Archive for the ‘Prospect Magazine’ Category
If Hannah Arendt—the great political theorist, critic of totalitarianism, and sometime lover of Martin Heidegger—had not died from a heart attack on 4th December 1975, today would have been her 105th birthday.
Arendt would doubtless have had mixed feelings about 2011. This year marked a half-century since the trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the Final Solution. Reporting on the trial from Jerusalem, she developed the ideas for her most influential book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality Of Evil. And 2011 is, of course, both the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the year in which Bin Laden met his end at the hands of American commandos.
To point out that the phrase “the banality of evil” is often overused is itself somewhat banal. Whenever a high-profile tyrant is brought to justice, headlines groan with the phrase. The New York Times used it in connection with Saddam; TIME magazine used it about Bin Laden; and when Gaddafi gets his comeuppance, it will almost certainly be used about him, too.
Or rather, misused. As Elisabeth Young-Bruehl points out in her excellent Why Arendt Matters (Yale University Press, 2006), the phrase is “predictably and reverently invoked—and completely misunderstood.” It doesn’t simply refer to an evildoer’s lack of charisma. It neither absolves criminal responsibility, nor suggests that we would all do the same under the circumstances. Rather, it expresses a complex reading of how murderous ideologies can take root. Continue on the Prospect website
It’s not often that Radio 4 clears its entire drama schedule for a week and replaces it with a single nine-hour radio play. Yet on the week of the 18th September that is precisely what will happen. The play—Life And Fate, with Kenneth Branagh in the starring role—is an adaptation of the postwar novel by little-known Russian writer Vasily Grossman.
Although Life and Fate centres around the moribund physicist Viktor Shtrum and the epic battle of Stalingrad, the novel weaves hundreds of interrelated stories and characters together to show a vivid cross-section of life under Stalin. Grossman was a high-profile frontline reporter during the war, and his fiction displays the same perceptiveness and honesty for which his journalism was renowned. Stories and characters arise and subside like waves in the broad river of humanity, winding through the horrors of the Eastern Front; the result is a novel that manages to be at once sweepingly panoramic and minutely detailed.
Life and Fate, by all accounts, is a work of colossal genius. Martin Amis called Grossman “the Tolstoy of the USSR,” and the historian Antony Beevor—speaking on a special Grossman edition of Start The Week on Radio 4 today—described the book as “one of the greatest Russian novels of the twentieth century.” Mark Damazer, the former controller of Radio 4 who commissioned the drama adaptation, was more laudatory still, calling Life and Fate “the best and most important novel of modern times.”
Grossman completed Life and Fate in 1960, but because of the novel’s dissidence—it dared to compare Nazism and Stalinism, for example—the manuscript was confiscated by the KGB, who famously seized the typewriter and carbon paper that Grossman used to write it. A decade and a half later, a small group of radicals managed to smuggle a microfilm version of the book under the Iron Curtain; an English edition was finally published in 1985. Frustratingly enough, by that point all eyes were on Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak and Life and Fate was eclipsed.
This new radio adaptation should bring the work to light again, though for the best parts of Life and Fate, you have to read the book. Continue reading on the Prospect Magazine website
“Netanyahu thinks he is the superpower,” remarked Bill Clinton bitterly in 1996, “and we are here to do whatever he requires.” Today, as the Americans and the Israelis refuse to budge on the fraught issue of settlements in East Jerusalem, this statement rings truer than ever. US-Israeli relations are at a historic low. But the current standoff is about much more than settlement-building. Underlying it is Washington’s concern that Netanyahu’s repeated gestures of provocation—like the establishment of Jewish heritage sites in the Palestinian territories—are drawing the region towards a conflict unprecedented since 1948. And this time there is a nuclear dimension.