ChiTribe collaborator Jessica Leving had the opportunity to interview acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist Ken Krimstein about his upcoming graphic biography (turned into exhibition at Chicago’s Spertus Institute) of Hannah Arendt.
Who is Hannah Arendt?
Hannah Arendt is an important female Jewish philosopher who was born in 1906 in Germany. During the rise of the third reich, Arendt worked for the German Federation of Zionists and was arrested. She fled to Paris and worked for the organization Youth Aliyah and was imprisoned in a detention camp in southwest France. After escaping Nazi Occupied Europe to New York, Arendt published numerous essays on anti-Semitism, refugees, and the need for a Jewish army. Arendt wrote intellectual history not as a historian but as a thinker, building upon events and exemplary actions to reach original insights about the modern predisposition towards threats to human freedom (Bard University).
Why is Ken so enamored with Hannah Arendt?
Ken: I was curious to see if I could take a complicated thinker and show where her creative ideas came from. Even before getting into Hannah’s works, I was learning about Martin Buber, Walter Benjamin, and this whole thing that was happening in Berlin at the Café Romanisches in the 1930s. I was really just smitten with the thinking. It was like listening to great music. I wasn’t looking at it as dry thoughts… it was living ideas that were exciting to me.
But why Hannah?
When Ken looked into her biography, he realized her life was fascinating and felt an instant connection. To Ken, Hannah was a person he knew and wanted to know better; a creative thinker. She thought that stories were how we understand the world. Her writing is almost poetic. To research, Ken read the standard biography and then everything else he could in addition to several filmed interviews with her. Ken was fortunate to meet people who knew her and had seen her speak.
I wanted to understand her attraction to Greek culture, so I read about that. I read her book The Human Condition over and over again. I wrestled with her concepts of public space, private space, and social space. I kept trying to find the origin of her thinking.
Where is the Millennial version of an Artist’s Cafe?
Ken: A Café Romanisches like Hannah’s stomping ground – I wish I could find it and get a table there! Today, the internet isn’t really that place for these conversations. Somehow when there’s this critical mass of people something just happens. They pop up and are usually discovered afterward. That social space where people challenge each other are in every city. When I lived in New York, poetry slams and pop-up punk concerts were a big thing.
As we retreat into the strange space of the internet, maybe we aren’t going to places where we can hang out and talk. Unless maybe tweets can get people to places where we’re actually doing physical meetups.
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The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: The Tyranny of Truth is a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the inspiration for a new exhibition coming to Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership March 14-June 23.
Gallery Talk with Cartoonist Ken Krimstein
Film screening of Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt