Confronting the Rise of the Social: Hannah Arendt, Fight Club, and the Late Modern World


  • Jan Wozniak Ryerson University


The past fifteen years have seen much discussion of film-philosophy, especially in what is referred to as cinematic ethics. This approach views cinema as a medium that transcends purely aesthetic dimensions, and argues that it can enhance our relationship with the world through social, political, and ethical encounters. These cinematic encounters can lead not only to critical self-reflection, but in particular instances, may also provide powerful social critique and our conceptions of the world. This paper explores the cult-classic film Fight Club (1999) and its capacity for critical socio-economic and existential thought, which, I argue, provides a powerful critique of modern identity, consumerism, and late capitalism. Using the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt, a figure who has yet to be applied in film-philosophical research, this paper provides a novel analysis through the application of Arendt’s concept of the social. The rise of the social sphere has occurred in the forgetting of political language and historical concepts, which has led to a totalizing force that blurs the distinctions between the private life of the oikia (household) and the public life of the polis (city). Moreover, in the demise of public and political life, humanity is reduced to the conditions of mere necessity by way of labor (animal laborens) and consumption. What was once reserved for the oikia, such as consumption, is now prioritized in the public sphere, which for Arendt, detracts from political action and higher ends. This paper argues that a synthesis between Fight Club and Arendt’s philosophy provides a vital contribution to film-philosophy by elucidating fundamental socio-economic and existential concerns that continue to challenge modern life and meaning. 

Keywords: Film-philosophy; cinema; Hannah Arendt; social philosophy; political philosophy; existentialism; society; the social; identity; consumerism; late capitalism 






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