Dear Arendt (h2so4 13)

Dear Hannah Arendt:

Every so often someone will ask me out for coffee or a meal, and I won't know whether this invitation is meant to be romantic or "platonic." How can I tell when I'm on a date?

    --Heidi

Dear Heidi:

Since our feeling for reality depends utterly upon appearance and therefore upon the existence of a public realm into which things can appear out of the darkness of sheltered existence, even the twilight which illuminates our private and intimate lives is ultimately derived from the much harsher light of the public realm. Yet there are a great many things which cannot withstand the implacable, bright light of the constant presence of others on the public scene; there, only what is considered to be relevant--worthy of being seen or heard--can be tolerated, so that the irrelevant becomes automatically a private matter. This, to be sure, does not mean that private concerns are generally irrelevant; on the contrary, we shall see that there are very relevant matters which can survive only in the realm of the private. For instance, love, in distinction from friendship, is killed, or rather extinguished, the moment it is displayed in public. Because of its inherent worldlessness, love can only become false and perverted when it is used for political purposes such as the change or salvation of the world. This is the reason for your confusion. You are hoping to have love present itself it to you in no uncertain terms in a public forum, when you will only know for certain if you take him (or her) home. I am not suggesting you do this after your first "date."

Best regards,
Hannah Arendt

PS-- The common prejudice that love is as common as "romance" may be due to the fact that we all learned about it first through poetry.But the poets fool us; they are the only ones to whom love is not only a crucial, but an indispensable experience, which entitles them to mistake it for a universal one.

Dear Ms. Arendt:

Why do women wear white pumps?

    --Avia

Dear Avia:

In contrast to the inorganic thereness of lifeless matter, living beings are not mere appearances. To be alive means to be possessed by an urge toward self-display which answers the fact of one's own appearingness.Living things make their appearance like actors on a stage set for them. The stage is common to all who are alive, but it seems different to each species, different also to each individual specimen. Seeming--the it-seems-to-me--is the mode, perhaps the only possible one, in which an appearing world is acknowledged and perceived. To appear always means to seem to others, and this seeming varies according to the standpoint and the perspective of the spectators. In other words, every appearing thing acquires, by virtue of its appearingness, a kind of disguise that may indeed--but does not have to--hide or disfigure it. Seeming corresponds to the fact that every appearance, its identity notwithstanding, is perceived by a plurality of spectators. The urge toward self-display seems to be common to men and animals. And just as the actor depends upon a stage, fellow-actors and spectators to make his entrance, every living thing depends upon a world that solidly appears as the location for its own appearance, on fellow-creatures to play with, and on spectators to acknowledge and recognize its existence, whether or not we would all make the same choices on how to "appear."

Sincerely,
Hannah Arendt

Dear Ms. Arendt:

Why have you agreed to offer advice to these nitwits? They are always asking about fashion, dating, advice to the lovelorn and beauty tips. It is all vanity and appearance, utterly meaningless. Surely it would be better to do nothing.

    --David

Dear David:

Men can very well live without laboring, they can force others to labor for them, and they can very well decide merely to use and enjoy the world of things without themselves adding a single useful object to it; the life ofan exploiter or slaveholder and the life of a parasite may be unjust, but they certainly are human. A life without speech and without action, however--and this is the onlyway of life that in earnest has renounced all appearance and all vanity in the biblical sense of the word--is literally dead to the world; it has ceased to be a human life because it is no longer lived among men.

With word and deed we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth, in which we confirm and take upon ourselves the naked fact of our original physical appearance. The insertion may be stimulated by the presence of others whose company we may wish to join, but it is never conditioned by them; its impulse springs from the beginning which came into the world when we were born and to which we respond by beginning something new on our own initiative. There is more going on here than you have seen. It may be that you have not looked.

I wish you well,
H. Arendt

Dear Hannah Arendt:

I was recently dumped, publicly, by someone who in the past months has lied to me, then humiliated me, then talked me into not breaking up with him because he was going through "a rough time." Now I have the opportunity to make his life a living hell, because I have just been made his boss at work. I think in the end this will not make me feel any better, but I have not been able to discipline myself sufficiently to refrain from my little acts of revenge. Talk me down, if you would. I want to know how to move on.

    --Single

Dear Single:

Willed evil is rare, perhaps even rarer than good deeds. The boy is not worth your time, nor is he satan incarnate. He made a mistake "Trespassing," the human art of making mistakes, is an everyday occurrence which is in the very nature of human action's constant establishment of new relationships within a web of relations, and it needs forgiving, dismissing, in order to make it possible for life to go on by constantly releasing us from what we have done unwittingly. Sometimes,we simply can't see what effects our actions will create. Only through this constant mutual release from what we have done can we remain free; only by constant willingness to change our minds and start again can we, as humans, be trusted with so great a power as that to begin something new.

This does not mean that there is no responsibility to do good. You do not need to remain this man's friend. Forgiveness is the exact opposite of vengeance. Vengeance acts in the form of re-acting against an original trespassing, whereby far from putting an endtothe consequences of the first misdeed, everybodyremains bound to the process, permitting the chain reaction contained in every action to take its unhindered course. In contrast to revenge, which is the natural, automatic reaction to transgression and which because of the irreversibility of the action process can be expected and even calculated, the act of forgiving can never be predicted; it is the only reaction that acts in an unexpected way. Forgiving, in other words, is the only reaction which does not merely react but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it, therefore freeing from the consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.

As a side note: it has been in the nature of our tradition of political thought to be highly selective and to exclude from articulate conceptualization a great variety of authentic political experiences, among which we need not be surprised to find some of an even elementary nature. Certain aspects of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth--i.e., the power of forgiveness--which are not primarily related to the Christian religious message but sprang from experiences in the small and closely knit community of his followers, bent on challenging the public authorities in Israel, certainly belong among them, even though they have been neglected because of their allegedly exclusively religious nature.

It is within your power to set yourself free. Forgiveness is the condition of possibility of creating something new. Choose it.

    My regards,
    H. Arendt

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