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College Papers Undergraduate Work

The Human Condition, Ch. 5 “Action”, Analysis

If you’ve never heard of Hannah Arendt, well, I wouldn’t be all that surprised.  I’d never heard of her and her writing is very, very dense.  Quite a few weeks ago I was given a writing assignment, to write an analysis of a piece of writing.  We had a set of options, and I thought I wanted a challenge.  I guess I was feeling brave that day, or maybe I just really wanted to try to figure out what it is that Hannah Arendt was trying to say in Chapter 5 of The Human Condition.  Her ideas, once you can figure them out, or at least make an interpretation of them, are pretty fascinating.  I just don’t care for the density of the language.  I’ve always been more inclined to use clear, direct language.  Even then, I swear people misunderstand what I’m trying to say half the time.  But, everyone interprets things differently.

Anyway, by the time I got through my paper, I realized that what I’d done wasn’t an analysis; it was more of an exploratory writing where I wrote out my understanding of what she said, rather than discussing how she said it.  There’s a fine difference, and I suppose I wouldn’t have realized it without all the great instruction I’m getting in the class I’m taking.  I was a little anxious to see what my grade would be, and sure enough, it wasn’t an A like I was used to.  Also, it had the comment I expected, that it was too much summary.  I also got a comment about being a little “long-winded” in some areas.  Between the composition grade and the content grade I wound up with a B.  Lowest grade so far, but hey, I decided to try to challenge myself, and it was definitely a learning experience.

Anyhow, if you’re trying to get an idea about what Hannah Arendt is talking about in Chapter 5 of The Human Condition, I hope this helps!

Prisoners of Others’ Perceptions

In “Action”, the fifth chapter of the book, The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt analyzes the relationship between action and what it means to be human. She leads the reader through a progression of logic that leaves one with the conclusion that man is ultimately subject to the interpretations of others. What a person attempts to do in life passes through the filter of other people’s personal interpretations, producing reactions that may vary widely from what was intended. Essentially, man is a prisoner to the realities imposed on him by others.

Hannah Arendt bases her argument on the conflict between the indefinable ‘who’ and the sea of other ‘who’s that exist in human society. Who are you talking to? Hannah Arendt begins to answer this question by telling us how speech and action relate to the revelation of man’s unique character to others. She tells us that humanity is a paradox of plurality and that, through speech and action, individuals distinguish themselves and become distinct, revealing the ‘who’ behind the what. She goes as far as to say that to a unique individual, no one existed before he did, because they had not revealed themselves through speech and action. Each person perceives the world differently and an individual’s reality is only as large as what he or she perceives. A person that the individual hasn’t met doesn’t exist in that individual’s mind. When that unknown person intrudes on the individual’s reality through speech and action, they become real in the mind of the person experiencing them. The ‘new’ person begins to define who they are, rather than what they are. The act of revelation transitions the person from being an abstract ‘other’, another body in the sea of unknown bodies in the greater world around the individual, to being a ‘who’, another distinct individual. So, the author tells us that speech and action are a necessary part of the human experience, because they define us in the eyes of others.

But do speech and action really express who a person is, or simply what a person is? Hannah Arendt tells us that “in acting and speaking, men show who they are, revealing their unique personal identities,” but she goes on to say that “the moment we want to say who somebody is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is.” Is it possible for a person to communicate who they are without being able to express it? The author tells us it is more likely that the ‘who’ remains hidden to the individual, but is clear to others. However, this ‘who’ that is clear to others is not the same ‘who’ that the individual wishes to express. There is a disconnection between what the person wants to express about themselves and what is perceived, perhaps because of the inability of language to express accurately who man is, rather than what man is. “He’s a kind man.” “She’s a devoted wife.” “This guy is well traveled.” These phrases express what the person is: kind, devoted, a traveler. They do not tell us who the person is. In other words, the essence of a person cannot be captured in language. The moment the individual opens his or her mouth to express themselves, they literally lose something in translation. The author indicates that the true self is something that is beyond expression, something that transcends speech, perhaps in the same way that the soul transcends definition. Hannah Arendt affirms this idea by saying that it is impossible to solidify in words “the living essence of the person as it shows itself in the flux of action and speech.” If the ‘who’ of a person cannot be quantified through language, then it is not possible to transmit the essence of that person beyond the self. If language cannot express who a person really is, then perhaps a person never really knows who they are, having no way to articulate it. Failing to articulate who they are, the people in close contact with that individual may glimpse a deeper truth about who the person is through experience of action combined with speech, but they could never verbally relay that information to another party. The essence of the person would be lost in the language, devolving into descriptions of ‘what’, instead of ‘who’.

She elaborates on this concept by discussing how the individual functions in relation to the people he interacts with, and how those people interpret the individual. She compares a person’s social relations to a web, where each movement (speech and action) a person makes causes the web to shake. In Hannah Arendt’s own words, “The disclosure of the “who” through speech, and the setting of a new beginning through action, always fall into an already existing web where their immediate consequences can be felt.” What are those consequences? Each person in the web of social relations is impacted by the movement, but it is felt differently depending on where in the web the person experiencing the movement is sitting. In the same way, a person’s speech and actions are interpreted differently by each person that experiences them, since each person is in turn a distinct individual that forms ideas and opinions based on personal experience. So, a person can make him or herself known to others through speech and action, but the exact interpretation of the ‘who’ is limited by the perceptions of those he interacts with. This is in addition to the already defined problem of using language to express ones self.

Hannah Arendt sums up this complex idea by telling us that “nobody is the author or producer of his own life story. … The results of action and speech … reveal an agent … but this agent is not an author or producer.” Though a man may act and speak with the best of intentions, his identity is subject to the interpretations of others. Those who know him personally may have a greater understanding of the ‘who’ behind the ‘what’, but they still interpret him through their own understanding. The truth that the individual projects is not the truth that is received by those he interacts with, and the legacy he leaves behind is one that will constantly be interpreted by others. The beauty of this argument is that while it makes man a prisoner in his own mind, revealing that man is so flawed that he cannot even express his true self to others, it also attests to man’s transcendence. Man is something so noble it is beyond his ability to even describe himself.

Citing ancient and respected thinkers like Plato and St. Augustine, as well as more recent medical research, Hannah Arendt has presented an argument that challenges a basic idea of freedom: that a person can choose to be the person he or she wants to be. She tells us that our freedom is limited, because we aren’t the ones that interpret what our speech and actions mean. Though we may be free to think and act, we are not at liberty to enforce how we are viewed by those around us.

Categories
Reviews

Avatar Movie Review

Avatar is the best movie I’ve seen in years.  It’s so good in fact that it’s also the first movie to come out in years that I feel is worth paying more money for, to own a copy.  Before going to see this movie, I hadn’t really heard anything good about it.  People were all speculating about the budget and whether or not it would be justified.  I heard a lot of people predicting that it would be flaky.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to them.

Avatar is a breathtaking movie.  From beginning to end you’ll be amazed by the stunning visuals.  The imagery is vivid and lush.  The level of detail is astounding.  But it’s not just the visuals that will keep you glued to your seat.  The movie creates and entire world with depth, history, and tradition that’s full of life.  The Na’vi even have their own language. A sequel would only ruin it, but there’s enough room in the world James Cameron created in this film to spawn an entire series of books, expanding on the history of the Na’vi, the native population of Pandora.

Even though this movie takes place on Pandora, another planet, the human element isn’t lost.  The movie is all about bonds that people form with each other and with the world around them.  The Na’vi are a primitive race on the surface, but their society is very advanced, especially in how they interact with their environment and the role it plays in their lives.  The Na’vi live a simple lifestyle but they’re in tune with their surroundings and they live happily.  There’s also a romantic side to the movie that is predictable, but done in a way that’s touching and interesting.  It adds to the story, rather than serving as a distracting element.

The movie is fast paced and has a lot of action in it.  There really isn’t a boring moment.  With every scene you get to learn more about Pandora and the Na’vi.  There are also bits of humor thrown in, but tastefully.  Some of Sigourney Weaver’s lines are a great example.  This movie will probably appeal most to people who love epic fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings, but it’s hard to compare this movie with others I’ve seen.  It’s really in a league of its own.  It was like watching the rich world of a book come to life on screen.  There’s really something there for everyone.  I doubt anyone’s going to be disappointed coming home from this one.

At the end, you’ll find yourself lost in the world of Pandora and it’s people, wishing for more and reminiscing on the more poignant scenes of the movie.

(Read my follow-up post on Avatar and the symbolism present in the plot.)

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Categories
Geeky Stuff

Funcom’s Age of Conan Going Down The Drain

I was taking a look through my Google Reader subscriptions and found a great article at Online Massively Multiplayer.com about Funcom’s Age of Conan. I decided to leave a comment and really got going, so I decided to re-post my comment there as a blog entry here.

I was one of those initial AoC subscribers. I was looking for a way to break free of the WoW grind. AoC was fun… at first.

The starter island is a masterpiece and is everything an RPG MMO should be. I especially loved listening to the voice-overs. That’s partly where Funcom failed I think. They set their own bar during the first 20 levels of game-play, and then fell short afterward. I remember being shocked when I left the starter island and found out that there was no more voice-over dialogue. I remember seeing it mentioned that they intended to complete more voice-overs for the quests, but I didn’t stick around to find out. They should have had it all done to start with, or not done it at all. That was just the first disappointment.

On top of that, AoC didn’t really introduce anything innovative or new. In fact, it felt like a step left, instead of a step forward. There was nothing wrong with the classes, per se, just the game-play itself. Most of the interfaces felt awkward and just not that intuitive.

Also, I remember being particularly disgusted with the amount of quests that required you to go from one end of the zone to the other (or one end of the game world to the other), especially considering they weren’t very interesting to start with. Granted, there are only so many scenarios you can come up with as far as quests go in a game where you grind XP or grind quests to level up, but instead of making them as hard as possible to take up time, why not make them easier and focus on other aspects of the game that will appeal to your player base? I think most players now take partial enjoyment from the leveling up, are amused slightly by some of the quests, but all in all just want to get to the “end-game” content.

Speaking of running from one end of the zone to the other, what was with their idea of putting the crafting NPCs in a separate zone on the far end of a zone packed with mobs? Why did the game even need a special zone for a crafting town? That should have been incorporated into the three major cities. On top of that, placing level restrictions on being able to craft is getting old. It doesn’t make sense, even for a fantasy world. I can’t wait for a game that will allow a person to be solely a crafter if they want to be. (And a good game with a bard class would be nice! I miss that from DAoC/FFXI!)

I suppose the general idea I’m trying to get across is that AoC wasn’t well thought out, and had a rough, unfinished feel to it. Today’s MMO players expect more from their games. On top of that, most have played multiple MMOs of high caliber and don’t want to take a step sideways. They want to take a step forward to something better. When it was released, AoC didn’t stand a chance against polished games like WoW.

The market is so competitive now that I think companies will have to try to appeal to niche markets rather than mainstream. For example, most people play WoW because there’s just nothing better available.

I’ve been rather disappointed by the MMOs coming out recently so I’ve turned to F2P games to occupy my spare time while I keep my eyes peeled for the next blockbuster MMO. Right now I’m content with Combat Arms and Runes of Magic.

Combat Arms is a fantastic online FPS that keeps the action pumping. It’s so well laid out that I just can’t believe it’s free. Every time I log in I’m impressed with the gameplay. The only thorn in Combat Arm’s side are the number of hackers that manage to get past their hack detection software. If Nexon could find a way to prevent hackers from getting in the game matches this great game would be golden.

Runes of Magic is a great game that’s free to play and incorporates elements of WoW, UO, Guild Wars, FFXI, and who knows how many others. It’s as if they plucked out the best parts of each game and rolled them into one very entertaining MMO.

Hmm… looks like I dropped a quarter instead of two cents!

[Posted by myself on Massively Multiplayer.com on Tuesday, March 31st at 12:38am SGT]