Tag: Mary McCarthy

Mary McCarthy on the Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

I don’t know why people complain about the loss of public intellectuals or the decline of intellectual life more generally. I just finished Mary McCarthy’s Intellectual Memoirs: New York 1936-1938. As far as I can tell, there’s more action on one night of Facebook than she reports over the entirety of two years. That said, McCarthy makes one fascinating—at least to me—observation about how we learn to read newness in the arts. In our Beekman Place apartment, besides PR [Partisan Review], I was trying to read Ulysses. John, in the breakfast nook, was typing his play “University” (about his father and never produced), and I was writing book reviews. Every year I started Ulysses, but I could not get beyond the first […]

Did Hannah Arendt Ever See Eichmann Testify? A Second Reply to Richard Wolin

In his critique of Seyla Benhabib’s account of the Arendt/Eichmann controversy, which I wrote about earlier today, Richard Wolin makes an additional claim I’ve been puzzling over: Second, a perusal of Arendt’s correspondence indicates that so great was her impatience with the proceedings that she never saw Eichmann testify. Arendt endured chief prosecutor Gideon Hausner’s lengthy opening statement and, following an absence of several weeks, returned to Jerusalem to witness the final verdict. But, remarkably, she never saw Eichmann himself take the stand. (Here, one suspects that Arendt’s rather brazen disregard for the value of testimony, not to speak of the norms of journalism, is an instance of Germanic philosophical arrogance. As J. G. Fichte said, if the facts fail […]

The History of Fear, Part 4

Today, in part 4 of our series on the intellectual history of fear, we turn to Hannah Arendt’s theory of total terror, which she developed in The Origins of Totaltarianism (and then completely overhauled in Eichmann in Jerusalem.) I’m more partial, as I make clear in my book, to Eichmann than to Origins. But Origins has always been the more influential text, at least until recently. It’s a problematic though fascinating book (the second part, on imperialism, is especially wonderful). But one of the reasons it was able to gain such traction is that it managed to meld Montesquieu’s theory of despotic terror with Tocqueville’s theory of democratic anxiety. It became the definitive statement of Cold War social thought in […]

All that good, expensive gas wasted on the Jews!

People sometimes ask why I’m a fan of Hannah Arendt. I’ve a complicated relationship to her work, so I wouldn’t characterize myself as a complete fan. But I do love reading her, and one of the reasons I do is that she had such a brutal and unforgiving sense of irony, which she often held in reserve for only the most morally addled sectors of the bourgeoisie. (In this respect she was quite like Brecht and other Weimar modernists.) Nowhere is this more on display than in Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is probably my favorite Arendt text. Here’s a representative passage (pp. 110-111). My next story is even more to the point, since it concerns someone who was not a “leader,” […]