Hannah Arendt exposes the threadbare hero it hallows.
The German director Margarethe von Trotta has had such a long and fascinating career that, if there were justice in these matters—which idea is laughable—she would be treasured by more than who do so now. Beginning in 1975 she has made films that dealt with women, known and unknown, all of which were wonderfully persuasive.
Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain By Dwight Macdonald Edited by John Summers (New York Review Books, 289pp., $16.95) Dwight Macdonald, the greatest American hatchet man, applied his merciless craft also to himself. When he collected his essays, he added footnotes, appendices, and other forms of addenda taking issue with his own writings.
Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live By Jeff Jarvis (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.
Just Words: Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, and the Failure of Public Conversation in America By Alan Ackerman (Yale University Press, 361 pp., $35) Mary McCarthy preferred the old-fashioned way. You might not know this from her three divorces and the anatomical precision of her bedroom scenes, but she had a strong streak of cultural conservatism. She rejected feminism and lamented the disappearance of Latin from the schoolhouse. The modern fascination with technology annoyed her.
Over a perfectly prepared bowl of cholent, the coarse stew to which all Galicianer souls are superstitiously attached, I sat in the kosher restaurant in Munich last week, on the gleaming modernist island of the city’s new Jewish institutions, and read the correspondence between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt, which has just been published in Germany. The radio played American oldies of the 1960s, in a pernicious attempt to make me feel at home. The situation was emotionally impossible, of course.
In 1943, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who was living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, wrote “Campo dei Fiori,” his great poem about the coexistence of normality and atrocity. The Campo dei Fiori is the plaza in Rome where, in the year 1600, the heretical philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned alive by the Catholic Church; “before the flames had died,” Milosz writes, “the taverns were full again.” The same willed blindness could be noted in Warsaw, the poem declares.
Jeffrey Herf is one of the pre-eminent intellectual historians of totalitarianism. He is a frequent contributor to The New Republic. See, for example, his last few contributions here, here, and here. You can also find a TNR review of one of his books, Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys, here. In the current issue of The American Interest, Herf makes a highly convincing argument that radical Islam today is in fact a totalitarian movement with totalitarian ideology and totalitarian methods. No, it is not Nazism or Communism.
Memoirs By Hans Jonas Edited by Christian Wiese Translated by Krishna Winston (Brandeis University Press, 320 pp., $35) The Life and Thought of Hans Jonas: Jewish Dimensions By Christian Wiese (Brandeis University Press, 292 pp., $50) I. Hans Jonas was a philosopher, not a prophet, but his teachings speak as powerfully to our age of global warming, global markets, and Manichaean geopolitics as they did to the century of world wars in which he developed them.
The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills Edited by John Summers (Oxford University Press, 320 pp., $21.95) C.Wright Mills published his sociological trilogy during the 1950s: White Collar in 1951, The Power Elite in 1956, The Sociological Imagination in 1959. Those were years of Republican ascendancy, and while the president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a moderate, the vice president, Richard Nixon, and a number of key senators, including Joe McCarthy, belonged to the conservative wing of the party.