Paul Ricoeur, at a Hannah Arendt retrospective some 15 years ago, spoke of the controlling metaphor of Arendt's work as that of Place, and said that he offered in his own work, instead, an enabling metaphor of Time. To bring together the work of these two exceptional thinkers, to bridge the divide and to map out the complementarity of engaging metaphors would be a worthy task of scholarship, however I will not try to do so even in outline here. Still, the contrast and convergence of the two metaphors of time and place is one I want to at least sketch in this paper.
The conference itself, at New York University, was a tenuous and difficult gathering of scholars who, for years, had been deeply divided over the import and response of Arendt's "report" for the New Yorker, in a series of articles that later was published as a book entitled Eichman in Jerusalem. Arendt’s report covered the trial of the Nazi war criminal, a trial which itself engaged a present political and judicial temperament with a spiritual and moral retrospective of heinous policy acts within a bound time of terror and horror. That trial, among other things, was an occasion for the remembrance of a time now revisited from a profound and terminal place, the ancient and new homeland of Israel.
Whatever in Arendt’s work divided us, (the key to the fury in that division, especially for the survivors, is captured in her subtitle “The banality of evil”), the pathos of time, place and people, the critical importance of the references of Time--the Holocaust, and of Place -- Dachau, Belsen, Auchwitz -- was lost on no one. Not on survivor and witness, not on student, historian, 2 philosopher, or poet. Neither Place nor Time was a welcome one to be shared-- horror, however witnessable, is perhaps not shareable-- but these were extraordinary times and places which, whether or not we claim them, have a claim on us. They have become indelible places in the time of history which resettled the boundary lines of the inconceivable in human action.
The history of the Jews leading up to this moment had been the story of a people without a place, a people trying to survive, compete, achieve, or prevail only in time, in transit. The proposal of the "final solution" was to further deprive a people already without a place-- they were to be denied a time as well, they were to disappear from the face of the earth. It is of course arguable that there is nothing singular or new in this, that many peoples have been and continue to be subjected to oppression, dispersion, extermination. The argument, then, is that only the systematic efficiency of scale is new: a modern industrial nation state whose leaders were committed to a political policy of genocide. Arendt herself argued the existence of something else: a new and insidious form of evil in the institutionalized thoughtlessness of bureaucratic order, in which the systematic and wholesale murder of human beings becomes an assigned task just like any other. “Banality” for Arendt did not lessen but deepened the terrible force and face of evil. Also arguably, this policy and its effect could not have taken place, at least in the way of ease and efficiency it did, if the Jews had been a sovereign people of place. When Hitler argued for only "a place in the sun" for Germany, it was important to ask, at whose expense of place, as well as at what price of appropriation.
My interest here is not to trace the particulars of this, or of any time and place. It is rather to see the essential human import of these two fundamental and often conflicting categories of Time and Place.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Kimmel, L. (1997). The Poetics of Place. Analecta Husserliana, 51, 141-147.