Monday, March 12, 2018

Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem

Finished reading The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem yesterday.  This is the best book that I’ve read in years.  However, I’m not going to write a typical review for this book - in fact, I’m not really going to write a review at all.  There are two reasons for this.  First, a short review cannot even begin to do this book justice.  Second, the subjects dealt with in these letters are weighty - issues of identity, nationalism, the Holocaust, Zionism, the suicide of their mutual friend Walter Benjamin, the survival of the Jewish people - and I can’t help but feel that a post covering these somber issues would appear out of place, if not jarring, in a blog that covers arts and the normal run of books.  

However, I’m a reader; and when I come across a book this good I cannot keep it to myself.  I have to share it - even if only a little.  This correspondence (spanning 1939 to 1964) is more involving, powerful, and engrossing than most novels.  Arendt and Scholem were two of the greatest minds of the 20th-century but had something of an intellectual love/hate relationship.  The topics I mentioned above were not abstract to them, they were personal; at times the letters are full of anger, accusation, explanation, reconciliation, friendship, and affection.  Scholem and Arendt were both exceptionally good writers, and along with the big topics the letters are also full of humor and gossip (mostly directed against Frankfurt School members - Adorno, Horkheimer, etc. - whom they despised).  In short, this may very well be the greatest correspondence of the 20th-century and you owe it to yourself to read it.

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