Sunday, November 4, 2018

#308 / No Time To Think

If you could throw a dinner party and invite anyone, living or dead, to show up for good food and good conversation, who would you invite? I think it is the New York Times Book Review that poses that question, on a weekly basis, to the various famous authors it profiles. The Times has never asked me, but Hannah Arendt and Bob Dylan would definitely be on my list. 

Recently, a posting on Medium caught my attention, since it featured a picture of Arendt, showing her emphatically making a point. I seldom pass up a chance to see what Hannah Hannah is talking about, so I clicked on through. The article was titled, "Tragic Action, Tragic Judgment," and was written by Elizabeth Barringer, who is the Klemens von Klemperer teaching fellow at the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

While I found the article pretty "academic," it did make some points worth thinking about. Barringer comments on Arendt's observation that the meaning of one's life can never really be known until that life has ended and says the following, referencing Aristotle:

Living well, attaining eudaimonia, requires more than simply following the right rules. This is because “the accidents of fortune are many:” regardless of our intentions, we do not control the circumstances, or consequences, of our deeds. When Aristotle speaks of ‘sound’ character he means a person who makes judgments while recognizing “that justice does not prevail in the world.” A person might struggle to do everything right and nonetheless come to disaster. Aristotle therefore insists a life can only be called eudaimon in hindsight, viewed as a complete whole....
But these accounts place the living actor in a pickle: How is one to make sound judgments about their own life, or the actions of others, while still caught up in that contingent and hazardous ‘flux’ of action? What orientation is appropriate for navigating this kind of reality? Or, in more Arendtian terms, how is one to think what they are doing? In her writings on judgment, Arendt frequently turns to Aristotle and Kant for answers to this question. She argues for an ‘enlarged mentality:’ learning to think from the plural perspectives of others about particular questions or objects appear to them; or about how one’s own actions might appear to others. But what does this learning entail? One answer, I propose, may be found by looking more closely at Arendt’s turn to Aristotle’s Poetics in her description of action.

Instead of turning to Aristotle's Poetics, I turned to my other dinner guest, Mr. Dylan, and asked him if he wouldn't be willing to play one of his songs, which seems to speak to the issue that Arendt is raising. The song is called, No Time To Think. Click this link for access to the lyrics. Click right here to listen to the song.

Thinking is great, Dylan seems to be saying (and Arendt says that, too), but we must, in the end, do more than "think" about the world and what we are doing here. We are observers, of course, but actors as well, and when we act, we can never really know, in advance, what the results of our action will be. That's tough, but get used to it. I think that Arendt is pretty clear about that, and I do think Bob Dylan agrees: 

No time to choose when the truth must die 
No time to lose or say goodbye 
No time to prepare for the victim that’s there 
No time to suffer or blink 
And no time to think

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