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Some notes on “Hannah Arendt” (Reaktion Books, 2021)
Samantha Rose Hill’s new book is a biographical and intelectual account on Arendt’s life and thought that found it’s place beside Young-Bruehl’s “For the love of the world”
Our podcast at via marginal has a new episode, dedicated to Samantha Rose Hill’s new book “Hannah Arendt”. We talked about why you should read the book and I’m gonna write here a summarized version of our episode.
The book is delicious, you can’t stop reading it once you started. Right from the beginning Sam’s sensibility and her captivating writing catches us. It’s very pleasant and it gives us many information without losing its literary quality.
One of the many good things about “Hannah Arendt” is the glance it provides us on Arendt’s archives. Sam made a great research in the Arendt Papers, but also in the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach, bringing first hand access to important sources, presented in a coherent and pleasant way.
As a good friend, like Arendt was to Rahel, Sam treats Arendt history and legacy with respect and caring. She presents us an unapologetic yet funny Hannah Arendt, a charming and courageous woman, beloved by her friends, true to herself.
As part of this respectful writing, Sam presents some controversies about Arendt’s life and work with no intention of saving her. Arendt doesn’t need to be saved and Sam knows it. She puts the controversies in therms of a factual matter, “eine Tatsache”, with no passion.
She could go with the flow and write a book solely based on Arendt’s many controversies, but that would lead to predictable common places and deploy the value of her account of Arendt’s life and work. I was particularly happy with the choice and the tone which she used. And there’s a lot of humor too. I laughed reading the passages Sam took from correspondences between Arendt and her friends! Her account to Mary McCarthy of Auden’s marriage proposal to her made my day!
The end, oh the end! I didn’t want the book to end but Sam made it a poetic experience, a very touching and moving way to talk about death and its meaning. I’ll not give details (no spoilers, I promised!) but it was a beautiful end that Arendt herself would probably love. She shows us that Arendt’s death was by no means her disappearance of this world. She will be missed for those who knew her in flesh, but she still inhabit the world and we can meet her and be friends, like Sam did.
No wonder Sam went to Greece after the book publication. This was a “greek biography”: philosophical, poetic and thoughtful. A way to tell a story of a great human being like the Ancient Greeks did: no Manichaeism and no moralism.
For Arendt researchers the text provides this first hand account of archives and some new material that put some light on Arendt’s writings. It’s a good guide for research in the new Arendt Papers site. The book is really good and it totally found it’s place among the already existent biographies on Arendt, right beside Elizabeth Young-Bruehl’s “For the love of the world”, published in 1982.
For those who wants to know and “befriend” Arendt, Sam’s “Hannah Arendt” is an excellent start. You will meet a vivid, yet melancholic, but always courageous and very charming woman, who adored her friends, that enchanted men, shook intellectual foundations and loved the world.