Arendt, Evil, and the Optics of Thoughtlessness
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
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At the University of California, San Diego, I am especially fortunate to share a world with a remarkable group of individuals, deeply committed to teaching and the rich pleasures of intellectual exchange. Members of this seriously eclectic community to whom I am hugely indebted for their insights and steadfast support as well as good humor include Carol Padden, Mike Cole,...
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Rare is the case that the end we imagined at the beginning of a project is the end that we find or that finds us once all is at least provisionally said and done. It might be life or the world, each with its often unpredictable, surprising, and sometimes shocking turns; the work or critical interventions of like-minded (or not) scholars; it might be the unanticipated but unavoidable demands of narratives internal to the text itself that upset the particular trajectory one...
1 Arendt and the Trial of Adolf Eichmann: Contextualizing the Debate
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Evil in its total banality: this is what Hannah Arendt claimed to have seen in the figure of Adolf Eichmann when she observed him in an Israeli court in 1961. Eichmann was considered a core member of the Nazi leadership and would have undoubtedly been tried at Nuremberg in 1946 alongside Göring, Speer, and Hess among others for war crimes had he not fled Europe following the collapse...
2 Ideology and Atrocity
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Eichmann claimed to have been only a “transportation officer” in the elaborate bureaucracy that was the Third Reich. The details of his story and the nature of his position as he set out both for the Court in Jerusalem appeared only to frustrate the judges, mock the suffering of survivors, insult the memory of the dead, and enrage the prosecution, so inadequate was his account of the phenomenon...
3 Thoughtlessness and Evil
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What makes judgment possible, Arendt argued, are the purging effects of critical thought, the disassembling of received customs, rules, opinions, codes of conduct, and established values that may otherwise come to function as banisters of a sort to which we grow habituated and on which we may depend, not as the cultural conventions they represent, but as part of the given architecture of...
4 “Crimes against the Human Status”: Nuremberg and the Image of Evil
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We saw in chapter 1 that the Eichmann trial was made to bear a host of burdens well beyond the otherwise highly choreographed spectacle of criminal prosecution. Whether by chance, opportunity, or design, the proceedings were put in the service of a number of consequentially distinct agendas for regionally distinct audiences, with the focal point throughout being the “story of the great...
5 The Banality of Evil
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At the beginning of chapter 3, I began the discussion of Arendt’s understanding of thoughtlessness by recounting an exchange she had with Christian Bay at a conference devoted to considering the import of her work. This exchange was precipitated by a general discussion of what “thinking is and is good for” but also, more specifically, by Bay’s insistence that with the exception of Eichmann...
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About the Author
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Valerie Hartouni is Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Cultural Conceptions: On Reproductive Technologies and the Remaking of Life (1997).
Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012