“Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975” by Hannah Arendt and edited by Jerome Kohn— Searching for Meaning

Arendt, Hannah. “Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975”, edited by Jerome Kohn, Schocken Books, 2018.

Searching for Meaning

Amos Lassen

I often have a difficult time explaining to others my obsession with Hannah Arendt and there are still many, many Jews who fault her because of her writings about Eichmann. We do not have many thinkers like Arendt and love her or hate her, I doubt that anyone can deny that she was one of the greatest minds to write and philosophize. I remember attending one of her lectures and feeling like I was witnessing greatness.

“Thinking Without a Banister” refers to Arendt’s description of her experience of thinking and she thought without any of the traditional religious, moral, political, or philosophic pillars of support. Arendt was her own support. The book includes topics on many subjects and from many varied writings: the essays, lectures, reviews, interviews, speeches, and editorials. All of these taken together, exhibit the relentless activity of her mind as well as her character. In these writings, we see the person Arendt was and who has hardly yet been appreciated or understood. 

Hannah Arendt was born in Germany in 1906 and lived in America from 1941 until her death in 1975. Her life and her thought spanned much of the twentieth century. She did not think of herself as a philosopher even though she studied and maintained close relationships with two great philosophers—Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger throughout their lives. She was a thinker who sought the meaning of appearances and events. She was a questioner rather than an answerer, and she wrote what she thought, hoping to encourage others to think for themselves. She was courageous and she found courage woven in each and every strand of human freedom.

“In 1951 she published The Origins of Totalitarianism, in 1958 The Human Condition, in 1961 Between Past and Future, in 1963 On Revolution and Eichmann in Jerusalem, in 1968 Men in Dark Times, in 1970 On Violence, in 1972 Crises of the Republic, and in 1978, posthumously, The Life of the Mind. Starting at the turn of the twenty-first century, Schocken Books has published a series of collections of Arendt’s unpublished and uncollected writings, of which Thinking Without a Banister is the fifth volume.” 

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