Arendt's Rahel Varnhagen: A New Kind of Narration in the Impasses of German-Jewish Assimilation and Existenzphilosophie


Abstract
A number of Jewish women invented a singular way of entering into German culture; singular in that no tradition in Judaism or in Germany had shown them the way. Rahel Varnhagen, one of the first, is the subject of a biography by Hannah Arendt. Varnhagen never wrote a book, only letters and a diary, in which she unsystematically mixed narration and reflection, political and philosophical thoughts. Arendt's biography is true to heterogeneity of this kind: her biographical writing offers no synthesis, jumping from systematic representations to individual experiences, and then to historical events or even social context. Arendt wrote to Jaspers that she had chosen the genre of biography precisely because she could not say what she wanted to in abstracto, meaning philosophic: more precisely, within the frames of Existenzphilosophie. Two things are noteworthy here: 1) the kind of biography that Arendt wrote; and 2) the very fact that she chose—despite Heidegger's well known contempt for it—the biographical genre. In order to give an account of those two things, one has to arrive at an understanding of what it is in the frames of Existenzphilosophie that prevents expression of the predicament of Rahel's existence and makes biography the more appropriate genre in her case
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