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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hannah Arendt


Last night was the night that my wife’s Book Club convened at our house. In my bright, bouncy and typically boundary-less manner, I made an offer to help entertain our guests. I gave my wife the choice of a) readings from my Blog, b) a talk on family history research, or c) a brief demonstration of male pole-dancing.
I detected some reluctance from her and when I then threatened to flounce off on my own for the evening there were visible signs of relief on her part.
This turned out well for me because I went to see the film about Hannah Arendt.
I’ll give Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review here to set the scene:
‘There is something perhaps a little stagey and mannered in Margarethe von Trotta's film about Hannah Arendt and her experiences in the early 1960s writing her iconic report on the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. At times, in fact, it seems like a radio play with pictures. But for all that, this is an interesting film about ideas, and how explosive they can be.
‘Arendt, played by Barbara Sukowa, is shown being commissioned by the New Yorker to write about the trial. The result was her celebrated coinage "the banality of evil": her epiphany in realising that Eichmann was not a scary monster but a pathetic little pen-pusher. For Arendt, it was in this shabby and insidious mediocrity – emblematic of a nation of administrators obediently carrying out the Holocaust – that true evil resided.
‘But for many in Jewish circles, this was too sophisticated by half: her remarks on perceived Jewish collaboration in the Warsaw ghetto were resented and her association with the philosopher and Nazi associate Martin Heidegger was not forgotten. (Perhaps the nearest dispute in our day was Gitta Sereny's apparent leniency on the subject of Albert Speer.) This is a formal and pedagogic production, but worthwhile nonetheless’.
Bradshaw seems to touch on damning with faint praise an extraordinary attempt to translate the rich complexities of philosophy and the human condition into entertainment. I thought it was brilliant
It casts a bright light on some of the topics that I try to sketch in this Blog, relating to the nature of thought and the importance of moral disobedience. I have never termed the Blog 'Buddhist' but I would guess that anyone who has tried to follow the Path will recognize an occasional marker, through my longstanding interest in the relationships between words, our internal dialogues and action - and the necessity of being 'awake'.
[For some of the more obvious examples see:

Anyhow, the clash between the Yang of Love [which includes empathy] and the Yin of Ignorance [which includes bureaucratic banality] is a marvellous topic for meditation, thought and action, as my rough-and-ready header maps out. And if you want some brain teasers try 'passionate thought' and 'radical evil'.
For more on the film and the ideas that it presents, see the two clips below – in particular, the wonderful lecture / question time held by Richard J. Bernstein at the New School in New York.



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