Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and the Limits of Art under Postcolonial Conditions
The connection between the philosopher F. H. Jacobi and the political theorist Hannah Arendt might, at first, be surprising. However, at the core of both Arendt’s and Jacobi’s thinking lies the triad of person, beginning and action. Drawing on Jacobi and Arendt, this project brings into perspective the transformations of autonomy throughout the history of western culture. It situates the autonomy of art within this broad context and epistemologically examines current debates on the limits of art under postcolonial conditions.
Jacobi contests the philosophical primacy of consciousness and criticizes his contemporaries’ rationalism, skepticism and empiricism. His own realism in David Hume on Faith – Idealism and Realism (1787) can be traced back to the primacy of personal action as a beginning and the equiprimordiality of I and Thou. This equiprimordiality makes his thinking incompatible with the Post-Kantian subject, to whose emergence he nevertheless decisively contributed. His “unphilosophy,” which proposes that human plurality does not result from an idea but is, on the contrary, primordial, marks the borders of philosophy.
The project links Jacobi with Arendt’s criticism of modern utilitarianism in The Human Condition (1958). This book explores how the human condition, mortality as natality, came to the fore in a sequence of transformations of activity—a series of autonomous confrontations with in-finiteness, whereby plurality gradually moved from an initial to an end position. But Arendt’s critique of modern worldlessness does not measure such cultural transformations from an imagined Archimedean point, anchored, perhaps, in Greek or Roman antiquity. Rather, it addresses the reverse side of this aporetic persisting of autonomy in western cultural history: as space of appearance external to philosophy.
If both Jacobi and Arendt stand for the plural singularity of the interpersonal beginning as reality (Jacobi) and as space of appearance (Arendt) respectively, this position can be situated in diverse cultural conditions. The project discusses the perspectives opened through Jacobi and Arendt today, at the end of western cultural history and in the domain of art. The modern concept of progress, in whose frame the modern concept of ‘art’ was shaped, is currently being criticized for its colonial blindness. Drawing on Jacobi’s and Arendt's positions, the project explores the epistemological presuppositions of this postcolonial criticism, thereby shifting the perspective. Examining works of the French-Algerian artists Nacera Belaza and Kader Attia, postcolonial criticism is discussed as the persisting desire for autonomy and confronted with questions concerning the space of appearance and reality. Ultimately, the project contributes to the postcolonial debate on the limits of the ‘Western’ conception of art and aims to face contemporary challenges from within the Western tradition of thought.
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