In Archiveology Catherine Russell uses the work of Walter Benjamin to explore how the practice of archiveology—the reuse, recycling, appropriation, and borrowing of archival sounds and images by filmmakers—provides ways to imagine the past and the future. Noting how the film archive does not function simply as a place where moving images are preserved, Russell examines a range of films alongside Benjamin's conceptions of memory, document, excavation, and historiography. She shows how city films such as Nicole Védrès's Paris 1900 (1947) and Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) reconstruct notions of urban life and uses Christian Marclay's The Clock (2010) to draw parallels between critical cinephilia and Benjamin's theory of the phantasmagoria. Russell also discusses practices of collecting in archiveological film and rereads films by Joseph Cornell and Rania Stephan to explore an archival practice that dislocates and relocates the female image in film. In so doing, she not only shows how Benjamin's work is as relevant to film theory as ever; she shows how archiveology can awaken artists and audiences to critical forms of history and memory.
The story of artist R. H. Quaytman’s discovery of an engraving hidden behind a famous artwork by Paul Klee.
This book begins with artist R. H. Quaytman uncovering something startling about a picture by Paul Klee. Pasted beneath Klee’s 1920 Angelus Novus—famous for its role in the writings of its first owner, Walter Benjamin—Quaytman found that Klee had interleaved a nineteenth-century engraving of Martin Luther, leaving just enough visible to provoke questions.
Behind the Angel of History reveals why this hidden face matters, delving into the intertwined artistic, political, and theological issues consuming Germany in the wake of the Great War. With the Angelus Novus, Klee responded to a growing call for a new religious art. For Benjamin, Klee’s Angelus became bound up with the prospect of meaningful dialogue among religions in Germany.
Reflecting on Klee’s, Benjamin’s, and Quaytman’s strategies of superimposing conflicting images, Annie Bourneuf reveals new dimensions of complexity in this iconic work and the writing it inspired.
This book brings together two of the most important figures of twentieth-century criticism, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, to consider a topic that was central to their thinking: the place of and reason for art in society and culture. Thijs Lijster takes us through points of agreement and disagreement between the two on such key topics as the relationship between art and historical experience, between avant-garde art and mass culture, and between the intellectual and the public. He also addresses the continuing relevance of Benjamin and Adorno to ongoing debates in contemporary aesthetics, such as the end of art, the historical meaning of art, and the role of the critic.
Walter Benjamin (1896-1940) has been called by Hannah Arendt the "greatest critic of the century." While an increasing number of Anglo-American literary critics draw upon Benjamin's writings in their own works, their colleagues in the philosophical community remain relatively unacquainted with his legacy. In the European intellectual world, by contrast, Benjamin's critical epistemological program, his philosophies of history and language, and his aesthetics have long since become part of philosophical discourse. The present collection of articles, many of which were contained in earlier versions in the Winter 1983 special issue of the journal The Philosophical Forum, initiates the project of establishing Benjamin's importance to philosophy.
A balance of original work by Benjamin and important commentary on his works, this volume includes the crucial chapter from Benjamin's magnum opus The Arcades Project, his "Program of the Coming Philosophy," and "Central Park," as well as essays by leading scholars (including Theodor W. Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, and Rolf Tiedemann) that treat single philosophical themes and relate his ideas to those of other thinkers such as Gadamer, Goodmann, and Rosenzweig. Gary Smith's introduction to the volume provides an extremely useful and sophisticated entrée for readers unaccustomed to the breadth of Benjamin's philosophical allusions, as well as an informative summation of the contents of the volume. This book will be of interest to philosophers, literary theorists, art historians, anthropologists, and other social scientists.
Samuel Weber Harvard University Press, 2008 Library of Congress B3209.B584W43 2008 | Dewey Decimal 193
“There is no world of thought that is not a world of language,” Walter Benjamin remarked, “and one only sees in the world what is preconditioned by language.” In this book, Samuel Weber, a leading theorist on literature and media, reveals a new and productive aspect of Benjamin’s thought by focusing on a little-discussed stylistic trait in his formulation of concepts.
Weber’s focus is the critical suffix “-ability” that Benjamin so tellingly deploys in his work. The “-ability” (-barkeit, in German) of concepts and literary forms traverses the whole of Benjamin’s oeuvre, from “impartibility” and “criticizability” through the well-known formulations of “citability,” “translatability,” and, most famously, the “reproducibility” of “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” Nouns formed with this suffix, Weber points out, refer to a possibility or potentiality, to a capacity rather than an existing reality. This insight allows for a consistent and enlightening reading of Benjamin’s writings.
Weber first situates Benjamin’s engagement with the “-ability” of various concepts in the context of his entire corpus and in relation to the philosophical tradition, from Kant to Derrida. Subsequent chapters deepen the implications of the use of this suffix in a wide variety of contexts, including Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book, his relation to Carl Schmitt, and a reading of Wagner’s Ring. The result is an illuminating perspective on Benjamin’s thought by way of his language—and one of the most penetrating and comprehensive accounts of Benjamin’s work ever written.
Berlin Childhood around 1900
Walter Benjamin Harvard University Press, 2006 Library of Congress PT2603.E455Z4613 2006 | Dewey Decimal 838.91209
Begun in Poveromo, Italy, in 1932, and extensively revised in 1938, Berlin Childhood around 1900 remained unpublished during Walter Benjamin's lifetime, one of his "large-scale defeats." Now translated into English for the first time in book form, on the basis of the recently discovered "final version" that contains the author's own arrangement of a suite of luminous vignettes, it can be more widely appreciated as one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century prose writing.
Not an autobiography in the customary sense, Benjamin's recollection of his childhood in an upper-middle-class Jewish home in Berlin's West End at the turn of the century becomes an occasion for unified "expeditions into the depths of memory." In this diagram of his life, Benjamin focuses not on persons or events but on places and things, all seen from the perspective of a child--a collector, flaneur, and allegorist in one.
This book is also one of Benjamin's great city texts, bringing to life the cocoon of his childhood--the parks, streets, schoolrooms, and interiors of an emerging metropolis. It reads the city as palimpsest and labyrinth, revealing unexpected lyricism in the heart of the familiar.
As an added gem, a preface by Howard Eiland discusses the genesis and structure of the work, which marks the culmination of Benjamin's attempt to do philosophy concretely.
What is it like to travel to Berlin today, particularly as a Jew, and bring with you the baggage of history? And what happens when an American Jew, raised by a secular family, falls in love with Berlin not in spite of his being a Jew but because of it? The answer is Berlin for Jews. Part history and part travel companion, Leonard Barkan’s personal love letter to the city shows how its long Jewish heritage, despite the atrocities of the Nazi era, has left an inspiring imprint on the vibrant metropolis of today.
Barkan, voraciously curious and witty, offers a self-deprecating guide to the history of Jewish life in Berlin, revealing how, beginning in the early nineteenth century, Jews became prominent in the arts, the sciences, and the city’s public life. With him, we tour the ivy-covered confines of the Schönhauser Allee cemetery, where many distinguished Jewish Berliners have been buried, and we stroll through Bayerisches Viertel, an elegant neighborhood created by a Jewish developer and that came to be called Berlin’s “Jewish Switzerland.” We travel back to the early nineteenth century to the salon of Rahel Varnhagen, a Jewish society doyenne, who frequently hosted famous artists, writers, politicians, and the occasional royal. Barkan also introduces us to James Simon, a turn-of-the-century philanthropist and art collector, and we explore the life of Walter Benjamin, who wrote a memoir of his childhood in Berlin as a member of the assimilated Jewish upper-middle class. Throughout, Barkan muses about his own Jewishness, while celebrating the rich Jewish culture on view in today’s Berlin.
A winning, idiosyncratic travel companion, Berlin for Jews offers a way to engage with German history, to acknowledge the unspeakable while extolling the indelible influence of Jewish culture.
The correspondence between Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, which appears here for the first time in its entirety in English translation, must rank among the most significant to have come down to us from that notable age of barbarism, the twentieth century. Benjamin and Adorno formed a uniquely powerful pair. Benjamin, riddle-like in his personality and given to tactical evasion, and Adorno, full of his own importance, alternately support and compete with each other throughout the correspondence, until its imminent tragic end becomes apparent to both writers. Each had met his match, and happily, in the other. This book is the story of an elective affinity. Adorno was the only person who managed to sustain an intimate intellectual relationship with Benjamin for nearly twenty years. No one else, not even Gershom Scholem, coaxed so much out of Benjamin.
The more than one hundred letters in this book will allow readers to trace the developing character of Benjamin's and Adorno's attitudes toward each other and toward their many friends. When this book appeared in German, it caused a sensation because it includes passages previously excised from other German editions of the letters--passages in which the two friends celebrate their own intimacy with frank remarks about other people. Ideas presented elliptically in the theoretical writings are set forth here with much greater clarity. Not least, the letters provide material crucial for understanding the genesis of Benjamin's Arcades Project.
Called “the most important critic of his time” by Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin has only become more influential over the years, as his work has assumed a crucial place in current debates over the interactions of art, culture, and meaning. A “natural and extraordinary talent for letter writing was one of the most captivating facets of his nature,” writes Gershom Scholem in his Foreword to this volume; and Benjamin's correspondence reveals the evolution of some of his most powerful ideas, while also offering an intimate picture of Benjamin himself and the times in which he lived.
Writing at length to Scholem and Theodor Adorno, and exchanging letters with Rainer Maria Rilke, Hannah Arendt, Max Brod, and Bertolt Brecht, Benjamin elaborates on his ideas about metaphor and language. He reflects on literary figures from Kafka to Karl Kraus, and expounds his personal attitudes toward such subjects as Marxism and French national character. Providing an indispensable tool for any scholar wrestling with Benjamin’s work, The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910–1940 is a revelatory look at the man behind much of the twentieth century’s most significant criticism.
The legendary correspondence between the critic Walter Benjamin and the historian Gershom Scholem bears indispensable witness to the inner lives of two remarkable and enigmatic personalities. Benjamin, acknowledged today as on of the leading literary and social critics of his day, was known during his lifetime by only a small circle of friends and intellectual confreres. Scholem recognized the genius of his friend and mentor during their student days in Berlin, and the two began to correspond after Scholem’s emigration to Palestine. Their impassioned exchange draws the reader into the very heart of their complex relationship during the anguished years from 1932 until Benjamin’s death in 1940.
Dreamworlds of Alabama
Allen Shelton University of Minnesota Press, 2007 Library of Congress F334.J33S54 2007 | Dewey Decimal 976.163
“I speak in what others often hear as a strange accent. My past can’t be located. I live in Buffalo, New York, an exile from the South. But these aren’t Yankee dreams, even though my past seems like a fabrication, a dreamworld in which I’m a paper character and not a historical participant, with scars from barbed wire ripping under the pressure and flying through the air like a swarm of bees, or a horse rearing up and banging its head into mine from within, exploding my forehead.” —from the Preface
Wisteria draped on a soldier’s coffin, sent home to Alabama from a Virginia battlefield. The oldest standing house in the county, painted gray and flanked by a pecan orchard. A black steel fence tool, now perched atop a pile of books like a prehistoric bird of prey. In Dreamworlds of Alabama, Allen Shelton explores physical, historical, and social landscapes of northeastern Alabama. His homeplace near the Appalachian foothills provides the setting for a rich examination of cultural practices, a place where the language of place and things resonates with as much vitality and emotional urgency as the language of humans.
Throughout the book, Shelton demonstrates how deeply culture is inscribed in the land and in the most intimate spaces of the person—places of belonging and loss, insight and memory.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Alabama, Allen Shelton is associate professor of sociology at Buffalo State College.
In the most comprehensive account to date of Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of language, Alexander Stern explores the nature of meaning by putting Benjamin in dialogue with Wittgenstein.
Known largely for his essays on culture, aesthetics, and literature, Walter Benjamin also wrote on the philosophy of language. This early work is famously obscure and considered hopelessly mystical by some. But for Alexander Stern, it contains important insights and anticipates—in some respects surpasses—the later thought of a central figure in the philosophy of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
As described in The Fall of Language, Benjamin argues that “language as such” is not a means for communicating an extra-linguistic reality but an all-encompassing medium of expression in which everything shares. Borrowing from Johann Georg Hamann’s understanding of God’s creation as communication to humankind, Benjamin writes that all things express meanings, and that human language does not impose meaning on the objective world but translates meanings already extant in it. He describes the transformations that language as such undergoes while making its way into human language as the “fall of language.” This is a fall from “names”—language that responds mimetically to reality—to signs that designate reality arbitrarily.
While Benjamin’s approach initially seems alien to Wittgenstein’s, both reject a designative understanding of language; both are preoccupied with Russell’s paradox; and both try to treat what Wittgenstein calls “the bewitchment of our understanding by means of language.” Putting Wittgenstein’s work in dialogue with Benjamin’s sheds light on its historical provenance and on the turn in Wittgenstein’s thought. Although the two philosophies diverge in crucial ways, in their comparison Stern finds paths for understanding what language is and what it does.
In Five Portraits, one of the most acute critical thinkers of our time presents essays on five of the most important writers of the past hundred years: Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan, Robert Musil, Martin Heidegger, and Walter Benjamin. The result is a remarkable examination of a moment when these writers, caught between the dream of creating an abiding masterpiece and the reality of a brutal culture fascinated by apocalyptic catastrophe, deliberately put themselves and their work at the center of the storm. Written in elegant and jargon-free prose, Michael Andre Bernstein's essays create a vivid image of an epoch whose aspirations and torments continues to shape the world we inhabit today.
Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno were intellectual giants of the first half of the twentieth century. The drama Foreplay explores their deeply human and psychologically intriguing private lives, focusing on professional and personal jealousies, the mutual dislike of Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt, the association between Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille, and the border between erotica and pornography.
Djerassi’s extensive biographical research brings to light many fascinating details revealed in the dialogues among the characters, including Adorno’s obsession with his dreams, Benjamin’s admiration for Franz Kafka, and the intimate correspondence between Gretel Adorno and Walter Benjamin. The introduction of a fictitious character, Fräulein X, intensifies the complex interplay among the four lead protagonists and allows for a comparison of Adorno’s philandering and the similar behavior of Martin Heidegger, whose affair with Hannah Arendt is well known. Foreplay brims with intrigue and the friction created when strong personalities clash.
More Than Life: Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin on Art is the first book to trace the philosophical relation between Georg Simmel and his one-time student Walter Benjamin, two of the most influential German thinkers of the twentieth century.
Reading Simmel’s work, particularly his essays on Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Rodin, alongside Benjamin’s concept of Unscheinbarkeit (inconspicuousness) and his writings on Charlie Chaplin, More Than Life demonstrates that both Simmel and Benjamin conceive of art as the creation of something entirely new rather than as a mimetic reproduction of a given. The two thinkers diverge in that Simmel emphasizes the presence of a continuous movement of life, whereas Benjamin highlights the priority of discontinuous, interruptive moments.
With the aim of further elucidating Simmel and Benjamin’s ideas on art, Stéphane Symons presents a number of in-depth analyses of specific artworks that were not discussed by these authors. Through an insightful examination of both the conceptual affinities and the philosophical differences between Simmel and Benjamin , Symons reconstructs a crucial episode in twentieth-century debates on art and aesthetics.
Walter Benjamin Harvard University Press, 1986 Library of Congress PT2603.E455Z4713 1986 | Dewey Decimal 838.91203
The life of the German-Jewish literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) is a veritable allegory of the life of letters in the twentieth century. Benjamin’s intellectual odyssey culminated in his death by suicide on the Franco–Spanish border, pursued by the Nazis, but long before he had traveled to the Soviet Union. His stunning account of that journey is unique among Benjamin’s writings for the frank, merciless way he struggles with his motives and conscience.
Perhaps the primary reason for his trip was his affection for Asja Lācis, a Latvian Bolshevik whom he had first met in Capri in 1924 and who would remain an important intellectual and erotic influence on him throughout the twenties and thirties. Asja Lācis resided in Moscow, eking out a living as a journalist, and Benjamin’s diary is, on one level, the account of his masochistic love affair with this elusive—and rather unsympathetic—object of desire. On another level, it is the story of a failed romance with the Russian Revolution; for Benjamin had journeyed to Russia not only to inform himself firsthand about Soviet society, but also to arrive at an eventual decision about joining the Communist Party. Benjamin’s diary paints the dilemma of a writer seduced by the promises of the Revolution yet unwilling to blinker himself to its human and institutional failings.
Moscow Diary is more than a record of ideological ambivalence; its literary value is considerable. Benjamin is one of the great twentieth-century physiognomists of the city, and his portrait of hibernal Moscow stands beside his brilliant evocations of Berlin, Naples, Marseilles, and Paris. Students of this particularly interesting period will find Benjamin’s eyewitness account of Moscow extraordinarily illuminating.
In his Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke suggests that animals enjoy direct access to a realm of being—the open—concealed from humans by the workings of consciousness and self-consciousness. In his own reading of Rilke, Martin Heidegger reclaims the open as the proper domain of human existence but suggests that human life remains haunted by vestiges of an animal-like relation to its surroundings. Walter Benjamin, in turn, was to show that such vestiges—what Eric Santner calls the creaturely—have a biopolitical aspect: they are linked to the processes that inscribe life in the realm of power and authority.
Santner traces this theme of creaturely life from its poetic and philosophical beginnings in the first half of the twentieth century to the writings of the enigmatic German novelist W. G. Sebald. Sebald’s entire oeuvre, Santner argues, can be seen as an archive of creaturely life. For Sebald, the work on such an archive was inseparable from his understanding of what it means to engage ethically with another person’s history and pain, an engagement that transforms us from indifferent individuals into neighbors.
An indispensable book for students of Sebald, On Creaturely Life is also a significant contribution to critical theory.
Walter BenjaminTranslated by Howard Eiland and Others Harvard University Press, 2006 Library of Congress PT2603.E455Z5743 2006 | Dewey Decimal 838.91209
Walter Benjamin's posthumously published collection of writings on hashish is a detailed blueprint for a book that was never written--a "truly exceptional book about hashish," as Benjamin describes it in a letter to his friend Gershom Scholem. A series of "protocols of drug experiments," written by himself and his co-participants between 1927 and 1934, together with short prose pieces that he published during his lifetime, On Hashish provides a peculiarly intimate portrait of Benjamin, venturesome as ever at the end of the Weimar Republic, and of his unique form of thought.
Consciously placing himself in a tradition of literary drug-connoisseurs from Baudelaire to Hermann Hesse, Benjamin looked to hashish and other drugs for an initiation into what he called "profane illumination." At issue here, as everywhere in Benjamin's work, is a new way of seeing, a new connection to the ordinary world. Under the influence of hashish, as time and space become inseparable, experiences become subtly stratified and resonant: we inhabit more than one plane in time. What Benjamin, in his contemporaneous study of Surrealism, calls "image space" comes vividly to life in this philosophical immersion in the sensuous.
This English-language edition of On Hashish features a section of supplementary materials--drawn from Benjamin's essays, letters, and sketches--relating to hashish use, as well as a reminiscence by his friend Jean Selz, which concerns a night of opium-smoking in Ibiza. A preface by Howard Eiland discusses the leading motifs of Benjamin's reflections on intoxication.
Photography has transformed the way we picture ourselves. Although photographs seem to "prove" our existence at a given point in time, they also demonstrate the impossibility of framing our multiple and fragmented selves. As Linda Haverty Rugg convincingly shows, photography's double take on self-image mirrors the concerns of autobiographers, who see the self as simultaneously divided (in observing/being) and unified by the autobiographical act.
Rugg tracks photography's impact on the formation of self-image through the study of four literary autobiographers concerned with the transformative power of photography. Obsessed with self-image, Mark Twain and August Strindberg both attempted (unsuccessfully) to integrate photographs into their autobiographies. While Twain encouraged photographers, he was wary of fakery and kept a fierce watch on the distribution of his photographic image. Strindberg, believing that photographs had occult power, preferred to photograph himself.
Because of their experiences under National Socialism, Walter Benjamin and Christa Wolf feared the dangerously objectifying power of photographs and omitted them from their autobiographical writings. Yet Benjamin used them in his photographic conception of history, which had its testing ground in his often-ignored Berliner Kindheit um 1900. And Christa Wolf's narrator in Patterns of Childhood attempts to reclaim her childhood from the Nazis by reconstructing mental images of lost family photographs.
Confronted with multiple and conflicting images of themselves, all four of these writers are torn between the knowledge that texts, photographs, and indeed selves are haunted by undecidability and the desire for the returned glance of a single self.
In readings of Walter Benjamin's work, religion often marks a boundary between scholarly camps, but it rarely receives close and sustained scrutiny. Benjamin's most influential writings pertain to modern art and culture, but he frequently used religious language while rejecting both secularism and religious revival. Benjamin was, in today's terms, postsecular. Postsecular Benjamin explicates Benjamin's engagements with religious traditions as resources for contemporary debates on secularism, conflict, and identity. Brian Britt argues that what animates this work on tradition is the question of human agency, which he pursues through lively and sustained experimentation with ways of thinking, reading, and writing.
Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno both turned to canonical literary narratives to determine why the Enlightenment project was derailed and how this failure might be remedied. The resultant works, Benjamin’s major essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Adorno’s meditation on the Odyssey in Dialectic of Enlightenment, are centrally concerned with the very act of narration. Márton Dornbach’s groundbreaking book reconstructs a hitherto unnoticed, wide-ranging dialogue between these foundational texts of the Frankfurt School.
At the heart of Dornbach’s argument is a critical model that Benjamin built around the concept of caesura, a model Adorno subsequently reworked. Countering an obscurantism that would become complicit in the rise of fascism, the two theorists aligned moments of arrest in narratives mired in unreason. Although this model responded to a specific historical emergency, it can be adapted to identify utopian impulses in a variety of works.
The Saving Line throws fresh light on the intellectual exchange and disagreements between Benjamin and Adorno, the problematic conjunction of secular reason and negative theology in their thinking, and their appropriations of ancient and modern legacies. It will interest scholars of philosophy and literature, critical theory, German Jewish thought, classical reception studies, and narratology.
Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project suggests that space can become a storyteller: if so, plenty of fleeting stories can be read in the space of modernity, where repetition and the unexpected cross-pollinate. In Space as Storyteller, Laura Chiesa explores several stories across a wide range of time that narrate spatial jumps, from Benjamin's tangential take on the cityscape, the experimentalism of Futurist theatricality, the multiple and potential atlases narrated by Italo Calvino and Georges Perec, and the posturban thought and practice of Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas/OMA. Space as Storyteller diverts attention from isolated disciplines and historical or geographical contexts toward transdisciplinary encounters that mobilize the potential to invent new spaces of comparison, a potential the author describes as "architecturability."
Always the focal point in modern times for momentous political, social and cultural upheaval, Berlin has continued, since the fall of the Wall in 1989, to be a city in transition. As the new capital of a reunified Germany it has embarked on a journey of rapid reconfiguration, involving issues of memory, nationhood and ownership.
Bertolt Brecht, meanwhile, stands as one of the principal thinkers about art and politics in the 20th century. The "Street Scene" model, which was the foundation for his theory of an epic theatre, relied precisely on establishing a connection between art's functioning and everyday life. His preoccupation with the ceaselessness of change, an impulse implying rupture and movement as the key characteristics informing the development of a democratic cultural identity, correlates resonantly with the notion of an ever-evolving city.
Premised on an understanding of performance as the articulation of movement in space, Street Scenes interrogates what kind of "life" is permitted to "flow" in the "new Berlin." Central to this method is the flaneur figure, a walker of streets who provides detached observations on the revealing "detritus of modern urban existence." Walter Benjamin, himself a native of Berlin as well as friend and seminal critic of Brecht, exercised the practice in exemplary form in his portrait of the city One-Way Street. Street Scenes offers various points of entry for the reader, including those interested in: theatre, performance, visual art, architecture, theories of everyday life and culture, and the politics of identity. Ultimately, it is an interdisciplinary book, which strives to establish the 'porosity' of areas of theory and practice rather than hard boundaries.
Interruption is often read as the foundational gesture of modernity—the means through which modernity asserts its existence by claiming its discontinuity with the past. Exposing the limitations of such an understanding, this book offers a very different approach: here, modernity is the site that poses the question of how we are to continue when every attempt to think and understand the present is marked by the necessity of an interruption. Through a reading of Walter Benjamin's writings—particularly on interruption, fashion, and Jugendstil (or Art Nouveau)—Andrew Benjamin in this work offers a sustained meditation on the role of interruption in modernity. His book departs from and elaborates an important but overlooked dimension of Benjamin's discourse: the question of style as it bears upon temporality and spatiality. Extending this meditation in exciting and unexpected ways--toward problems of cosmopolitanism, immigration, and the graphically pornographic, for instance—the author is able to translate Benjamin's multifaceted formulations on style, the dialectical image, awakening, temporality, and spatiality into lucid and highly intelligent stylistics underscoring the philosophical notions of Schein and Erscheining, the interruptions of modernity, and the politics of sameness and otherness.
Nothing less than a rethinking of the conditions of Western art as it relates to politics, architecture, and time, this study of Walter Benjamin's modernity in temporal and spatial terms is a provocative and original work of philosophy in its own right—a work that suggests that the time has come to revise existing paradigms.
“This is a sophisticated and fascinating argument written in a very enjoyably entertaining style. It is hard for me to see how readers initially interested in these texts will not be ‘swept off their feet’ by the core assertions of this author, and the devastatingly comprehensive way in which he demonstrates those arguments.”
—Brent Steele, University of Kansas
In Textual Conspiracies, James R. Martel applies the literary, theological, and philosophical insights of Walter Benjamin to the question of politics and the predicament of the contemporary left. Through the lens of Benjamin’s theories, as influenced by Kafka, of the fetishization of political symbols and signs, Martel looks at the ways in which various political and literary texts “speak” to each other across the gulf of time and space, thereby creating a “textual conspiracy” that destabilizes grand narratives of power and authority and makes the narratives of alternative political communities more apparent.
However, in keeping with Benjamin’s insistence that even he is complicit with the fetishism that he battles, Martel decentralizes Benjamin’s position as the key theorist for this conspiracy and contextualizes Benjamin in what he calls a “constellation” of pairs of thinkers and writers throughout history, including Alexis de Tocqueville and Edgar Allen Poe, Hannah Arendt and Federico García Lorca, and Frantz Fanon and Assia Djebar.
What is the place of individual genius in a global world of hyper-information— a world in which, as Walter Benjamin predicted more than seventy years ago, everyone is potentially an author? For poets in such a climate, "originality" begins to take a back seat to what can be done with other people’s words—framing, citing, recycling, and otherwise mediating available words and sentences, and sometimes entire texts. Marjorie Perloff here explores this intriguing development in contemporary poetry: the embrace of "unoriginal" writing. Paradoxically, she argues, such citational and often constraint-based poetry is more accessible and, in a sense, "personal" than was the hermetic poetry of the 1980s and 90s.
Perloff traces this poetics of "unoriginal genius" from its paradigmatic work, Benjamin’s encyclopedic Arcades Project, a book largely made up of citations. She discusses the processes of choice, framing, and reconfiguration in the work of Brazilian Concretism and Oulipo, both movements now understood as precursors of such hybrid citational texts as Charles Bernstein’s opera libretto Shadowtime and Susan Howe’s documentary lyric sequence The Midnight. Perloff also finds that the new syncretism extends to language: for example, to the French-Norwegian Caroline Bergvall writing in English and the Japanese Yoko Tawada, in German. Unoriginal Genius concludes with a discussion of Kenneth Goldsmith’s conceptualist book Traffic—a seemingly "pure’" radio transcript of one holiday weekend’s worth of traffic reports. In these instances and many others, Perloff shows us "poetry by other means" of great ingenuity, wit, and complexity.
Drawing upon a wealth of journal writings and personal correspondence, Esther Leslie presents a uniquely intimate portrait of one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin. She sets his life in the context of his middle-class upbringing; explores the social, political, and economic upheaval in Germany during and after World War I; and recounts Benjamin’s eccentric love of toys, trick-books, travel, and ships. From the Frankfurt School and his influential friendships with Theodore Adorno, Gershom Scholem, and Bertolt Brecht, to his travels across Europe, Walter Benjamin traces out the roots of Benjamin’s groundbreaking writings and their far-reaching impact in his own time. Leslie argues that Benjamin’s life challenges the stereotypical narrative of the tragic and lonely intellectual figure—instead positioning him as a man who relished the fierce combat of competing theories and ideas.
Closing with his death at the Spanish-French border in a desperate flight from the Nazis and Stalin, Walter Benjamin is a concise and concentrated account of a capacious intellect trapped by hostile circumstances.
Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life
Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress PT2603.E455Z6455 2013 | Dewey Decimal 838.91209
Walter Benjamin is one of the twentieth century's most important intellectuals, and also one of its most elusive. His writings—mosaics incorporating philosophy, literary criticism, Marxist analysis, and a syncretistic theology—defy simple categorization. And his mobile, often improvised existence has proven irresistible to mythologizers. His writing career moved from the brilliant esotericism of his early writings through his emergence as a central voice in Weimar culture and on to the exile years, with its pioneering studies of modern media and the rise of urban commodity capitalism in Paris. That career was played out amid some of the most catastrophic decades of modern European history: the horror of the First World War, the turbulence of the Weimar Republic, and the lengthening shadow of fascism. Now, a major new biography from two of the world's foremost Benjamin scholars reaches beyond the mosaic and the mythical to present this intriguing figure in full.
Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings make available for the first time a rich store of information which augments and corrects the record of an extraordinary life. They offer a comprehensive portrait of Benjamin and his times as well as extensive commentaries on his major works, including "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," the essays on Baudelaire, and the great study of the German Trauerspiel. Sure to become the standard reference biography of this seminal thinker, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life will prove a source of inexhaustible interest for Benjamin scholars and novices alike.
Walter Benjamin is often viewed as a cultural critic who produced a vast array of brilliant and idiosyncratic pieces of writing with little more to unify them than the feeling that they all bear the stamp of his "unclassifiable" genius. Eli Friedlander argues that Walter Benjamin's corpus of writings must be recognized as a unique configuration of philosophy with an overarching coherence and a deep-seated commitment to engage the philosophical tradition.
Friedlander finds in Benjamin's early works initial formulations of the different dimensions of his philosophical thinking. He leads through them to Benjamin's views on the dialectical image, the nature of language, the relation of beauty and truth, embodiment, dream and historical awakening, myth and history, as well as the afterlife and realization of meaning. Those notions are articulated both in themselves and in relation to central figures of the philosophical tradition. They are further viewed as leading to and coming together in The Arcades Project. Friedlander takes that incomplete work to be the central theater where these earlier philosophical preoccupations were to be played out. Benjamin envisaged in it the possibility of the highest order of thought taking the form of writing whose contents are the concrete time-bound particularities of human experience. Addressing the question of the possibility of such a presentation of philosophical truth provides the guiding thread for constellating the disparate moments of Benjamin's writings.
Seven decades after his death, German Jewish writer, philosopher, and literary critic Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) continues to fascinate and influence. Here Uwe Steiner offers a comprehensive and sophisticated introduction to the oeuvre of this intriguing theorist.
Acknowledged only by a small circle of intellectuals during his lifetime, Benjamin is now a major figure whose work is essential to an understanding of modernity. Steiner traces the development of Benjamin’s thought chronologically through his writings on philosophy, literature, history, politics, the media, art, photography, cinema, technology, and theology. Walter Benjamin reveals the essential coherence of its subject’s thinking while also analyzing the controversial or puzzling facets of Benjamin’s work. That coherence, Steiner contends, can best be appreciated by placing Benjamin in his proper context as a member of the German philosophical tradition and a participant in contemporary intellectual debates.
As Benjamin’s writing attracts more and more readers in the English-speaking world, Walter Benjamin will be a valuable guide to this fascinating body of work.
In light of the legendary difficulty of Walter Benjamin's works, it is a strange and intriguing fact that from 1929 to 1933 the great critic and cultural theorist wrote—and broadcast—numerous scripts, on the order of fireside chats, for children. Invited to speak on whatever subject he considered appropriate, Benjamin talked to the children of Frankfurt and Berlin about the destruction of Pompeii, an earthquake in Lisbon, and a railroad disaster at the Firth of Tay. He spoke about bootlegging and swindling, cataclysm and suicide, Faust and Cagliostro. In this first sustained analysis of the thirty surviving scripts, Jeffrey Mehlman demonstrates how Benjamin used the unlikely forum of children's radio to pursue some of his central philosophical and theological concerns.
Walter Benjamin for Children
, readers will encounter a host of intertextual surprises: an evocation of the flooding of the Mississippi informed by the argument of "The Task of the Translator;" a discussion of scams in stamp-collecting that turns into "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction;" a tale of bootlegging in the American South that converges with the best of Benjamin's essays on fiction. Mehlman superimposes a dual series of texts dealing with catastrophe, on the one hand, and fraud, on the other, that resonate with the false-messianic theology of Sabbatianism as it came to focus the attention and enthusiasm of Benjamin's friend Gershom Scholem during the same years. The radio scripts for children, that is, offer an unexpected byway, on the eve of the apocalypse, into Benjamin's messianic preoccupations.
A child's garden of deconstruction, these twenty-minute talks—from the perspective of childhood, before an invisible audience, on whatever happened to cross the critic's mind—are also by their very nature the closest we may ever come to a transcript of a psychoanalysis of Walter Benjamin. Particularly alive to that circumstance, Mehlman explores the themes of the radio broadcasts and brilliantly illuminates their hidden connections to Benjamin's life and work.
This lucid analysis brings to light some of the least researched and understood aspects of Walter Benjamin's thought. It will interest and provoke literary theorists and philosophers of culture, as well as anyone who hopes to understand one of this century's most suggestive and perplexing critics.
The Weimar origins of political theory is a widespread and powerful narrative, but this singular focus leaves out another intellectual history that historian David L. Marshall works to reveal: the Weimar origins of rhetorical inquiry. Marshall focuses his attention on Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and Aby Warburg, revealing how these influential thinkers inflected and transformed problems originally set out by Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, Theodor Adorno, Hans Baron, and Leo Strauss. He contends that we miss major opportunities if we do not attend to the rhetorical aspects of their thought, and his aim, in the end, is to lay out an intellectual history that can become a zone of theoretical experimentation in para-democratic times. Redescribing the Weimar origins of political theory in terms of rhetorical inquiry, Marshall provides fresh readings of pivotal thinkers and argues that the vision of rhetorical inquiry that they open up allows for new ways of imagining political communities today.
Benjamin’s famous “Work of Art” essay sets out his boldest thoughts—on media and on culture in general—in their most realized form, while retaining an edge that gets under the skin of everyone who reads it. In this essay the visual arts of the machine age morph into literature and theory and then back again to images, gestures, and thought.
This essay, however, is only the beginning of a vast collection of writings that the editors have assembled to demonstrate what was revolutionary about Benjamin’s explorations on media. Long before Marshall McLuhan, Benjamin saw that the way a bullet rips into its victim is exactly the way a movie or pop song lodges in the soul.
This book contains the second, and most daring, of the four versions of the “Work of Art” essay—the one that addresses the utopian developments of the modern media. The collection tracks Benjamin’s observations on the media as they are revealed in essays on the production and reception of art; on film, radio, and photography; and on the modern transformations of literature and painting. The volume contains some of Benjamin’s best-known work alongside fascinating, little-known essays—some appearing for the first time in English. In the context of his passionate engagement with questions of aesthetics, the scope of Benjamin’s media theory can be fully appreciated.