Anne M. Lovell

Tending to the Unseen in Extraordinary Circumstances. On Arendt's Natality and Severe Mental Illness After Hurricane Katrina

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Keywords: Natality, Arendt, The Extraordinary, Disaster, Vulnerability.

Extra-ordinary circumstances brought about by war or disaster provide a «natural» albeit unwelcome «experiment» through which to further our understanding of the relationship between agency, vulnerability and care. Drawn from ethnographic research concerning people with prior severe mental illnesses and their experiences in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, this paper reveals how disaster stretched the boundaries and ruptured the silence of scripts that normally confine the most vulnerable to a social space of moral exile. Using the narrative of one such woman faced with the sudden life-threatening precarity of others, I examine how extra-ordinary circumstances permit actions and a public moral engagement previously precluded. These actions are restituted through the lens of Arendt's notion of natality and a feminist understanding of the pariah as hero.

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