Sunday, June 26, 2011


In “A Crisis in Culture,” Hannah Arendt describes how the cultivated human mind mediates the conflict between art and politics. Aesthetic taste, understood primarily as the “chief cultural activity” is here, for Arendt, counted among man’s political abilities. The state of “disinterestedness” which man enters into exhibits a humanizing force, its ability to “de-barbarize” the world corresponds to the occupation of a position in which we can “forget ourselves” (207). Arendt thinks that it is possible to “de-barbarize,” to rearticulate the “human” as a mediating factor in the conflict between art and politics, in order to free the individual from feeling coerced. Her concern with the status of human freedom owes much to Enlightenment ideas, but de-barbarization importantly does not mean an increase of cultivation. Rather, it involves counting taste as a political activity, that is, the activity by which the individual considers the world, not his moral or life experiences, as primary. Arendt’s observations on the possibility of de-barbarization heighten our awareness of the way that “taste” describes the entrenchedness of barbarism and culture.

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