I came across this poem by Margaret Atwood from her book Power Politics, a cycle of love poems from 1971. It seemed apt.
We hear nothing these days
from the ones in power
Why talk when you are a shoulder
or a vault
Why talk when you are
helmeted with numbers
Fists have many forms;
a fist knows what it can do
without the nuisance of speaking:
it grabs and smashes.
From those inside or under
words gush like toothpaste.
Language, the fist
proclaims by squeezing
is for the weak only.
Our current issue features a lucid, elegant, and skeptical response to Margarethe von Trotta’s new film Hannah Arendt by our film columnist Ruth Franklin, while our editor-in-chief, Robert Boyers, recently published a powerful essay arguing for the film’s masterful handling of its controversial subject in Agni online. Read Ruth Franklin’s full column, posted below.
Robert Boyers: “Hannah Arendt is not a film about the banality of evil or about the Nazi period, though it brings an entire historical era and its aftermath to vivid life. It is a film about the relation between temperament and thinking, and I cannot think of any other film that has made that subject so thrilling and so disturbing.”
Ruth Franklin: ” … Arendt … was a visionary woman, possessed of deep and uncanny insight, who devoted her life to carrying out what she saw as her destined task despite the obstacles. But she was not unimpeachable. It is unfortunate that this film insists upon her perfection, rather than offering an Arendt less idealized and more humanly assailable.”
The Visionary: Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta
By Ruth Franklin
“How can you defend him?” This is the film’s first line, spoken by Mary McCarthy (Janet McTeer) to Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa). But the subject is not the person we might think. McCarthy is complaining that her soon-to-be-ex-husband is blocking their divorce even though she has told him she loves another man. Arendt, instead of empathizing, dispassionately—and politically—analyzes his behavior. “Under such circumstances it’s only natural that people imagine, or at least hope, to have some possibility of power,” she reasons as McCarthy glowers.
Of course, Arendt would soon anger far more people with another dispassionate political analysis that was misconstrued as a defense. Her report on the Eichmann trial, which first appeared as a series in The New Yorker in early 1963, radically contradicted what had previously been believed about the Nazis and their crimes, provoking shock and outrage among both her friends and her enemies. Arendt’s major contribution, as is now well known, was the idea of “the banality of evil”: that evil can exist—and perhaps manifests itself more often, at least in the case of the Holocaust —in the absence of malign motivation. One need not be a monster to perpetrate evil; the most ordinary people can be its agents, no matter their intention, by complying blindly with orders.
Salmagundi posts my moderately skeptical review of Margarete von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt. Just for the record, I’m still a huge von Trotta fan.