The pleasure of your company: Arendt, Kristeva, and an ethics of public happiness

Research in Phenomenology 33 (1):53-74 (2003)
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Abstract

In this essay, I examine Arendt's and Kristeva's account of the archaic event of natality, arguing that each attempts to show how this event is the source of our pleasure in the company of others. I first examine Arendt's understanding of natality, showing that in her early writings, specifically in The Origin of Totalitarianism, the event of natality carries with it a capacity for violence that Arendt does not continue to develop in her later formulations. This lack of development leaves her later thought, specifically her notion of "public happiness" strangely light-minded on the topic of domination, unable to give an account of how violence can be part and parcel of our appearance in the public space itself. I then turn to Kristeva's understanding of the event of natality, arguing that her account, specifically the "violence beneath our desires" contributes significantly to Arendt's account of natality, allowing us to understand how pleasure in the company of others is possible despite such violence. I argue that Kristeva locates our capacity for public happiness in the aspect of natality Arendt abandons in her later thought. I conclude by showing how Kristeva's account of natality provides a foundation for Arendt's understanding of public happiness.

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Peg Birmingham
DePaul University

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