Unlearning with Hannah Arendt

Unlearning with Hannah Arendt

by Marie Luise Knott


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Short-listed for the Tractatus Essay Prize, an examination of the innovative strategies Arendt used to achieve intellectual freedom
After observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt articulated her controversial concept of the “banality of evil,” thereby posing one of the most chilling and divisive moral questions of the twentieth century: How can genocidal acts be carried out by non-psychopathic people? By revealing the full complexity of the trial with reasoning that defied prevailing attitudes, Arendt became the object of severe and often slanderous criticism, losing some of her closest friends as well as being labeled a “self-hating Jew.”  And while her theories have continued to draw innumerable opponents, Arendt’s work remains an invaluable resource for those seeking greater insight into the more problematic aspects of human nature.
Anchoring its discussion in the themes of translation, forgiveness, dramatization, and even laughter, Unlearning with Hannah Arendt explores the ways in which this iconic political theorist “unlearned” recognized trends and patterns—both philosophical and cultural—to establish a theoretical praxis all her own. Through an analysis of the social context and intellectual influences—Karl Jaspers, Walter Benjamin, and Martin Heidegger—that helped shape Arendt’s process, Knott has formed a historically engaged and incisive contribution to Arendt’s legacy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590517499
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 04/14/2015
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.48(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.54(d)

About the Author

Marie Luise Knott is a journalist, translator, and author living in Berlin. In 1995 she founded the German edition of Le Monde diplomatique and has been its editor-in-chief for the past eleven years. She has written numerous works on art and literature, as well as two important studies of Hannah Arendt.
David Dollenmayer is an emeritus professor of German at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. His translations include works by Rolf Bauerdick, Bertolt Brecht, Elias and Veza Canetti, Peter Stephan Jungk, Michael Kleeberg, Perikles Monioudis, Anna Mitgutsch, Mietek Pemper, and Hansjörg Schertenleib. He is the recipient of the 2008 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize (for Moses Rosenkranz’s Childhood) and the 2010 Translation Prize of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York (for Michael Köhlmeier’s Idyll with Drowning Dog).

Read an Excerpt

Where the horror was blackest and the confusion deepest, she resorted to “uninhibited irony,” which she once described to Joachim Fest as “my most precious inheritance from Germany—or more precisely, from Berlin.” Old friends abandoned her. When Gershom Scholem wrote to her, “I would just like to say that your portrait of Eichmann as a convert to Zionism is only conceivable from someone with your deep resentment of everything having to do with Zionism,” she answered, “I never made Eichmann out to be a ‘Zionist.’ If you missed the irony of the sentence—which was plainly in oratio obliqua, reporting Eichmann’s own words—I really can’t help it.”
Irony is her means of holding experience at arm’s length in order to think about it, a protection against panic and powerfully aggressive impulses that would only interfere with her judgment.
Moreover, behind the tone of the Eichmann book lies a quite real laughter that overcame Arendt as she read the transcripts of his interrogation. “I’ll tell you this: I read the transcript of his police investigation, thirty-six hundred pages, read it, and read it carefully, and I do not know how many times I laughed—laughed out loud! People took this reaction in a bad way. I cannot do anything about that. But I know one thing: Three minutes before certain death, I probably still would laugh.” As a test, she had taken at face value what she saw and what Eichmann said about himself: nothing but clichés whose “thoughtlessness” so shocked her that she burst out laughing, thereby outraging not just the Jewish world.

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Laughter: The Sudden Turn of the Mind 3

Translation: The "Oddly Circuitous Path" 31

Forgiveness: The Desperate Search for a Concept of Reality 57

Dramatization: The World as Stage, the Text as Space 89

Appendix: Transatlantic Differences 115

Notes 143

Bibliography 163

Key to the Illustrations 169

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