Vol. 45 No. 3 1978 - page 348

Martin Jay
The news of Hannah Arendt's sudden and unexpected death
on December 4, 1975 was greeted with an outpouring of deeply felt
shock and grief that made abundantly clear her extraordinary stature in
our intellectual life. Personal tributes appeared by many of our most
distinguished cultural figures, among them Mary McCarthy, Robert
Lowell, Hans Morgenthau, William Phillips, Leonard Krieger, Mau–
rice Cranston, and Hans Jonas. Symposia were organized to honor her
memory at The New School and Bard College. The aura of acrimony
that had dogged her reputation since the ugly furor over her Eichmann
book in 1963 was dispelled, at leas t temporaril y, in a general wave of
good feeling that has yet
end. Clearly Hannah Arendt had made a
mark on the cultural life of her adopted country the rival of any made
by other intellectual migrants from fascist tyranny.
But precisely what that mark was her mourners could not easily
say. Again and again, they puzzl ed over what Morgenthau called " the
impossibility of categorizing Hannah Arendt according to prevailing
classifications, " often concluding with Cranston that she was "alto–
han categarie,
a unique intellectual mixture of the reactionary
and the revoluntionary." That she was a true "original ,"
borrow yet
another formulation from one of her eulogizers, has in fact been long
recognized and indeed accounted a virtue by her admirers, who see it as
evidence of creativity and a refusal
wear ideological blinders.
Although there has always been a minority position arguing that she
more confused and eclectic than truly original, the more common
feeling, if one can generalize about these things , was that her noncate–
gorizability was a source of strength rather than weakness. The joy of
reading Hannah Arendt's not always pellucid prose lay, in fact , in the
expectation of finding fresh insights into old problems, an expectation
rarely disappointed.
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