Monday, January 22, 2007


It was interesting to see "myself" quoted in Russell Jacoby's "Hannah Arendt's Fame Rests on the Wrong Foundation" (in the Dec. 8, 2006, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education). I was not quoted myself, of course, but Jacoby did quote my translation of Arendt's correspondence with Martin Heidegger:

"She was the student, indeed, the lover of Martin Heidegger ... While her liaison with Heidegger has given rise to much high-level gossip — in today's university, Herr Doktor Heidegger's affair with a stunning 18-year-old student would be even more outrageous than his Nazi sympathies — her intellectual loyalties are more the issue. She never conceptually broke with Heidegger and even intended to dedicate The Human Condition to him. She did not, she explained in a letter to him, because things had not 'worked out properly between us.' She wanted him to know, however, that the book 'owes practically everything to you in every respect.'"

Jacoby is very critical of most of Arendt's work, reducing the long-term interest of her writing to just a few works: "Arendt's achievement ultimately rests on Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as some tough-minded essays and thoughtful profiles."

I would add, though, that Arendt's correspondence with Karl Jaspers is an utterly fascinating book, as two philosophers who trust each other completely write to each other frequently between the late forties and Jaspers's death in 1969. Often, their commentaries on historical events of the period shed light on what those events felt like to those who could not see how they were going to turn out. For example, their discussion of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 makes clear (at least to this late-comer, born in 1964) just how frightening those days must have been to live through.

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