Who's on stage? Performative disclosure in Hannah Arendt's account of political action

  • Author / Creator
    Tchir, Trevor
  • Hannah Arendt argues that political action is only meaningful through the disclosure of who the actor uniquely is, and that this disclosure is the basis of human dignity. Arendt’s notion of performative disclosure helps us to rethink the individuated actor, not as a sovereign and self-transparent subject whose action expresses an authentic individual essence or constative what, but rather as a decentered and ecstatic who whose action reveals meaningful dimensions of the world and of the actor’s unique situation in history, through the performance of acts and speech before public spectators. The idea that no actor can stand in a position of control with respect to his life story extends to a critical displacement of the notion of freedom understood as sovereignty and of political projects that attempt to make history. Action, as praxis and not poiesis, is best understood through Arendt’s metaphor of performance, rather than productive art.

    There are new interpretive possibilities for Arendt’s theory of action, especially if we trace appearances of the ancient Greek daimon in Arendt’s publications and lecture notes, and among works that Arendt confronted: Plato’s Socratic dialogues and the myth of Er, Heidegger’s notion of aletheia as Dasein’s disclosure of Being, Jaspers’ valid personality, and Kant’s notion of aesthetic genius. The daimon implies that the public realm is a spiritual realm, that action is a form of connection to the divine, and that the actor is a decentered discloser of transcendent meanings and new possibilities within the world. The daimon also shows moral deliberation to be more vital to meaningful action than Arendt suggests prior to The Life of the Mind, so that the distinctions usually read in Arendt between actor and spectator, as well as those between acting, thinking, and judging, may be productively occluded.
    Arendt’s struggle to re-invigorate action’s disclosive capacity is at the center of her entire project. It sheds light on her critique of the world-alienating aspects of Marx, her insistent protection of a distinct political sphere from the private and the social spheres, and her rejection of Hegel’s philosophy of history in favor of a fragmentary historiography inspired by Kafka and Benjamin.

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  • Graduation date
    Fall 2009
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
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  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Epp, Roger (Political Studies, Augustana Campus)
    • Barbour, Charles (Sociology)
    • Kahane, David (Political Science)
    • Markell, Patchen (Political Science, University of Chicago)