Margarethe von Trotta’s film Hannah Arendt starts and ends with its protagonist on the couch. Hannah Arendt’s intellectual objection to psychoanalysis notwithstanding, this framing invites us to consider the psychoanalytical symptoms Arendt’s own thinking is caught up in. The essay reads the Eichmann trial episode as one telling instance of a repetition pattern that spans Arendt’s intellectual life: Arendt thought and wrote provocatively, sometimes ruthlessly, exposing herself to condemnation and risk. This psychoanalytic reading opens up the possibility that by voicing her controversial judgments, Arendt re-created for herself the conditions of her own precarity, summoning time and again her personal formative trauma as a refugee only to survive it each time. Arendt’s uncharacteristically two-dimensional account of Eichmann’s personality in Eichmann in Jerusalem is read along these lines as symptomatic of this very survivor trauma.
Arendt on the Couch
bonnie honig is Nancy Duke Lewis Professor in the departments of modern culture and media and political science at Brown University. She is the author of Antigone, Interrupted (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2009), Democracy and the Foreigner (Princeton University Press, 2001), and Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics (Cornell University Press, 1993). She has edited and coedited several collections, including Feminist Interpretations of Hannah Arendt (Penn State University Press, 1995) and (with Lori Marso) Breaking the Rules: Gender, Power, and Politics in the Films of Lars von Trier (a special issue of theory & event).
Bonnie Honig; Arendt on the Couch. differences 1 September 2015; 26 (2): 93–105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-3145997
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