Monday, August 07, 2006

Letters from Jerome Kohn to me

It's weird after all this time I've been unable to put a note about Hannah, and so it remains. But as a consolation I can publish two letters I received from Jerome.


Dear Ari,

Thank you very much for what you wrote. I've read your letter over morethan once, and want to say how interesting I find it, and how sensitiveand intelligent I think the writer of this letter must be. "Wohl dem,der keine Heimat hat, er sieht sie noch in Traume" -- what a wonderfulway to understand Pariahdom.

I don't know if Hannah ever felt fully athome in the world. In 1954, when she was here in America, relativelysafe, and relatively well off, she wrote this poem:

Ich lieb die Erde
so wie auf der Reise
den fremden Ort
und anders nicht.

Somehow I think you will appreciate that. Weimar-like letters--yes, the Internet has done away with that sort ofthing for the most part, yet not entirely! I don't know if there is anyway to study Hannah's ideas on judgment other than by entering into athinking dialogue with her.

When I try to do that, on the one hand,there is a lot of time spent reflecting on specific works of art; on theother hand, it sometimes seems absolutely clear to me that the thinkingego has to go through willing to come to judgment, which makes herremarks on Kant and the French Revolution so very meaningful.

With all good wishes,



Dear Ari,

Thanks for writing again, and so quickly, and so late at night. I am impressed by what you say about the "banality" of goodness--bywhich, I take it, you mean good works. About that, I think Hannah wouldagree. Do you remember in THE HUMAN CONDITION how she differentiatesbetween goodness and good works? Following Jesus of Nazareth, she saysthat the goodness of good works--however useful they might be for avariety of puposes--vanishes as soon as the works appear in the world. She goes farther than Jesus when she says that the attempt to makegoodness appear in the world is not only fruitless in itself but is alsodestructive of the space of appearances.

We might discuss this a bit more, in time, and if you like.



Dear Ari,

Thanks for writing. I'm about to leave on a trip and don't have the time to respond to the many different things you say. I had no idea that the goodness of good works would prove so complicated. That in itself is interesting. First, the goodness of good works is not comparable in any way to evil and evil deeds.Second, it is the pure, transcendent quality or idea of goodness (thus Jesus says: Why do you call me good? God alone is good) that cannot appear in the phenomenal world. In one sense that is a tautology, but it has political implications that Machiavelli, for example, saw clearly: If you turn the other cheek to him who strikes you, you unleash evil in the world. Thus he found it necessary to "teach princes how not to be good," which doesn't mean at all that he taught them to be evil--he never did that, which is a wild misinterpretation of this most subtle of Renaissance political writers. And it is thus that Hannah says: the doing of good works is destructive of the public space in which everything appears to everyone. This is where one has to begin, I believe, in discussing these matters.



No comments: