Hannah Arendt on Race, Identity & Politics.
Or: How to Change Your Mind as a Philosopher
March 13, Saturday, 12-3 PM. Online.
With Ulrich Baer
The political thinker Hannah Arendt directly intervened into two political and charged events during her long career. In 1956, she published an extremely controversial essay on the school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, arguing that the government should not order the desegregation of schools. The novelist Ralph Waldo Ellison fiercely criticized Arendt’s take on race in America; her ultimate response, and her reply to an essay James Baldwin published on the idea of “love” in politics, reveals what it means for a rigorous philosopher to change her mind.
Second, Arendt’s equally controversial report of the 1961 trial of a Nazi, Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil , prompted countless intellectuals to ‘cancel’ her, to use today’s language. The great thinker Gershom Scholem, a former friend, was outraged, appalled and personally wounded by Arendt’s analysis, but he could not change Arendt’s mind.
What can we learn from these explosive instances when Arendt changed her mind or stood her ground? Our point is not to blame or exonerate Arendt, with the benefit of hindsight, but to examine what it means for a rigorous thinker to change her mind or refuse to do so on matters of race, identity, truth, and freedom that are of such enormous social, political and personal significance to this day.
We will read Arendt’s essay on “Little Rock” and Ralph Ellison’s reply to Arendt; an excerpt from Eichmann in Jerusalem and Gershom Scholem’s letter to Arendt; James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” and Arendt’s letter to James Baldwin.
Ulrich Baer received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Yale in Comparative Literature and has been awarded Guggenheim, DAAD, Getty, and Humboldt Fellowships. He is University Professor in Comparative and German Literature and Photography and Imaging at New York University and has published, among other books, Hannah Arendt: Between the Disciplines (with Amir Eshel), What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth and Equality on Campus; Remnants of Song: The Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan; Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma; The Rilke Alphabet;110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (editor); Beggar’s Chicken: Stories from Shanghai; We Are But a Moment;The Claims of Literature: A Shoshana Felman Reader (co-editor), several books in German, and, as translator and editor, The Dark Interval: Rilke’s Letters on Loss, Grief and Transformation and Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters on Life. He has also published widely on photography, poetry and culture in museum catalogs, academic journals and leading newspapers. His podcast, Think About It, is devoted to in-depth conversations on powerful ideas and transformative books. He is also editorial director at Warbler Press, where he has published new editions of classic works and original titles. His latest book is Fictions of America: The Book of Firsts (with Smaran Dayal). He lives in New York City.
Time: Saturday, March 13, 12-3 PM. Online via Zoom.
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