Short-listed for the Tractatus Essay Prize, an examination of the innovative strategies Arendt used to achieve intellectual freedom
After observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt articulated her controversial concept of the “banality of evil,” thereby posing one of the most chilling and divisive moral questions of the twentieth century: How can genocidal acts be carried out by non-psychopathic people? By revealing the full complexity of the trial with reasoning that defied prevailing attitudes, Arendt became the object of severe and often slanderous criticism, losing some of her closest friends as well as being labeled a “self-hating Jew.” And while her theories have continued to draw innumerable opponents, Arendt’s work remains an invaluable resource for those seeking greater insight into the more problematic aspects of human nature.
Anchoring its discussion in the themes of translation, forgiveness, dramatization, and even laughter, Unlearning with Hannah Arendt explores the ways in which this iconic political theorist “unlearned” recognized trends and patterns—both philosophical and cultural—to establish a theoretical praxis all her own. Through an analysis of the social context and intellectual influences—Karl Jaspers, Walter Benjamin, and Martin Heidegger—that helped shape Arendt’s process, Knott has formed a historically engaged and incisive contribution to Arendt’s legacy.
About the Author
Marie Luise Knott is a journalist, translator, and author living in Berlin. In 1995 she founded the German edition of Le Monde diplomatique and has been its editor-in-chief for the past eleven years. She has written numerous works on art and literature, as well as two important studies of Hannah Arendt.
David Dollenmayer is an emeritus professor of German at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. His translations include works by Rolf Bauerdick, Bertolt Brecht, Elias and Veza Canetti, Peter Stephan Jungk, Michael Kleeberg, Perikles Monioudis, Anna Mitgutsch, Mietek Pemper, and Hansjörg Schertenleib. He is the recipient of the 2008 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize (for Moses Rosenkranz’s Childhood) and the 2010 Translation Prize of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York (for Michael Köhlmeier’s Idyll with Drowning Dog).
Praise for Unlearning with Hannah Arendt…
"[A] short, powerful book." —The Independent
"Well written...and translated from the German with admirable clarity by David Dollenmayer." —Jewish Book Council
"Knott presents an uncommonly intimate look at [Arendt's] intellectual processes. Readers...who share Knott’s reverence for Arendt will luxuriate in this selection." –Booklist
"Charmingly written, carefully translated, and easy for ordinary readers." —Library Journal
“A strangely enjoyable trip into someone’s psyche. Knott almost allows herself to channel Arendt and the book acquires a rich, inviting tone that makes it impossible not to keep on turning page after page…Knott’s clever analysis of Arendt’s work reveals a humanity that’s almost touching. The author isn’t precisely defending Arendt’s alienating viewpoints. Rather, she’s sharing with us the pleasures that can still be found in others’ thoughts—once we set aside our prejudice.” —PopMatters
“Marie Luise Knott’s essays enable the reader to benefit from Arendt, even where you are actually not willing to follow her. It doesn’t show her ways of thinking as a fixation of certainties but as a process to dissolve certainties and to systematically forget them.” —Wolfgang Matz, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“A knowledgeable little book.” —Alexander Cammann, Die Zeit
“A really…illuminating essay.” —La Stampa