To Appear in Times of Pandemic

Hourya BentouhamiCovid-19

According to Hannah Arendt, if the inside of the body “were to appear, we would all look alike.” If we could see the insides of bodies, they would validate the claim that we are indistinguishable, since we are all subject to the same requirements for the maintenance of life and face the same exposure to disease and death. The philosopher makes this observation to explain that our being of the world cannot be understood as a simple being in the world, reduced to our organic nature or our status as biological bodies. For Arendt, and contrary to a popular belief in ethology, life is not only the external appearance of something interior, since surface effects (such as plumage) are much more differentiated than their internal, organic causes and therefore cannot be simply their secondary expression. Who, by contrast, could distinguish individuals from one another by examining their viscera? We would thus be indistinguishable, a “population,” by virtue of our organic interiority, whereas we become individuals through our expressive surfaces, our appearance, Arendt tells us.

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