Hannah Arendt Criticism - Essay

Denis Donoghue (essay date May 1962)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "After Reading Hannah Arendt," in Poetry (Chicago), Vol. 100, No. 2, May, 1962, pp. 127-30.

[In the following essay, Donoghue relates "the profound, humane reflections" in Arendt's works to contemporary poetry, noting that he "had the disturbing impression that she had far more to say—more of humane relevance—than any ten contemporary poets."]

I first read Hannah Arendt in Partisan Review, a classic essay on Hitler's concentration camps. The essay was free from hysteria, violence, vituperation; there was only the violence within—Wallace Stevens's great phrase—animating the prose; no "rhetoric". I had not thought much about the camps; they were...

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Irving Howe (essay date October 1963)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'The New Yorker' & Hannah Arendt," in Commentary, Vol. 36, No. 4, October, 1963, pp. 318-19.

[In the following essay, Howe denounces the New Yorker's refusal to print rebuttals to Arendt's arguments in Eichmann in Jerusalem, which made its debut in the magazine as a controversial series of articles.]

Some months ago, shortly after James Baldwin published in the New Yorker his now famous article about the Negroes, there appeared a mildly satiric comment upon it in the New Republic. The author of this comment elaborated upon the incongruity between Baldwin's passionate outcry and the sumptuous advertisements surrounding it. At the...

(The entire section is 1358 words.)

J. M. Cameron (review date 6 November 1969)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Bad Times," in New York Review of Books, Vol. XIII, No. 8, November 6, 1969, pp. 4, 6, 8-9.

[In the following excerpt, Cameron highlights ambiguities in Arendt's political writings, tracing their genesis to the "peculiar character" of twentieth-century culture.]

Thinkers who are original and profound often mask their ideas in a style, not so much of prose as of thought, that is opaque to all but the most determined reader. This is obvious in the work of, say, Kant; and opacity of style may produce those long-lasting ambiguities that provide rich material for the work of the commentator. If Miss Arendt's work survives—and it is surely more likely to survive...

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Philip Green (review date 7 May 1972)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Crises of the Republic," in New York Times Book Review, May 7, 1972, pp. 27-8.

[In the review below, Green comments on the "astonishing" insight Arendt brought to her writings, despite "those occasional lapses from which no truly serious work of the intellect is ever wholly free."]

In a recent essay not reprinted in this collection, Hannah Arendt has written that "thinking" isinherently an antisocial and subversive activity, a quiet enemy to all established versions of right and order. The truly independent thinker is never finally at ease with the customs and institutions of his (or her) times, but rather is continually and relentlessly probing for the soft...

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Lore Dickstein (review date 24 November 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Rahel Varnhagen, in New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1974, pp. 27, 30.

[In the following review, Dickstein objects to the dispassionate narrative tone and the lack of psychoanalysis of the subject in Rahel Varnhagen, especially since "the reader … would have expected more from so brilliant a theorist."]

[Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewish Woman] was written more than 40 years ago and the woman it deals with lived more than 170 years ago, but the story of Rahel Varnhagen survives the passage of time. Rahel Varnhagen was one of the more renowned "salon Jewesses" of Berlin at the turn of the 19th century. Her charm and...

(The entire section is 1902 words.)

Mary McCarthy (essay date 22 January 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Saying Good-by to Hannah," in New York Review of Books, Vol. XXII, Nos. 21-22, January 22, 1976, pp. 8, 10-11.

[Below, McCarthy eulogizes Arendt, emphasizing her person rather than her ideas.]

Her last book was to be called The Life of the Mind and was intended to be a pendant to The Human Condition (first called The Vita Activa), where she had scrutinized the triad of labor, work, and action: man as animal laborans, homo faber, and doer of public deeds. She saw the mind's life, or vita contemplativa, as divided into three parts also: thinking, willing, and judging. The first section, on thinking, was finished some time ago....

(The entire section is 2714 words.)

Robert Lowell (essay date 13 May 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "On Hannah Arendt," in New York Review of Books, Vol. XXII, No. 8, May 13, 1976, p. 6.

[In the following essay, Lowell reminisces about his relationship with Arendt and his impressions on reading her works.]

Hannah Arendt was an oasis in the fevered, dialectical dust of New York—to me, and I imagine to everyone who loved her. We met in the late Fifties or early Sixties in Mary McCarthy's apartment. She seemed hardly to take her coat off, as she brushed on with purpose to a class or functional shopping. In her hurry, she had time to say to me something like "This is an occasion," or more probably, "This is a meeting." I put the least intention into her words,...

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Margaret Canovan (essay date February 1978)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Contradictions of Hannah Arendt's Political Thought," in Political Theory, Vol. 6, No. 1, February, 1978, pp. 5-26.

[Below, Canovan investigates Arendt's major works, discerning "a contradiction between democratic and elitist attitudes on the one hand, and an uncertainty about the relation of her political thought to practice on the other."]

Hannah Arendt's political thought is baffling even to the most sympathetic reader. It is baffling not only because of her fondness for questioning our established certainties, and not only because her political values are strange and shocking to us, but most importantly because her thought is riven by a deep and...

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Walter Laqueur (essay date March 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Re-reading Hannah Arendt," in Encounter, Vol. LII, No. 3, March, 1979, pp. 73-79.

[In the essay below, Laqueur addresses the questions of why Arendt wrote Eichmann in Jerusalem, why it provoked controversy, and "whether, in fact, she was misunderstood and injustice done to her."]

Few books in living memory have stirred up more bitter controversy than Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, published in 1964. The controversy still continues as the introduction to a recent collection of Mrs Arendt's "Jewish" essays shows [The Jew as Pariah], albeit without the acrimony of the earlier debate. The editor clearly believes that Mrs Arendt was...

(The entire section is 5452 words.)

Berel Lang (essay date Summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Evil," in Judaism, Vol. 37, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 264-75.

[In the following essay, Lang explains how the relation between personal conscience or religious commitment and public or civic life informs Arendt's conception of modern totalitarianism.]

In the 20th century the position of the German Jewish community was to be one of unusual complexity, of powerful ironies and, ultimately, of great disruption and pain. On the one hand, the ideals nourished by the Enlightenment, emerging in the last part of the 18th Century, and represented in Germany by such figures as Kant, Lessing, and Goethe, had spoken eloquently about the...

(The entire section is 5985 words.)

Jean Bethke Elshtain (essay date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Hannah Arendt's French Revolution," in Salmagundi, Vol. 84, Fall, 1989, pp. 203-12.

[In the essay below, Elshtain discusses Arendt's interpretation of the revolutionary tradition, focusing on her "construction of the French and American revolutions as prototypes of 'successful' revolutions."]

Of the Chinese students with their worker and peasant allies, massed by the tens of thousands in Tiananmen Square in defiance of martial law, it can be said that Hannah Arendt would have loved it. Their actions are "spontaneous" in the sense that they could not have reasonably been predicted. Their rhetoric is cast in the language of freedom. A papier mache representation...

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Tobin Siebers (essay date Summer 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Politics of Storytelling: Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem," in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer, 1992, pp. 201-11.

[In the following essay, Siebers analyzes Eichmann in Jerusalem in terms of memory and judgment—qualities largely absent in twentieth-century culture but inherent to storytelling.]

Few modern events have stirred the need for recollection and judgment more than the Holocaust. As time and witnesses pass on, however, its memory grows more dim, and legally speaking the atrocities of Nazi anti-Semitism have remained for the most part unjudged. The trial of Adolf Eichmann and the Nuremberg Trials assume great...

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Richard A. Shweden (review date 20 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Dialogue Amid the Deluge," in The New York Times, Vol. CXLIV, No. 49977, September 20, 1992, pp. 1, 53-4.

[Below, Shweden reviews Hannah Arendt—Karl Jaspers: Correspondence, 1926–1969, concluding that "it is a privilege to enter [Arendt's and Jaspers] studies."]

The correspondence begins at the University of Heidelberg in 1926, in the years before what now might be called the "ethnic cleansing" of the German universities and the Holocaust. It starts with a skeptical query from a 19-year-old German Jewish student, Hannah Arendt, to her German and non-Jewish professor, Karl Jaspers, about the impossibility of learning anything from history. It ends 43...

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Tony Judt (review date 6 April 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "At Home in This Century," in New York Review of Books, Vol. 42, No. 6, April 6, 1995, pp. 9-14.

[In the review below, Judt finds that both Essays in Understanding and Between Friends provide a better understanding of Arendt herself, demonstrating that "it becomes a little easier to see just what holds together the various parts of her oeuvre and why they provoke such diverse and powerful responses."]

Hannah Arendt died twenty years ago, leaving a curious and divided legacy. To some she represented the worst of "Continental" philosophizing: metaphysical musings upon modernity and its ills unconstrained by any institutional or intellectual...

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