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DISCH ‘93 (Lisa J.; Professor of Political Theory – University of Minnesota, “More Truth Than Fact: Storytelling as Critical Understanding in the Writings of Hannah Arendt,” Political Theory 21:4, November)

What Hannah Arendt called “my old fashioned storytelling”7 is at once the most elusive and the most provocative aspect of her political philosophy. The apologies she sometimes made for it are well known, but few scholars have attempted to discern from these “scattered remarks” as statement of epistemology or method.8 Though Arendt alluded to its importance throughout her writings in comments like the one that prefaces this essay, this offhandedness left an important question about storytelling unanswered: how can thought that is “bound” to experience as its only “guidepost” possibly be critical? I discern an answer to this question in Arendt’s conception of storytelling, which implicitly redefines conventional understandings of objectivity and impartiality. Arendt failed to explain what she herself termed a “rather unusual approach”9 to political theory because she considered methodological discussions to be self-indulgent and irrelevant to real political problems.10 This reticence did her a disservice because by failing to explain how storytelling creates a vantage point that is both critical and experiential she left herself open to charges of subjectivism.11 As Richard Bernstein has argued, however, what makes Hannah Arendt distinctive is that she is neither a subjectivist nor a foundationalist but, rather, attempts to move “beyond objectivism and relativism.”12 I argue that Arendt’s apologies for her storytelling were disingenuous; she regarded it not as an anachronistic or nostalgic way of thinking but as an innovative approach to critical understanding. Arendt’s storytelling proposes an alternative to the model of impartiality defined as detached reasoning. In Arendt’s terms, impartiality involves telling oneself the story of an event or situation form the plurality of perspectives that constitute it as a public phenomenon. This critical vantage point, not from outside but from within a plurality of contesting standpoints, is what I term “situated impartiality.” Situated impartial knowledge is neither objective disinterested nor explicitly identified with a single particularistic interest. Consequently, its validity does not turn on what Donna Haraway calls the “god trick,” the claim to an omnipotent, disembodied vision that is capable ofseeing everything from nowhere.”13 But neither does it turn on a claim to insight premised on the experience of subjugation, which purportedly gives oppressed peoples a privileged understanding of structures of domination and exonerates them of using power to oppress. The two versions of standpoint claims – the privileged claim to disembodied vision and the embodied claim to “antiprivilege” from oppression – are equally suspect because they are simply antithetical. Both define knowledge positionally, in terms of proximity to power; they differ only in that they assign the privilege of “objective” understanding to opposite poles of the knowledge/power axis. Haraway argues that standpoint claims are insufficient as critical theory because they ignore the complex of social relations that mediate the connection between knowledge and power. She counters that any claim to knowledge, whether advanced by the oppressed or their oppressors, is partial. No one can justifiably lay claim to abstract truth, Haraway argues, but only toembodied objectivity,” which she argues “means quite simply situated knowledges.”14 There is a connection between Arendt’s defense of storytelling and Haraway’s project, in that both define theory as a critical enterprise whose purpose is not to defend abstract principles or objective facts but to tell provocative stories that invite contestation form rival perspectives.15


The aff creates an artificial separation between indigenous knowledge and western knowledge – this is a flawed epistemological strategy because it both ignores the historical connections between western and indigenous people and also incorrectly characterizes both knowledge systems

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