Thinking is the process that brings us back, time after time, to question our world. It avoids the authority of official fact. As such, it is the infinite and ongoing process of thought. In the first volume to The Life of the Mind, Arendt claims that thinking demands “a stop-and-think,” a search for meaning or wisdom that disrupts the thirst for knowledge for its own sake. Thinking without purpose provides the foundation of all art and “the capacity to ask all the unanswerable questions upon which every civilization is founded.” For all these reasons, thinking is, for Arendt, fundamental to our responsibility as political beings.
Haste and thoughtlessness are not the same things, and yet under certain conditions the difference between them can be considerably relaxed. Thoughtlessness, and even at times the inability to think, coexists with movements such as Trump’s that play on constant motion and the speed of political theatre. Arendt refers to the “perpetual-motion mania” that sustains totalitarian movements, and it is tempting to think of Trump’s manic tweeting in this light. Here, an instant and thoughtless response stands in place of a considered and attentive engagement. Haste and thoughtlessness all too often ground this contemporary arena of political performance.
Margarethe von Trotta’s film on Hannah Arendt explores the question of time and its relation with thinking, depicting long sequences where Arendt smokes and nothing else appears to be happening. Arendt is thinking, and von Trotta risks the expectations of mainstream cinema to establish an unsettling sense that thought takes time. Of course, the frame of von Trotta’s film is Arendt’s report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann — the work she carries out initially for The New Yorker. This will, of course, become the basis of arguably her most controversial work: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s slowness in producing her account of the trial (and thinking through its complexity) infuriates those working on The New Yorker, and we as audience are caught in the tension between the demands of journalistic reality (deadlines and instant analysis) and the slow world of philosophical thought and judgment. Arendt’s work takes time. It is the kind of work that can’t be hurried.
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