Daniel Maclise, Malvolio and the Countess, 1859

The only amusing thing I ever heard Hannah Arendt say—admittedly I only met her once or twice—was at a seminar in Princeton. The speaker was Dwight Macdonald; his subject was the inanity (or worse) of popular culture, and as he warmed to his theme, the counter-example he increasingly invoked was that of Europe. On the one hand Masscult and Midcult; on the other hand Athens, Florence, Paris, Weimar … He drifted on in this vein for about five minutes, until Arendt, who was sitting in the front row, permitted herself a very audible whisper: “Ach,...


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