Born Again: Natality, Normativity and Narrative in Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition
Jacobson, Rebecca Sete
Within the text of The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt circumscribes the concept of natality in ways that tend to conflate its biological, historical, institutional and phenomenological dimensions. This dissertation seeks to clarify this concept and the conceptual territory that surrounds it. Specifically, it is argued that Arendt’s construction of the concept of natality is inherently dual. Each person is delivered into a worldly environment through her primary, biological birth. As soon as she is born, she begins to be conditioned to the accepted normative standards of her community. A gap necessarily exists, however, between the person she is socio-culturally conditioned to be, and who she is explicitly, uniquely and authentically. When deeds and words are employed in service of revealing someone’s individual identity or essence, and thereby showing her to be more than simply a mirror of her cultural conditioning, it heralds a second birth, one which is existential instead of biological. According to Arendt, this existential natality must take place in the presence of other existential agents, and also may be witnessed by a spectator who then seeks to express the significance of what has occurred to those removed from the original event either by space and/or time. This expression takes the form of artifactual objects, including works of art, architectural monuments and various forms of narratives. Arendt’s theory concerning the creation of these objects contains two major problems that are critically addressed within this project. The first problem concerns the spectator’s capacity for making judgments. Works written after The Human Condition are shown to demonstrate Arendt’s attempts to address this issue. The second problem concerns the way in which Arendt portrays the issue of embodiment. This issue must be reconciled both by appealing to work from within her canon, as well as through the introduction of recent scholarship from the field of social cognition. The project concludes with the presentation of a concrete, historical example intended to be illustrative of the preceding theoretical material.