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The Banality of the Banality of Evil, &c.

November 2, 2009

More links as grant-writing week continues.

Ron Rosenbaum writes about my former professor, Bernard Wasserstein, making the case that Hannah Arendt read one too many anti-Semetic tracts than was good for her:

In a long, carefully documented essay, Wasserstein (who’s now at the University of Chicago), cites Arendt’s scandalous use of quotes from anti-Semitic and Nazi “authorities” on Jews in herTotalitarianism book. Wasserstein concludes that her use of these sources was “more than a methodological error: it was symptomatic of a perverse world-view contaminated by over-exposure to the discourse of collective contempt and stigmatization that formed the object of her study”—that object being anti-Semitism. In other words, he contends, Arendt internalized the values of the anti-Semitic literature she read in her study of anti-Semitism, at least to a certain extent.

It’s a powerful look into the psychic costs of being a [blank] in a pervasively anti-[blank] society. Incidentally, Wasserstein opened up his Introduction to Western Civilization class by asking for a show of hands: Who believed in God? Who believed in angels? And who believed in unicorns? He also decided that Regina Spektor’s album “Begin to Hope” deserved some class-time alongside St. Benedict, Martin Luther, and Theodor Herzl.

Ron Rosenbaum is also responsible for the fact that Vladimir Nabokov’s final novel The Original of Laura will be published, not burned as was Nabokov’s explicit desire. I imagine reading it will be more like looking over Nabokov’s ghostly shoulder than reading a finished novel. Creepy.

Finally, the Right’s Summer of Revanchism turned out to be the tea party that launched a thousand Ayn Rand profiles. Here’s one more from Adam Kirsch.

Rand’s particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism — to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished. Or, rather, that they could distinguish themselves by the ardor of their commitment to Rand’s teaching. The very form of her novels makes the same point: they are as cartoonish and sexed-up as any best seller, yet they are constantly suggesting that the reader who appreciates them is one of the elect.

The hope is that if I read enough of these profiles, I never have to crack open Atlas Shrugged.


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