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March 13, 2005

 

In Honor of Hannah Arendt


Hannah Arendt in Her Final Years
Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906-December 4, 1975) was an eminent political theorist of German origin. In 1940, Arendt was taken to the infamous internment camp at Gurs, near the Pyrenees; at the last minute she was able to avoid deportation to an extermination camp and made her way to New York in 1942.

As a student in Germany, Arendt studied with Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Husserl and Walter Benjamin. Subsequent to her escape to New York, she taught at the "University in Exile" (later to become The New School for Social Research).

After intense critical debate about her publication of Eichman in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil, she accepted an offer to teach at the University of Chicago (The Committee on Social Thought, which at that time also included Saul Bellow as a faculty colleague). This was an opportunity that allowed her to resume previous relationships with other immigrants teaching at the University, including Leo Strauss and Hans J. Morgenthau.

In addition to her faculty positions at the "University in Exile" (New York) and the University of Chicago, Arendt later held professorships or guest-professorships at several universities (including Princeton, Harvard and Berkley). She received numerous honors, including ten honorary doctorates.

During her later years in New York City, she became more seclusive, but maintained a renowned circle of friends, including W. H. Auden. In 1971, she was personally deeply struck by the death of Auden. She openly wept on the way to Auden's memorial service at the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine. At the memorial service, she was dressed in black and overcome with melancholy. In her own memorial for Auden, she focused upon Auden's capacity to let himself feel full vulnerability to the devastations of human failures and to:

Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.


Arendt went on to say:
Now, with the sad wisdom of remembrance, I see him as having been an expert in the infinite varieties of unrequited love.


An Arendt quotation on growing old:

I must admit that I mind this defoliation (or deforestation) process. As though to grow old does not mean, as Goethe said, 'gradual withdrawal from appearance'--which I do not mind--but the gradual (rather, sudden) transformation of a world with familiar faces (no matter, friend or foe) into a kind of desert, populated by strange faces. In other words, it is not me who withdraws but the world that dissolves--an altogether different proposition.


SELECTED BOOKS:

The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
The Human Condition (1958)
Eichman in Jerusalum (1963)
Life of the Mind (1978)

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