A new book about Hannah Arendt reveals the playful side of one of the 20th century's most celebrated thinkersby Jonathan Rée / October 16, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
At first glance, Marie Luise Knott’s study of Hannah Arendt looks slight, even frivolous. Instead of weighing in on the big Arendtian topics—totalitarianism, revolution and anti-Semitism—Knott prefers to dally with side-issues such as the waywardness of translation, the ambiguity of forgiveness, the indirection of poetry, and the surprise of a gust of laughter. As a further hedge against solemnity, she illustrates her remarks with whimsical cartoons, teeming with multilingual puns. Yet it is hard to think of any other book on Arendt that gives out half as much light, not to mention joy.
The problems Knott explores came together in Arendt’s notorious account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the unreconstructed Nazi official who was apprehended in Buenos Aires in 1960 and transported to Israel to face trial for crimes against humanity. But the process was always going to be about much more than the guilt or innocence of a second-rank Nazi bureaucrat. It was designed to establish, once and for all, the truth about the murder of six million Jews in Hitler’s death camps: as well as silencing the deniers, it was meant to dispel feelings of guilt amongst survivors, and heal the internecine suspicions that threatened the unity of Judaism in Israel and elsewhere. It would be,…