“Optimism” in Hannah Arendt’s “We Refugees”
Optimism, according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, refers to tendency to expect the best in all things, confidence in success, or belief that good will triumph over evil in the end. In Hannah Arendt’s article, this optimism describes refugees who think and speak cheerfully that “their whole former life had been passed in a kind of unconscious exile and only their new country now taught them what a home really looks like.” (111)
However, in the particular text on Jews who constantly loss their homes, this optimism is actually a disguise of their inner fear of being immigrants and a desperate hope to assimilate. Those people have to adjust to everything in the new environment in order to be possibly accepted as proper citizens and regain human rights, which is in fact hard to achieve. Thus, this seemingly wishful attitude reflects a deep hopelessness.
I find it interesting because this displayed optimism and the actual sadness create a dramatic contrast. In dance, as demonstrated in today’s workshop with Aakash Odedra, different attitudes generate different energy. Refugees’ deceitful appearance and their inner voice form a contrast of energy. It can bring out powerful tension in body movements, which might help to reveal a hidden truth of refugee life to the audience.
Arendt, Hannah. Altogether Elsewhere. Edited by Marc Robinson fi. Faber and Faber. BOST ON e LONDON.
Hornby, Albert Sydney., et al. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. 7th ed. Oxford: New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
A quick writing note here. If you are paraphrasing a definition from a dictionary, you have to provide a citation – you wrote where the source came from but not the page number or if it came from an online reference.
The assignment was not to look elsewhere for the definition, but to think about how Arendt defined it in her text. I agree that what is most interesting is its contraction — what Arendt notes is that the Jewish refugees felt almost compelled to “perform” optimism at the expense of feeling the pain of their expulsion and the difficulty of their past journeys. Without that reconciliation, the optimism isn’t based on something real – it is an erasure of their true narrative – and these narratives of our own lives are what sustains us. And what you write of the contrast – the joy and optimism we felt when we stumbled and picked ourselves up again in dance class was real. Mostly – because we didn’t have to pretend that we were enjoying it or that we were good. Optimism can only be generated from the psychic place you are actually in. If you have to pretend that something hard didn’t happen – or you can’t discuss it, then those suppressed feelings are all the more difficult to manage when you are also expected to act joyful about the future.