The Life of the Mind

The Life of the Mind by Hannah Arendt Read Free Book Online

Book: The Life of the Mind by Hannah Arendt Read Free Book Online
Authors: Hannah Arendt
Tags: Psychology, Non-Fiction, Philosophy, Politics
shown in their unadulterated state than the inner organs by which we live. To be sure, I could never transform them into appearances if they did not prompt it and if I did not feel them as I do other sensations that make me aware of the life process within me. But the way they become manifest without the intervention of reflection and transference into speech—by glance, gesture, inarticulate sound—is no different from the way the higher animal species communicate very similar emotions to each other as well as to men.
    Our mental activities, by contrast, are conceived in speech even before being communicated, but speech is meant to be heard and words are meant to be understood by others who also have the ability to speak, just as a creature endowed with the sense of vision is meant to see and to be seen. Thought without speech is inconceivable; "thought and speech anticipate one another. They continually take one another's place"; 21 they actually take each other for granted. And although the power of speech can be physically located with greater assurance than many emotions—love or hatred, shame or envy—the locus is not an "organ" and lacks all the strictly functional properties that are so characteristic of the whole organic life process. It is true that all mental activities withdraw from the world of appearances, but this withdrawal is not toward an interior of either the self or the soul. Thought with its accompanying conceptual language, since it occurs in and is spoken by a being at home in a world of appearances, stands in need of metaphors in order to bridge the gap between a world given to sense experience and a realm where no such immediate apprehension of evidence can ever exist. But our soul-experiences are body-bound to such an extent that to speak of an "inner life" of the soul is as unmetaphorical as to speak of an inner sense thanks to which we have clear sensations of the functioning or non-functioning of our inner organs. It is obvious that a mindless creature cannot possess anything like an experience of personal identity; it is at the complete mercy of its inner life process, its moods and emotions, whose continual change is in no way different from the continual change of our bodily organs. Every emotion is a somatic experience; my heart aches when I am grieved, gets warm with sympathy, opens itself up in rare moments when love or joy overwhelms me, and similar physical sensations take possession of me with anger, wrath, envy, and other affects. The language of the soul in its mere expressive stage, prior to its transformation and transfiguration through thought, is not metaphorical; it does not depart from the senses and uses no analogies when it talks in terms of physical sensations. Merleau-Ponty, to my knowledge the only philosopher who not only tried to give an account of the organic structure of human existence but also tried in all earnest to embark upon a "philosophy of the flesh," was still misled by the old identification of mind and soul when he defined "the mind as the
other side
of the body" since "there is a body of the mind, and a mind of the body and a chiasm between them." 22 Precisely die lack of such chiasmata or crossings over is the crux of mental phenomena, and Merleau-Ponty himself, in a different context, recognized the lack with great clarity. Thought, he writes, is "'fundamental' because it is not borne by anything, but not fundamental as if with it one reached a foundation upon which one ought to base oneself and stay. As a matter of principle, fundamental thought is bottomless. It
is,
if you wish, an abyss." 23 But what is true of the mind is not true of the soul and vice versa. The soul, though perhaps much darker than the mind will ever manage to be, is not bottomless; it does indeed "overflow" into the body; it "encroaches upon it, is hidden in it-and at the same time needs it, terminates in it; is
anchored
in it." 24
    Such insights, incidentally, into the

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