by Gottlieb, Susannah Young-ah

Abstract This essay seeks to account for the sources and consequences of Arendt's conception of ruin as the 'natural' and 'normal' character of human affairs - a view she expressed most famously in The Human Condition and perhaps most powerfully in her reflections on the work of Franz Kafka. Beginning with an analysis of Heidegger's use of the term 'ruination' in his early Marburg lectures, the essay shows how Arendt absorbs Heidegger's insight while completely altering its critical function. As a German Jew, Arendt was acutely aware of the temptations and dangers of the cult of Bildung (culture, self-development), especially as a result of her intense engagement with Rachel Varnhagen, who saw in Bildung a way out of her impossible socio-political position. For Arendt, who follows Kafka in this regard, any process that operates on its own, including that of Bildung, tends toward ruin, and she understood her work, in large part, as an uncovering of the counter-movement to ruination in the form of action. The essay concludes by showing the degree to which Arendt's reflections on ruin underlie her analysis of Eichmann's crimes and considers the ways in which her critical engagement with Kafka prepared her for her 'report' on his trial.

Keywords Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Franz Kafka, Adolf Eichmann, Bildung, Eichmann in Jerusalem, The Human Condition

'The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, "natural" ruin is ultimately the fact of natality, in which the faculty of action is ontologically rooted'.1 Thus runs a crucial passage, often cited, from Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition. In it, she summarises the idea of natality with which her work is so closely associated - without, however, indicating that there is anything peculiar about attributing both normalcy and naturalness to ruin. Yet, there is something undeniably odd about this decisive phrase: 'normal, "natural" ruin'. None of these words is strange, taken alone; but in combination with one another they imply that things willy nilly destroy themselves whenever they take their normal course. The strangeness of the phrase is localised in its scare quotes, which indicate that natural is used in an unnatural sense: nature is not naturally ruinous; on the contrary, it moves in predictable cycles of decay and rebirth. And something similar is true of Arendt's use of language: 'Natural' in quotation marks also suspends the normal course of speech, which consists in simply saying things without pointing out that one is saying them. As for the term ruin, it suggests that Arendt is indulging in the kind of melancholic self-absorption she everywhere repudiates - especially in her critique of late German romanticism, with its cult of ruined castles, cathedrals, and personalities.

The phrase 'normal, "natural" ruin' may be seen to express in highly abbreviated form a perplexing dimension of Arendt' s work as a whole - from her strange and stunning portrait of Rahel Varnhagen, who attached herself to Bildung ('culture,' 'self-development') in the face of social pariahdom, to her profoundly unsettling report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, which serves as the bleak culmination to her reflections on the ruinous character of automatic thought-processes. The phrase in any case captures the founding thought of The Human Condition, the urgency of which derives from a sense that the normal character of ruin has been overlooked. Or perhaps worse - that it has become imperceptible. What Arendt then seeks to identify, in the simplest terms, is a counter-movement to the normal and 'natural' course of things, which inevitably leads to their collapse. As the following essay seeks to show, this effort runs like a red thread through Arendt's career, beginning with her adoption and transformation of certain lines of thought she encountered in the early lectures of Martin Heidegger; appearing in conjunction with extensive reflection on the German idea of Bildung; forming the background of her altogether positive reception of Franz Kafka's writings; and ultimately expressing itself with the greatest degree of intensity in her response to the sight of Adolf Eichmann, who uses one 'gebildete' turn of speech after another. Disparate though they may be, all of these reflections aim to show that a counter-movement to ruin can be discovered - and that it ultimately lies only in the freedom of human beings, never in anything that they have instituted for their protection, least of all the protection of their freedom.


At the conclusion of his lectures from the Winter semester of 1921-22, announced under the title Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle: An Introduction to Phenomenological Research, Heidegger begins an analysis of what he calls 'ruination' (Ruinanz).2 This term does not appear in Bang and Time nor, to my knowledge, can it be found in any of his subsequent publications; but it nevertheless points toward the goal of all of his early work: the goal, namely, of discovering a 'formal indication' of the counter-movement to the 'ruination' that is characteristic of tactical life in general. In other words, according to the young Heidegger, 'ruination' is normal and 'natural'. As Heidegger emphasizes in the aforementioned series of lectures, Ruinanz is derived from a formalisation of the German term Sturz, diat is, 'fall' or 'collapse'. The function of this Latinbased term, as he likewise notes, consists in elucidating the guiding idea of phenomenology, namely 'intentionality', which describes the basic character of consciousness as consciousness of something. The equivalent of Ruinanz in Being and Time is the more theologically-laden term 'fallenness' (Verfallenheit). In the following, characteristically complex sentence, Heidegger gives an 'indicative' definition of the phenomenon under consideration: 'ruination' consists in 'the motility of factical life that "carries out" factical life in itself, as itself, for itself, from out o/itself, and in all of this, does so against itself- which is to say, the motility of factical life diat "is" (the meaning of being of the "is" [is] not yet determined)' (PI pl31). Among all these underlined italicized words - in itself, as itself, for itself- the most emphatic is doubtless the last: 'against itself.' Factical life moves in the direction of ruin by building itself up 'against,' by forming itself 'against,' by educating itself 'against' the very danger that it itself is, namely the danger of collapse. Ruination, in other words, consists in attempting to make oneself secure against ruin. It is the menace that results from die act of securing oneself against menace. And it manifests itself in the 'factical' life of the students whom he addresses under the sign of self-formation, education, and acculturation - that is, in Bildung and Ausbildung. The downward motility of ruination appears to die 'educated' eye of die public as its opposite, namely as upward cultural mobility. And the reason for this can again be stated in very simple terms: factical life has absolutely no supports; hence, any attempt to discover or invent support mechanisms is evidence of ruination, which denies the facticity of factical life by transforming it into something non-factical. Heidegger further emphasises die educational character of the term Bildung by prefacing his analysis of ruination with an investigation of the concrete 'situation' of philosophical inquiry, which he succinctly identifies as 'the university'. Countering the polemics against 'university philosophy' he associates with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Heidegger affirms that the academic environment is the only one in which the factical life of philosophical inquiry can currendy take place (see PI pp.62-77). But, of course, this does not mean that he affirms everything of contemporaneous academia, including so-called 'academic freedom'. On the contrary, the point of his analytic of ruination is at least in part to uncover a counter-movement to ruination that is decisively not that of 'education' or 'acculturation' in die classical humanistic sense; indeed, the analytic can be read - and was doubtiess heard among its auditors - as a d?mystification of the eighteendi-century ideal of Bildung.

Of those who subscribed to this ideal as a means of securing themselves against the threat of falling, none did so with as much tenacity as German Jews, who, ever since the time of Rahel Varnhagen (about whom Arendt wrote her first major work after her dissertation on Augustine), found in the idea of self-formative acculturation a seemingly unshakeable point of support under precarious social conditions. Heidegger - who was likely not thinking about Rahel at the time - emphasises the paradoxical character of ruination: by supporting itself with appeals to norms and human nature, factical life collapses. For Heidegger, the counter-movement to ruination does not consist in stabilisation, much less in constant progress, but, rather, in 'philosophical interpretation', which allows the sense of collapse to collect and re-collect itself (see PI ppl51-155). Such is the direction of the early lecture series, traces of which can be found in all the Marburg years. By the time Heidegger published Being and Time he had much more to say in this regard; but one key element is worth mentioning here: the counter-movement to the fallenness of Dasein will ultimately be sought in the non-phenomenon of its end, that is, in its own death - to which Arendt ultimately responds in The Human Condition with the counter-idea of natality.


Long before The Human Condition, however, Arendt undertook a concerted program of study in the ways ?? Bildung. This included not only her remarkable monograph on Rahel Varnhagen,9 in which one sees, as it were, the GermanJewish infatuation with Bildung at its infancy, but also a series of book reviews, in which she conducts a critical encounter with what passes for 'education' among the educated elites in both Germany and the States. Her reviews are generally brief, almost always negative, and primarily concerned with the state of German literature. Under the title 'Proof Positive', for example, she writes the following about Victor Lange's Modern German Literature: 1870-1940: 'The only proof that this book was written by a real person and is not a filing system which through some magic got into print lies in occasional omissions . . . But for these omissions one feels rather grateful'.4 Similarly, in a review of a book about Rilke by Hans Hagen, she writes: 'The second chapter . . . tries the reader's patience. Hagen . . . expresses his boundless admiration by praising "how delicate Rilke's ability to discern rhythmic difference is" . . . If Rilke had no ability to discern rhythmic difference, he would have been a bad poet, and an interpretation of his work would have been superfluous'. She adds by way of summary: 'Hymnic praise of this sort, camouflaged as interpretation, is simply embarrassing' (RLC p55). And about Kate Hamburger's book on Thomas Mann and Romanticism, Arendt formulates a particularly damning judgment. To use Heidegger's term, Hamburger's work is predicated on fallen speech, which expresses itself in the form of 'hear-say' (Gerede): 'The framing of the topic therefore appears to be misguided from the outset. This impression is bolstered by an entirely imprecise use of the word "romantic" that is derived only from "educated [gebildeten]" small-talk . . . This [view of romanticism] is not only unclear but an error' (RLC pp56-57).

Arendt's antagonism to the aforementioned authors - all of whom, it should be noted, held important power within the academic community - derives from a view they all share: a thoughtless devotion to the German principle of Bildung, which they seek not only to instantiate but also presumably to perpetuate among their students. The conclusion to Arendt's review of Victor Lange is instructive in this regard: 'There would not be much sense in reviewing such a book if it were not for the, let us hope, imaginary danger that it should become a textbook. It would cause the intelligent student to shy away from German literature, while it might give to the more feeble-minded a terrific arsenal of cheap catchwords which have not the slightest relation to the respective authors and their work' (RLC pi 27). As with her review of Hamburger, the excoriation of Lange presents the work under review as a pure expression of 'hear-say,' in which discourse is altogether unrelated to the phenomenon under consideration. There is, however, an exception among Arendt's reviews: her relatively positive assessment of Hans Weil's Emergence of the German Principle of 'Bildung'' (RLC pp24-30). Her review of Weil's massive study has none of the jaunty contempt that characterises her other reviews of the period. It is longer and more detailed, even arduously so, and her tone is markedly ambivalent: admiring and critical by turns. Arendt probably read Weil because she was in the midst of reorienting her studies away from the kind of questions to which she responded in her dissertation on St. Augustine to the kind of problems she pursued in her book on Rahel. And she probably decided to review Weil's study because it helps her work out some of the sociological issues associated with the phenomenon of the Berlin salon, where the first Bildung elite developed in a space provided by German-Jewish outsiders.

Weil presents the emergence of a new elite based on degrees of Bildung as the outcome of a complicated conjunction of factors, especially Schaftesbury's apotheosis of the individual, Rousseauvian naturalism, and Herder's pietism; in addition, he describes in detail the development of die term Bildung from a complex o? BiId or image-terms. Even if Bildung, as it eventually emerged, presents itself as a teleological process, the emergence of this principle in Germany is, according to Weil, a matter of sociological contingency. This insight is, from Arendt's perspective, all to Weil's credit. In a certain sense, his book undertakes a d?mystification of Bildung, for it demonstrates its nongebildeten, inorganic, or constructed character. But her review does not take the form of uninterrupted praise. As she outlines the steps in his analysis, she inserts a critical comment at almost every juncture, beginning with a curious remark about the word Innigkeit, which Weil understands as mere inwardness, Innerlichkeit, as opposed to worldliness. Her criticism extends into her discussion of the manner in which Weil misconstrues this opposition by representing inwardness as nothing more than compensation for failed worldliness - a compensation to which a petit bourgeois like Herder would be particularly inclined. Arendt further criticizes Weil for failing to see the importance of Lessing's concept of truth for the development of Herder's thought, in which Bildung appears as a potentially endless process. In a note, Arendt quotes Lessing's famous remark about declining God's offer to hold truth in his hand: the way is more important than the goal, and it is to this, according to Arendt, that Herder alludes when discussing the path of genuine Bildung (RLC p310). This last point, which seems rather minor, is, however, decisive. Despite Weil's admirable sociological analysis of German culture from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century, he fails to see what actually happened. This failure is, for Arendt, primarily a failure of reading. Thus in anodier note she shows that he misunderstands a passage in Wilhelm Humboldt's correspondence where he seeks to establish a static ideal as the presupposition of the ever-developing process of Bildung (RLC p310). Sociological categories are of some value, but only insofar as they enlighten a concrete historical situation. In Weil's case, these categories obscure as much as they reveal. Thus, she concludes on a largely negative note: 'The actual limit of the welcome investigations in Weil's book seems to me to lie here: in the forgetting of the historical' (RLC p30). The general tenor of Arendt's criticism might lead one to understand this criticism as purely scholarly in nature: Weil should have done a better job at reading the texts he was discussing; but the damning judgment - 'forgetting the historical' - is more severe than this. The German principle of Bildung will not be demystified by showing that it filled a place in the calculus of social prestige precipitated by the decline of the nobility. At issue in the review, and the reason for Arendt's incessant criticism despite her effusive praise, is the absence in Weil's book of any sense that history could have been different. In other words, Weil ironically succumbs to the very phenomenon he critically analyses: Bildung emerges as the result of a certain naturalisation of the human being, who is seen as a plant growing toward the sun. And for Weil, the emergence ?? Bildung, despite the contingency of its components, is still a natural process, comparable to the flourishing of plants, which is likewise contingent on certain factors exterior to their growth. In this way, Weil misses the historical: there is no freedom, hence no genuine contingency in the 'process' under consideration. The strangely convoluted character of Arendt's review can be understood as an expression of her inability to say this in so many words - to say, in other words, that Weil naturalises a process he is trying to demystify. A dozen years later she discusses a writer who does no such thing but, instead, demystifies Bildung root and branch - and does so without recourse to the heroic stance of 'being-toward-death.'


The writer is Franz Kafka, about whom Arendt writes an essay in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of his death, which first appeared in German under the title 'Franz Kafka, Appreciated Anew.' The image of Kafka that traverses Arendt's essay is of a man engaged in a struggle. It is no accident, from this perspective, that one of his earliest writings is called 'Descriptions of a Struggle'. The struggle is not so much for something as against something, namely against automatic processes; but his rejection of automation, it should be emphasised, does not arise from a belief in some natural drive or supernatural destiny that 'culture' and 'civilisation' have somehow conspired to suppress. One of the aphorisms from the notebooks that Arendt helped to get into shape for its eventual publication in English is worth recalling in this context: 'Believing in progress does not mean believing that any progress has yet been made. That is not the belief that indicates any kind of real belief'.5 There is, moreover, a fundamentally positive trait to the struggle in question, even if it is not for anything one can state in so many words, for only the affirmation of a certain novelty can effectively resist the drift toward automation.

At the centre of Arendt's essay on Kafka, the basic problem of culture is lucidly presented. As the Latin term colere suggests, the point of all 'culture' consists in gaining a certain protection from the potentially overwhelming overgrowth that simply is nature in the active form of its self-reproduction. Furthermore, as the German term Bildung emphasizes - and this is very much a part of Arendt's review of Weil - the acquisition of culture consists in a process of 'development' (Ausbildung). For this reason, the phenomenon of culture can be compared to a house that protects its builders from nature only insofar as they continually rebuild it and rebuild themselves in the process: 'Just as surely as a house built by men according to human laws will fall into ruin as soon as men abandon it, so surely the world fabricated by men and constituted according to human and not natural laws will once again become part of nature, and will be surrendered to catastrophic destruction when man decides to become part of nature himself - a blind but highly precise instrument of natural laws' (RLC pi 01). For Arendt, The Trial recounts the story of this surrender. It therefore becomes a peculiar kind of bildungsroman that reveals die ironically destructive nature oi Bildung - ironically destructive, because the aim oi Bildung, again as Arendt indicates in her review of Weil, consists in the development of one's natural capacities under the guidance of an image (BUd) that derives from a secular-historical model (Vorbild): 'As part of this development', she writes, 'K. is "educated" (gebildet) and transformed until he is fit to assume the role forced upon him, which is to play along as best he can in a world of necessity, injustice, and lies. It is his way of adapting to existing conditions. The internal development of the protagonist finally coincides with the functioning of the machine in the last scene, namely the execution, where K. lets himself be taken away and killed without a struggle, and indeed without so much as a protest' (RLC p97).

What Kafka shows, according to Arendt, is the fallacious character of the opposition between ruin and progress. Whenever progress assumes the aura of necessity, it cannot be distinguished from destruction. Assimilating oneself to whatever claims to be necessary is catastrophic - and this is true even if the necessity in question is nothing other than the natural development of one's predetermined abilities. To quote again from the aforementioned series of aphorisms: 'The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. That is why the revolutionary spiritual movements that declare all former things worthless are right, for nothing has yet happened'.6 Kafka, for Arendt, recognises that no amount of culture or education - no process, in short - can be created that would put a stop to the process of ruination. Thus she writes apropos ?? Der Prozess, otherwise known as The Trial: 'In so far as life is decline which ultimately leads to death, it can be foretold. In a dissolving society which blindly follows the natural course of ruin, catastrophe can be foreseen. Only salvation, not ruin, comes unexpectedly, for salvation and not ruin depends upon the liberty and the will of men. Kafka's so-called prophecies were but a sober analysis of underlying structures which today have come into the open. These ruinous structures were supported, and the process of ruin itself accelerated, by the belief, almost universal in his time, in a necessary and automatic process to which man must submit'.7 Three salient points about this remarkable quotation from the dreadful year of 1944 are worth emphasising. First, it is not in the non-phenomenon of death that a counter-movement to ruin will be found for the simple reason that death is inevitable; in Heidegger's own term, which he uses in conjunction with the phenomenon of 'being-toward-death', it is 'certain'. Salvation, by contrast, can be neither ascertained nor secured. Second, even as Arendt obviously repudiates the key term by which Heidegger seeks a counter-movement to ruination, her own suggestions are extremely broad: 'the liberty and the will of men'. Still, something can be concluded from these brief terms liberty and will beyond the fact that neither of them should be confused with a process of any kind: the counter-movement cannot be sought in what Heidegger once called 'philosophical interpretation'. And lastly, the use of the word men in the phrase 'the liberty and will of men' is by no means a thoughtless expression of humanism. The term is plural, and it obviously emphasises that salvation does not come from God. In the context of a discussion of Kafka, however, the word men assumes a further signification, which depends on the animal to which it stands in contrast. What it means to be human, for Kafka - as everyone who has ever heard of The Metamorphosis knows - is not so easy to say.

And perhaps nowhere is the meaning of men less secure than in the Kafka story to which Arendt may be alluding, 'A Report for an Academy'. This report - and I will return to the problem of reporting - is addressed to precisely the same audience Heidegger addresses in his lectures: an academic audience, presumably one made up of the very Bildung elite whose origin Weil sought to uncover. And it is concerned with precisely the same questions that Heidegger's analysis and Weil's inquiry pose: what is the source o? Bildung, and why is there such a thing? With greater intensity than any other German-speaking Jew of his generation, Kafka understood that Bildung is not only not a solid point of support in the precarious situation of factical life; it is sheer ruin. With far greater wit, and arguably with greater insight than Heidegger's lecture series, ? Report for an Academy' shows the ruin-character of upward cultural mobility. Abducted from the 'gold coast' of Africa, the ape who is dubbed 'Rotpeter' or Red Peter, and whose report constitutes the entirety of the story, discovers en route to Europe a 'way out' of his torturous enclosure: by imitating those actions of his jailors that define their cultural achievement (and these are, first, spitting in his jailors' faces, next, packing and inhaling pipe tobacco, and finally, imbibing an entire bottle of schnapps), the ape can begin a slow but inevitable rise to what he describes with some derision as the 'cultural level of the average European'.8 Here is the 'emergence of the German principle of Bildung', based on a set of contingent factors - not Schaftesbury, Rousseau, and Herder, but rather spitting, smoking, and drinking. Upon receiving the summons from the academy, Red Peter seeks to describe, as best he can, the paradoxical decision that determines his factical life: from the moment he was captured, he had to make a decision between 'liberty', which he cannot describe as such for the simple reason that he decided otherwise, and 'a way out', which consists in developing his pre-given capacities on the basis of certain secular models, namely his jailors. First published in 1917, soon after the publication of Hermann Cohen's now scandalous Deutschtum und Judentum, which maintains that the only thing keeping the essence of Judaism from being identical with that of Germanness is the residual attachment of certain Jews to the ghetto,9 Kafka's story is a singularly insightful representation of the factical situation of German Jews, who decide to abandon their particular Affentum-Judentum for universal Menschtum-Deutschtum - and thereby ruin themselves by securing the estimation of men. The only way Red Peter can picture the decision he fails to make, die paradoxical decision to be free, is as a fall: specifically, as the ruination that would naturally follow from the act of throwing himself off die ship in which he is held captive.

Instead of throwing himself off the ship, Red Peter becomes educated. Thus the factical situation of 'self-formation' is formally indicated. From the perspective of his report, a stark alternative emerges: liberty, which appears to be suicidal, or Bildung, which seems to secure progress but is in fact only ruin. Yet it should be emphasised that this is not so much the perspective of an ape as that of an entertainer, a circus performer, who wants to give his academic audience an image or BiId of liberty to men - but cannot. The image of throwing oneself off a ship, which is perhaps an allusion to the Jewish idea of the 'sanctification of the name,' is only an approximation of what it would mean to act as opposed to ape. Kafka, for his part, is no entertainer. And when Arendt speaks of salvation in terms of 'the liberty and will of men,' she is definitely not seeking to give her audience an image of freedom or a model of heroic action toward which a new pedagogical process, this time 'active' as opposed to its 'reactive' counterpart, could be aimed. Instead of seeking to outline the rudiments of such a process, Arendt outlines the paradoxical condition in which any self-regulating process, especially that of Bildung, is necessarily ruin. This is, for her, the 'human condition'.


In The Human Condition Arendt analyses the vita activa into three irreducible elements: labour, work, and action. Each of these elements, according to Arendt's analysis, requires the redemptive movement of another element to save human beings from the particular predicaments generated by the human condition coordinated with each. Thus, animal laboraos is 'redeemed' from its imprisonment in the ever-recurring cycle of the life process by work, fabrication, making. And homo faber, in turn, is 'redeemed' from the predicament of meaninglessness, through the faculty of action. Like labour and work, action, too, generates certain predicaments that require redemption. In the case of action, however, the redemptive faculty is not, as was the case with labour and work, to be found in another activity; rather, salvation lies in certain potentialities of action itself. By interrupting the otherwise automatic processes toward which all work tends, action redeems work from the ruin to which it normally, 'naturally' succumbs. But action is also capable of redeeming itself. Only for this reason can Arendt reject a redemptive schema, according to which the redemption of human action requires a 'higher' form of agency that would be related to it as it is related to work, and work to labour. If this higher form of agency were indeed the highest, it would be extra-mundane and selfgrounding. But Arendt specifically rejects this sch?matisation of salvation, which represents salvation as the prerogative of a saviour who redeems certain souls from the ruined world; instead, she insists on the potentiality of action to redeem itself. Only in this way can redemption be understood as a countermovement to ruination - not as a removal of the worldless self from a corrupt world into which it has fallen. At least two consequences can be drawn from Arendt's affirmation of the self-redemptive character of action: action alone - not education and certainly not the German principle ?? Bildung - can save us from ruin, and her former teacher is wrong when he declares, some ten years after the publication of The Human Condition, that 'Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten' -'Only another god can save us', or 'Only a god can yet save us', or then again, 'Only a god can still save us'.10

In Heidegger's famous Spiegel interview from which the previous quotation is drawn, he is doubtless saying a number of things - and concealing his assertion in a noch that oscillates between 'another', 'yet', and 'still'. The image to which Arendt had compared him only a few years before his Spiegel interview is unforgettable, not least because it recalls Kafka's last story: just like the nameless animal who, in Kafka's story, builds himself a burrow to protect himself against the threat the burrow itself invites, Heidegger, for Arendt, is comparable to a fox who is so clever that he traps himself.1' For example, the claim that 'Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten' can be understood as a rejection of modernity, and in particular, the German principle ?? Bildung. Or it can be understood as a 'grammatical remark' in the Wittgensteinian sense: salvation is grammatically linked to the idea of god, such that there is no sense in speaking of salvation in any context other than that of divine presence. Thus, on his deathbed, Heine, for example, was asked to beg forgiveness of God, to which he famously responded: 'Oh, he'll pardon me; it's his m?tier'.12 Similarly with Heidegger in his old age: saving us is the m�tier of 'another god'. From this perspective Heidegger's statement appears as a joke from a man not given to making jokes. But if one places this statement in relation to the work of his former student, whose Human Condition she briefly considered dedicating to her teacher from the 1920s, it is no longer either deep or jocular; it is polemical. For Arendt had uncovered a form of salvation - or in his words, a counter-movement to the motility of 'ruination' - which has nothing to do with gods or God. If Heidegger's remark is understood in this way, as a strike against Arendt, it is because he, who, after all, knew how to read philosophical treatises, recognises something in her text that many commentators have generally overlooked. When Heidegger declares to the German public of the 1960s, 'Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten', he can be understood to say: don't take The Human Condition seriously. Only a god, or still anodier god, can yet save us - not the 'liberty and will of men'.


The idea of 'normal, "natural" ruin' derives from Heidegger, develops out of a reflection on the nature of Bildung, culminates in the theory of redemption that underlies the structure of The Human Condition, and - by chance, not by design - results in a report Arendt writes in the early 1960s under the title Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality ofEvil.li This report was originally written for The New Yorker, but it could just as well have been written 'for die academy'. The odd, even eerie parallels between Kafka's 'Report for an Academy' and Eichmann in Jerusalem go beyond the prominent use of the word report. Arendt, for her part, uses this word in two ways, most famously in the subtitle of her book, but also quite prominently in the book's postscript, where she insists that the work she has done consists simply in a 'trial report' and distinguishes between primary and secondary material accordingly (EJ p280). The fact that the 'report on the banality of evil' intersects with the 'trial report' - and that the 'trial' she reports on is far from the usual fare of newspaper reportage, even if it is no Kafkean Prozess - gives her use of the term report a strangeness that recalls one of the primary qualities of Kafka's writing. At the end of ? Report for an Academy' Red Peter says - as if to mute any concern that his anger, regret, indignation, or shame has clouded his thinking - ? want no human verdict, I am only dispensing knowledge, I am only making a report, even to you, honoured members of the academy, I have only made a report'.14 Similarly, Arendt, in response to questions about the tenor and accuracy of what she wrote, ends her postscript with the same circumscribing gesture: 'the present report deals with nothing but the extent to which the court in Jerusalem succeeded in fulfilling the demands of justice' ( EJ p298) - as if the report was not, after all, about the banality of evil; indeed as if it were not really about Eichmann, but about the predicament of the judges in Jerusalem, who must render a verdict as opposed to making a scene or a name for themselves - or even only making a report. More disturbingly still, there is a direct connection between Kafka's report and Arendt's, for the subject-matter of both is an abductee. Red Peter is summarily taken from the 'gold coast' of Africa, while Eichmann is abducted from South America without justification in international law, as Arendt discusses at length (EJ pp263265). Furthermore, just as Red Peter is removed from Africa so that he can serve as a circus performer, so Eichmann, as Arendt emphasises throughout her report, is placed at the centre of a legal circus, in which the effort on the part of the judges to meet the demands of justice is only a small part of a much larger show, orchestrated in this case by the impresario named David Ben-Gurion (EJ pp4-5). And finally, Red Peter's memorable self-description - 'I managed to reach the cultural level of the average European' - precisely applies to Eichmann, who, as Arendt notes, is from a 'solid middle-class family' and has at his disposal stock phrases drawn from the Bildung elite, including, for instance, a version of Kant's categorical imperative (EJ pl35-137).

But the very similarity between the case of Red Peter and that of Eichmann indicates something about the latter - and why Arendt would be drawn to the word report in response to viewing the circus atmosphere surrounding his trial. In brief, Eichmann is the precise opposite of Red Peter, a photographic negative of the melancholic ape, so to speak: a brown Peter, say, or more exactly, a brown-shirt Peter, who sees himself as a cosmic entity that first 'entered life on earth in the aspect of a human being' - these are his words, as Arendt notes - on the day of his birth (EJ p27). The singularity of Red Peter lies in his memory of a passage that every member of his academic audience has passed through yet forgotten: the passage from animal to human being. It is not as though Red Peter can actually describe this passage. On the contrary, as he emphasises, the fact that he acquired language by downing Schnapps makes this language constitutively oblivious to the passage in question. Nevertheless, Red Peter can recall what he lost: he calls it 'liberty' as opposed to a 'way out,' which consists in mimicking his captors in order to secure a release that is conditional on making this mimicry into a form of life. The barely perceptible memory of the difference between liberty and a 'way out' distinguishes him from his audience. Once Red Peter decides against liberty and chooses a 'way out' instead, everything he does contributes to his process of Bildung, through which he climbs ever higher in the estimation of human beings. The converse of Red Peter would be an abductee who, far from being innocent, has done something monstrously wrong and yet denies having done so precisely because he knows nothing about liberty and everything about finding 'ways out' - which is to say, ways into the social structures whose forms he adopts. This is, of course, the case of Eichmann, who finds a way out of selling vacuum cleaners in upper Austria by joining the ranks of the S. S: 'From a humdrum life without significance and consequence the wind had blown him into History ... And if he did not always like what he had to do (for example, dispatching people to their death by the trainload instead of forcing them to emigrate) ... and if to his greatest "grief and sorrow" he never advanced beyond the grade of S.S. Obersturmbahnf?hrer - in short, if . . . his life was beset with frustrations, he never forgot what the alternative would have been' (EJ pp33-34).

The reversal of Red Peter goes even further in the case of Eichmann. As Red Peter emphasises several times in his brief report, he is a special kind of ape. Hence the anger he expresses about his name: there is another performing ape named Peter, so he is dubbed 'Red Peter' in recognition of the wound he suffered upon his capture - as if only the scar on his thigh distinguished him from the typical humanised ape. Red Peter's actual distinguishing mark is not the red scar, nor even the articulateness of his speech; rather, it is his admittedly faulty memory of the decision he made against freedom which propelled him upward. And Eichmann, in turn and as Arendt emphasises, is no typical criminal. This is not only because of the magnitude of his crimes; no, the specificity of Eichmann' s place among the class of criminals to which he unquestionably belongs also derives from his memory, a memory of an idyllic existence that is the very reverse of Red Peter's: 'Eichmann's case is different than the ordinary criminal, who can shield himself effectively against the reality of a non-criminal world only within the narrow limits of his gang. Eichmann needed only to recall the past in order to feel assured that he was not lying and that he was not deceiving himself, for he and the world he lived in had once been in perfect harmony' (EJ p52).


Kafka's 'Report for an Academy' was first published by Martin Buber in Der Jude, ajournai he founded as a forum for developing positive attitudes among German Jews. The very title of the new journal was supposed to be provocative: 'The Jew' would no longer be a shameful label that had to be replaced by less loaded words such as 'Israelite' or 'German of the Mosaic Creed'. Upon being asked for a contribution, Kafka gave Buber a number of stories from which only two were chosen, ? Report for an Academy' and 'Jackals and Arabs'. The latter is a deeply disturbing story that can be read either as a total rejection of political Zionism or as an equally total rejection of religiously orthodox anti-Zionism. 15 And of course ? Report for an Academy' can scarcely be read as anything other than a blanket condemnation of all the alternatives available to German Jews circa 1917. That Buber chose to publish these stories under die title 'Gleichnisse' or 'parables' - a tide Kafka rejected and replaced with 'two animal stories' -indicates both Buber's skill as an editor and his cluelessness as a reader. When Buber resigned as the editor ?? Der Jude, Kafka was mentioned as a possible successor, a suggestion to which he responded by assuming that someone was trying to play a joke on him. None of this would be worth mentioning in this context perhaps if Buber did not prominently reappear in Eichmann in Jerusalem - at the very end of the book's penultimate section entitled Judgment, Appeal, and Execution'. He pleads for clemency (EJ pp25 1-252).

To be sure, Buber is not the only one to ask the court to spare Eichmann's life. Some others, as Arendt notes, felt the death penalty did not adequately respond to the particulars of Eichmann's crimes and argued for a more 'imaginative' punishment - for instance, transferring him to the Negev desert, where he would be the sole occupant of a 'penal colony' (Arendt's words) in which he would be forced to help reclaim the Jewish homeland (EJ p250). (Readers of Kafka could, I think, envision even more imaginative punishments, still.) Nevertheless, Buber's argument for clemency holds a special place in the architecture of Arendt's report because, to her knowledge, he is the sole philosopher who voices an opinion on the actual sentence. And Buber's opinion, as she notes, inadvertently 'echoed Eichmann's own ideas of the matter': 'the execution [Buber insists] is a "mistake of historical dimensions", as it might "serve to expiate the guilt felt by young persons in Germany'". Arendt, in response to this concern, sharply distinguishes between the guilt of the perpetrators and the supposed guilt-feelings of those who, in her words, are not necessarily guilty, but searching for ways to 'escape from the pressure of very present and actual problems into a cheap sentimentality' (EJ p251). But Arendt's criticism of Buber's plea for clemency does not simply consist in a reminder that there is an insuperable difference between moral culpability and theatrical displays of guilt-feeling; rather, it principally derives from the very substance of her report: she writes a report, and only a report - not a philosophical treatise or meditation, precisely because she actively refuses to adopt a 'lofty' attitude toward the proceedings. She does not rise above them, which is to say, above all, she does not place herself above the position of the judges, whose presence alone distinguishes the trial from a circus performance. Buber is her opposite in this regard. He - or more exactly, his judgment - is ruined by Bildung. It is not as though he is too 'civilised' or 'cultured' to countenance the prospect of the death penalty. This is not his argument. Rather, he identifies himself with a perspective that rises above the actual case under review and contemplates, with a sense of relief perhaps, the limits of his own humanity within the grand order of things. Contemplation of this sort naturally leads to questions like: Doesn't everyone have the potential to be an Eichmann? And: What separates us from the animals? Just as Bildung is associated with the accoutrements of luxury - including the luxury of being aloof from politics - so, too, is the higher perspective Arendt identifies in Buber's plea: something that can be acquired only under the condition that one have the wherewithal to abstain from making an actual judgment about an actual case. Thus Arendt writes in conclusion: Buber 'stressed what he had said many years ago in Germany - that he had "only in a formal sense a common humanity with those who took part" in the acts of the Third Reich. This lofty attitude was, of course, more of a luxury than those who had to try Eichmann could afford, since the law presupposes precisely that we have a common humanity with those whom we accuse and judge and condemn' (EJ pp25 1-252).

But, what then of the reporter in this case? What of Arendt? For, despite the suggestive resonances between Kafka's 'Report' and Arendt's, there is one ineluctable difference: the subject of the report in her case is not its author. It is not a report of her own experiences. To be sure, her own experience is very much a part of the report, as she notes a few times, and informed readers would observe in many others; but she not only provides no 'eyewitness' account of, for instance, the camp in Gurs, where she was interned and about which she briefly speaks; she famously, or infamously, looks upon those who spoke of their experiences during the trial with undeniable distance, suspicious at all times of self-dramatising gestures. And this, too, is captured in her use of the word report: a certain distance from what is reported, the very opposite of an autobiography. In Kafka's 'Report' this distance is produced by the very process of Bildung that allows Red Peter to speak of himself. And there may be something similar in the case of Arendt. In reporting on Eichmann, she is decidedly not speaking of herself - nor of her potential self, who, like anyone, might do terrible things under terrible circumstances. But there is one very narrow place in which Eichmann's experience on trial is her own: whenever he makes use of a clich?, as she notes, he becomes gleeful, even giddy. To use the terms with which this talk began: he finds a point of support, something to latch onto in the midst of factical existence. And Arendt, too, laughs. The often overlooked epigraph to the report, drawn from a Brecht poem, captures this phenomenon:

O Germany -

Hearing the speeches that ring from your house, one laughs.

But whoever sees you, reaches for his knife (EJ).

In general, Arendt, as she tells Mary McCarthy, found herself in a strange state of euphoria during the trial, a euphoria that is perhaps comparable to the most difficult and painful moment in the passage Red Peter undergoes: downing Schnapps.16 This drink, with its distinctly German designation, divides Red Peter from himself, propelling him into a position where he can write a report. Euphoria here does not bring a higher perspective but is, on the contrary, a kind of affective trace of a passage that should not be made: from the exercise of liberty to the effort to discover ways out and ways in.

1. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1958, p247.

2. See Martin Heidegger, Ph?nomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles, Einf?hrung in die ph?nomenologische Forschung, (henceforth PI in the text), Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann, 1985, pp 131-55. All translations, unless otherwise indicated, are my own.

3. Hannah Arendt, Rahel Varnhagen: einer deutschen J?din aus der Romantik, Frankfurt am Main, Ullstein, 1975.

4. Hannah Arendt, Reflections on Literature and Culture, (henceforth RLC in the text), Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb (ed), Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2007, p 126.

5. Franz Kafka, Tiie Blue Octavo Notebooks, Max Brad (ed), E. Kaiser and E. Wilkins (trans), Cambridge, Mass, Exact Change Press, 1981, p91 (translation modified).

6. Kafka, TkeBlue Octavo Note ooks, p87.

7. Hannah Arendt, Essays in Understanding: 19301954, Jerome Kohn (ed), New York, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994, p74.

8. Franz Kafka, 'Ein Bericht fur eine Akademie' (A report for an academy), reprinted in Gesammelte Werke in zw?lf B?nden, Hans-Gert Koch (ed), Frankfurt am Main, Fischer, 1994, 1:244, my translation. There are many fine English translation of Kafka's story..

9. See Hermann Cohen, Deutschtum undjudenlum: mil grundlegenden Betrachtungen �ber Staat und Internationalismus, Giessen, T�pelmann, 1915.

10. See 'SpiegelGespr?ch mit Martin Heidegger' in Antwort - Marlin ger im Gespr�ch, G?nther Neske and Emil Kettering (eds), Pfullingen, Neske, 1988.

11. See her description of Heidegger in 'Heidegger the Fox', Arendt, Essays in Understanding, pp361-2).

12. These famous last words may be apocryphal, as Jeffrey Sammons argues in his Heinrich Heine: A Modem Biography, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1979.

13. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, revised edition, (henceforth EJ in the text),New York, Penguin, 1977.

14. Franz Kafka, 'Ein Bericht f?r eine Akademie' (A report for an academy), op. cit., 1:244.

15. See Kafka, 'Schakale und Araber' (Jackels and Arabs), Gesammelle Werke in zw�lf B�nden, 1: 213-17.

16. Hannah Arendt, Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy: 1949-197}, C. Brightman (ed), New York, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.

Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University. She is the author of Regions of Sorrow: Anxiety and Messianism in Hannah Arendt and WH. Auden (Stanford University Press, 2003) and the editor of Hannah Arendt: Reflections on Literature and Culture (Stanford University Press, 2007). Some of her other recent work includes articles and essays in PMLA, Comparative Literature, diacritics, TEXT KRITIK, and Harvard English Studies. Her current book project is entitled The Importance of Metaphysics: The Intellectual Heresies of WH. Auden.

Copyright Lawrence & Wishart Spring 2011

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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