Vol. 6 | The Modern Challenge to Tradition | Editorial Introduction

First New York Fragment

The archive houses eleven pages from Arendt’s work on the Gauss material that have no obvious place in the other parts despite their physical resemblance to the papers in “II” and “Tradition and past” and their obvious relevance to Arendt’s larger concerns at this time. Three of these pages are filed with “Fragments,” six with “Miscellany,” and two in the “Concern with Politics” folder. Given the comprehensive commitment of the Complete Works, the editors were faced first with the pragmatic decision about how such disconnected fragments might best be presented. One option would have been to relegate these passages to an unstructured appendix. While true to the condition of the archive, such an entirely decontextualized presentational strategy would offer the reader little foundation for interpreting these discontinuous remains. Nor would it capture the connections that do exist between these fragments and pages that Arendt incorporated into the notes she brought to Princeton. The original context in which these fragments first occurred has not entirely disappeared but had been transformed in the course of Arendt’s work. It was thus possible to reconstruct that context, at least to a certain extent, and in so doing reconstruct parts of the original text Arendt had written after returning in early September 1953 to Manhattan.

Such a reconstruction, the alternative presentational strategy for these fragments that the editors have decided to attempt, is philologically risky. It involves not merely questioning the order of the archive, but reversing work that Arendt herself undertook. This is possible because of the unfinished character of the Gauss material, but justifiable because of the duality of Arendt’s own intentions when preparing these texts. That she wanted both to write a theoretical book and to read a series of lectures manifests itself in the distinction between an underlying original chapter and the eventual notes for oral presentation it became.

In the end, we were able to assemble a fragmentary 34-page partial reconstruction of an unfinished chapter that once consisted of forty-five pages. We assume that snippets of the missing eleven pages are likely in “Tradition and past” of the Gauss material, but these passages, too short to be reliably identified, could not be integrated into the reconstruction. We have decided to display the gaps in the text rather than to attempt to suture them with single sentences.

In presenting this reconstruction, we are by no means suggesting that we can situate this unfinished chapter with certainty. We know neither its title1 nor its place in Arendt’s book. It is clear from the condition of the pages that before reworking it for her Gauss presentation, Arendt had already revised and expanded this chapter in ways we cannot completely determine. 2 we present here is an attempt to give a series of free-floating pages a home, and thereby demonstrate what the archival materials reveal about Arendt’s writing process.

The “Fragment” was reconstructed backward, from its end toward its beginning. The “Miscellany” folder contains the longest intact part of this hypothetical chapter, six pages numbered 40 to 45 discussing the Platonic notion of law. The final page has only three lines, with a single Roman numeral “V” typed beneath them, suggesting that these pages mark the end of the fourth section of an unfinished statement. With these six pages as the starting point, the editors could establish that a further half-page fragment preserved in the “Fragments” folder of the Gauss material was the bottom of a page whose top had been integrated into “Tradition and past,” and that the resulting page, numbered 39, matched up with page 40 of the fragment. An old page 38a could be assembled from further fragments in “Tradition and past,” and so on.

The reconstruction of the fragment presents the pages as they probably appeared before Arendt reworked them for her lectures. In most cases it was rather easy to decide which layer of the text is oldest, but since Arendt reworked the text more than once, both as chapter and then as lecture, some of our decisions are necessarily speculative.

The first pages may serve as an example: We begin with page 2 of the old text, (which ended up as page 7 of “Tradition and the Modern Age”). “II” of the Gauss material offers a plausible page 3 and 4. But we have included between these pages two pages archived among the fragments that clearly also belong to this early part of the chapter. We cannot say exactly when or how Arendt integrated them into the text, since the page numbers here may have resulted from various stages of reworking. We include them in our reconstruction because they display a flow of arguments that otherwise would have been destroyed. In general, and no doubt because Arendt made much more use of the earlier pages than of the later pages in her reworking, the beginning of the reconstruction is more speculative than the end.

James McFarland

We can’t rule out, though, that the first page of the typescript of “Tradition and the Modern Age” once opened this chapter; see here.


Thus the twelfth and thirteenth pages, which are integral to the distinction between tradition and the past that Arendt entirely rewrote for her Princeton talk (see Tradition and past), and so must have belonged to this earlier stage of Arendt’s writing, are numbered 22a and 22b, indicating that they were composed as an interpolation when the prior and subsequent pages were numbered 22 and 23 (which they are in Arendt’s hand), but after they had originally been formulated as (typed) pages 13 and 14. More generally, the fact that Arendt’s handwritten changes to the typed page numbers sometimes reduce the page number (as on the twenty-sixth through twenty-eighth pages) and sometimes increase it (as on the majority of earlier pages) testifies to the fact that a considerable number of stages of revision are represented here within the primary contrast between the formulation of a book chapter and its transformation into a lecture.