Metaphors, Hannah Arendt contends, link the unknowable with the knowable, the supersensuous with the sensuous—a carrying over or linguistic “transference” much in line with the Greek metapherein (to transfer). In her monumental The Origins of Totalitarianism, the unknowable corresponds to the “modern lie” of totalitarianism, a lie so big, a totality so total that the possibility of argumentative critique appears to have evaporated. At this point, only the linguistic transference of the perfect fiction of totalitarianism into the more graspable language of metaphors seems to allow for “understanding.” The author discusses Arendt's theory of metaphorical thinking, as developed in the only recently published Denktagebuch (2002), vis-à-vis her art of storytelling, which appears remarkable in that its hyperbolic mobilization of metaphorical language, allegedly “explaining” the dynamics of totalitarianism, read as an ongoing attempt to “destroy” the coercive force of totalitarian logicality. What the calculated unpredictability of Arendt's speech act, what its stylistic dissonance and the correlating dislogic seem to invoke, is the epistemic appropriation of the totalitarian phenomenon. This happens not by employing metaphors as analytic tools; what comes to the fore, rather, is the pleonastic figurative logic of Arendt's presentation itself. Arendt's historiography of totalitarianism oddly appears to set itself against the cogent systematology of totalitarian politics.
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Research Article| February 01 2009
Martin Blumenthal-Barby; “The Odium of Doubtfulness”; or, The Vicissitudes of Metaphorical Thinking. New German Critique 1 February 2009; 36 (1 (106)): 61–81. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2008-021
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