Wednesday, February 23, 2011

a little on hannah arendt

"throughout her career, [hannah] arendt reflected beautifully on the nature and critical importance of friendship. truth, she declared...should be sacrificed to friendship and humanity. yet--and this is the climactic surprise of [her] correspondence [with gershom scholem]--it was she and not scholem who declined to continue the friendship. intriguingly, at more or less the same time that their...controversy [over arendt's book eichmann in jerusalem], scholem made sure to send arendt his [work]."

--from "between new york and jerusalem" by steven aschheim in the winter 2011 issue of the jewish review of books

arendt was famously hard to get along with. I first read about her in a 1982 issue of the new york review of books, a review of elisabeth young-bruehl's hannah arendt: for love of the world that is more famously known now for being a record of how difficult she was to know by alfred kazin.

but the essay piqued with a "q" my interest and soon after I found myself reading young-bruehl, which doesn't stick with me (I probably never finished it, not a mark against the author or the subject: I often find myself dropping books as quickly as I pick them up). but later I did read eichmann in jerusalem and most of the origins of totalitarianism and I came away from the two absolutely in awe of her ability to render the most abstract ethical decisions into approachable language. here from eichmann she explains the existence of free will even within the limits of political powerlessness under totalitarianism:

"[U]nder conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation."

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