Calibrating Our ‘Inner Compass
In this article, I argue that Heidegger’s political failures haunt Arendt’s complex “phenomenology of thinking,” and, in the words of Richard Bernstein, “Arendt’s most novel and striking thesis—that there is an intrinsic connection between our ability or inability to think and evil—depends on discriminating the thinking that may prevent catastrophes from the thinking that does not.” The key to doing so, I suggest, is to attend more closely to Arendt’s persistent use of the language of stabilization, orientation, and navigation: in other words, how we “take our bearings” in a world of perpetual change and motion. The ability (or inability) to locate oneself in relation to the world is a recurrent theme in Arendt’s writings, and the metaphors of (dis)orientation appear frequently in her attempts to understand totalitarianism and Heidegger’s turn to National Socialism. Whereas most theorists collapse the idea of “taking our bearings” into judging, I argue that the activity of orientation should be theorized in its own right. As such, I explore the disorientation experienced during the traversal between thinking and acting via a close reading of Heidegger’s “Conversation on a Country Path About Thinking.” My reading illustrates how certain elements of the world, crucial to maintaining our bearings, fade from view while one is thinking. I conclude by discussing representative thinking as an explicitly political mode of thought that escapes some of the difficulties inherent in pure thinking—showing how it shores up those elements of the world that enable us to take our bearings.
Biser, Ashley, "Calibrating Our ‘Inner Compass" (2014). Politics & Government Faculty Work. 1.
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