Masa Mrovlje – Existential Aesthetic Judging Sensibility, Worldly Recognition and the Political Significance of Narrative Imagination: Confronting the Tragic Nature of Political Affairs

Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 30 Mar 2016

Hannah Arendt Photo: Wikipedia

Hannah Arendt
Photo: Saibo

In contemporary political philosophy, particularly in transitional justice debates, narrative has been taken to play a prominent practical role.  Thinkers such as Martha Nussbaum, Richard Rorty and Paul Ricoeur have argued that narrative-inspired imagination is able to facilitate our capacity of critical and reflective political judgement and public deliberation.  Critics, meanwhile, have questioned this ability of narrative.

By carefully analysing the arguments of both camps, and by drawing particularly on Hannah Arendt’s and Albert Camus’s existentialist accounts of aesthetic judging sensibility, Masa’s paper explains exactly how narrative (esp. literary works) can facilitate our capacity of political judgement when we judge and respond to instances of political violence.  Her core claims are these.  Narrative, if it cannot take too presumptuous a role, can take a modest practical role because of its ability, in her words, ‘to confront the plurality and ambiguity of the political world by constantly striving to recognize, reflect upon, understand and evaluate the lived experience of others, make them part of the common world and thereby foster the sense of shared worldly reality’.  Also, narrative is able to affirm ‘the human potentials of beginning anew’, rather than representing the victims of injustices as passive objects of the reader’s benevolent gaze.  And the role played by narrative is politically significant especially in the context of transnational justice and reconciliation in societies divided by past wrongs.

Albert Camus Photo: United Press International

Albert Camus
Photo: United Press International

The rich text invited a wide range of constructive questions, comments, and arguments.  Some questioned the fairness of Masa’s reading of Arendt, Camus, and Nussbaum.  Some asked whether her claim contains any ethical judgement concerning the goodness/badness of narrative form.  Masa focused on the formal structure of narrative, but one commentator pointed out that the content of narrative is also an important issue when investigating the ontology of narrative.  Another commented that, when we think of the formal structure of narrative, we may need to consider various social factors, actors and relations that give narrative its particular social form.  Also, some indicated the fact that narrative may also play other socially significant roles, both positive and negative, than those discussed in the paper.  Her successful response helped the participants better understand her argument.

Written by Yuki Iwaki


Maša Mrovlje is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Greyzone Research Team directed by Dr Mihaela Mihai of the Just World Institute.