Arendt Studies


published on March 14, 2018

Ari-Elmeri Hyvönen

The Janus Face of Political Experience

Arendt’s concept of experience can contribute in important ways to the contemporary debates in political and feminist theory. However, while the notion is ubiquitous in Arendt’s thinking we lack an understanding of experience as a concept, as opposed to the impact of Arendt’s personal experiences on her thought. Drawing from her notes for “Political Experiences in the Twentieth Century,” the article seeks to enrich our understanding of the Janus-faced character of political experience. It emphasizes the importance of vicariousness, and argues that experience should be understood as a process of suffering, enduring, and re-experiencing events beyond our conscious control. The article further posits that experience appear only when events, through metaphors, are allowed to leave their mark on our way of using language. It is argued that this concept poses an important challenge to the different ways experience is approached in contemporary political and feminist theory.