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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.2, 151 ~ 171, 2018
Odd Fellows: Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth
Ira Nadel
This paper examines the relationship and ideas of Hannah Arendt and Philip Roth including how they met, their correspondence and intellectual parallels, particularly in their shared criticism of Jewish ideals and culture in Europe and North America. It analyzes similarities in their careers and texts, especially between Eichmann in Jerusalem and Operation Shylock, as well as The Ghost Writer, while measuring their reception as social commentators and writers. Kafka was an important figure for both writers, Arendt’s earliest writing engaged with the significance of Kafka in understanding and criticizing twentieth century political and cultural values in Europe. For Roth, Kafka offered a similar critique of moral principles he found corroded in North American Jewish life. Arendt connected with other writers, notably Isak Dinesen, W. H. Auden, Randall Jarrell and William Styron who further linked the two: he knew both Arendt and Roth and cited, incorrectly, a work by Arendt as the source for the key incident in his 1979 novel Sophie’s Choice. He claimed it was Eichmann in Jerusalem; it was Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt’s reaction to Roth’s fiction, however, remains a mystery: she died in 1975, before Roth began to seriously and consistently engage with Holocaust issues in works like The Ghost Writer (1979) and Operation Shylock (1993). Yet even in death they are joined. Their graves are only steps apart at the Bard College Cemetery in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Key Words
Hannah Arendt, Philip Roth, the Holocaust, William Styron, Eichmann in Jerusalem
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