Sunday, November 07, 2021

Paul Kingsnorth practicing kindness and mercy

 Wedding Seeches

Wedding Speeches ||

Paul Kingsnorth practicing  kindness and mercy :

Two years ago, I was hoping I could retire. 

It wasn’t a realistic hope, and I knew it: my writing and teaching is the only income source my family has, so unless some anonymous donor had looked kindly on me, I was going to have to keep going. But I thought seriously that I might be able to find some other way of earning: gardening, maybe, or working in a shop. Anything but writing. I had come, literally, to a full stop.

I had just published a non-fiction book called Savage Gods - still my favourite piece of non-fiction, as it happens. It’s a raw, short book that I began in 2017, in the midst of a personal night-sea journey. I was lost: spiritually lost, not at home in my (fairly) new country, and most of all, lost as a writer. I had stopped believing in words. They had come to seem less like a liberation, and more like a trap; less like a glass I could see through, if darkly, and more like a wall which prevented me from touching the real world on the other side. 

So I wrote it all down - inevitably - and then I stopped. I made a vow to write nothing new for a year and a day. I kept the vow, the date passed, and I still had no words. I thought, well, that was that. I had written ten books in my life, which was a nice round number. But what to do instead? What else can a 45 year old writer do? How to feed my children? I said to God: show me what to do. I’ll burn all my pens if you want. But show me the way. I didn’t even think I believed in God, which just goes to show how confused I was. 

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Archaeologists at Pompeii have unearthed 2000-year-old extendable beds likened to Ikea furniture for the ancient world.

The beds, made of wooden planks that could be adjusted according to the height of the person sleeping in them, were found in a cramped room that was once inhabited by slaves.

Archaeologists at Pompeii have discovered a room that served as both a dormitory and storage area, which officials said Saturday offered “a very rare insight the daily life of slaves.”

Archaeologists at Pompeii have discovered a room that served as both a dormitory and storage area, which officials said Saturday offered “a very rare insight the daily life of slaves.” CREDIT:POMPEII ARCHAEOLOGY PARK

Pompeii dig finds slaves had Ikea-style beds


The book hits all the standard biographical notes: Arendt’s education in Germany, including studies with her lover, the philosopher and future Nazi Martin Heidegger, her internment in France and escape to America, and the publication of her major works, from Origins to her masterwork of political theory, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem, her controversial report on the trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.

But the book also sheds new life on Arendt’s life, particularly her youth. Some of these insights are merely amusing, as when Arendt was arrested in 1933 for collecting antisemitic articles to send to Jewish organizations abroad. After searching her apartment, the Gestapo interrogated her about the “secret code” in her notebooks. The “code” was Greek.

Some insights, however, can shed new light on Arendt’s thought. For instance, we learn that she attended Christian Sunday school in addition to her synagogue education, and as a child, she told her rabbi that “all prayers should be offered to Christ.” It’s hard not to think of this early education when considering Arendt’s lifelong study of St. Augustine and her argument that politics depends on forgiveness.

Most intellectual biographies emphasize ideas over personal details, which is generally the correct approach. But Arendt is different. Her work, as Hill repeatedly shows, was influenced by the events of her life. She turned to politics after the Reichstag fire vaulted the Nazis to power in Germany, and she studied the American founding once she took refuge in the United States. Her complicated relationship with Heidegger and his flirtation with Nazism inspired some of her most insightful work on forgiveness in politics and the dangers of thinking.

This is not to say that we can only understand Arendt in her historical context. But because she wrote so widely and was so influenced by her friendships and experience, a biographical study illuminates Arendt’s thought in a way it wouldn’t some of her contemporaries. Arendt, who long rejected the label “philosopher,” worked more like a journalist, observing and reporting as she went through life.

But with some severe limitations in her reporting skills. As Ron Rosenbaum wrote in 1999:

Perhaps now is the time. Perhaps the imminent publication of the diaries alleged to be Adolf Eichmann’s makes this the moment to put to rest one of the most pernicious and persistent misconceptions about Eichmann and the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust: the fashionable but vacuous cliché about “the banality of evil.” It’s remarkable how many people mouth this phrase as if it were somehow a sophisticated response to the death camps, when in fact it is rather a sophisticated form of denial, one that can come very close to being the (pseudo-) intellectual version of Holocaust denial. Not denying the crime but denying the full criminality of the perpetrators.

You’re probably familiar with the origin of “the banality of evil”: It was the subtitle of Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. (She didn’t use it in the New Yorker pieces that were the basis of the book.) The phrase “banality of evil” was born out of Ms. Arendt’s remarkable naïveté as a journalist. Few would dispute her eminence as a philosopher, the importance of her attempt to define, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, just what makes totalitarianism so insidious and destructive.

But she was the world’s worst court reporter, someone who could be put to shame by any veteran courthouse scribe from a New York tabloid. It somehow didn’t occur to her that a defendant like Eichmann, facing execution if convicted, might actually lie on the stand about his crimes and his motives. She actually took Eichmann at his word. What did she expect him to say to the Israeli court that had life and death power over him: “Yes, I really hated Jews and loved killing them”?

But when Eichmann took the stand and testified that he really didn’t harbor any special animosity toward Jews, that when it came to this little business of exterminating the Jews, he was just a harried bureaucrat, a paper shuffler “just following orders” from above, Arendt took him at his word. She treated Eichmann’s lies as if they were a kind of philosophical position paper, a text to analyze rather than a cowardly alibi by a genocidal murderer.

She was completely conned by Eichmann, by his mild-mannered demeanor on the stand during his trial; she bought his act of being a nebbishy schnook. Arendt then proceeded to make Eichmann’s disingenuous self-portrait the basis for a sweeping generalization about the nature of evil whose unfounded assumptions one still finds tossed off as sophisticated aperçus today.

A generalization which suggests that conscious, willful, knowing evil is irrelevant or virtually nonexistent: that the form evil most often assumes, the form evil took in Hitler’s Germany, is that of faceless little men following evil orders, that this is a more intellectual, more interesting evil, anyway-old-fashioned evil being the stuff of childish fairy tales, something intellectual sophisticates feel too refined to acknowledge. Either that or too sheltered to have glimpsed.

Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder eventually took their revenge on Arendt’s perfidy, according David P. Goldman, aka “Spengler:”

Arendt made herself hated in the Jewish world by pooh-poohing Eichmann’s crimes in her famous New Yorker series on the Eichmann trial, as mere “mediocrity of evil.” The implication was that lofty minds like Heidegger’s couldn’t be implicated in such crimes.

Arendt started sleeping with the married Heidegger as a graduate student in the 1920s, and bolstered his postwar reputation by appearing with him in public, although Heidegger had remained a Nazi Party member until 1945 and never offered  word of apology. Mel Brooks get Arendt back, though, by including her in “Young Frankenstein.” Her married name really was Frau Blucher, and her film incarnation–the aging spinster pining for the mad maker of monsters, the mention of whose name terrifies animals–suits her perfectly.