Grimm Lecture 2020 recap: Thinking Itself is Dangerous

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Thinking Itself is Dangerous - Poster of the 2020 Grimm Lecture

On Thursday, March 19, 2020 Dr. Samantha Rose Hill gave the lecture “Thinking itself is dangerous: Reading Hannah Arendt”. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the lecture was held online, and Dr. Hill spoke to hundreds of participants from her home in New York via livestream.

After an introduction by James Skidmore, director of the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, Dr. Hill talked about the renewed interest in Hannah Arendt’s work, and why we should be reading Arendt now to better understand the politics of today. Besides giving some background at Arendt’s life, Dr. Hill introduced Arendt’s main questions that she elaborates on in her work. First: How can we protect spaces of freedom, which require movement in the world? And second: Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?

In her work, Arendt turns to the process of thinking itself, and what is happening when we are thinking. She teaches us new concepts and categories to face the political reality and to engage in self-reflective, critical thinking without holding on to concepts that may delimit us to come face to face with the world as it is. Moreover, she heightens the importance of imagining the world from the perspective of another.

Dr. Hill elaborated on Arendt’s metaphor of “Denken ohne Geländer” – “thinking without bannisters”. The bannister represents ideas, concepts and categories, which shape the way we think. With the emergence of totalitarianism in the 20th century there was a break from this “bannister”, because the standards of judgements could no longer be relied upon. According to Arendt, people now must constantly engage in the activity of thinking, trying to find new concepts. There is no end in thinking.

For Arendt, there are no dangerous thoughts. The activity of thinking itself is dangerous, because it has the power to disrupt our sense of self, makes us question our beliefs. Moreover, Arendt calls us to stop and think. Dr. Hill heightens the importance to make space for solitude, and to engage in conversation with ourselves. The current situation which forces us to slow down might be an invitation to think about Arendt’s concepts of thinking and how we might become more engaged in thinking itself in contemplation.

If you want to learn more about the key elements of Arendt’s understanding on thinking you can watch the complete lecture via YouTube.

Thank you to Dr. Hill and everyone else who made this livestream possible.