Category Archives: Hannah Arendt

“From Left to Right: Lucy S. Daw­id­ow­icz, the New York Intel­lec­tu­als, and the Pol­i­tics of Jew­ish History” by Nancy Sinkoff— The First Comprehensive Biography of Lucy Dawidowicz

Sinkoff, Nancy. “From Left to Right: Lucy S. Daw­id­ow­icz, the New York Intel­lec­tu­als, and the Pol­i­tics of Jew­ish History”, Wayne State University Press, 2021.

The First Comprehensive Biography of Lucy Dawidowicz

Amos Lassen

Nancy Sinkoff’s “From Left to Right: Lucy S. Daw­id­ow­icz, the New York Intel­lec­tu­als, and the Pol­i­tics of Jew­ish History” is the first comprehensive biography of Lucy Dawidowicz (1915-1990). After World War II, Dawidowicz was a household both because of her scholarship and her political views. Dawidowicz, like many other New York intellectuals, had been a youthful communist, became an FDR democrat and then later championed neoconservatism. Sinkoff argues that Dawidowicz’s rightward shift came from having lived  in prewar Poland, then seeing the Holocaust take place but from from New York City and working with displaced persons in postwar Germany. Sinkoff bases her work on over forty-five archival collections and she chronicles Dawidowicz’s life as a look at the major events and issues of twentieth-century Jewish life.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 is the story of Dawidowicz’s childhood, adolescence, and college years when she was an immigrant daughter living in New York City. Part 2 is about Dawidowicz’s formative European years in Poland, New York City and Germany. Part 3 tells how Dawidowicz became an American while Polish Jewish civilization was still deep in her heart. It also explores when and how Dawidowicz became the voice of East European Jewry for the American Jews. In  Part 4, we see the division between Dawidowicz’s European-inflected diaspora nationalist modern Jewish identity and the changing definition of American liberalism from the late 1960s onward and the emergence of neoconservatism. There is also an interpretation of Dawidowicz’s memoir “From that Place and Time” and an appendix of thirty-one previously unpublished letters that show the reach of her work and person. 

Because of Dawidowicz’s right-wing politics, sex, and commitment to Jewish particularism in an East European Jewish key have caused her to be neglected by scholars. She stood out among the Jew­ish New York intel­lec­tu­als of the last cen­tu­ry declaring that a ​“sense of Jew­ish his­to­ry and des­tiny is what every Jew who cares about the sur­vival of his peo­ple feels in his bones.” She cared deeply about the future of Jew­ish life, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the wake of the destruc­tion of Jew­ish civ­i­liza­tion in Europe. She f chal­lenged the argu­ments of Han­nah Arendt and sev­er­al his­to­ri­ans and rejected con­tentions that the Holo­caust was what she called The War Against the Jews.

Because of fate, Daw­id­ow­icz was a wit­ness to the last days of Yid­dish cul­ture in East­ern Europe. She spent a year in her ear­ly twen­ties as a researcher and trans­la­tor at the YIVO Insti­tute for Jew­ish Research in Vil­na — a year that end­ed just as the Nazis invad­ed Poland. Her life’s work was shaped by her immer­sion in the reli­gion, cul­ture, and thought of East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish civilization.

In “The Golden Tradition”, her first book, she wrote a col­lec­tion of source mate­ri­als exem­pli­fy­ing the ideas, pol­i­tics, intel­lec­tu­al cur­rents, and every­day life in that van­ished Jewish world. She chal­lenged the view that Yid­dish cul­ture could sur­vive as a sec­u­lar move­ment out­side the cul­tur­al enve­lope of East­ern Europe and she was deter­mined to pre­serve its lega­cy. She spent a year in Europe after the war, help­ing sal­vage thou­sands of Jew­ish books which oth­er­wise would like­ly have been lost.

In the decades when she worked for the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, it believed that human-rights leg­is­la­tion was the best way to pro­tect the inter­ests of Jews. Daw­id­ow­icz dis­agreed and urged advo­ca­cy for the spe­cif­ic inter­ests of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty as well. When the AJC favored a Holo­caust memo­r­i­al that would recall ​“out­rages against human­i­ty,” she argued that it should record ​“the dec­i­ma­tion of Jews.” “Only the parochial Jews wor­ried about what Hit­lerism meant for Jew­ish sur­vival. The uni­ver­sal­ists regard­ed Hitler as the last stage of impe­ri­al­ist capitalism.”

This book shows her intel­lec­tu­al path as a jour­ney to neo­con­ser­vatism but it risks dimin­ish­ing her forth­right inde­pen­dence as a thinker. Unlike many neoconservative intellectuals, how­ev­er, her val­ues were came out of the Jew­ish cul­ture of pre­war Vil­na, and the dev­as­ta­tion of that cul­ture by the Nazi Party.

Sinkoff gives profound insight into the American Jewish psyche by chronicling its diverse cultural proclivities and political sensibilities. She uses Dawidowicz to tell a larger story: the rise of Jewish political conservatism as a powerful force in American life from its roots in Yiddish progressive circles in New York.  Sinkoff shows how American Jewish politics came to be bound by memory and trauma of the gone world of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe.

Dawidowicz’s life and career is a capsule of much of the Jewish experience since the time of World War II. She has angered the American Jewish community over the past seventy years. Often ignored by historians because she was a woman, Dawidowicz regains her rightful place in American Jewish history with this book. We see her as a study of contradictions— a bold female voice who rejected the “special pleading” of second-wave feminism, a dedicatee to Yiddish but rejected it as a basis for Jewish life. She was a frustrating, consternating political thinker who moved from far left in the 1930s to neoconservative in the 1980s.

Nancy Sinkoff ‘s biography. is well written and an information-filled look at t an important person and her growth and development and place in Jewish letters.

“On Love and Tyranny: The Life and Politics of Hannah Arendt” by Dr. Ann Heberlein— A New Biography of Hannah Arendt

Heberlein, Dr. Ann. “On Love and Tyranny: The Life and Politics of Hannah Arendt”, translated by Alice Menzies, Anansi International, 2021.

A New Biography of Hannah Arendt

Amos Lassen

As a huge follower of Hannah Arendt, I try to read whatever is available about her and have been waiting to read a new biography for sometime now. It is not easy to write about a philosophical icon whose influence has been felt large and wide so my expectations were especially high. Biographer Dr. Ann Heberlein uses a unique approach to the life of Arendt, the German Jewish intellectual whose political philosophy and understandings of evil, totalitarianism, love, and exile became essential study with the rise of the refugee crisis and authoritarian regimes around the world.
According to Heberlein, the most important thing that we can learn from Arendt to that we must love the world as much as possible and understand that change is indeed possible. But of course, that idea is too simple for Arendt and she has so much more to say. Arendtian thought spans a very crucial and important period of history of the Western world. It was a time of the Nazi regime, the Cold War and the rise of dictators.

Arendt examines our ideas about humanity and its value and its guilt and responsibility and we see here that her thought is based upon what she experienced in life and her ideas about evil (having had to personally deal with it), love, exile, statelessness, and longing. The book is a study of political themes that are very much a part of us today especially in the ways that democracies can easily become totalitarian state as well as the very personal and intimate recollections of Arendt’s circle of lovers and friends— Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre (although I did feel that these sections were a bit to gossipy but very readable) and the moral deconstructions of what it means “to be human and what it means to be humane.”

We read of a Hannah Arendt for today, a philosopher whose own examinations into the nature of good and evil and love and as relevant as ever. We see how thought, life and the personal come together and cannot be separated.

“Hannah Arendt: Life is a Narrative” by Julia Kristen— Hannah Arendt, Philosophically

Kristeva, Julia. “Hannah Arendt: Life is a Narrative”, University of Toronto Press, 2020.

Hannah Arendt, Philosophically

Amos Lassen

When one of my favorite feminist thinkers, Julia Kristeva ,writes about one of my favorite thinkers, Hannah Arendt, I know that I am in for a powerful and enlightening reading experience.

This volume is based on the series of Alexander Lectures Kristeva delivered at the University of Toronto exploring the philosophical aspects of Hannah Arendt’s work: her understanding of such concepts as language, self, body, political space, and life. Kristeva’s goal is to clarify contradictions in Arendt’s thought and correct misapprehensions about her political and philosophical views.

The first two chapters are about how Arendt followed an original conception of human narrative, such that life, action, and even thought, are only human when they can be narrated and thus shared with other persons who, through the evocation of memory, complete the story and make history into a condensed sign, into a revelation of the ‘who.’ The third chapter examines Arendt’s work in relation to her twentieth-century contemporaries, especially Isak Dinesen, Berthold Brecht, Franz Kafka, and Nathalie Sarraute. In the last two chapters that focus on the body and the Kantian concept of judgment, Kristeva gives a subtle critical exploration of Arendt’s ignoring of the world of the unconscious opened up by psychoanalysis. This paradoxically reveals the political force of Arendt’s acceptance of herself as woman and Jew.

Kristeva’s account of Arendt’s ‘philosophy of narrative’ is “clear, coherent, forceful and impassioned” We have much written about Arendt’s political work, but little about her more philosophical endeavors and this book is a compelling case that Arendt may be the twentieth century’s only true and most important political philosopher.

 

 

“The Bloomsbury Companion to Arendt” edited by Peter Grafton and Sari Yesemin— Writings and Ideas

Grafton, Peter and Sari Yasemin, editors. “The Bloomsbury Companion to Arendt”, Bloomsbury Companions, 2020.

Writings and Ideas

Amos Lassen

There is little doubt that Hannah Arendt was one of the most influential and powerful philosophical minds of the twentieth century and this we see still with how much is still being written about her today. Her texts are still studied in institutions of higher learning and she is constantly being argued about and discussed. Now we have a companion to her writings with “The Bloomsbury Companion to Arendt”.

Arendt’s writings, both in public magazines and in her important books were original contributions in political thinking. She has been the subject of several films and numerous books, colloquia, and newspaper articles, and she remains an important voice in debates about “the use of violence in politics, the responsibility one has under dictatorships and totalitarianism and how to combat the repetition of the horrors of the past.” 

The Bloomsbury Companion gives us a definitive guide to her writings and ideas, her influences and commentators, and why she still has significance. Sixty-six essays make up the companion in accessible terms and explore the many ways in which we can read her work and see her continuing importance. The essays are written by an international set of her foremost readers and commentators and together they give us a comprehensive coverage of her life and the contexts in she wrote. There are sections that examine each of her key writings, how they were received and her influences and interpretations. This is an ideal way to think about and discover (or rediscover) of “one of the most important intellectuals of the past century.” We also read of Arendt’s foray into science and ecology and this gives us more than the areas she was so well known for. Some of the topics here were not explored until after her death in 1975.  “Arendt’s approaches as well as her concrete claims about the political have much to offer given the current ecological and refugee crises, among others.” The Companion is not only “a tool for thinking with Arendt” but it also shows “where those thinking with her can take her work today.”

While Arendt found “truth”  to be elusive, she felt that we have an obligation  to “think about what we are doing” and this is emphasized here.  Here is “the urgency and vitality of Arendt’s writings.”

“THE GERMAN NEIGHBOR”— Observing Eichmann

 


“THE GERMAN NEIGHBOR”

Observing Eichmann

Amos Lassen

Six psychiatrists had certified that Eichmann was a “normal” man. But, can one of the biggest criminals look like a “normal man”? World history shows us yes; the little stories, the testimonies of everyday history, confirm it. Hannah Arendt postulates again and again how the normality of a man can subsume the most atrocious and stark, horrifying and criminal acts towards the human race:

In Eichmann’s case, was precisely that there were many men like him, and that these men were not perverted or sadistic, but were, and remain, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the point of view of our legal institutions and our moral criteria, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities together, because it implied that this new type of criminal.

The movie “The German Neighbor” shows this. It mixes history and fiction as we watch the daily life of a genocidal monstere. Under the pretext of the translation that a young woman, Renata Liebeskind is a translator for the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem for the crimes perpetrated during the Nazi totalitarian system and through her part of the history of Eichmann is reconstructed, framed and related, in multiple ways. The plot of the film also draws a path to rebuild the identity of Renata herself. The times of the film story overlap with the different moments in history and alternate to show the greater future.

Responsible for the logistics of deportations to concentration camps, Adolf Eichmann became one of the main responsible for the catastrophe. He dared to present himself (and was convinced that he was) as a simple gear in the machinery of such a managed massacre ; According to him, “I only carried out orders.” After fleeing Germany, he found refuge in Argentina, where he lived between 1950 and 1960, the year in which he was captured by “Operation Garibaldi”. He adopted the name of Ricardo Klement here. Renata begins to enter these issues through the investigation of her stay in Buenos Aires and in a small town in the province of Tucumán. Philosophers, researchers and specialists in the subject are other figures that Renata uses to analyze part of the story. One of the great merits of his work (and that of the directors Rosario Cervio and Martin Liji) is the reconstruction of history through Eichmann’s neighbors in Argentina: it is about searching for the living word that allows composing, first hand and from everyday life, the essence of Eichmann, or Ricardo Klement.

The phrase repeats itself in the testimonies that the film gathers is, as Hannah Arendt said, is that “He was a good person.” This “double consciousness”, as the directors point out, is what reconstructs the film. Able to break the normality of human life, in the macabre border between the two spaces, we see Eichmann as a “normal man.”

Adolf Eichmann speaks this film. But of him and much more: of the history of the Nazi genocide on a global level, of the judgment, of the after such history on the individual level, of the facts of a daily life after the events of macrohistory, of the reconstruction of the stories — the testimonies, of the perceptions, of the language, of the memory, of the memory, of identity (s). It is impressive to see Eichmann in the images that the film recovers: to watch him declaring, to hear him speak at the trial as an ordinary man, taking the floor to defend himself from the indefensible. The film leads us to think about the ways of horror, memory, memory, identity, language, human conscience and subjectivity of the victimizer. This film let us see that narration and fiction are, as Arendt believed, one of the privileged ways of studying, investigating and questioning history.

“The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” by Susie Linfield— Struggling with Zionism Philosophically 

Linfield Susie. “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky.” Yale University Press, 2019.

Struggling with Zionism Philosophically

Amos Lassen

Zionism is quite the hot topic today and I believe that many Jews have great problems trying to formulate personal definitions that are acceptable and politically correct at the same time. I know that I do and with my spending much of my life in Israel, I really have a rough time trying to figure out (on an hourly basis sometimes) where I stand Zionistically.

Cultural critic Susie Linfield looks at the issue and I was hoping that she would be able help me out and while she has many important things to say, she is not a philosopher. I do, however, appreciate her probe into how eight prominent midcentury public intellectuals struggled with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. I also appreciate that as she explored Zionism, she also dealt with modernism and how it affects how we think as seen through the minds that she focuses on. More specifically, I was interested in what she had to say about Hannah Arendt as I have been a student of her views for years now.

Linfield’s style is “lively” as the blurb tells us but liveliness is not what I look for when facing a difficult issue such as Zionism. We get something of an intellectual history of the political Left, through looking at twentieth-century intellectuals struggling with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. Linfield constructed this as a series of interrelated portraits that bring together the personal and the political and includes philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists— Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, Maxime Rodinson, Isaac Deutscher, Albert Memmi, Fred Halliday, I.F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. As they considered Zionism, these thinkers also had to wrestle with many of the twentieth century’s most crucial political dilemmas including socialism, nationalism, democracy, colonialism, terrorism, and anti‑Semitism. In other words, as they thought about Zionism, they also confronted the very essence and nature of modernity and the often catastrophic histories of our time. Through examining these leftist intellectuals, Linfield also tries to understand how the contemporary Left has become focused on anti‑Zionism and how Israel itself has moved rightward. We are all certainly very aware of how the political hot bed of the Middle East has generated fierce responses from the left.

Linfield gives us an analysis of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through an examining how left-wing intellectuals came to their strong views on Zionism that Linfield sees as “support for a democratic state for the Jewish people.” We see here the debate which is filled with “fearless intellectual energy” and, the upsetting imposition of “fantasy, symbol, metaphor, and theory overtaking reality and history.” Her subjects, like Arendt, held an “ideological antipathy to sovereignty” that made them critical of Zionism (although Arendt remained a Zionist her entire life and certainly philosophized about it at every opportunity and unapologetically so). Some, like Koestler, who was an admitted  combative self-loathing Jew, “insisted that there was no Jewish history and culture” to merit statehood for “a chosen people.” Rodinson, who was a French scholar of Islam, believed that Palestinians, as victims of colonial oppression, were justified in their one unifying stance: hostility to Israel (and we certainly see where that has gone). That position has been repeated over and over again by Chomsky, whose hatred for Israel and championing of Palestine has cost him followers and support as well as consideration as a has-been. Linfield criticizes him as arrogant and ignorant, based on “manufactured history” and “staggering” misrepresentations. Here was a man who was loved by many but who now has few followers. On the other hand, Linfield lauds Memmi and Halliday for their principled, humane analyses. For Memmi, Zionism is “the national liberation movement of an oppressed people,” and worthy of being supported by the left. Halliday who is an activist, journalist, multilinguist, and scholar, condemned the “profound mistakes” and crimes committed by both Zionist and Palestinian movements. Memmi and Halliday agree that support for terrorism was indefensible and simply “a short circuit that substitutes immediate fear and panicky responses for long-term solutions.” Halliday (and Linfield) advocated the establishment of two democratic states of Israel and Palestine. In presenting an unusually clear and informed history of the Arab-Israeli struggle, Linfield sheds  light on the perils of fanaticism and insularity.

Now while Linfield sees her book as an incisive commentary on eight intellectuals who wrote about the Israel/Palestine conflict she seems to forget the ninth intellectual, Linfield, herself, Her position is strong and persuasive and I take back what I said earlier bout her not. Being a philosopher. Susie Linfield is herself the ninth intellectual in this book, with a strong and persuasive position of her own.

Wherever you stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book is a must read for devotees of exciting debates. I cannot often sit and read a philosophical text from cover to cover in one sitting. That happened here and I could not read quickly enough. If you have ever wondered why some of the brightest minds in the American and European Left been unable to understand Jewish nationalism, this is the book you need to read. You might not find the answer you are looking for, but you will enjoy the quest.

“The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” by Susie Linfield— “The Very Nature of Modernity”

Linfield, Susie. “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky”, Yale University Press, 2019. “The Very Nature of Modernity” Amos Lassen Susie Linfield’s “The Lion’s Den” is an intellectual history that explores how prominent midcentury public intellectuals approached Zionism and the State of Israel itself and its conflicts with the Arab world. It is an intense look at the political Left that investigates how eight prominent twentieth-century intellectuals struggled with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. It comes to us as a series of interrelated portraits that bring together the personal and the political and it includes includes philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists including Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, I. F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. It. Does not shy from controversy or radicalism. In their engagement with Zionism, influential thinkers also wrestle with socialism, nationalism, democracy, colonialism, terrorism, and anti‑Semitism. In looking at Zionism, they confront the very nature of modernity and the often catastrophic histories of our time. By examining these leftist intellectuals, we begin to understand how the contemporary Left has become focused on anti‑Zionism and how Israel itself has moved rightward. Wherever one stands on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is a fascinating read. If you are like me and change positions constantly, this is a must-read. Have you even wondered why some of the greatest minds in the American and European Left are unable to understand Jewish nationalism? You probably won’t find that answer here but you will find plenty to talk about.  The book comes to grips with “both the tragedy of Zionism and the way in which anti-Zionism became a touchstone for the global Left.” We get a commentary on eight intellectuals who wrote about the Israel/Palestine conflict. We find ways to deal with both the tragedy of Zionism and the way in which anti-Zionism became a touchstone for the global Left.

“Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life” by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings— An Elusive Intellectual

Eiland, Howard and Michael W. Jennings. “Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life”, Belknap, 2018.

An Elusive Intellectual

Amos Lassen

Walter Benjamin was perhaps the twentieth century’s most elusive intellectual. His writings cannot be categorized and his improvised existence provides food for thought. In this new biography, Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings give us a comprehensive portrait of the man and his times

This is a compelling, well-written, and accessible biography of an uncompromising and enigmatic writer and public intellectual. In the work I have done on Hannah Arendt, I could not help but notice that she was especially fond of Benjamin and took his death very badly.

The book provides excellent background on the influences and background to Benjamin’s works such as Critique of Violence and the Arcades Project.  It draws on a multitude of sources, including his correspondence with dear friends. This biography offers surprising details and welcome nuances to the basic outline that many readers may already know.

This 800 plus page book teaches about modernity through the eyes of Walter Benjamin as well as the history of the early and mid-twentieth century as seen through the eyes of intellectuals who had the courage to comment on society.

Benjamin was the son of a well-to-do family who could be described as a geek as well as a charismatic and courageous man. Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings have produced a classic. A Critical Life is an essential companion to Benjamin’s works and a literary work in its own right.

 

ARENDT-HEIDEGGER: A LOVE STORY

Theater for the New City

Crystal Field, Executive Artistic Director

presents

ARENDT-HEIDEGGER: A LOVE STORY

by Douglas Lackey

directed by Alexander Harrington

world premiere

September 27 to October 14, 2018

Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt were leading intellectuals of the twentieth century. In the 1920s, they had a passionate affair. In the 1930s, Heidegger became an ardent Nazi while Arendt became an ardent Zionist. Nevertheless, after the war, they still continued to correspond and to meet. Douglas Lackey dramatizes their relationship. The dialogue and action of the play go beyond known facts, but everything in the play is consistent with them.

WITH
 Alyssa Simon* as Hannah Arendt 
Joris Stuyck* as Martin Heidegger 
Stan Buturla* as Ernst Cassirer
 Alexandra O’Daly* as Elfride Heidegger and Students


Stage Manager Marsh Shugart 
Set and projection design by Lianne Arnold
Costume design by Sidney Fortner
Lighting Design by Joyce Liao
Co-Video Designer/Associate Scenic Designer Asa Lipton

Associate Producer Courtney Fenwick

September 27 to October 14, 2018
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave (between 9th and 10th Sts.) 
Thurs – Sat at 8:00 PM, Sun at 3:00 PM
$15 general admission, $10 seniors and students
Box office: (212) 254-1109 
Smarttix (212) 868-4444

 

“The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Terror” by Ken Krimstein— A Graphic Look at Hannah Arendt

Krimstein, Ken. “The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth”, Bloomsbury, 2018.

A Graphic Look at Hannah Arendt

Amos Lassen

Hannah Arendt was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century and a hero of political thought who was largely unsung and often misunderstood. She is best known for her landmark 1951 book on openness in political life, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” with its powerful and timely lessons that make it very relevant today.

Arendt led an extraordinary life. She endured Nazi persecution firsthand and survived harrowing “escapes” from country to country in Europe. She was a friend of such luminaries as Walter Benjamin and Mary McCarthy, Marc Chagall, Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud. She was a woman who finally had to give up her unique genius for philosophy, and her love of a very compromised man (the philosopher and Nazi-sympathizer Martin Heidegger) for what she referred to as “love of the world.”

New Yorker cartoonist Ken Krimstein’s brings us a strikingly illustrated portrait of a complex, controversial and courageous woman whose intelligence led her to brilliant insights into the human condition.

I am a huge fan of Arendt and was so when it was not the best time to be one. To be in the same room with Arendt was to be in a room with greatness and the few times that I was able to do so gave my life a whole new meaning. Ken Krimstein brings us a deeply moving graphic memoir about the life and thoughts of Arendt. We see clearly hear that through her words, Arendt taught us about how to live in the world, the meaning of freedom, the perils of totalitarianism, and our power as human beings to think about things and not just act blindly. There is a lot to know about Arendt and Krimstein explains her ideas clearly and with humor and in doing so we see why they still resonate.

She was an émigré intellectual who lived through dark times, leading a life of the mind. Krimstein turns a wartime adventure tale into a coming-of-age story, a graphic novel of ideas, a political biography, and a meditation on the importance of truth.

To some it might seem counterintuitive that Hannah Arendt who was known for her fiercely independent and pioneering philosophical writings, should be the subject of a cartoon biography, but Ken Krimstein shows that it could be respectfully done. He sends “a fundamental, crucial message regarding Arendt’s thinking about the world and the possibility of a recurrence of the thoughtless, meaningless evil of destruction that appeared in 20th century totalitarian regimes”.

Basically, this is a biographical work that stresses Arendt’s lifelong search for a way to understand the world around her. We look at Arendt through three escapes. Before he does this, he looks at the social trials of Arendt’s childhood and youth, the beginning of her need and desire to understand, and her infamous relationship with her professor/philosopher Martin Heidegger. Arendt’s three escapes include one from Berlin in 1933 after being arrested for doing research for a Zionist organization. Her second escape was from France in 1941 after she was able to get away from an internment camp during Germany’s invasion. Her third escape came while Arendt lived and worked in New York.

It is clear that Krimstein admires Arendt very much and takes a particular line in presenting her life and character. Heidegger seems to occupy Arendt’s thoughts too much and too long after they lost contact. Krimstein uses Heidegger to illustrate arguments that Arendt has with herself in later years. She gave us the phrase “the banality of evil,” and this is a very true way to look at human drive.

Krimstein is faithful to the known facts of Arendt’s life and certainly gives her a long overdue placement in the world of 20th century philosophers. “If she had done nothing else but contribute the concept of “the banality of evil” to our discourse, Arendt would have earned her place in our thinking processes… and, yes, as the book makes clear, she did much more.” Arendt was a complicated person and a complicated Jew in life and thought. Told from the perspective of Arendt herself, the book is a probing look at the many dimensions of fidelity to truth that she sought to uncover in humanity. We gain insight into the Arendtian perspective as well as a sense of its relevance to today. We must be “cognizant to not let demagogues and opportunists co-opt the democratic values that are essential to maintaining civil liberties.”