While political theorists and philosophers have struggled to explain the mental degradations that led to the fascist governments and despots of the twentieth century, none have come as close, at least in the popular imagination, as the iconoclastic and endlessly fascinating Hannah Arendt. In her view, it was the acceptance of quotidian evil by a middling populace that led to the erasure of dignity.
For all her brilliance, Arendt’s epistemology is messy and sometimes self-contradictory; she was a complicated person — a complicated Jew — in life and thought. Ken Krimstein, with The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt,does nothing to dispel the disarray that is Arendt’s pursuit of ultimate truth. Indeed, the book is awash in detail ranging from descriptions of Arendt’s retinue of contemporaries, to Yiddish proverbs and digressions about Plato. Told from the perspective of Arendt herself, the book is a deep rumination into the many dimensions of fidelity to truth that she sought to uncover in humanity.
Krimstein’s aesthetic is choppy and quick; his drawings place more emphasis on the mind than on the eye. There is a planned unevenness here, as if the placement of panels and dialogue balloons aren’t as important as what is contained within them. There is an intimacy in this process — a direct link from Arendt’s experience, through Krimstein, and into the reader’s nervous system. It can be overwhelming and, truthfully, frustrating. If anything, Krimstein is overly didactic. On the other hand, the author’s admiration for Arendt in all her imperfections and glories is apparent from the first page.
The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt leaves the reader with insight into the Arendtian perspective as well as a sense of its relevance to the contemporary moment. Ultimately, its takeaway is that we must be cognizant to not let demagogues and opportunists co-opt the democratic values that are essential to maintaining civil liberties.