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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Hannah Arendt by Julia Kristeva, translated by Ross Guberman (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism: Columbia University Press) Twenty-five years after her death, we are still coming to terms with the controversial figure of Hannah Arendt. Interlacing the life and work of this seminal twentieth century philosopher, Julia Kristeva provides us with an elegant, sophisticated biography replete with powerful psychoanalytic insight. Centering around the theme of female genius, Hannah Arendt focuses on three main aspects of the philosopher's work. Exploring her early biographical writings on Saint Augustine and Rahel Varnhagen, Kristeva emphasizes Arendt's belief in the importance of recounting lives and the necessity of narration. Next, the book reflects on her viewpoints on Judaism, anti-Semitism, and the "banality of evil." The biography's final section brings together Arendt's intellectual itinerary, considering her enthusiasm for observing both social phenomena and political events through the lens of her personal life. Drawing on fragments of her most intimate correspondence with her longtime lover Martin Heidegger and her husband Herman Blucher, excerpts from her mother's "Unser Kind" (a diary tracking Hannah's formative years), and passages from Arendt's philosophical writings, Kristeva weaves a luminous story. Including a thorough thematic index as well as precise bibliographical references, Hannah Arendt is a major breakthrough in the understanding of an essential thinker.

Julia Kristeva is an internationally known psychoanalyst and critic and is professor of linguistics at the University of Paris VII. She is the author of many highly regarded books, including Strangers to Ourselves, New Maladies of the Soul, Time and Sense, and The Sense and Non-Sense of Revolt.

THE ATTACK OF THE BLOB: Hannah Arendt’s Concept of the Social by Hanna Fenichel Pitkin ($30.00, hardcover, 328 pages, University of Chicago Press; ISBN: 0226669904) One of the most persuasive political theorists of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt intended her work to liberate and empower, to restore our capacity for concerted political action, to convince us that the power to improve our flawed social arrangements was a possibility. At the same time, Arendt developed a metaphor of "the social" as an alien, all-consuming monster appearing as if from outer space to gobble up human freedom; she blamed it, not us, for our public paralysis and depoliticization. How can we understand her vision of the social that seems to conflict with her most important teaching?

THE ATTACK OF THE BLOB is an imaginative and elegantly written study in which Hanna Pitkin seeks to resolve this paradox by tracing Arendt's notion of "the social" from her earliest writings to The Human Condition and beyond. Interpreting each work in its historical and personal context, Pitkin develops an answer that considers language and rhetoric, psychology and gender, authority, abstraction, and even the nature of political theory itself. Her book is an intellectual genealogy, reading at times like a detective novel that traces the provenance and vicissitudes of Arendt's shifting concept. Along the way, Pitkin repeatedly challenges established interpretations of Arendt's project, including the role of her teacher and lover Martin Heidegger and her supposed neglect of democratic processes.

THE ATTACK OF THE BLOB raises disturbing and compelling questions about what freedom can mean for us today. Criticizing Arendt's flawed concept but insisting on the urgent reality of the problem that the concept of the social was intended to address, Pitkin honors Arendt's achievements by continuing her enterprise. This study is likely to garner much comment. It is a work that in many ways pays fitting tribute to Arendt’s genius while also shifting the locus of her conceptions to reflect contemporary political trends and issues. We highly recommend this book.

Hanna Fenichel Pitkin professor emerita of political science at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of The Concept of Representation, Fortune is a Woman, and Wittgenstein and justice. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1997 she was awarded the Lippincott Prize of the American Political Science Association, the same prize awarded in 1975 to Hannah Arendt

THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF THINKING: Gender and Judaism in the Work of Hannah Arendt by Jennifer Ring ($34.50, cloth, 358 pages, notes, bibliography, index, State University of New York Press, SUNY; 0-7914-3483-4


Twenty Years Later

edited by Larry May and Jerome Kohn


$40.00, cloth; 384 pages



I. Political Action and Judgment
1. Hannah Arendt as a Conservative Thinker
By Margaret Canovan
2. Hannah Arendt on Judgment: The Unwritten Doctrine of Reason
By Albrecht Wellmer
3. The Moral Costs of Political Pluralism: The Dilemmas of Difference and Equality in Arendt's "Reflections on Little Rock"
By James Bohman
II. Ethics and the Nature of Evil
4. Socialization and Institutional Evil
By Larry May
5. The Commodification of Values
By Elizabeth M. Meade
6. Did Hannah Arendt Change Her Mind?: From Radical Evil to the Banality of Evil
By Richard J. Bernstein
7. Evil and Plurality: Hannah Arendt's Way to The Life of the Mind, I
By Jerome Kohn
8. The Banality of Philosophy: Arendt on Heidegger and Eichmann
By Dana R. Villa
III. Self and World
9. Thinking about the Self
By Suzanne Duvall Jacobitti
10. Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Trial of (Post) Modernity or the Tale of Two Revolutions
By David Ingram
11. The Political Dimension of the Public World: On Hannah Arendt's Interpretation of
Martin Heidegger
By Jeffrey Andrew Barash
12. Love and Worldliness: Hannah Arendt's Reading of Saint Augustine
By Ronald Beiner
IV. Gender and Jewishness
13. Women in Dark Times: Rahel Varnhagen, Rosa Luxemburg, Hannah Arendt, and Me
By Bat-Ami Bar On
14. Hannah Arendt among Feminists
By Elisabeth Young Bruehl
15. Ethics in Many Different Voices
By Annette C. Baier
Appendix: A Bibliography of Writings in English about Hannah Arendt
By Johann A. Klaassen, Angela Klaassen


The Fate of the Political

by Dana R. Villa

Princeton University Press

$19.95, paper; 329 pages


see Heidegger

One of the gossipy curiosities of 20th-century philosophy is that Hannah Arendt, the German-born Jewish philosopher remembered for her fierce and unforgiving attacks on totalitarianism, had a youthful fling in the 1920s with Martin Heidegger.

Heidegger, the influential philosopher, later became a prominent Nazi and at one time aspired to be Hitler’s chief ideologue. Most scholars believed that by the 1930s, Arendt and Heidegger had gone their separate ways and their early liaison could be dismissed as a short-lived dalliance.

But now a book based on their newly unsealed correspondence, ``Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger’’ has revealed that their affair was not evanescent but burned with white-hot intensity for four years. Most disturbing to some scholars, after the war Arendt and Heidegger resumed their friendship. And Arendt, whose fiery reproach had extended to European Jews whom she said had ``collaborated’’ with the Nazis in their own destruction, did almost everything she could to whitewash the unrepentent Heidegger, who had succeeded in banning Jewish professors from the University of Freiburg, which he led from 1933 to 1934.

"She devoted herself to popularizing his philosophy in the United States and to vindicating his name in the eyes of his critics," wrote Ettinger. The revelations have stirred one of the most heated scholarly debates in recent memory, taking hold in publications and planned seminars, that raise such issues as the extent to which influential thinkers should be judged by their private acts.

"The book shows that Arendt was so arrogant that she thought she alone could decide who should be forgiven and who should not," said Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate who has written of his experiences in the Auschwitz death camp. "I’m not so sure her moral stature will remain intact."

Ismar Schorsh, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, reacted strongly. "Arendt’s reputation will not recover," he said. "Her defense of Heidegger, when she knew better, is hard to forgive."

Defensive of the reputations of both Arendt and Heidegger is Sandra Hinchman, a professor of political science at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who has co-edited with her husband, Lewis Hinchman, an anthology of Arendt’s articles.

"Some of the greatest philosophers were despicable people,’’ she said. ``Rousseau abandoned his five children to a Catholic orphanage before writing `Emile,’ his treatise on education. My fear is that if we concentrate on the lives of some philosophers we may become prejudiced against their work."

At the center of the storm is Elzbieta Ettinger, an MIT professor who is a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and author of many books including a biography of the German socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg.

Ettinger said she first learned of the existence of the long-sealed Arendt-Heidegger correspondence in 1988 from Arendt’s friend Mary McCarthy. McCarthy, Professor Ettinger said, encouraged her to write a biography of Arendt.

With McCarthy’s support, Professor Ettinger obtained access to the correspondence in the Hannah Arendt Literary Trust in New York. Heidegger’s correspondence with Arendt at the Deutsches Nationalarchiv in Marbach am Neckar, Germany, remains closed but Professor Ettinger was able to obtain copies of his letters and to paraphrase them so as not to violate the copyright law.

"The letters reveal that Arendt and Heidegger were emotionally dependent on each other for most of their lives," Professor Ettinger said. "She could have destroyed these letters but preserved them because she did not wish to be the invisible woman in Heidegger’s life as Ellen Ternan was in Dickens’ life. She was proud that the most important philosopher of the century had chosen her."

Arendt and Heidegger began their affair in 1924 when she, then 18, enrolled in his course in philosophy at the University of Marburg. He was then 35, married, the father of two sons and was completing his masterwork Being and Time, which would soon launch him into the top rank of modern philosophers.

Putting both his marriage and career at risk, Heidegger invited her to his office one evening and initiated the affair. Subsequently, they pursued this relationship with clandestine signals such as, "If you see a light in my office at exactly 9 p.m., you can come."

While she gazed at him adoringly, he expounded on ancient and modern philosophy, literature, poetry, Bach, Beethoven, Rilke and Thomas Mann. In 1929, she told him that "our love became the blessing of our life."

In 1933, in her last letter to Heidegger until after the war, Arendt complained of having heard that he was barring Jews from his seminars, refusing to speak to Jewish colleagues and rejecting Jewish doctoral students.

Heidegger, then the newly appointed rector of Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, had just joined the Nazi Party and had delivered the infamous rector’s address in which he declared his allegiance to Hitler. With heavy sarcasm, he denied Arendt’s accusations.

The truth is, as Professor Ettinger points out, his anti-Semitism had been well-established four years previously when he wrote to warn a high official in the Ministry of Education against the "growing Judaiszation" of Germany’s "spiritual life."

Among his more abominable acts while rector in Freiburg, Heidegger banned from the campus all Jewish professors, including his mentor, the aging Edmund Husserl -- an act that is believed to have led to Husserl’s death.

After the war, a de-Nazification tribunal informed of Heidegger’s Nazi ardor and vicious anti-Semitism, brushed aside the fact that his intellectual work laid the foundation for much post-modern thought and banned him from university life.

Arendt was well aware of these proceedings. Referring to the death of Husserl in a letter in 1946 to the philosopher Karl Jaspers, Arendt called Heidegger "a potential murderer." However, from almost the moment she was reunited with Heidegger in 1950, Professor Ettinger said, she forgave him everything.

Writing a tribute to Heidegger in The New York Review of Books in 1971 on the occasion of Heidegger’s 80th birthday, Arendt dismissed his Nazi past humorously by likening him to Thales, the Greek philosopher who while gazing at the stars stumbled into a well. Arendt died in 1975, a year before the death of Heidegger.

Since the Ettinger book was published, the academic community has been commenting in journals. In a particularly scathing attack on Arendt, Richard Wolin, a Rice University historian and the author of The Politics of Being: The Political Thought of Martin Heidegger (Columbia University Press), declared in a long essay in The New Republic last month that the newly discoverd correspondence casts the most controversial passages in Arendt’s writing in an "even uglier" light than before.

Could it be, Wolin asked, that Arendt’s inflammatory charge in her report on the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem that the Jews of Europe were partly responsible for their own slaughter was "meant somehow to absolve the magician of Messkirch (Heidegger) of his own crimes by showing that his victims were also guilty?" Clearly, Professor Wolin believes the answer is yes.

On the other side of the debate, Lisa Disch, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and the author of Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy (Cornell University Press), scorned Professor Ettinger’s book as ``tabloid scholarship,’’ adding: ``It’s a shame it’s getting so much attention.’’


With a New Preface

by Lisa Jane Disch

Cornell University Press

$14.95, paper,


Dana Villa, a professor of political theory at Amherst College whose book ``Arendt and Heidegger: the Fate of the Political’’ has just been published by Princeton University Press, said: ``I think Ettinger gets it wrong in portraying Arendt as a dupe of Heidegger. She respected him as a giant in the history of Western thought, and she was influenced by him, but she wasn’t uncritical. In her last book, she expressed her distrust of philosophy as pure thinking divorced from moral and political judgment.’’

Villa also said that Professor Ettinger has exaggerated Heidegger’s villainy. ``He was an ordinary German,’’ he said. ``He believed the Nazi line and he was perhaps self-deluded, but he was not part of the apparatus of killing. He hurt some Jews but he also helped some. He was not unique.’’

Professor Ettinger said that in the final analysis the Arendt-Heidegger relationship was the stuff of poetic tragedy. "No person who knows about love and passion will consider Arendt’s forgiveness of Heidegger unusual," she said. "Americans have great difficulty understanding passion. When I discuss Anna Karenina with my students, they can’t understand why Anna gives up a loving husband, a beautiful home and a wonderful child for this jerk of an officer. I tell them to read Manon Lescaut or D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. Then they understand. Love is irrational. There is nothing we can do about it."


Correspondence, 1926-1969

by Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers

edited by Lotte Kohler and Hans Saner

Harcourt Brace

$49.95, hardcover, 821 pages




The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975

by Hannah Arendt andMary McCarthy

edited by Carol Brightman

Harcourt Brace

$34.95, hardcover, 412 pages



This correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy offers a view of both women that is at once alive to the world of ideas and events and personal. It should stand as a significant contribution of understanding to both very different authors. Likewise Karl Jaspers is also revealed to have been an understanding friend to Arendt.


German Emigres and American Political Thought After World War II edited by Peter Graf Kielmansegg, Horst Mewes, Elisabeth Glaser Schmidt (Publications of the German Historical Institute: Cambridge University Press)

$59.95 hardcover, 208 pages



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Last modified: January 24, 2016

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