A Bril­liant Woman in Dark Times

Forward Magazine - - REVIEWS - By Laura Hodes

THE THREE ES­CAPES OF HAN­NAH ARENDT

By Ken Krim­stein

Blooms­bury, 232 pages, $28

In “The Three Es­capes of Han­nah Arendt, a Tyranny of Truth,” a graphic bi­og­ra­phy, Ken Krim­stein, a New Yorker car­toon­ist who teaches at DePaul Univer­sity and the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago, de­picts Arendt in a way no other book has — bring­ing her pas­sion and phys­i­cal­ity to life us­ing the medium of comics to dis­till Arendt’s dense writ­ings to their essence and to make us feel the pas­sion of her think­ing.

For Krim­stein, a comic turned out to be the per­fect way to tell Arendt’s story. In con­trast to the im­per­sonal fonts and dig­i­tal photo-edited im­ages we are so used to see­ing on our screens, see­ing the artist’s hand-drawn words and im­ages makes his book feel in­ti­mate, im­me­di­ate and real.

Krim­stein’s book couldn’t have come at more op­por­tune time, with Arendt in the spot­light be­cause of her pre­scient writ­ing on to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Richard J. Bern­stein, a pro­fes­sor at The New School, re­cently re­leased the book “Why Read Han­nah Arendt Now?” in which he ar­gues for the rel­e­vance of read­ing Arendt. Pro­mot­ing her new book “The Death of Truth” in the Guardian, for­mer New York Times critic Michiko Kaku­tani wrote that Arendt’s words oŒer a “chill­ing de­scrip­tion of the po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural land­scape we in­habit to­day,” with fake news and lies is­sued daily by Rus­sian trolls and in in­ces­sant tweets from the pres­i­dent.

What Krim­stein’s book does diŒer­ently from the books that came be­fore his is to make the reader feel the pas­sion of the mind and the life of Arendt, to see this bril­liant philoso­pher as a fle­s­hand-blood per­son, not only by mak­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence as a refugee of var­i­ous es­capes visu­ally im­me­di­ate on the page, but also by por­tray­ing her with the wit and emo­tion­al­ity all too eas­ily missed when im­mersed in her bril­liant writ­ing it­self. The story is told in the first per­son, so we ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing from Arendt’s per­spec­tive, and be­cause the

He makes us feel the pas­sion that Arendt and Hei­deg­ger felt for each other.

comics medium al­lows us to see her in­te­rior thoughts and her phys­i­cal fig­ure on the page, si­mul­ta­ne­ously we feel that we know Arendt in a way that we wouldn’t from read­ing a more for­mal con­ven­tional book. Al­though some­times, Arendt’s voice is a tad anachro­nis­tic and the word choice not par­tic­u­larly Arend­tian (“De­spite my love of tragedy in plays, in real life, things re­ally suck”), Krim­stein’s choices come across for the most part as charm­ing and wry.

Krim­stein’s line draw­ings — black on cream save for Arendt, who is al­ways

wear­ing dark green — are sim­ple, not highly de­tailed, o er­ing just enough to show dis­tinc­tive peo­ple’s fea­tures, sug­gest­ing a speed, fer­vor and en­ergy that re­flects the spirit of Arendt her­self. Krim­stein deftly de­picts the phys­i­cal­ity of Arendt’s life: He shows us the ado­les­cent Han­nah “emerg[ing] from my co­coon and ly­ing in bed post-coitus with Hans (read­ing Plato, nonethe­less), the same boy that called her ‘Jew.’”

Else­where, he draws the swirling plumes of her cigars, and writes how they “se­duce every man and woman in the Ro­man­is­ches.” He makes us feel the pas­sion that Arendt and Martin Hei­deg­ger felt for each other. And he shows how words them­selves can be erotic, on one page sketch­ing a let­ter that Hei­deg­ger slipped un­der Arendt’s door. He de­picts Arendt and Hei­deg­ger’s first em­brace, and their high-level philo­soph­i­cal ex­change of thoughts as they shed clothes. Surely this is the first book to de­pict Arendt lift­ing her shirt over her head and wear­ing only a bra. The se­quence of im­ages as she and Hei­deg­ger make love is sen­sual and erotic, not tawdry or ex­ploita­tive. Sim­i­larly, Krim­stein shows how Arendt se­duces a Ger­man SA o‘cer dur­ing her first es­cape, and how she is at­tracted by the sex ap­peal of Hein­rich Blucher, her sec­ond hus­band.

Krim­stein even suc­ceeds in mak­ing the very act of Arendt’s think­ing come across as on the page. Some of my fa­vorite pages are where Krim­stein por­trays the act of writ­ing — we see Arendt writ­ing fer­vently and can feel the power of her think­ing un­der­neath her mass of curls. Watch­ing some­one writ­ing is not usu­ally a vis­ual de­light, but Krim­stein por­trays Arendt writ­ing her books so that we can feel the pulse of her brain, the vi­brancy of her thought. Krim­stein makes clear in the book Arendt’s con­tention that even “think­ing has be­come erotic.”

PEOPLEDON’TREALLYGETIT.THEYTHINKIM SUPPOSEDTOBEKINDOFDUMB.(EXCEPTFORMY MOM,THATIS.)BUT,I SUP­POSE,TOBETOTALLY HON­EST,I REALLYAMDUMB. EXCEPTHERE’SSOME­THING YOUPROBABLYDON’TKNOW: ITTAKESMEA LOTOFHARD WORK,MORETHANANYONE EVER,I’MQUITESURE, TOGETSMART.STUFFMOST NORMALPEOPLEWOULD“GET” INLIKEFIVEMINUTES,TAKESME FIVEHOURS.I HAVETO THINKANDTHINK.BUTI PUT INTHETIMEANDTHEWORK BE­CAUSEI NEEDTOKNOW.TO UN­DER­STAND.BUTNOBODY NOTICESHOWHARDI WORK. NO.THEYJUSTSEEHOW SMARTI’MSUPPOSEDTOBESO THEYGETALLENVIOUS.BUT GUESSWHATELSE?EV­ERY­TIME THEYOPENTHEIRMOUTHS, THEYAREREALLYSTUPID. MANYARECOMPLETEIDIOTS,SORRY.EVEN THOSETEACHERSWHOTHREWMEOUTOF SCHOOL.ESPECIALLYTHEM.

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