Sorry, no love letters to Heidegger here!
June 1, 2006 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Hannah Arendt's Papers are digitally preserved by the Library of Congress. Read her lectures on Political Philosophy. Browse her correspondence. Here she castigates once-friend, Gershom Scholem, for his poor treatment of Eichmann in Jerusalem. Here she explains forgiveness to the hapless poet she called 'Wystan:' W. H. Auden.
posted by anotherpanacea (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Fanatstic. Thanks. The correspondence looks like it will be fascinating reading. Best of the web.

and, hot. those eyes.
posted by Rumple at 10:39 AM on June 1, 2006

Definitely going to check this out over the weekend. Great post.

Also: very clearly hot.
posted by kosem at 11:01 AM on June 1, 2006

Excellent post. Thank you.
posted by Mr. Six at 11:12 AM on June 1, 2006

Thanks for posting.
Arendt's portrait of the Eichmann during the trial is famous for using the description "the banality of evil." Julia Kristeva also wrote a great book on Arendt.
posted by mattbucher at 11:12 AM on June 1, 2006

I should say that Kristeva's book, while interesting, is more about Kristeva's notion of feminine genius than it is about Arendt. She gets a lot of Arendt's work wrong.

As for the "banality of evil," I think Arendt is often misunderstood on this topic. In the last pages of the letter to Scholem, she writes: "I changed my mind and no longer speak of 'radical evil'.... It is indeed my opinion that evil is never 'radical', that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor demonic dimension. I can overgrow and lay waste to the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is 'thought-defying', as I have said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to the roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil it is frustrated, because there is nothing. That is its 'banality.' Only the good has depth and can be radical."
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:22 AM on June 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

sorry... "It" can overgrow and lay waste, etc.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:24 AM on June 1, 2006

Timely post considering the behavior of the US government and military are fighting this "war on terrorism" through the killing innocent Iraqi families and the detention of "enemy combatants" in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.
posted by j-urb at 11:55 AM on June 1, 2006

And of course I forgot to mention the secret prisons in the Middle East and Eastern Europe where torture was implemented. The list could go on...
posted by j-urb at 11:56 AM on June 1, 2006

Fantastic post, thanks. In the letter to Scholem, she apologizes for the hurried and inadequate nature of her reply, and then proceeds with six pages of sparkling prose and truly humbling integrity. The excerpt anotherpanacea reproduced is especially remarkable because it addresses each reader's moral being in a way that allows no easy escape -- I am reminded of Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo: "for here there is no place that does not see you. you must change your life".
posted by ori at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2006

Great post. I'm puzzled as to why Auden is "hapless," though--and why "hapless" links to the program for Auden's funeral. Is Auden "hapless" because he's mortal?
posted by yoink at 12:40 PM on June 1, 2006

Dang, and I wanted me some good old-fashioned Heidegger mash notes.

Whenever I see these things I think about how awful it would be if my personal correspondence were just out there, part of the public domain. Historically relevant? In Arendt's case, sure. But I'd still be embarrassed, and my ghost would consider curators as bad as paparazzi jackals.
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 1:09 PM on June 1, 2006

Isn't Wystan what the W in W.H. Auden stands for anyway?
posted by jonp72 at 2:08 PM on June 1, 2006

Isn't Wystan what the W in W.H. Auden stands for anyway?

Yes. As he liked to point out, his name was an anagram of "Hug a Shady Wet Nun."
posted by yoink at 2:27 PM on June 1, 2006

I futzed the Auden stuff; apparently a lot of people called him by his first name. I was thinking that I'd pick a nickname if I were in his shoes, so it seemed rather intimate when I came across the letters. (They were friends, but not publicly acknowledged intimates.)

As for 'hapless,' I felt sorry for him because he takes the Christian position that forgiveness is mandatory, and when Arendt shows him how that can't work, he's at a loss. Then I found the program, and voila.

BTW, the reason none of Arendt's love letters to Heidegger are in the collection: she destroyed her copies and made Martie do the same with the originals. (He kept copies of his own letters, which is how we know about the affair at all.) I guess at some point you realize, "I'm gonna be famous!" and start pruning your correspondence and notes to show yourself in the best light.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:26 PM on June 1, 2006

he's at a loss

I'm not finding his "at a loss" reply to her (or any other reply to that particular letter). I'm probably being stupid, but if you could point me to it, I'd be grateful.
posted by yoink at 4:14 PM on June 1, 2006

Sorry, you have to be onsite to see Auden's replies. The Auden estate has not released his letters to Arendt for distribution. It's a fascinating conversation, though; I might try to retype some of it tomorrow, but here's the gist. Auden believes we have a duty to forgive those who injury us. Arendt argues, as you can read for yourself, that forgiveness must be freely given in order to be meaningful, and cannot be obligated or constrained by duty. Auden's replies are characteristically lyrical... but he's wrong, and you can see him struggling with the contradiction. In part, it's the difference between Jewish and Christian models of charity... but it's also a logical dilemma. Anyway, the two became friends based on that conversation, and on Auden's deep love of The Human Condition. Check out this little poem from Arendt.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

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