Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt

Synopsis

Hannah Arendt's work offers a powerful critical engagement with the cultural and philosophical crises of mid-twentieth-century Europe. Her idea of the banality of evil, made famous after her report on the trial of the Nazi war criminal, Adolf Eichmann, remains controversial to this day.

In the face of 9/11 and the 'war on terror', Arendt's work on the politics of freedom and the rights of man in a democratic state are especially relevant. Her impassioned plea for the creation of a public sphere through free, critical thinking and dialogue provides a significant resource for contemporary thought.

Covering her key ideas from The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition as well as some of her less well-known texts, and focussing in detail on Arendt's idea of storytelling, this guide brings Arendt's work into the twenty-first century while helping students to understand its urgent relevance for the contemporary world.

Excerpt

The books in this series offer introductions to major critical thinkers who have influenced literary studies and the humanities. The Routledge Critical Thinkers series provides the books you can turn to first when a new name or concept appears in your studies.

Each book will equip you to approach a key thinker’s original texts by explaining her or his key ideas, putting them into context and, perhaps most importantly, showing you why this thinker is considered to be significant. The emphasis is on concise, clearly written guides which do not presuppose a specialist knowledge. Although the focus is on particular figures, the series stresses that no critical thinker ever existed in a vacuum but, instead, emerged from a broader intellectual, cultural and social history. Finally, these books will act as a bridge between you and the thinker’s original texts: not replacing them but rather complementing what she or he wrote.

These books are necessary for a number of reasons. In his 1997 autobiography, Not Entitled, the literary critic Frank Kermode wrote of a time in the 1960s:

On beautiful summer lawns, young people lay together all night,
recovering from their daytime exertions and listening to a troupe of
Balinese musicians. Under their blankets or their sleeping bags, they
would chat drowsily about the gurus of the time … What they repeated
was largely hearsay; hence my lunch time suggestion, quite impromptu,
for a series of short, very cheap books offering authoritative but
intelligible introductions to such figures.

There is still a need for ‘authoritative and intelligible introductions’. But this series reflects a different world from the 1960s. New thinkers have emerged and the reputations of others have risen and fallen, as new research has developed. New methodologies and challenging ideas have spread through the arts and humanities. The study of literature is no longer – if it ever was – simply the study and evaluation of poems, novels and plays. It is also the study of the ideas, issues and difficulties which arise in any literary text and in its interpretation. Other arts and humanities subjects have changed in analogous ways.

With these changes, new problems have emerged. The ideas and issues behind these radical changes in the humanities are often presented without reference to wider contexts or as theories which you can simply ‘add on’ to the texts you read. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with picking out selected ideas or using what comes to hand – indeed, some thinkers have argued that this is, in fact, all we can do. However, it is sometimes forgotten that each new idea comes from the pattern and development of somebody’s thought and it is important to study the range and context of their ideas. Against theories ‘floating in space’, the Routledge Critical Thinkers series places key thinkers and their ideas firmly back in their contexts.

More than this, these books reflect the need to go back to the thinker’s own texts and ideas. Every interpretation of an idea, even the most seemingly innocent one, offers its own ‘spin’, implicitly or explicitly. To read only books on a thinker, rather than texts by . . .

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