Friday, November 22, 2013

Hannah Arendt

I watched a film about Hannah Arendt, called Hannah Arendt. (Head of the Film-Naming Committee for the project: "So I guess that means we're breaking early for lunch, then...?") It is an apologia for a philosopher who wrote something that caused many of her friends and peers to turn their backs on her. Indeed the central quote of the film comes from Heidegger: "Thinking is a lonely business." Yet if there is a moral to the story, it is that thinking is the sine qua non of morality itself. Eichmann's evil, according to Arendt, is to be located in his failure to think and thus his abdication of his humanness.

A film about a philosopher - or, more precisely, about a philosopher's dangerous idea - treads on thin ice. We read books in order to engage with philosophical ideas. We watch films in order to engage with a story. Narrative and philosophy are not inherently opposed, however. Far from it, as another disciple of Heidegger, Terrence Malick, continues to show us. Yet narrative depictions of "ideas" often make for poor narratives and poor ideas. Hannah Arendt successfully avoids this pitfall by placing everything within the context of friendship. If there is another central quote in the film it is this:

I’ve never loved any people. Why should I love the Jews? I only love my friends. That’s the only love I’m capable of.

Arendt is accused during the film of being all cleverness and no feeling. It is this accusation that the film intends to challenge. Arendt is portrayed as being a deeply emotional being, yet she refuses to separate the act of thinking from the act of feeling. By the end of the story it is easy to be convinced that this is a noble, if not easy, refusal.

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