‘Hannah Arendt’ the biopic, and Hannah Arendt’s legacy
In his controversial 2003 polemic ‘Les penchants criminels de l’Europe democratique’ (The Criminal Inclinations of Democratic Europe) – still scandalously untranslated into English – French linguist Jean-Claude Milner examines the implications of a very particular nominal decision. When modern Europeans discussed ‘the Jews’, Milner reminds us, they would enter the debate according to one of two modalities, proposing to confront either ‘the Jewish question’ or ‘the Jewish problem’. Question or problem? – however minor it may seem, such a decision could not be more consequential. A ‘question’ is always a matter of language. It is, by definition, posed by a speaking being to other speaking beings. A question is always a question about a situation to which it attests and to which it attends. By the simple act and fact of being posed, it can give us a new insight into that situation, as it calls for further responses – not least further questions. A problem, by contrast, does not necessarily solicit responses: on the contrary, it demands solutions, that is, technical solutions. A problem is not necessarily a matter of language but something supposedly outside language, a ‘real thing’, like a broken leg or a genetic disorder. A problem insists on calculation and action. Whereas a question does not determine but opens up a time that dilates according to the rhythm of those who answer its call, a problem projects urgency and anxiety, which must be resolved as quickly and as effectively as possible. We cannot just stand around debating a problem endlessly; indeed, those who do so are likely part of the problem themselves. We must cease this pointless talk. We must act. Now.
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