Reporting and Storytelling: Eichmann in Jerusalem as Political Testimony

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Commentaries on Eichmann in Jerusalem are of two kinds. The first confronts the historical relevance of Arendt's ‘report’ and attempts to ascertain whether her ironical presentation of Eichmann's trial matches reality, namely, the incommensurable suffering of the Jewish people. The second focuses on the meaning of her expression ‘the banality of evil’, and places Arendt in a long tradition of moral and political philosophy concerned with the problem of evil and, accordingly, of judging evil. The argument of this paper is that both paths of research miss Arendt's intention, and that her ‘report’ has to be read in light of Walter Benjamin's conceptions of history and storytelling. On the one hand, Eichmann in Jerusalem was not intended to reflect reality objectively because, as Arendt claimed, the objectivity of scientific historiography may serve only to condone the genocide. Throughout her entire work, Arendt aimed at avoiding the neutrality of historicism, the ‘tradition of sine ira et studio’, which, according to her, represents a renunciation of responsibility. On the other hand, Arendt emphasized that she did not attempt to write about the nature of evil but to faithfully describe a phenomenon. Therefore the questions to be answered are: What did Arendt mean by a ‘report’? What does it mean to describe Eichmann's trial non-objectively but faithfully? In this paper, I show that her report should be understood in the light of a new methodological experiment inherited from Benjamin, which can be broken down into two steps: 1. To reveal the truth of history in stories rather than seek historical ‘objectivity’ through theories; and 2. To look at events from forgotten standpoints, which are assumed to represent the experienced ‘inside’ of history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
JournalThesis Eleven
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2002


  • Arendt
  • Benjamin
  • historical truth
  • standpoints
  • storytelling
  • testimony

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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