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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter February 27, 2008

The Gap between Hannah Arendt and Franz Kafka

  • Vivian Liska
From the journal


In her preface to Between Past and Future (Arendt 1969), Hannah Arendt illustrates her idea of the relationship between history and theory with an interpretation and a variation of one of Kafka's enigmatic parables. She finds in Kafka's short text “He” a dramatization of René Char's aphorism that “our inheritance was left to us by no testament.” For Arendt, Char gives voice to the predicament of modern man who no longer knows how to live with the legacies of the past – specifically, in Char's case, with what Arendt calls the “treasure” of moments in which “freedom could appear.” (1969: 4) Kafka's parable describes a scene in which a man is caught between two antagonists: “The first presses him from behind, from the origin. The second blocks the road ahead. He gives battle to both.” Each of these forces, the one pushing him forwards, the other “driving him back”, should support the man in his struggle against the other, but, Kafka writes, this is “only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions?” In practice thus, in the realm where he has to live, decide and act, the man seems to lose the battle, because no one, not even he himself, knows what he wants. What remains, however, is the man's dream that “some time in an unguarded moment – and this would require a night darker than any night has ever been yet – he will jump out of the fighting line and be promoted, on account of his experience in fighting, to the position of umpire over his antagonists in their fight with each other.” (1969: 7)

Published Online: 2008-02-27
Published in Print: 2003-10-14

© Walter de Gruyter

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