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published on August 29, 2019

Liesbeth Schoonheim

The Productive Body
Rereading Hannah Arendt’s Critique of Corporeality and Introspection

This essay aims to correct the widely-held view that Arendt is hostile to the body due to its physical needs. By focusing on two modes of corporeality that are distinguished by the production of bodily substances—the digestive body and the crying body—I argue that Arendt (1) deployed various notions of corporeality that thematize, in different ways, the uncontrollability our bodies; and (2) argues for the affirmation of this unmasterablity because it corresponds to the conditioned nature of human existence. Firstly, Arendt criticized the Greek, narcissistic aspiration toward physical beauty, exemplified in the figure of Achilles, for its attempt to subjugate the digestive body to a preconceived end—a criticism that equally applies to Connolly’s plea for strategically altering our affects. Secondly, Arendt’s appreciation of Homer’s description of a crying Odysseus shows that the acknowledgment of events constitutive of one’s life consists in a publicly visible somatic reaction.

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