28 Feb 2024 · 4.30 pm

Sigrid Weigel: “We Refugees” – The Preamble of Hannah Arendt’s Anthropological Theory of the Political

Venue: University of California Los Angeles, Royce Hall 236

Lecture, Department of Comparative Literature and Department of European Languages & Transcultural Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

Arendt’s “We Refugees” (1943) belongs to a corpusof articles published in English after her immigration to the US in 1941. The article reflects her own experiences and political insights in her path from imprisonment in Nazi-Germany, exile in Paris, internment as an ‘enemy alien’ in France after the German occupation, and her life as a ‘stateless refugee’ in the US. Arendt’s writings in this transitional period are a privileged vantage point from which to appreciate her transformation from a philosopher who writes in German, to a political theorist who writes in English. The lecture interprets the specific rhetoric of “We Refugees” as Arendt is working through this transition, by means of a double focus: attention to Arendt’s use of the ‘we’-trope; and theoretical analysis, based on a radical critique of assimilation—as both policy and behavior. The lecture will discuss the article as an entryway to appreciate how Arendt’s theory responds to the total rupture of the state of the human being during the preceding decade, that is to say, as an epistemological standpoint to appreciate her anthropological approach to political theory. Indeed, echoes of “We Refugees” are salient in her fundamental re-thinking of human rights, the ‘human condition’, and the concept of the ‘political’.

Sigrid Weigel is the former director of the ZfL and Professor emerita at the Technical University of Berlin.