Tag Archives: Hannah Arendt


Robert Silvers was a brilliant, demanding, funny, painstaking, and inspiring editor, a walking chronicle of postwar literary-political history, an intimidating sweetheart, and very dear to me. At the end of an editorial session, once he had identified all your piece’s weaknesses, evasions, and missed opportunities, he would close with a brusque, even peremptory, but always, somehow, hopeful, “See what can be done.” In the world according to Silvers, there was always something to be done. — Michael Chabon

The New York Review of Books was founded in 1963 by Barbara Epstein, Jason Epstein, and their West 67th Street neighbors Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell during an extended newspaper strike in New York City. They asked their friend Robert Silvers to edit the broadsheet—and he agreed, if Barbara would join him as co-editor.

The Review was an immediate success, and during first decades published Mary McCarthy on Vietnam, James Baldwin (“An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis”), Isaiah Berlin, Hannah Arendt, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Richard Hofstadter, Edmund Wilson, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, I. F. Stone, W. H. Auden, and many more. Today, Zadie Smith, Yasmine El Rashidi, Zoë Heller, Janet Malcolm, Hilton Als, Darryl Pinckney, James Fenton, Colm Tóibín, and Daniel Mendelsohn continue the intellectual tradition.

Before Silvers died in 2017, Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi filmed the editor in his domain. The resulting film—THE 50 YEAR ARGUMENT, narrated by Michael Stahlbarg—documents the history of the paper with in-person interviews and a rich selection of clips. The film is available through HBO Max and is streaming free in September, courtesy of the Review.

See link below.


Directed by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi.

Now streaming.

From top: Barbara Epstein and Robert Silvers in 1963 in their first office in the Fisk Building, New York City, photograph by Gert Berliner, courtesy and © the photographer and The New York Review of Books; David Moore, Mary McCarthy, New York, 1956, courtesy and © the photographer and the National Portrait Gallery, Australia; The New York Review of Books, May 25, 2017; Gore Vidal (center) with John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy; Nina Simone and James Baldwin, early 1960s, photograph by Bernard Gotfryd, courtesy and © the photographer’s estate and the Library of Congress Collection; Isaiah Berlin (left) and Silvers, photograph by Dominique Nabokov, courtesy and © the photographer; Darryl Pinckney in London, 1991, photograph by Nabokov; Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi, The 50 Year Argument (2014), image courtesy and © HBO Documentary Films; W. H. Auden; Joan Didion, photograph by Jill Krementz, courtesy and © the photographer; Francine du Plessix Gray and Silvers, photograph by Nabokov, courtesy and © the photographer.


My name is Alexandre Guérin. I’m 40 and married with five kids… Despite doubt and conflict with the Church, I’ve stayed close to Christ, and raise my children in the faith of his love. I recently ran into another father at school. We were both scouts at Saint Luc. We talked about school and camps. He asked me a troubling question. “Did Father Preynat fondle you too?”

So begins, in voiceover, François Ozon’s remarkable new film BY THE GRACE OF GOD, an investigation of pedophilia, sexual abuse, and cover-up in the Lyon diocese that plays like a great French policier. Originally planned as a documentary, Ozon interviewed and studied the case files of three men who, as children, suffered at the hands of Preynat, Cardinal Barbarin, and Régine Maire, the church psychologist charged with providing support to victims of priests. (To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, Maire is an exponent of the evil of banality.)

Guérin—quoted above and played in the film by Melvil Poupaud—remains a true believer, and often takes positions of abjection that may startle and alienate non-Catholics. François (Denis Ménochet), an atheist, favors a less passive approach and goes on to co-found the activist organization Lift the Burden. Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) bears the full burden of abuse, struggling through an afterlife of doubt and precarity.

BY THE GRACE OF GOD is centered around words, but it was also necessary to conjure images to evoke the violence these men experienced as children. For each of them, I created a flashback that shows almost nothing—a short walk, a door opening, a tent closing—but suggests everything in the space of an instant, through places, the use of light….

As I worked on these scenes, after interviewing many victims about the times they were abused, suddenly I remembered a scene from my own childhood that I had totally forgotten, or perhaps blocked out.

One day, at catechism, when I was eight years old, we were playing a game of hide-and-seek. A priest I liked very much told me he knew a great hiding place and took me there. I followed him innocently to a dark doorway, where he held me tight. It was strange. I felt his adult body against my small frame. His breathing was so loud. I remember thinking, “He’s breathing too loud, they’ll find us!” Now I understand he was fighting against repressed lust. A few long minutes passed. I can still see myself pushing him away and running to join my friends. The game of hide-and-seek was over.

This long-lost memory triggered a feeling of vertigo. Suddenly I had a deeper understanding of the victims. And I realized that I myself had come very close to a horrifying and tragic thing that could have greatly damaged me. If that priest had crossed the line, it would have altered the course of my life.

That’s when I truly understood why I wanted to make this film. Why I needed to make it. François Ozon

This past summer, Preynat was defrocked and is awaiting criminal trial.


Now playing.

Nuart Theatre

11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles.

François Ozon, By the Grace of God / Grâce à Dieu (2019), from top: Melvil Poupaud (left), Denis Ménochet (center); Poupaud; Swann Arlaud; Ozon on set; Poupaud (right). Images courtesy and © the actors, the director, and Music Box Films.


SUDDEN RISE—co-written by Wu Tsang, boychild, and Fred Moten—is the New York City performance debut of the ensemble Moved by the Motion.

This “collage” of text, film, movement, and sound is complemented by the words of Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Hannah Arendt, W.E.B. Du Bois and Jimi Hendrix.


Friday, April 26, at 8 pm.

Saturday April 27, at 4 pm and 8 pm.

Whitney Museum of American Art

99 Gansevoort Street, New York City.

Moved by the MotionSudden Rise, photographs by Paula Court/EMPAC. Images courtesy of Moved by the Motion and the photographer.


Hannah Arendt, James Baldwin, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, W.E.B. Du Bois, Allen Ginsberg, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Terry Southern, Hunter Thompson, and Gore Vidal were all investigated by the FBI, and edited versions of these files have been collected in a new volume from MIT Press.


Writers Under Surveillance: The FBI Files, edited by JPat Brown, B.C.D. Lipton, Michael Morisy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Image credit above: MIT Press.

Below: Hannah Arendt in New York City, 1944. Photograph by Fred Stein.