Theaters of Justice: Judging, Staging, and Working through in Arendt, Brecht, and Delbo

By Yasco Horsman | Go to book overview

1
Arendt’s Laughter
THEATRICALITY, PEDAGOGY, AND COMEDY
IN EICHMANN IN JERUSAIEM

The great political criminals must be exposed and exposed especially to
laughter.… One may say that tragedy deals with the sufferings of mankind
in a less serious way than comedy.
—Bertolt Brecht

Laughter always bursts, and loses itself in its peals. As soon as it bursts out,
it is lost to all appropriation, to all presentation.
—Jean-Luc Nancy

In a letter to Mary McCarthy, written shortly after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt confesses to her lifelong friend:

You were the only reader to understand what I have otherwise never admitted—
namely that I wrote this book in a curious state of euphoria. And that ever since
I did it, I feel—after twenty years—light hearted about the whole matter. Don’t
tell anybody; is it not proof positive that I have no “soul”?1

Years later, during an interview in Germany, Arendt repeated this admission and so acknowledged publicly the lightness of her tone. she describes how she often laughed uncontrollably while studying the case, as when she read in her Jerusalem hotel room “the transcript of the police investigation, thirty-six hundred pages, read it, and read it very carefully, and I do not know how many times I laughed—laughed out loud!”2 This eruption into laughter is of course described as a private response, taking place in the solitude of a hotel room; and the earlier revelation of her lightheartedness is confessed from within the intimacy of a correspondence with

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