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A New Work of Fiction Suggests Living Forever Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be

Jan. 31 2018

Dara Horn’s novel Eternal Life traces the aftermath of a supernatural deal between two 1st-century lovers—Rachel and Elazar—who, to save the life of their ailing child, strike an agreement that requires them to live forever. By the 21st century, the two have married others, had innumerable children, and watched spouses and offspring die countless times. Reviewing the book, B.D. McClay writes about the tension that informs the narrative:

Hannah, Rachel’s granddaughter by her most recent marriage, announces that she’s on a team of scientists trying to figure out how to help people live forever, a project that fills Rachel, initially, with horror. But if Hannah can isolate the causes of aging and death, Rachel reasons, can’t she also help people to die? And if Rachel can safely let Hannah in on her secret, might she be able to explain why it’s good that people die?

This is a little too much for a fairly slender novel to juggle, and Eternal Life doesn’t quite have the magic of Dara Horn’s previous books. . . . Despite its flaws, [however,] Eternal Life is frequently moving, especially in its early chapters as Rachel remembers her long life, the sorrows that cut deeply even after centuries. “What reasons,” she wonders, “are there for being alive?”

It’s not an easy question to answer. . . . In a sense, Dara Horn’s other novels [like The World to Come and A Guide for the Perplexed] do a better job of answering [it]. Perhaps death isn’t real, and neither is life as we know it; perhaps we are surrounded and sustained by eternity, and by love, and incorporated into a complex and beautiful story that we could never ourselves anticipate, playing roles we’ll never really understand. Perhaps we can only feel that eternity when we know we’ll have to leave the stage. But we don’t, at least in Horn’s books, leave the stage for nothing. We leave it for reality, for more life. At the risk of sounding circular, the meaning of life isn’t, indeed can’t be, death; it’s life.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Arts & Culture, Dara Horn, Jewish literature, Mortality

 

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals