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Being and Appearing: Notes on Arendt and Relationality

This article examines Hannah Arendt's contribution to a philosophical anthropology that twists free of what Martin Heideg-ger criticized as a " metaphysics of subjectivity. " In this, it considers how her approach to philosophical
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  Being and Appearing: Notes on Arendt and Relationality  Andrew Benjamin  Monash University and Kingston University Abstract: This article examines Hannah Arendt’s contribution to a philosophical anthropology that twists free of what Martin Heideg-ger criticized as a “metaphysics of subjectivity.” In this, it considers how her approach to philosophical anthropology allows us to con-ceive of being human not with reference to a subject but, more srcinally, in terms of the relationality of self, other, and place. To demonstrate this, the article rst develops Arendt’s philosophical anthropology with reference to her notion of power, suggesting that power is best understood as a maer of potentiality or the realiza -tion of what is necessarily contingent, singular, and inexhaustive. This, in turn, provides a platform to understand her notions of judg-ment, action, worldliness, and worldlessness in terms of what may  be described as “the necessity of contingency.” The second part of the paper further develops this as a rejoinder to Heidegger, suggest-ing that for Arendt, proper human life—or the achievement of being an authentic self—is not a maer of separation from others but, on the contrary, a maer of relationality, which is to say, of being with others in place. Keywords: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, philosophical an-thropology, relationality, contingency Arendt Studies doi:Online First: © Arendt Studies . ISSN 2474-2406 () ISSN 2574-2329  (print)  Andrew Benjamin 2 1. Once a philosophical anthropology moves from focusing on the centrality of the subject, where the laer is understood as an end in itself and starts from a prompt that is there in any aempt to dene human being in terms of a shared sense of space and an srcinal relation to others, it then becomes possible to insist that the point of orientation for that anthropology’s de-velopment is the relation between self, other and place. 1  As a result, this complex of relations would have supplanted a philosophical approach that was delimited by a complete and self-completing sense of subject and sub- jectivity. 2  Moreover, if a complex of relations is taken as denitive such that relationality always precedes individuality, in other words relationality is an srcinal condition  such that the abstract philosophical claim is that particu- lars are aer eects of relations, then of the many tasks that arise with (and within) such a set up, one of the most insistent would be the question of how  both the interplay of relationality and its presence as an srcinal condition  are to be understood. 3  What, therefore, in this context, is an srcin? Engaging with this specic question not only brings Arendt’s work into play, it also al -lows for the development of a critical engagement with that work. It should  be noted at the outset however that the presence of an srcinal preceding condition, and thus a certain thinking of the srcin, is already there in Ar-endt’s writings. Working through Arendt is indispensable if what has to be addressed is that rethinking of a philosophical anthropology that takes rela-tionality not just as a point of departure but as that which has priority over the posited primacy of the singular individual. As will continue to emerge, as much within her writings, as in the critical engagement with them, rela-tionality and the presence of srcinal conditions have an important set of interconnections.In On Violence  as part of an argument for the constitutive nature of ‘pow-er,’ in opposition to violence, she argues that: The power structure  precedes  and outlasts all aims, so that power, far from being the means to an end, is actually the very condition enabling 1 This paper is from part of larger project funded by Australian Reach Coun- cil (ARC DP160103644) entitled Place, Commonality and the Human: Towards a New Philosophical Anthropology . 2 Though as Arendt argues even were one completely alone there would still  be a link to ‘the plurality which is the world of men and which we call, in its most general sense, humanity. This humanity, or rather this plurality, is indicat-ed already in the fact that I am two-in-one.’ See Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics  , 22. 3 There have been other interpretations of Arendt that have underscored the centrality of relationality. One of the best is Anya Topolski.  Arendt, Levinas and a Politics of Relationality .  3 Being and Appearing: Notes on Arendt and Relationality a group of people to think and act in terms of the means-ends category. 4   (Emphasis added.) Another formulation that invokes the terminology of that which ‘precedes’ can also be found in The Human Condition . It occurs in one of the central for-mulations of the ‘space of appearance.’ The space of appearance comes into being wherever men are together in the manner of speech and action, and therefore predates and  pre-cedes  all formal constitution of the public realm and the various forms of government, that is, the various forms in which the public realm can  be organized. (Emphasis added.) 5 While it is always possible to understand the presence of both the ‘space of appearance’ and the ‘power structure’ in pragmatic terms, both formulations are far more nuanced. The ‘power structure’ has a double determination. It  both precedes and is constitutive. Taken together what is identied is the condition that enables both thinking and acting. Equally, the ‘space of ap-pearance’ precedes all determinate and thus particular instances in which  being in public, i.e., appearing, is given formal presence. The ‘space of appearance,’ precisely because it is described in terms of its coming into  being, and therefore is neither a static nor a predetermined state, needs to be thought as the actualization of a potentiality. There is what will be described here as a coming to appear, which is a  coming-into-relation ; more signicant -ly it is a  coming-into-relation  that is spaced. This is the srcinal intrication of relationality and appearing. As a result of this srcinal condition the potenti- ality in question therefore pertains to the conuence of being and appearing. While the formulation to be is to appear  is central, it should be understood as identifying processes and activities. Appearing is always appearing with others—who are themselves also appearing—and is, as a result, ab initio  re-lational. The relation that is there at the srcin positions the srcin as a locus of an srcinal irreducibility. The srcin therefore has a founding complexity. It is this srcinal irreducibility that will be identied henceforth by the term anorginal . (The term ansrcinal identies an srcin in which there is a found -ing complexity and thus a complex of relations. 6 ) Within this seing the subject of appearance has to be understood in relational terms such that com-ing-to-appear  means coming to appear with others. Moreover, appearing is always an appearing in place. 7  Appearing, as the result of a coming-to-appear  , 4 Hannah Arendt, On Violence  , 51. 5 Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition  , 199. 6 This term has been developed in a range of my writings see most recently: Towards a Relational Ontology  and “Recovering Ansrcinal Relationality.” 7 While there are dierences in approach the engagement with place that appears here and which has been a central to my recent work is indebted, as all work on place is, to the founding studies in the area by Je Malpas. Of his many  Andrew Benjamin 4 is both worldly and world sustaining. The inscription of place as intrinsic to the being of being human works to undo the possibility of an unworldly anthropocentrism.) This is, of course, the positive formulation. It is positive in the precise sense that appearing is the actualization of a potentiality; once actualized then the formulation to be is to appear  has an armative or posi -tive quality. Hence her claim in The Human Condition  that ‘human plurality, the basic condition of both action and speech, has the twofold character of equality and distinction.’ 8  However, due to its presence as a potentiality its actualization is always contingent.The refusal to allow for appearing, where appearing is always already relational, thus ansrcinally relational, is the re-fusal to enable the movement of appearing. The act of appearing is a coming to appear, where that movement is the actualisation of a coming-into-relation  and which needs to be understood in terms set by both potentiality and what was noted above as the identication of being and appearing. In sum, the negative instance is a form of refusal within which what is refused is the actualization of a potential. As a consequence, once understood ontological-ly, it is the denial of what it means to be. The ethical and the ontological are themselves interconnected. (As will continue to be argued the ethical cannot  be separated from an ontologically orientated philosophical anthropology.) Before moving to Arendt’s identication of the relational, it is essential to stay with the interplay between appearing understood as a coming-into-rela-tion  and the presence of that which precedes. The rst point to note is that to the extent that there is both that which precedes any specic actualization (remembering that coming-to-be  is always there as a potentiality), and also that which has an eective presence insofar as it exercises a constitutive force, means that there has to be a correspond-ing account of that ansrcinal presence.Hence the question that was posed at the outset concerning that which is initially there in terms of a simple srcin continues to acquire greater precision. This is the question that has to be addressed even though Arendt herself does not take the presence of the srcin (and which has been recongured as the ansrcinal) and thus the question of the ansrcinal as coterminous with the use of the term ‘pre-cedes’ as delimiting a philosophical project in its own right. As it emerges in the two passages cited above what precedes has a number of qualities. It ‘enables’ when it is understood as marking the presence of a constituting power. Moreover, as the ‘space of appearance,’ it has a form of actuality that allows for the presence of formal and thus both programmatic and prag-matic determinations. In general terms, that which precedes needs to be understood as inherently generative. In this context, there is an important fundamental texts see in particular Place and Experience and Heidegger and the Thinking of Place . 8 Arendt,  The Human Condition  , 175.  5 Being and Appearing: Notes on Arendt and Relationality conuence, at least conceptually, between the generative and potentiality. The nature of the srcin—and thus the srcin as the ansrcinal—is best ap- proached in terms of a number of the diculties that are already there in the way potentiality as a philosophical topos in its own right is taken up by Arendt.In The Life of the Mind  she draws an important distinction between two forms activity. They occur in her treatment of the will. In the rst instance, there is the liberum arbitrium . This is a form of acting that decides between possibilities. Then, in the second, there is the ‘power to begin something really new.’ The former, namely those particular possibilities, are present in her terms as ‘mere potentialities.’ The laer, however, have an importantly dierent quality. In regard to this position, the ‘power’ in question has a distinct quality. As a power it could not very well be preceded by any potentiality which would then gure as one of the causes of the accomplished act. 9 However, it can be argued that there is an important aspect of this formula-tion of the ‘power to begin’ that Arendt overlooks. It occurs because of the identication of potentiality with causality. The ‘power to begin’ is, of course, a power. And yet, it cannot follow from the presence of this ‘power,’ and it is essential to recall that ‘power’ is in fact Arendt’s word, that such a power can  be actualised in every instance. If beginnings are not always possible, or are able to be thwarted, then two important questions arise, Firstly, how would the presence of such restrictions be understood? Then secondly, how would their presence aect the conception of power that is there in the ‘power to  begin’? Answering both questions has to start with the recognition that if  beginnings were always possible then it would be very dicult to hold to a systematic distinction between mere continuity and genuine beginnings. (Where genuine beginnings have the quality of an inaugurating event that recongures If there is a distinction between continuity and beginning, and thus what would then have to prevail is a disjunctive relation rather than one dened in terms of a continuous set of connections, then the ‘power’ in question would need to be understood as a capacity. As suggested above the mistake that would then be evident in Arendt’s formulation is the identica -tion of a potentiality with a cause. The presence of a potentiality means that the question that has then to be addressed pertains to the conditions under which its actualization occurs.While the actualization of a potentiality has consequences—though equally the non-actualization of a potentiality is also consequential—it is not that case that that actualization is necessary. The presence of a potentiality 9 Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind  , 29. While it cannot be discussed here there is also an important discussion of potential in The Human Condition . See Arendt, The Human Condition  , 200.
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