As the print universe implodes, the New Yorker continues its stand for print tradition with strong, in-depth and lengthy pieces. The latest to engage me, in last week's issue, was Adam Kirsch's look at Hannah Arendt, tied to the release of her letters to Heidegger.
When I was coming of age, in the early '70s, Arendt was one of those famous writers still active, someone whose name hovered in the magic ether. Of course, trying to parse her essays in The New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, I saw her words as forming a glittering, beautiful lake, the depths of which I could not quite penetrate. Slowly, bits of her career reached my consciousness; we somehow came across "Eichmann in Jerusalem," with its famed/inciendary phrase "the banality of evil." (I related it to a high school football coach.)
After reading Kirsch's piece, I realized that I learned enough about Arendt, or understood her well enough, so that his analysis of her career could make her come into focus for me. The article, then, performed a good service, in making me understand much that had been poorly grasped previously. I'm sure letters will come in taking a contrary point of view, but Kirsch's piece gives me a good foundation for understanding Arendt.
Kirsch is building an impressive career, as a poet, critic and biographer. I've read many of his essays on poetry, and always find him interesting and perceptive. One of the pleasures of an August trip to New York City was reading a piece by him on the front page of the now departed New York Sun. The piece was informed by his book on Benjamin Disraeli, a perspective no other paper had, particularly The New York Times. Writers like Kirsch keep alive the flame of reading/writing/literary culture, as it flickers and burns down in our postliterate age.