08 April 2013

Arendt on phallic whoness

"In the section on Action in The Human Condition, Arendt does make use of the insight into plurality to introduce the problematic of how human beings “disclose” themselves “to each other” (24:176) as “who” (24:178) in “speech and action” (Gk: le/cij, pra=cij cf. 4:25), human plurality itself being “the basic condition of both action and speech” (24:175). She sees clearly that the question regarding “who somebody is” (25:181) has to be clearly distinguished from that concerning “what he is” (25:181), where this what is explicated as “his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings” (24:179) that he “shares with others like him” (25:181). The shift of focus to what, that is determined in the third person singular, has “the result that his specific uniqueness escapes us” (25:181). By contrast, who someone is, is disclosed to others through
words and deeds, especially works and deeds of love, that reveal this who’s uniqueness, which is impossible “without a name” (24:180). Bearing a unique, proper name is hence a hallmark of whoness, but Arendt does not say as much explicitly, although this lies deep in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Nor does she use the term ‘whoness’ or ‘quissity’ to mark this dimension of social interaction among human beings off from the traditional category of ‘whatness’ or ‘quiddity’. “Who” for Arendt is in any case explicitly a category or dimension of disclosure, of revelation, and that within the shared public realm in which name-bearing “men” show to each other who they are through word and deed." (p.81) 

"This inconclusiveness and uncertainty constitute for her the “frailty of human affairs” whose remedy, she claims, was sought by the Greeks in the founding of a the po/lij as the “space of appearance” (27:198) in which “men” strive for “immortal fame” (27:193), i.e. a standing presence within togetherness with others whose standingness is given by the appreciative reflections from the others. The “prototype of action for Greek antiquity” is imbued with “the so-called agonal spirit, the passionate drive to show one’s self in measuring up against others that underlies the concept of politics prevalent in the city-states” (27:194). ... The end of the po/lij, its raison d’être, is therefore to provide the space of togetherness for the contestation among whos of their phallic, standing presence through speaking and acting. Phallic whoness as a mode of presencing is therefore the essence of the polis, i.e. of worldsharing,...Action, in Arendt’s sense, is therefore, properly speaking, the interplay of whos striving for phallic, standing presence in contest with one another whose result is, hopefully, lasting, indeed immortal fame. Such interplay is a power play. The ontology of phallic whoness, of course, is only ever tantalizingly implicit in Arendt." (pp.88f) 

Read on: Digital Whoness.

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