Hannah Arendt: To Be With Myself

29 August 2018


This living-with-myself is more than consciousness, more than the self-awareness that accompanies me in whatever I do and in whichever state I am. To be with myself and to judge by myself is articulated and actualized in the processes of thought, and every thought process is an activity in which I speak with myself about whatever happens to concern me. The mode of existence present in this silent dialogue with myself, I shall now call, solitude. Hence, solitude is more than, and different from, other modes of being alone, particularly and most importantly loneliness and isolation.

Solitude means that though alone, I am together with somebody (myself, that is). It means that I am two-in-one, whereas loneliness as well as isolation do not know this kind of schism, this inner dichotomy in which I can ask questions of myself and receive answers. Solitude and its corresponding activity, which is thinking, can be interrupted either by somebody else addressing me or, like every other activity, by doing something else, or by sheer exhaustion. In any of these cases, the two that I was in thought become one again. If somebody addresses me, I must now talk to him, and not to myself, and in talking to him, I change. I become one, possessing of course self-awareness, that is, consciousness, but no longer fully and articulately in possession of myself. If I am addressed by one person only and if, as sometimes happens, we begin to talk in the form of dialogue about the very same things either one of us had been concerned about while still in solitude, then it is as if I now address another self. And this other self, allos authos, was rightly defined by Aristotle as the friend. If, on the other hand, my thought process in solitude stops for some reason, I also become one again. Because this one who I am is without company, I may reach out for the company of others–people, books, music–and if they fail me or if I am unable to establish contact with them, I am overcome by boredom and loneliness. For this I do not have to be alone: I can be very bored and lonely in the midst of a crowd, but not in actual solitude, that is, in my own company, or together with a friend, in the sense of another self. This is why it is much harder to bear being alone in a crowd than in solitude–as Meister Eckhart once remarked.
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Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgement

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