Questioning modern time with Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin
Four texts from Arendt and Benjamin are the scene of our thinking. We enact the question of time as a refusal to abide by the modern conception of time, where the present is the only ground of the real. We argue for a notion of time, in which all that-has-been is considered a site of real experience. Firstly we discuss Arendt's book On Revolution. Through issues such as history, the eventful and revolt we show the usefulness of the question of time to further our understanding. Secondly in Arendt's 'What is Freedom', freedom is discussed beyond the private individual, as a matter of plurality, of living together. The question of time shows freedom grounded beyond the individual's present, in the historical time of plurality. With Benjamin's essay 'On some motifs in Baudelaire' we show poetry as a challenge to the symbolic environment of the commodity world. Poetry appears as a keeper of our relation to the time of memory and language that precedes us. In Benjamin's 'The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility', we distinguish art from technology through the question of time. Art's experience involves an active relation with what-has-been, with past generations; it challenges the technological way of relating to the world that destroys the depth of human expenence. Finally, Arendt and Benjamin are presented together, stressing their use of history and tradition to address the problems of modernity. Their effort to think the eventful is related to their negation of historical progression. From the question of time, their thinking teaches us a form of critique that denies the preconception of presence as being the totality of the real. Under their gaze presence is revealed as a changing surface under the sway of history, of time.