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Friendship and the Correspondence of Hannah Arendt: Forgiveness, Loyalty, and Authenticity

Welcome friends! We are glad you are here to learn more about this project!!!

“Friendship and the Correspondence of Hannah Arendt: Forgiveness, Loyalty, and Authenticity” is an interdisciplinary social sculpture that asks four artists to consider the role that friendship plays in our political world. The project culminates in an evening-length program of immersive art installations, participatory events, and performances. The final performance is the result of a six-month-long, creative communal process whose foundation is a collection of letters written by political theorist Hannah Arendt. Throughout the project, the artists and curators will read texts, attend public presentations, share ideas online, and participate in an exploratory workshop, all with a mind to explore friend-making as a creative practice, a collaborative effort, and an intellectual pursuit that will culminate in an immersive, public event featuring work inspired by the process. The project is co-curated by Julia Claire Wallace and Jeanette “Joy” Harris and was commissioned by Goethe Pop-Up Houston, a branch of the Goethe Institute, the cultural arm of the German government. 

The artists involved – Elizabeth Newkirk, Sarah Sudhoff, Khaili Sam-Sin, and Yifei Zhang – are Houston-based and reflect a variety of backgrounds and disciplines ranging from classical music performance to architecture and performance art to photography. 

This project is part of Goethe Institute’s 2022 focus on the work of the twentieth-century, German political theorist Hannah Arendt.

Overview of Arendt and friendship

Hannah Arendt’s publication of Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem solidified her as one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. Arendt responded to the horrors of twentieth-century political violence through a radical critique of agency, responsibility, and thinking.

Thinkers continue to look to Arendt for insight into urgent political issues, gleaning her texts for clues as to how she would have approached contemporary issues like fascism, populism, and tyranny. But the desire to contemporize Arendt’s work and perhaps unwittingly transform her work into an ideology itself neglects an essential aspect of her philosophical grounding. Arendt was committed to preserving a world of people and this is evidenced by her consistent insistence upon a kind of dynamic discourse and self-disclosure that could only be created and protected through the ever-changing landscape of what she called a “web of relationships.”

But Arendt’s philosophical reliance on relationships and plurality was not simply an abstract notion. Relationships, namely friendships, played an important role in her life as a thinker, a friend, a collaborator, an adversary, and a lover. These relationships are indexed by the volumes of correspondence that have been collected, published, and preserved since her death. And while there is an intellectual desire to look at her letters as a vehicle to uncover the development of her thinking, the letters also poignantly point out that Arendt’s private life and the people within it – who she referred to as her “tribe” – was brimming with relationships that nurtured, complimented, attacked, and comforted her. Relationships, in short, played a key role in her ability to love the world.

Through this project, we seek to explore friend-making as a creative practice, a collaborative effort, and an intellectual pursuit.

How might we learn what friendship means and how it functions in a pluralistic world?

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