Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Magic table

From Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition [1958]:

The public realm, as the common world, gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other, so to speak. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely unrelated to each other by anything tangible. (pp 52-3)

Cognition, on the other hand, belongs to all, and not only to intellectual or artistic work processes; like fabrication itself, it is a process with a beginning and end, whose usefulness can be tested, and which, if it produces no results, has failed, like a carpenter’s workmanship has failed when he fabricates a two-legged table. (p 171)

At first I thought that these two examples, both employing a table, as she often does, were in contradiction with one another. Now it seems to me rather that while action is not work, work is none the less required to erect the space of action (the disappearing table). It would be worth going back to On Revolution to see if she discusses the actual practical activity of ‘making revolution’ as work. Work, then, could found new politics in a way that labor never could. Makes sense.

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