A Time For Reading and Falling in Love With Hannah Arendt03-24-2020
By Roger Berkowitz
In the recent podcast on Arendt, Freedom, and Protest on the Political Theory Podcast, host Toby Buckle asks Roger Berkowitz why Hannah Arendt is so loved today. One answer comes from Jeremy Clarke who writes about his love affair with Hannah Arendt’s thinking, which he first encountered on a BBC radio show In Our Time. The episode features Lyndsey Stonebridge, Frisbee Sheffield, and Robert Eaglestone in conversation with host Melvyn Bragg. As the Corona Virus closes bars and keeps us at home Clarke writes about the joy and even love in reading Arendt now.
The three of us — me, Catriona and her daughter Skye — were having a wash and brush-up before going out for a meal at a restaurant in the village, when we learnt that President Macron’s smooth dishonest face had just addressed the nation on TV and told it that he had ordered bars, cafés and restaurants and all places of entertainment to be closed until further notice. The news both exhilarated and disappointed: real life had begun in earnest but the bars were shut. Skye assembled a round of gin and tonics and we three settled down in a row with our feet on the coffee table to make our own evening’s entertainment, the first perhaps of many. Starting as I meant to go on in fast-setting new reality, I confessed to them that I had fallen in love with an elderly Jewish woman called Hannah.
Unfortunately, she died in 1975. Born in Hanover in 1906, Hannah Arendt studied philosophy at Marburg University under the philosopher Martin Heidegger in a very literal sense and their passionate on-off affair endured until she died. For her philosophy doctorate at Heidelberg University she studied under the philosopher Karl Jaspers. She loved him passionately too. Hannah Arendt went on to marry twice: first to another, less well known philosopher, then to a working-class gentile autodidact.
Hannah and I first met through the presenter Melvyn Bragg. She was the subject of an In Our Time broadcast I’d listened to completely by accident. (I thought I’d chosen one about Papal infallibility.) This, in turn, led me to her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. Catriona and Skye kindly agreed to indulge my infatuation by listening again to the In Our Time program on the BBC Sounds app. While it played, Catriona stared at the fire and Skye sketched.