality, the hopes and sorrows of generations, all are constantly in danger of being lost, and it is simply impossible that all of these stories might be kept alive and spoken about by those who remain and who are constantly newly born into the world. Only by condensing these experiences constantly into ideas can we construct guideposts, however limited, to our pasts.

Like the Storyteller, however, the Theorist denied she was a philosopher in search of universal rules. The Theorist believed that ideas always emerge in the midst of human history, as the result of efforts to grapple with the contingent problems of particular times and contexts. Unlike stories which seek to embody the myriad complexities of particular situations are carefully mapped out, however, theories summarize and encapsulate, precipitating generalizations out of the multiplicity of experience. Even though it wasn't the goal of the Storyteller, then, the activity of the Theorist ultimately remained dependent upon the Storyteller's narratives. It was from stories that the Theorist coalesced what she called "ideal types." "Actually we all do that," the Theorist argued in opposition to the Storyteller, "we think through a certain set of historical facts, and speeches, and what have you, through, until it becomes some type of consistent rule."[37] Thus, while the Storyteller was always working to preserve plurality, the Theorist often collapsed it in favor of broadly encompassing generalizations.

The Theorist, then, was not searching for single answers or the final truth to any question. In terms of the idea of the political, for example, the Theorist found multiple kinds of what she called "public spaces" in the past, forms drawn from the lives of the Greeks, the Romans, craftsmen in the exchange market, and elsewhere.[38] She showed with many different examples the myriad ways in which this idea of a space of plurality might play out in different contexts. In fact, the Theorist admitted that the "public," as a more general model, was an extremely precarious and problematic approach to political action, constantly threatening to collapse into banal solidarity or a splintered collection of unique persons with nothing in common.[39] Thus, she explored, as a matter of course, other fundamentally different models of politics as well. For example, she discussed Rousseau's very different political vision in some detail, noting that in contrast to public spaces, in which participants join together around a common project, he

took his cue from the common experience that two conflicting interests will bind themselves together when they are confronted by a third that equally opposes them both. Politically speaking, he presupposed the existence and relied upon the unifying power of the common national enemy.[40]

Rousseau's vision of politics thus contrasts directly with that of the public in that his "multitude" gives up their individually distinctive identities in the face of a common enemy to create a unanimous collective will, a will that "must indeed be one and indivisible," whereas in a public space actors retain their distinctiveness.[41] While, implicitly at least, both the Storyteller, through her commitment to a form of narrative based on the model of the public, and the Political Actor, through the form of her action, were committed to the "public" as the only authentic form of human politics, then, the Theorist showed the "public" to be only one of a potentially vast number of different ways to conceptualize the political.

The Theorist agreed with the Storyteller that it was dangerous to use conceptual tools drawn from the past -- like the different models of the political -- in the present, since they were created to address events and situations that no longer existed. But instead of rejecting such tools outright, the Theorist argued that what one needed to do was to trace "them back to their roots in experience."[42] Abstractions could be useful only to the extent to which they remained connected to the experiences, the stories, that gave them meaning. For example, Arendt argued that the framers of the American Constitution ran into trouble because they based much of their work on theories developed by Europeans without understanding that once these "had crossed the Atlantic, [they] lost their basis of reality."[43] From the perspective of the Theorist, the framers were led astray both because they did not develop their own concepts out of their own particular experiences of politics, and because they did not understand where the European theories had come from -- they had no sense either of the problems they were developed to solve nor of the contexts in which they were meant to operate.

Simply understanding the provenance of ideas and theories is not enough, however. This only provides actors with the information they need to adapt these tools to serve the particular challenges that arise in the specific situations in which they find themselves. If they are to be relevant to the needs of a contingent present and not simply misleading -- they must be transformed from their original forms and given new meanings -- an activity that requires the creativity of actual agents. And one can never know beforehand which of the myriad of possible conceptual resources will be useful at any time. Thus, despite similarities to the activity of social scientists, the Theorist, like the Storyteller, rejected what she saw as simplistic analogical thinking, remaining always open to the "impact of reality and the shock of experience."[44]

Like the Storyteller, then, the Theorist sought to provide readers not with simple answers, but with always problematic tools that required the thoughtful and imaginative intervention of her audience if they were to be useful at all. In the end, as with the Storyteller, the particular story/theory complexes the Theorist constructed in her different books were less important to her than the process by which these complexes were developed. By walking her readers, again and again, through her methodology of tracing ideas back to their source, and by showing them how she developed new ideas of her own from the experiences she examined, the Theorist sought to teach her audience how to become Theorists themselves.


As a Political Actor, Arendt had little time for the timidity she perceived in the Storyteller and even the Theorist. They had hobbled themselves, the Political Actor believed, in their effort to face up to their limitations. It was not the reasoning behind each of their stances that the Political Actor disagreed with, however, but instead the strategies they had developed in response. Through their over-attentiveness to the challenges of the contingent and multi-perspectival nature of reality, the Political Actor argued, they ended up not only glossing the pressing needs of the world they actually lived in, but actually disrespected the capacities and intelligence of their readers.

A crucial model for the Political Actor appears to have been the eighteenth-century writer, Gotthold Lessing. Like Arendt, Lessing wrote in a time when there were few "public" spaces where people, as distinctive agents, might join together around shared projects. Instead, at the beginnings of the modern world, much as in Arendt's own time, people moved in a realm largely defined by what Arendt called "society" or the "social," which unlike the public "expects from each of its members a kind of behavior, imposing innumerable and various rules, all of which tend to 'normalize' its members, to make them behave, to exclude spontaneous action" (HC, 40).[45] Without public spaces, individuals could not "appear" in unique positions with respect to each other, but instead were (at best) provided with "masks" to wear, roles that were defined for them by the larger society.

Even though there was no public space, however, Lessing wrote as if he operated within one. Instead of simply accepting the masks society made available for him, Arendt argued that he developed an identity for himself as a quintessential proto-public actor.[46] Despite the constraints of "society," Lessing brought his own perspective into relation with the other opinions resident at any moment in his environment, constructing for himself, as the Storyteller did, a phantom public sphere in which he might participate as a public actor. Because he listened carefully to these other "perspectives," Lessing's always extremely partisan opinion, "polemical to the point of contentiousness," had "nothing whatsoever to do with [isolated] subjectivity because it is always framed not in terms of the self but in terms of the relationship of men to their world, in terms of their positions and opinions."[47] It was in part because he took these other opinions into account as he formed his own conclusions that Arendt argued that "Lessing was a completely political person...[insisting] that truth can exist only where it is humanized by discourse, only where each man says not just what occurs to him at the moment, but what he 'deems truth.'"[48]

By drawing on Lessing's model, the Political Actor, like the Theorist and the Storyteller, repudiated the approaches of social scientists. With Lessing, the Political Actor sought to preserve a form of freedom that was "endangered by those," like social scientists, "who wanted to 'compel faith by proofs.'" Instead, the Political Actor "was glad for the sake of the infinite number of opinions that arise when men discuss the affairs of this world."[49] In her efforts to preserve the multiple spaces of the public, the Political Actor was willing to sacrifice even "the axiom of non-contradiction, the claim to self-consistency" in her presentations of the "truth."[50] It was more important to assess the current needs of the world than to keep one's statements in logical and rational relation to each other.[51]

Unlike the Storyteller and the Theorist, who strove for relative neutrality in their interpretations, the Political Actor rejected neutrality as both unachievable and unethical. "The natural reaction to such conditions," like poverty, she argued,

is one of anger and indignation because these conditions are against the dignity of man. If I describe these conditions without permitting my indignation to interfere, I have lifted this particular phenomenon out of its context in human society and have thereby robbed it of part of its nature....For to arouse indignation is one of the qualities of excessive poverty as poverty occurs among human beings.[52]

For example, in the face of the evil represented by the Nazi death camps, the Political Actor argued, in direct repudiation of the Storyteller's efforts to be completely "fair" to all, that "a description of the [concentration] camps as hell on earth is more 'objective,' that is, more adequate to their essence than statements of a purely sociological or psychological nature."[53] To be a historian, the Political Actor declared, is not just about creating public spaces; it requires that one respond. To the Political Actor, the angry commitment of the partisan was always immeasurably preferable to the smug, complacent metaphysics of the isolated philosopher, the simplistic analogies of the social scientist, the abstracting syntheses of the Theorist, or the almost relativistic narratives of the Storyteller.

The declarations of the Political Actor were invariably responsive to the demands she perceived in her historical moment. In contrast with the wishy-washy multiple perspectives of the Storyteller, the Political Actor bluntly accused the German Left in 1970 of dodging "all matters that are real and involve direct responsibility," and of indulging "in such theoretical nonsense that it cannot see what is in front of its nose."[54] Whereas the Storyteller was "not of the opinion that one can learn much from history," because things are always changing, the Political Actor spoke almost imperially from her own experience.[55] When asked about the student protest movement, for example, the Political Actor declared that "I welcome some goals of the movement...toward others I take a neutral attitude, and some I consider dangerous nonsense."[56] It was in a world in which public spaces were rapidly disappearing that she argued, in opposition to the Theorist, that the model of the public represented "the elementary grammar of political action."[57]

It is impossible to know how the Political Actor would have responded had she lived in a time she perceived to be rife not with bureaucracy and banality, but instead with an over-proliferation of unpredictable public spaces.[58] Yet, I think we can trust that, like Lessing, she would have taken "sides for the world's sake, understanding and judging everything in terms of its position in the world at any given time."[59]

Unlike the Storyteller and Theorist, who sought to guide their readers into particular ways of thinking and acting, the Political Actor rejected the role of the "teacher" entirely. The "road of the theoretician who tells his students what to think and how to act," the Political Actor declared, "is...my God! These are adults! We are not in the nursery!...I wouldn't instruct you...and I would think this would be presumptuous of me."[60] Instead of nudging her audience toward particular ways of thinking, the Political Actor simply declared her opinion, making her perspective known. It was up to her readers to respond. The Political Actor treated her audience as capable actors in their own right. "I cannot," she said, "tell you black on white -and would hate to do it -- what the consequences of this kind of thought which I try, not to indoctrinate, but to rouse or to awaken in my students, are, in actual politics."[61] She provoked her readers into participation with her, hoping they might, together, create a new public space.

Taking on the role of a Political Actor required a great deal of courage from Arendt. She acknowledged that "nobody knows whom he reveals when he discloses himself in deed or word" when one emerges into the public; if she wished to act, she had to be "willing to risk the disclosure" (HC, 180). Arendt faced this reality perhaps most fully in the storm of protest that arose around her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, her detractors accusing her -- in part -- of blaming the Jews for their own mass destruction in Nazi Germany. An interviewer during that time acknowledged that Arendt had not directly, as she said, "reproach[ed] the Jewish people with nonresistance," but pointed out that "some of the criticisms made of you are based on the tone in which many passages are written." While she defended her stylistic choices, in the end Arendt called this an "objection against me personally." "What is one to do?" she asked, "I cannot say to people: You misunderstand me, and in truth this or that is going on in my heart. That's ridiculous."[62] She "willingly" accepted that others would see her in ways, often extremely repugnant ways, that she could not control. As she noted in her earlier writings, while one may try to persuade others, one's audience in a public space will invariably interpret one's statements through the lens of their own history of experiences, from the perspective of their own commitments, beliefs, and fears.

Furthermore, Arendt knew that

Since action acts upon beings who are capable of their own actions, reaction, apart from being a response, is always a new action that strikes out on its own and affects others. Thus action and reaction...can never be reliably confined to two partners....the smallest act in the most limited circumstances bears the seeds of the same boundlessness, because one deed, and sometimes one word, suffices to change every constellation (HC, 190).

In public, she warned, then, "to do and suffer are like opposite sides of the same coin, and the story that an act starts is composed of its consequent deeds and sufferings" (HC, 190). She fully understood that tragedy is an integral and inescapable aspect of public action, that "he who acts never quite knows what he is doing,...[and] always becomes 'guilty' of consequences he never intended or even foresaw" (HC, 233).

Despite her disagreements with the other two masks, however, the Political Actor contributed to them something that they could not contribute themselves. The Storyteller developed stories that required the judgment of the reader; the Theorist created theories that needed to be adapted and transformed to meet the needs of the present. But only the Political Actor manifested the risky leap into uncertainty that judgment and application require. Unlike the Storyteller and the Theorist, however, the Political Actor could provide no model for her readers to follow, no methodology, no well-traveled path to guide them. "When the chips are down,' she argued, no matter how much thinking one engages in, no matter how many perspectives one consults, there comes a time when one must simply act. From the Political Actor, on this issue, came only an example of courage, the tragic embodiment of someone who did not refuse the call of the world.


The activity of presenting multiple perspectives, each of which always, to one extent or another, implies a different way of being in the world, represented for Arendt not simply intellectual honesty but also a kind of ethical action. By developing different and contradictory, if also somewhat complementary, modes of conceptualizing and engaging with the world in the performance of her writing, Arendt took a stand against multiple forms of what we might loosely call "totalitarian" theory.

Arendt's work explored the limits encountered by any effort toward a comprehensive understanding of even the smallest aspects of the world. She argued that in the modern (and certainly in a postmodern) age we have lost any thread of tradition to guide our interpretations. The documents and other cultural artifacts of our world, these remnants of even the most recent events and experiences, are not self-interpreting; they require us to make meaning from them. For, "in order to become worldly,...[experience] must first be...transformed, reified as it were, into things -into sayings of poetry, the written page..., into paintings and sculpture, into all sorts of records," and more, materializations that are "paid for in that always the 'dead letter' replaces something that grew out of and for a fleeting moment indeed existed as the 'living spirit'" (HC, 95). In a world without any established framework for interpreting our artifactual present, we must "discover the past for ourselves -- that is, read its authors," through the things they have produced "as though nobody had ever read them before" (BPF, 204). We must read them, as she did in all three of her personas, from "the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears" (HC, 5). The actions of the Storyteller, the Theorist, the Political Actor, or of any of an infinite number of possible approaches, creatively breathed life back into the "dead letters" that had come to them from the past.

In a world without authoritative guides, no single interpretation can stand as the "truth." In fact, from Arendt's perspective(s), any single perspective both reveals and conceals at the same time. Drawing an analogy from Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Arendt noted that in "historiography," for example, when "we concentrate on one thing...everything else is blurred. We ask certain questions and therefore can obtain only certain answers."[63] Our world, she repeatedly emphasized, is simply too complex and multifaceted to be captured by a single point of view -an idea inherent, for example, in her vision of public space. All ways of seeing are necessarily partial, not just in terms of the unique perspectives of individuals in a public space, but in the different approaches a scholar can take toward making sense in her inquiries. The perspective of the Storyteller is a good example, since, as I noted, it often involves problematically collapsing the myriad views of individuals into collective perspectives on an era. I have done the same with Arendt's work myself, flattening the fluid complexity of her writings, to some extent, in order to grasp an aspect of what I understand to be her larger project. In fact, Arendt once said that her book of essays, Between Past and Future, was "the best of her books" because, as Elizabeth Young-Bruehl notes, it "was...not systematic."[64] As Arendt said in the book's preface, she did not mean the essays to represent efforts to find some truth; instead, they were "exercises" in "thinking" that were "least of all" meant to "retie the broken thread of tradition" (BPF, 14).[65]

Efforts to engage in particular modes of perception, to promote (or, in the case of totalitarianism, for example, to enforce) one mode or another, she argued, could have grave consequences for the world. In fact, she argued that reality itself only appears to us "where things can be seen by many in a variety of aspects" (HC, 57).[66] For example, she argued that the lack of multiple perspectives in a community brings with it a "noticeable increase in superstition and gullibility" as individuals lose their sense of the contingent, complex, and often contradictory nature of the world that they live in (HC, 209). Furthermore, every way of conceptualizing the world embodies an approach not only for asking questions but also for acting. She feared, for example, that the proliferation of statistical thinking during her time was increasingly destroying not only our ability to see contingency and unpredictable agency in the world, but our very ability to engage with the world as unique and unpredictable actors. The rules of statistics, she feared, "could achieve a scientific character only when men had become social beings and unanimously followed certain patterns of behavior, so that those who did not keep the rules could be considered to be asocial or abnormal" (HC, 42). Thus she argued that "statistical uniformity is by no means a harmless scientific ideal" because she believed it was "the no longer secret political ideal of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine of everyday living, is at peace with the scientific outlook inherent in its very existence" (HC, 43).[67]

Arendt's project fits with current efforts by some scholars in education (drawing from many outside of education) to complicate dominant approaches to theory construction and understanding.[68] In her essay, "Epistemology and Educational Research," for example, Maxine Greene looks to a range of postmodern, feminist, pragmatist, and other writings, noting that the coherent, logical requirements of what is most commonly understood as the language of "research" flattens our view of the world and makes it impossible to understand from perspectives that do not count as "rational" in this limited way. By opening themselves to other ways of understanding, Greene notes, "at the very least, researchers may see themselves taking a new slant on things, and unexpected vistas may open before them, unexpected dimensions of a problem revealed."[69] She argues that we must nurture our "capacity to imagine, to break with the actual and the everyday" through imagination. At the same time, with Arendt, she promotes the importance of moving "beyond desire and even play toward responsibility."[70]

Caroline Clark, Roberta J. Herter, and Pamela A. Moss also grapple with the idea of theory, responding to a critique of an article on researcher-teacher collaboration that they wrote with a number of colleagues. They note that Vera John-Steiner, Robert J. Weber, and Michele Minnis ask them to integrate "multiple models of collaboration" in their earlier essay into a single theoretical "framework."[71] Clark, Herter, and Moss argue, however, that "the expectation of a unified and coherent approach to theory, typical of journals such as this one, is an expectation that our original article attempted to 'trouble.'"[72] They note that their original paper, presented in the form of a multivocal "readers-theater," sought to maintain the multiple perspectives that emerged from multiple individuals and contexts, privileging "individual voices and the multiple theories they represented and thereby to illuminate taken-for-granted practices of representation."[73] In fact, in agreement with Arendt, in their original article they approvingly cite Elliot Eisner, who notes that "theory not only reveals, it conceals.... The visions that we secure from the theoretical potholes through which we peer also obscure those aspects of the territory they foreclose. And foreclose they do."[74]

Arendt's writings, as I have described them here, complement this and other work that seeks to contest what I would argue is the still dominant approach to theory in the field of education. As Richard Bernstein notes, Western theory (seen by many as a largely white, male and privileged form) tends "to privilege and valorize unity, harmony, totality and thereby to denigrate, suppress, or marginalize multiplicity, contingency, particularity, singularity."[75] In fact, it is interesting to note an experiment conducted by Kaiping Peng and Richard E. Nisbett, who compared the responses of a group of white American and Chinese college students to contradictory proverbs and propositions. They found that Chinese participants were much more comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction. "Furthermore," Peng and Nisbett noted, "when two apparently contradictory propositions were presented, American participants polarized their views, and Chinese participants were moderately accepting of both propositions."[76] Yet many feminists and scholars of color, among others, report that their lived experience in the world is one of contradictions. As Joan Wallach Scott notes, she has "only paradoxes to offer."[77] Arendt's performative vision represents an important contribution to a larger effort to contest and transform an apparently dominant Western tendency to seek single truths and to marginalize other ways of seeing.


Each of the personas I have described in Arendt's writings was associated with a distinct pedagogical approach, as each pursued her own educational goals and developed her own unique relationship with her readers. The Storyteller sought to engage her readers in her stories, providing conditions in which they might engage in judgment, while at the same time working to initiate her audience into the activity of story creation itself. The Storyteller did not trust her readers, however, with potentially dangerous concepts and ideas, and feared the loss of complexity and multiplicity that these inevitably entail. In contrast, the Theorist had faith in the ability of her readers to understand the subtle limitations of theories, and argued that despite their dangers, human society could not exist without them. Thus, she provided readers with conceptual tools linked to historical sources while modeling the activity of theorizing. Finally, the Political Actor rejected the stance of a teacher. Instead of providing a framework for interpretation like the other two, the Political Actor sought to provoke a response from her readers by presenting her own opinions. The Political Actor took on the role of an educator, nonetheless, by courageously embodying her own commitment to a particular vision of the political.

In all of her personas, then, Arendt modeled different ways of engaging with the world. In fact, she argued that writing like hers "can become 'practical' and inspire action without violating the rules of the political realm only when it manages to become manifest in the guise of an example" (BPF, 247-48).[78] By setting an example, even in her more teacherly Storyteller or Theorist personas, she opened the possibility for others to appropriate her ideas and approaches, provoking them to think for themselves through the complexity of her multiple examples rather than leading them to a single way of seeing through the static clarity of an abstract idea. Such complex and multifaceted examples, she argued, "teach or persuade by inspiration" laying open a "field of imagination...to our use" (BPF, 248).[79]

And because she believed, in all her personas, that to be human is to be in and of the world, her writings modeled, I would argue, the ways in which authentically responding to the dilemmas and contradictions of our environment requires us to take them into our very identities.[80] "Wholeness," as it were, required for her a complex fragmentation of her self -- not, as Elizabeth Ellsworth and Janet L. Miller note, "for the purpose of endlessly deferring meaning" in the manner of some recent readers of postmodernism, for example, but instead because such multiplicity is a "resource" for engaging practically, concretely, and ethically with the world.[81]

The extent to which she approached her writing as a fundamentally pedagogical (if not always teacherly) task is indicated by the ways her writing personas resembled the stances she took as a classroom teacher. Two of her graduate students noted, for example, how she often sought in class, like the Storyteller, to present "the greatest variety of perspectives that could be brought to bear on an issue."[82] At the same time, she would discuss, in the manner of the Theorist, how ideas "grow out of our everyday experience and they are its conceptualization" showing her students that "understanding an idea required discovering the concrete experiences out of which it arose and to which it referred."[83] Finally, she was not adverse to stating her own opinion, to emerging before them as a Political Actor. And as in her writing, in class she maintained a precarious balance between these different stances. So even though "she held strong views, defended them vigorously, and never liked to be wrong," and although "when challenged she could become impatient and testy," she nonetheless "succeeded" with her students "in the difficult art of saying something definite taking a stand so to speak -- and yet preserving an atmosphere of openness." In fact, her students noted the ways in which, as in her writings, as a teacher Arendt often undermined her own declarations, presenting alternatives to her own opinions "with such passion and clarity that they could seldom be entirely dismissed."[84]

Some recent work by educational scholars argues that the activity of teaching (and often education more broadly) is fundamentally and ineradicably rife with such tensions. Nicholas Burbules, for example, argues for what he calls a "tragic perspective" on education that, like Arendt, while it does not abandon all hope, is

tempered by an awareness of the contradictory character of what we might count as "success," an understanding that gains can always be seen also as losses, and an appreciation that certain educational goals and purposes can be obtained only at the cost of others.[85]

Similarly, Magdalene Lampert, examining examples of teachers grappling with dilemmas in elementary classrooms, argues that as a "teacher considers alternative solutions to any particular problem, she cannot hope to arrive at the 'right' alternative."[86] And with Arendt, Burbules and Lampert show that these conflicts do not only reside in the world outside, but involve, as Burbules notes, "a deep, intractable contradiction between competing aims and values.... What we do not know how to reconcile are dimensions of our own beliefs and motivations."[87] Such conflicts, Lampert notes, are fundamentally about one's "identity" and she argues that "working out an identity" for a particular situation is "an essential tool for getting...work done" as a teacher.[88]

Burbules and Lampert recommend somewhat different responses to conundrums like these. Lampert, perhaps because she focuses on elementary classrooms, appears to argue that teachers should seek ways to cover over or "manage" these dilemmas, so that they do not upset the smooth functioning of the classroom. In contrast, Burbules recommends a range of ways for keeping "the tension alive," exploring different "narrative tropes" that "can lend to this sense of dilemma a certain attitude or tone that makes it livable."[89] He argues that teachers should share their "doubt," about subjects for study, for example, "with our partners in teaching and learning," a stance that "draws our tendencies as teachers into more provisional, tentative postures."[90] Arendt is closer to Burbules in her approach, both presenting particular ways of engaging with the world in clarity and with force, while at the same time undermining these declarations through the tensions and contradictions created by the appearances of her multiple masks.

And like Arendt, the educational scholars cited here and in the previous section are often engaged in a project of performative pedagogy through the form of their writing itself. Lampert, for example, brings her readers into the dilemmas she faces herself, opening the possibility that these readers might respond to these dilemmas differently than she or her colleague did, and explicitly noting that one's answer depends upon who one is as a particular person. For her part, Greene models in her writing her own struggles to imagine the world differently, while also bringing in a range of metaphorical and artistic works, seeking to nurture her audience's capacity for imagination instead of attempting to enforce a single interpretation. And Clark, et al., in their original "reader's theater" article, sought to model for their readers another approach to preserving a multivocal set of perspectives on the world, experimenting with "a form [that] allows each of us to tell the story of the many truths of collaboration."[91]

The multiplicity of these different efforts is crucial. No single approach can hope to stand as the "answer" to the problem of what Burbules calls the "tragic" nature of education, and what might be seen as the inherently ungraspable nature of the world in which we live. Again, Arendt is a fellow traveler with these scholars in her efforts to acknowledge the inherent tensions of education and teaching, contributing her own particular and idiosyncratic strategies and commitments. It is crucial to seek out and explore in detail approaches like Arendt's that we might add to our repertoire of ways to engage ethically with the inescapable dilemmas inherent in efforts to educate. Further, examinations of the pedagogies of theory implicit or explicit in different works can provide new ways for us to "trouble" often taken-for-granted approaches to academic writing and to the construction of relations with audiences.[92]


Although I have noted that Arendt's particular approach to the ethics of world engagement and the pedagogy of writing is only one of many, it is nonetheless important to note some particular limitations of her vision. It is not enough simply to acknowledge that there are different ways to respond to these challenges, because each approach represents not simply a free choice, but emerges out of each person's history of experiences.

In fact, Arendt often seemed to speak from the position of a disembodied academic, writing as if she were no more than a biography, a thing of pure, if distinctive, mind. The marks of her body in society were generally left behind as she entered this life of the mind. As Joan Landes notes, examining Arendt's discussion of the French Revolution in On Revolution, "Arendt...evades the dilemmas posed for a philosophy of freedom by the presence of embodied subjectivity."[93]

There is an important exception to this: Arendt's discussions of her and others' placement in at least one inescapable social position -- that of a Jew. In her early work, she grappled with the terrible contradictions inherent in being categorized in this way, exploring different avenues through which Jews might respond.[94] However, this issue increasingly became submerged in her work, and she rarely acknowledged any of her other positionings with any force.[95] For example, as many feminists have pointed out, Arendt appeared to treat gender issues as largely irrelevant to her (even seeming at moments to accept her "othering" as a woman). Lisa Disch complains that "in the wake of more than two decades of feminist analysis of how constructions of gender play into social relations of domination, such a refusal [to acknowledge the public relevance of her womanhood] is nothing less than an affirmation of the class, ethnic, and heterosexual privileges with which gender is complicit."[96]

Hannah Pitkin is not the first to note that Arendt grew up as a "middle-class, urban German" Jew, like many, "assimilated, though aware of her Jewishness," something that only later during the Nazi era became a central issue for her.[97] While I am leery of psychologizing her, it seems clear that Arendt's early experience was one of relative privilege, despite whatever challenges she faced. Although Arendt appeared to wish to write from a position of neutrality -- partisan in the sense that it is her unique perspective, but without bias or social interest -- in fact it is reasonable to think that her writings would be influenced by such privilege. The more privilege one has, however, the easier it is to ignore the ways in which one cannot act unburdened by one's social positioning. All doors are not open to anyone, of course; but with enough privilege, it can begin to seem as if they are. The creation of new identities, from this perspective, can seem almost effortless, limited only by the imagination of the thinker who seeks to engage with the world. While she understood that one cannot simply erase identities like that of "Jew," then, at points she seemed convinced that this was only a problem of "society," and despite occasional comments to the contrary, her later writings often implied that the solution to the challenge of normalization of this kind was through escaping to publics in which individuals and ideas might engage with each other in their unencumbered uniqueness.[98]

It is instructive to note, then, differences between Arendt's writings and those of another scholar who has grappled with many similar challenges of world engagement, Patricia J. Williams. (I focus here on Ellsworth and Miller's careful reading of Williams's Alchemy of Race and Rights.) Similar to Arendt's struggle with philosophers and social scientists, Williams's work resists simple visions of reason and logic in the law, describing these as "rather like the 'old math': static, stable, formal -rationalism walled against chaos."[99] With Arendt, Williams believes that "exclusive categories and definitional polarities" and the belief of legal scholars in "transcendent, acontextual, universal legal truths or pure procedures" ignore the contingency of real situations and the complexity of real individuals.[100] Further like Arendt, it is at least in part in the multiplicity of her own selfhood that Williams finds a set of tools for undermining this transcendent, decontextualized system.

In contrast to Arendt, however, Williams invariably speaks from within and between her socially determined identities, responding to the world from the position of what she calls an "oxymoron." She notes that "I am a commercial lawyer as well as a teacher of contract and property law. I am also black and female, a status that one of my former employers described as being 'at oxymoronic odds' with that of a commercial lawyer."[101] Unlike Arendt, Ellsworth and Miller argue that "as an 'oxymoron,'...pure identity categories are not only closed off to her [Williams], they are used to render her as other."[102] Instead of acting as if she can simply generate new positions for herself by fiat, ignoring those in which she has been placed and the workings of power in day-to-day life, Williams struggles in her writings against efforts to trap her in monolithic identities, exploring and "working," in Ellsworth and Miller's term, with the myriad ways in which she is socially positioned within particular situations. Unlike Arendt, as Ellsworth and Miller note, "she shows the labor it takes to complicate, expand, and contract definitions according to circumstances, and as a result, to produce a more nuanced sense of social and legal responsibility."[103] From a perspective like Williams's, Arendt's often seemingly free-floating perspectives can seem like cruel jokes, avoiding the pain and struggle involved in continually "working" differences in a world in which one never escapes the effects of power.

Williams is sensitive not only to her own positionings, but also to the multiplicity of ways she might position her audience. As Ellsworth and Miller point out, in Williams's texts the "I" of the reader

becomes an "I" who must constantly shift reading strategies to meet Williams's address. Williams addresses her reader "as" herself when she writes to herself on the pages of her diary... She addresses her reader "as" her sister through the monologue she directs toward her sister across her mother's kitchen table; "as" her lawyer/professor colleagues through a memo she composes to her departmental faculty.[104]

In contrast, Arendt often seemed to treat her readers as if they all belonged to a single category: generic college students/academics in her classroom or lecture hall who were able and willing to let go of the relatively light burdens of their bodies to enter, with her, a relatively "pure" form of politics and intellectual engagement. It is perhaps for this reason that there seems to be little difference between the personas of Arendt the teacher and those of Arendt the writer as described by her graduate students. Those who, like Williams, find their bodies too present to be discarded, too felt to be ignored, too important to be left behind, may find themselves left at least partially out of Arendt's audience.

I make this comparison to Williams not to denigrate Arendt's approach entirely, but to emphasize that her writings come from a particular person, situated in, and understanding particular social positionings from, her own history of experiences. Instead of simply reducing her work to dross, the process of mapping out some of Arendt's most disappointing failings draws her down from any possible placement in the pure realm of thought and invites her to a seat at the battered table of dialogue with the rest of us as a limited human being -- where, in fact, I think she most wished to be. It is in this space that we must struggle continually to live with each others' limitations (to the extent that this is possible), engaging with each other even about how our dialogue might be conducted at all.[105] Here, the multiple selves of Arendt's performances must engage, seek understanding with, dispute, listen to, attack, defend...the arguments, stories, images, declarations, silences, enactments...of others. Certainly, she engaged in these kinds of interactions in her writings already. As readers, we must push her into new areas she might not have seen or may even have avoided.

While Arendt's general vision of pure citizens (developed out of many specific examples) and of disembodied tellers of tales and of constructors of theories might often seem problematic to writers like Williams, Arendt nonetheless contributes unique positionalities and perspectives. In fact, from another perspective, one can see both of their approaches as strategies that may not always be relevant to specific persons in particular contexts. In agreement with other scholars, I have argued elsewhere, for example that there are times and places in which the kind of rationality and relatively static collective identities Arendt often rejected might prove extremely useful and important to particular groups struggling against particular forms of oppression.[106] In the end, with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and at least implicitly with Arendt in her multiple masks, among others, I think we must take a "strategic" view on the place of theory (understood broadly) in the world.[107] If we understand Arendt as only one voice among many, we can see her work as exploring pathways of dialogue, of identity construction, and of the political that have the potential to contribute a great deal to our understanding of the possibilities and pitfalls inherent in the activity of theorizing in a contingent world, and in the performative pedagogy that I would argue invariably accompanies academic (and other) texts. It is in this way that Arendt has become increasingly prominent in feminist theory despite her anti-feminist tendencies; it is in this way that I think (hope) she will become increasingly important in the field of education. At those moments when we think we have achieved the truth, then, when we sit back, content, in the perfection of our finely spun abstractions, when we have momentarily convinced ourselves that we are sovereigns of all we survey, Arendt is one voice among many others warning us that we may have gone astray. Have we reached a state in which "the impact of reality and the shock of experience are no longer felt?"[108] Have we left messy reality behind? Has ontology become fantasy? If so, we must be careful, tread lightly, lest our readers follow us into this emptiness we sometimes (not always) call theory.

  1. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), 105. This book will be referred to as HC with page numbers in the text for all subsequent citations.
  2. Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark, "Rediscovering Hannah Arendt," in Hannah Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, ed. Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott and Judith Chelius Stark, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), 125.
  3. See Maxine Greene, The Dialectic of Freedom (New York: Teachers College Press, 1988).
  4. See especially Mordechai Gordon, ed., Preserving Our Common World: Essays on Hannah Arendt and Education (Boulder: Westview Press, in press).
  5. See, for example, Aaron Schutz, "Creating Local 'Public Spaces' in Schools: Insights from Hannah Arendt and Maxine Greene," Curriculum Inquiry 29, no. 1 (1999): 77-98, and Aaron Schutz, "Contesting Utopianism: Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Democratic Education," in Gordon, Preserving our Common World.
  6. The fact that Arendt subsequently solves the particular contradiction in Marx that she was examining at this point does not alter her respect for his more general stance. Thus, I disagree with Hannah Pitkin, in The Attack of the Blob: Hannah Arendt' s Conception of the Social (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 249, when she argues that Arendt "did not even consider the possibility that seems so clearly implicit in the passage: that the fundamental and flagrant contradictions are what make the authors great rather than second rate, for example, because the fundamental truths they teach us actually are contradictory."
  7. Scott and Clark, "Rediscovering Hannah Arendt," 199-200.
  8. Arendt, Love and Saint Augustine, 4.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid., 7.
  12. Margaret Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) and Pitkin, Attack of the Blob.
  13. Mark Reinhardt, The Art of Being Free (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), xi.
  14. Hannah Arendt, "Sonning Prize Speech," Hannah Arendt Collection, Library of Congress, April 18, 1975, 12-14. In her On Revolution (London: Penguin Books, 1963), 106-7, she discusses this idea of masks a bit differently.
  15. Note: in the next three sections I have experimented with writing in a way reminiscent of Arendt's own often blunt, unapologetic style.
  16. Arendt, "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," The Listener, 6 (1964): 205.
  17. Seyla Benhabib,"Hannah Arendt and the Redemptive' Power of Narrative," Social Research, 57, no. 1 (1990): 184.
  18. Hannah Arendt, "Personal Responsibility," 186-87.
  19. Arendt cited in Lisa Disch, "More Truth Than Fact," Political Theory 21, no. 4 (1993): 671.
  20. Benhabib, "Narrative," 184.
  21. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Javonovich, 1968), viii.
  22. Arendt, "On Hannah Arendt," 337.
  23. Arendt, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, (London: Penguin, 1968), 51. This book will be referred to as BPF with page numbers in the text for all subsequent citations.
  24. Disch, "More Truth Than Fact," 669.
  25. Benhabib, "Narrative," 184. However, Anne Norton argues in "Heart of Darkness: Africa and African Americans in the Writings of Hannah Arendt, in Feminist Interpretations of Hannah Arendt, ed. Bonnie Honig (University Park: Penn State University Press, 1995), 253, for example, that Arendt failed to give a "voice" to the Africans and African Americans discussed in her work, and did not, in fact, treat them as equals. Although she may have attempted this, she was not able to carry it off, or willing to engage in the "work" that might have allowed her to carry it off more effectively -- see my concluding comments. See also Iris Young, Intersecting Voices: Dilemmas of Gender, Political Philosophy, and Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), for a discussion of broader problems with Arendt's effort.
  26. Disch, "More Truth Than Fact," 669.
  27. Benhabib, "Narrative," 182.
  28. Ibid.," 172.
  29. Benhabib, "Narrative," 182.
  30. For a more detailed discussion of Arendt's vision of "public space," see Schutz, "Contesting Utopianism."
  31. Arendt, The Human Condition, especially chaps. 2 and 5.
  32. See Ronald Beiner, "Interpretive Essay," in Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 89-156, who argues that Arendt shifted the activity of judgment over time from the political into the life of the mind. Here I make a more subtle distinction.
  33. Disch, "More Truth Than Fact," 687.
  34. Arendt noted in "What Remains? The Language Remains": A Conversation with Gunter Gaus," in Essays in Understanding, 1930-1954, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1994), 1, that "my profession, if one can even speak of it at all, is political theory."
  35. Arendt, On Revolution, 220.
  36. Ibid., 220.
  37. Hannah Arendt, "On Hannah Arendt," in Hannah Arendt and the Recovery of the Public World, ed. Melvyn Hill (New York: St Martin's Press, 1979), 329.
  38. These different case studies are spread, for example, throughout Arendt, The Human Condition.
  39. For a more detailed discussion of the tensions of the public, see Schutz, "Contesting Utopianism."
  40. Arendt, On Revolution, 77.
  41. Ibid., 76. Arendt goes on to complicate this idea, arguing that Rousseau discovered an enemy to the state in each individual person's interest, and discusses the contradictions such an approach leads us into.
  42. Peter Stem and Jean Yarbrough, "Hannah Arendt," The American Scholar 47 (1978), 373.
  43. Arendt, On Revolution, 220.
  44. Arendt, Origins, viii.
  45. The nature of society, Arendt argued, had shifted from "actual rank in the half-feudal society of the eighteenth century, [to] title in the class society of the nineteenth,...[and to] mere function in the mass society of today" (HC, 41).
  46. In this sense, Lessing became an actor that, through his actions, distorts (repairs?) the social into an odd state that is between a public space and "society."
  47. Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace Javonovich, 1968), 30 and 29.
  48. Ibid., 30.
  49. Ibid., 26.
  50. Ibid., 8.
  51. As Canovan notes, in Hannah Arendt, however, Arendt was actually surprisingly consistent in her presentation of her ideas.
  52. Hannah Arendt, "A Reply," Review of Politics 15 (1953): 78; See Disch, "More Truth Than Fact," 679.
  53. Ibid., 79.
  54. Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Javonovich, 1972), 228.
  55. Ibid., 211.
  56. Ibid., 201.
  57. Arendt, On Revolution, 173, italics mine.
  58. Again, see Schutz, "Contesting Utopianism," for a discussion of the precariousness of Arendtian public spaces.
  59. Arendt, Men in Dark Times, 7-8.
  60. Arendt, "On Hannah Arendt," 310. This is very different than her vision of education for children, where she argued the teacher does need to hold "authority" over her students. See BPF, chap. 6, and Aaron Schutz, "Is Political Education an Oxymoron? Hannah Arendt's Resistance to Public Spaces in Schools," Philosophy of Education 2001 (Urbana: Philosophy of Education Society, in press).
  61. Arendt, "On Hannah Arendt," 309. She is also referring, here, to her own particular understanding of the process of "thinking" that was fundamentally different from public action. See Hannah Arendt, "Thinking," in Hannah Arendt, Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace Javonovich, 1978).
  62. Hannah Arendt, "'What Remains? The Language Remains,'" 15-16. There is a lot of confusion about why Arendt wrote about the Jewish Councils in this way, nicely discussed by Pitkin in Attack of the Blob, for example. I tend to interpret Arendt as attempting, in part, to give back some limited agency to the Jews, so they will be interpreted less as victims. While she noted later in "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," 205, that "impotence, complete powerlessness, is...a valid excuse" for not acting, she goes on to argue that it is sometimes still possible not to support oppression. As Pitkin and others note, however, her knowledge of the events around this issue was problematically limited. There is not space to adequately address Arendt's discomfort with efforts to publicly discuss the "personal," something she implicitly touches on in this statement. See her discussion, for example, in On Revolution, 97-98.
  63. Hannah Arendt, "The Archimedian Point," Ingenor (Spring, 1969): 24. See also BPF, p. 277 and Canovan, "Hannah Arendt," 96.
  64. Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For the Love of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 473.
  65. Although, again, as Canovan points out in Hannah Arendt, 6. Arendt had a "naturally systematic mind," so these are more systematic than she might intellectually have wished.
  66. She adds, here, "without losing their identity."
  67. She also notes that large numbers of people, themselves, make "behaviorism" more valid. I think what she means is when people treat themselves as members of a larger mass. I do not think she is trying to argue for a kind of determinism, but see Pitkin, in Attack of the Blob, who struggles with this issue.
  68. See also Bronwyn Davies, "The Subject of Post-Structuralism: A Reply to Alison Jones," Gender and Education, 9, no. 3 (1997): 271-284. In fact, in Nicholas C. Burbules's vision of postmodernism, in "Postmodern Doubt and Philosophy of Education," in Philosophy of Education 1995, ed. Alven Neiman (Urbana: Philosophy of Education Society, 1996), Arendt's vision looks very postmodern, something I have argued differently elsewhere. See, Aaron Schutz, "Teaching Freedom? Postmodern Perspectives," Review of Educational Research 70, no. 2 (2000): 215-51.
  69. Maxine Greene, "Epistemology and Educational Research: The Influence of Recent Approaches to Knowledge," Review of Research in Education, 19 (1994): 439.
  70. Greene, "Epistemology," 458.
  71. Vera John-Steiner, Robert J. Weber, and Michele Minnis, cited in Caroline Clark, Roberta J. Herter, and Pamela A. Moss, "Continuing the Dialogue on Collaboration," American Educational Research Journal, 35, no. 4 (1998): 788.
  72. Ibid. They are quoting Patti Lather and Chris Smithies.
  73. Ibid., 789.
  74. Caroline Clark, et. al., "Collaboration as Dialogue: Teachers and Researchers Engaged in Conversation and Professional Development," American Educational Research Journal, 33, no. 1 (1996): 202.
  75. Cited in Clark, Herter, and Moss, "Continuing the Dialogue on Collaboration," 789.
  76. Kaiping Peng and Richard E. Nesbitt, "Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning About Contradiction," American Psychologist, 54, no. 9 (1999): 741.
  77. Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996). See also, for example, Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands: The New Mestiza=La Frontera (San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987) and Patricia Hill Collins, "The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought," Signs, 14, no. 4 (1989): 745-73. Of course, this work questions the very idea of a stable conception of "American."
  78. Arendt speaks of "philosophers," here, but I think was indicating a much larger field of thinkers. Because this essay was a response to the many criticisms that arose around her Eichmann book, it appears she is tangentially speaking of herself as well.
  79. The second quotation is a citation from Jefferson. She actually says, here "an altogether different 'field of imagination,'" however, what she is referring to is a kind of cognition that is not related to the world but instead is inherent in the very structures of our mind, an idea that I do not have space to examine.
  80. As many others have noted, she was indebted in this vision to her teacher, Martin Heidegger. See, for example, Seyla Benhabib, The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 1996), chap. 2.
  81. Elizabeth Ellsworth and Janet L. Miller, "Working Difference in Education," Curriculum Inquiry 26, no. 3 (1996): 247.
  82. Stern and Yarbrough, "Hannah Arendt," 374.
  83. Ibid., 373.
  84. Ibid., 375.
  85. Nicholas C. Burbules, "Teaching and the Tragic Sense of Education," in Teaching and Its Predicaments, ed. Nicholas C. Burbules and David T. Hansen (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997), 65.
  86. Magdalene Lampert, "How Do Teachers Manage to Teach? Perspectives on Problems in Practice," Harvard Educational Review, 55, no. 2 (1985): 181. See also Lilian G. Katz and James Raths, "Six Dilemmas in Teacher Education," Journal of Teacher Education, 43, no. 5 (1992): 376-86.
  87. Burbules, "Teaching and the Tragic Sense of Education," 66.
  88. Lampert, "How do Teachers Manage to Teach?" 183.
  89. Burbules, "Teaching and the Tragic Sense of Education," 71.
  90. Ibid., 72.
  91. Clark, et. al., "Collaboration as Dialogue," 201. See also Patti Lather's work, especially, "Troubling Clarity: The Politics of Accessible Language," Harvard Educational Review, 66, no. 3 (1996): 525-45.
  92. See Patti Lather, "Troubling Clarity."
  93. Joan Landes, "Novus Ordo Saeclorum: Gender and Public Space in Arendt's Revolutionary France," in Honig, Feminist Interpretations, 210.
  94. See for example, Hannah Arendt, "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition," in Hannah Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age, ed. R.H. Feldman (New York: Grove Press, 1978), 67-90.
  95. Pitkin, in Attack of the Blob, 21, says that Arendt would "later abandon" the distinction between the pariah and the parveneu that was central to her discussion of the kind of social positioning Jews were subjected to. What I think Pitkin really means is that it was transformed, and that the idea of the "pariah" remained important to her. See also Jennifer Ring, "The Pariah as Hero," Political Theory 19, no. 3 (1991): 433-53.
  96. Lisa Disch, "On Friendship in 'Dark Times,'" in Honig, Feminist Interpretation, 305, phrase in brackets from Disch's preceding sentence.
  97. Pitkin, Blob, 36. See also Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For the Love of the World {New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.), chap. 1.
  98. For a key example, see Hannah Arendt, "Reflections on Little Rock," Dissent 6 (1959): 45-55; see Jean Elshtain's discussion in "Political Children," in Honig, Feminist Interpretations, 263-83. Anne Norton, in "Heart of Darkness: Africa and African Americans in the Writings of Hannah Arendt," in Honig, Feminist Interpretations, takes this farther, arguing that Arendt often refused to treat Africans and African Americans as active agents.
  99. Williams cited in Ellsworth and Miller, "Working Difference," 250.
  100. Patricia Williams, Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 8.
  101. Cited in Ellsworth and Miller, "Working Difference," 246.
  102. Ibid., 250.
  103. Ibid., 250.
  104. Ibid., 257.
  105. See even, for example, Anne Ruggles Gere, "Kitchen Tables and Rented Rooms: The Extracurriculum of Composition," College Composition and Communication 57, no. 6 (1994): 75-92, who examines the limitations of the metaphor of the "kitchen table" of dialogue for different groups.
  106. See Schutz, "Creating Local 'Public Spaces' in Schools."
  107. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993), chap. 1. See also Susan Bordo, "Feminism, Postmodernism, and Gender-Skepticism," in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990), 133-56. I explore aspects of this idea in Schutz, "Teaching Freedom?"
  108. Arendt, Origins, viii.


By Aaron Schutz, Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Aaron Schutz is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, W153201. His primary areas of scholarship are theories of community, "empowerment," and collective action; and standards and assessment.

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