Maria Tamboukou’s lecture Who are you? Narrative traces of uniqueness and plurality examined Hannah Arendt’s thinking about life narratives. Tamboukou illustrated different meanings of narratives and narration in Arendt’s political theory with quotes from the works of Arendt as well as other theorists such as Julia Kristeva, Adriana Cavarero, Olivia Guaraldo and Kari Palonen. The presentation also included examples from Tamboukou’s own research, in which she has used the Arendtian approach to narration and narratives to study women’s writings.
Narratives are not good or bad, but they can be dangerous – as Tamboukou approaches the question from a Foucauldian point of view. As one can observe in today’s politics and media, narratives can be and are used for manipulation, but in one’s life, narration can also be the process of responding to the world and connecting with it. In Arendt’s political theory, relationality is at the heart of political subjectivity; one becomes part of a community through one’s words and actions. No one is born unique, but through action and communication with others one becomes unique:
With word and deed we insert ourselves into the human world, and this insertion is like a second birth, in which we confirm and take upon ourselves the naked fact of our original physical appearance. This insertion is not forced upon us by necessity, like labor, and it is not prompted by utility like work. It may be stimulated by the presence of others whose company we may wish to join, but it is never conditioned by them; its impulse springs from the beginning which came into the world when we were born and to which we respond by beginning something new on our own initiative. (Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition, 1998, 176–177).
Nóra Ugron is a master student of Hungarian Linguistic and Literary Studies at Babeș–Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is currently doing an exchange at University of Turku, while writing her master’s thesis about Emmi Itäranta’s novel Teemestarin kirja/ Memory of Water.