Arendt, the Polis and Exclusion – or: How the Ordinary Should be Understood as Extraordinary
2nd March, 6-8pm, Ben Pimlott Lecture Theatre
This paper argues that Hannah Arendt’s notion of the polis and political action is founded on the exclusion of those deemed to be in a state of necessity or mere subsistence, where life is reduced to a struggle to satisfy basic biological needs. The latter, Arendt claims, is what the Ancient Greek oikos or household addressed in order to enable men to enter the polis and realise their freedom as extraordinary words and deeds. The exclusionary nature of this theory of the polis as action has largely either been ignored or at best treated with kid gloves by Arendt’s commentators. The paper endeavours to rectify this situation and show that it is the ordinary which is extraordinary and the key to grasping the human. In doing so, reference will be made to Heidegger’s notion of the polis as the emergence, via language, of the essence of human beings and to Agamben’s reworking of the whole idea of ‘oikos’.
The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune
18 May 2015, 5-7pm, Small Cinema, RHB
In this talk based on her new book ('Communal Luxury' [Verso]; 'L'Imaginaire de la Commune' [La Fabrique]), Kristin Ross discusses the political imaginary that fueled and outlived the Paris Commune of 1871, when Communard exiles in the 1870s and 80s met up with supporters like Karl Marx, Peter Kropotkin and William Morris. The imaginary the Commune leaves to us, she argues, is neither that of a national republican middle class nor that of the state-managed collectivism that dominated the first half of the 20th century. For this reason the Commune's laboratory of political invention lends itself to a consideration framed by our own concerns today: how to refashion an international conjuncture; the future of education, labor and the status of art; the commune-form and its relation to ecological theory.
Kristin Ross is Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University. Her previous books include 'Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture', and 'May '68 and its Afterlives'.