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Joseph Epstein

Joseph Epstein edits the American Scholar. A collection of his essays, Plausible Prejudices, is due out early next year.

Diary: A Thinker Thinks

Joseph Epstein, 20 September 1984

Reading along in Elizabeth Bruehl-Young’s biography of the philosopher Hannah Arendt I came across an item that astonished me. Every afternoon when at home in her West Side apartment in Manhattan, Hannah Arendt used to set herself out on the couch in her living-room and, for an hour or so, do nothing but think. Professor Bruehl-Young doesn’t say about what Hannah Arendt thought, but then perhaps there is no need for her to have done so. One assumes she thought about things she was writing at the time, or about world events, or about personal relationships, or even about thinking itself. Hannah Arendt is generally described as a thinker – and a thinker, after all, thinks. Yet I find myself astonished at Hannah Arendt’s or anyone else’s ability to set aside a portion of the day for thinking, chiefly because of my own inability to go and do likewise. I see myself stretched out on the couch in my own living-room. I am on my back, shoes off, collar open, hands in my pockets or perhaps folded over my chest. It is quiet in the room; good light enters, aslant, through the windows to the west. I have set myself the problem of thinking through the difficulties I am having in organising a lengthy book I have begun writing. The elements of the problem, it seems to me …–

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