Walter Benjamin

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Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin vers 1928.jpg
Benjamin in 1928
Born(1892-07-15)15 July 1892
Died26 September 1940(1940-09-26) (aged 48)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Western Marxism
Marxist hermeneutics [1]
Main interests
Literary theory, aesthetics, philosophy of technology, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of history
Notable ideas
Auratic perception, [2] aestheticization of politics, the flâneur

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin ( /ˈbɛnjəmɪn/ ; German: [ˈvaltɐ ˈbɛnjamiːn] ; [5] 15 July 1892 – 26 September 1940) [6] was a German Jewish philosopher, cultural critic and essayist. An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and historical materialism. He was associated with the Frankfurt School, and also maintained formative friendships with thinkers such as playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem. He was also related by law to German political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt through her first marriage to Benjamin's cousin, Günther Anders.

A cultural critic is a critic of a given culture, usually as a whole. Cultural criticism has significant overlap with social and cultural theory. While such criticism is simply part of the self-consciousness of the culture, the social positions of the critics and the medium they use vary widely. The conceptual and political grounding of criticism also changes over time.

German idealism Predominant philosophical movement in Germany around 1800

German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s, and was closely linked both with Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment. The best-known thinkers in the movement, besides Kant, were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the proponents of Jena Romanticism. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Arthur Schopenhauer also made major contributions.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.

Contents

Among Benjamin's best known works are the essays "The Task of the Translator" (1923), "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (1940). His major work as a literary critic included essays on Baudelaire, Goethe, Kafka, Kraus, Leskov, Proust, Walser, and translation theory. He also made major translations into German of the Tableaux Parisiens section of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and parts of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu . In 1940, at the age of 48, Benjamin committed suicide at Portbou on the French–Spanish border while attempting to escape from the invading Wehrmacht. Though popular acclaim eluded him during his life, the decades following his death won his work posthumous renown.

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 1935 essay by Walter Benjamin

"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", by Walter Benjamin, is an essay of cultural criticism which proposes that the mechanical reproduction of a work of art devalues the aura of the artefact's uniqueness as art. During the Nazi régime (1933–1945), Benjamin wrote the essay to produce a theory of art that is "useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art" in mass culture; that, in the age of mechanical reproduction, and the absence of traditional and ritualistic value, the production of art would be inherently based upon the praxis of politics.

"Theses on the Philosophy of History" or "On the Concept of History" is an essay written in early 1940 by German philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin. It is one of Benjamin's best-known, and most controversial works.

Charles Baudelaire French poet

Charles Pierre Baudelaire was a French poet who also produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe.

Life

Early life and education

Benjamin and his younger siblings, Georg (1895–1942) and Dora (1901–1946), were born to a wealthy business family of assimilated Ashkenazi Jews in the Berlin of the German Empire (1871–1918). The patriarch of Walter Benjamin's family, Emil Benjamin, was a banker in Paris who had relocated from France to Germany, where he worked as an antiques trader in Berlin; he later married Pauline Schönflies. He owned a number of investments in Berlin, including ice skating rinks. Benjamin's uncle William Stern (born Wilhelm Louis Stern; 1871-1938) was a prominent German child psychologist who developed the concept of the intelligence quotient (IQ), and Benjamin's cousin Günther Anders (born Günther Siegmund Stern; 1902-1992) was a German philosopher and anti-nuclear activist who studied under Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Through his mother, his great-uncle was the classical archaeologist Gustav Hirschfeld. [7] In 1902, ten-year-old Walter was enrolled to the Kaiser Friedrich School in Charlottenburg; he completed his secondary school studies ten years later. Walter Benjamin was a boy of fragile health and so in 1905 the family sent him to Hermann-Lietz-Schule Haubinda, a boarding school in the Thuringian countryside, for two years; in 1907, having returned to Berlin, he resumed his schooling at the Kaiser Friedrich School. [6]

Ashkenazi Jews Jewish ethnic group

Ashkenazi Jews, also known as Ashkenazic Jews or, by using the Hebrew plural suffix -im, Ashkenazim, are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium.

German Empire empire in Central Europe between 1871–1918

The German Empire, also known as the Second Reich or Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1918.

William Stern, born Louis William Stern, was a German psychologist and philosopher. He is known for the development of personalistic psychology, which placed emphasis on the individual by examining measurable personality traits as well as the interaction of those traits within each person to create the self. Stern also coined the term intelligence quotient, or IQ, and invented the tone variator as a new way to study human perception of sound. Stern studied psychology and philosophy under Hermann Ebbinghaus at the University of Berlin, and quickly moved on to teach at the University of Breslau. Later he was appointed the position of professor at the University of Hamburg. Over the course of his career, Stern wrote many books pioneering new fields in psychology such as differential psychology, critical personalism, forensic psychology, and intelligence testing. Stern was also a pioneer in the field of child psychology. Working with his wife, Clara Joesephy, Stern kept meticulous diaries detailing the lives of their 3 children for 18 years. He used these journals to write several books that offered an unprecedented look into the psychological development of children over time.

In 1912, at the age of twenty, he enrolled at the University of Freiburg, but, at summer semester's end, returned to Berlin, then matriculated into the University of Berlin, to continue studying philosophy. Here Benjamin had his first exposure to the ideas of Zionism, which had not been part of his liberal upbringing. This exposure gave him occasion to formulate his own ideas about the meaning of Judaism. Benjamin distanced himself from political and nationalist Zionism, instead developing in his own thinking what he called a kind of "cultural Zionism"—an attitude which recognized and promoted Judaism and Jewish values. In Benjamin's formulation his Jewishness meant a commitment to the furtherance of European culture. Benjamin expressed "My life experience led me to this insight: the Jews represent an elite in the ranks of the spiritually active ... For Judaism is to me in no sense an end in itself, but the most distinguished bearer and representative of the spiritual." This was a position that Benjamin largely held lifelong. [8]

University of Freiburg Public research university in Freiburg, Germany

The University of Freiburg, officially the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the second university in Austrian-Habsburg territory after the University of Vienna. Today, Freiburg is the fifth-oldest university in Germany, with a long tradition of teaching the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The university is made up of 11 faculties and attracts students from across Germany as well as from over 120 other countries. Foreign students constitute about 18.2% of total student numbers.

Humboldt University of Berlin university in Germany

Humboldt University of Berlin is a university in the central borough of Mitte in Berlin, Germany. It was established by Frederick William III on the initiative of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher as the University of Berlin in 1809, and opened in 1810, making it the oldest of Berlin's four universities. From 1810 until its closure in 1945, it was named Friedrich Wilhelm University. During the Cold War the university found itself in East Berlin and was de facto split in two when the Free University of Berlin opened in West Berlin. The university received its current name in honour of Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt in 1949.

Zionism Movement that supports the creation of a Jewish homeland

Zionism is the nationalist movement of the Jewish people that espouses the re-establishment of and support for a Jewish state in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel. Modern Zionism emerged in the late 19th century in Central and Eastern Europe as a national revival movement, both in reaction to newer waves of antisemitism and as a response to Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Soon after this, most leaders of the movement associated the main goal with creating the desired state in Palestine, then an area controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

Elected president of the Freie Studentenschaft (Free Students Association), Benjamin wrote essays arguing for educational and general cultural change. [9] [ full citation needed ] When not re-elected as student association president, he returned to Freiburg University to study, with particular attention to the lectures of Heinrich Rickert; at that time he travelled to France and Italy.

Heinrich Rickert German philosopher

Heinrich John Rickert was a German philosopher, one of the leading neo-Kantians.

His attempt to volunteer for service at the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 was rejected by the army. [10] Benjamin later feigned illnesses to avoid conscription, [10] allowing him to continue his studies and his translations of the works by French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867).

World War I 1914–1918 global war starting in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War, the Great War, the Seminal Catastrophe, and initially in North America as the European War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

The next year, 1915, he moved to Munich, and continued his schooling at the University of Munich, where he met Rainer Maria Rilke and Gershom Scholem; the latter became a friend. In that year, Benjamin wrote about the 18th-century Romantic German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843).

In 1917 he transferred to the University of Bern; there, he met Ernst Bloch, and Dora Sophie Pollak (née Kellner) (1890–1964) whom he later married. They had a son, Stefan Rafael (1918–1972). In 1919 Benjamin earned his Ph.D. cum laude with the dissertation Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism). Later, unable to support himself and family, he returned to Berlin and resided with his parents. In 1921 he published the essay Kritik der Gewalt (The Critique of Violence). At this time Benjamin first became socially acquainted with Leo Strauss, and Benjamin would remain an admirer of Strauss and of his work throughout his life. [11] [12] [13]

Career

In 1923, when the Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research) was founded, later to become home to the Frankfurt School, Benjamin published Charles Baudelaire, Tableaux Parisiens. At that time he became acquainted with Theodor Adorno and befriended Georg Lukács, whose The Theory of the Novel (1920) much influenced him. Meanwhile, the inflation in the Weimar Republic consequent to the First World War made it difficult for the father Emil Benjamin to continue supporting his son's family. At the end of 1923 his best friend Gershom Scholem immigrated to Palestine, a country under the British Mandate of Palestine; despite repeated invitations, he failed to persuade Benjamin (and family) to leave the Continent for the Middle East.

In 1924 Hugo von Hofmannsthal, in the Neue Deutsche Beiträge magazine, published "Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften" ("Goethe's Elective Affinities"), by Walter Benjamin, about Goethe's third novel, Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809). Later that year Benjamin and Ernst Bloch resided on the Italian island of Capri; Benjamin wrote Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama), as a habilitation dissertation meant to qualify him as a tenured university professor in Germany. He also read, at Bloch's suggestion, History and Class Consciousness (1923) by Georg Lukács. He also met the Latvian Bolshevik and actress Asja Lācis, then residing in Moscow; she became his lover and was a lasting intellectual influence upon him. [14]

A year later, in 1925, Benjamin withdrew The Origin of German Tragic Drama as his possible qualification for the habilitation teaching credential at the University of Frankfurt at Frankfurt am Main, fearing its possible rejection; [15] he was not to be an academic instructor. Working with Franz Hessel (1880–1941) he translated the first volumes of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust. The next year, 1926, he began writing for the German newspapers Frankfurter Zeitung (The Frankfurt Times) and Die Literarische Welt (The Literary World); that paid enough for him to reside in Paris for some months. In December 1926 (the year his father, Emil Benjamin, died) Walter Benjamin went to Moscow [16] to meet Asja Lācis and found her ill in a sanatorium. [17]

In 1927, he began Das Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project), his uncompleted magnum opus , a study of 19th-century Parisian life. The same year, he saw Gershom Scholem in Berlin, for the last time, and considered emigrating from Continental Europe (Germany) to Palestine. In 1928, he and Dora separated (they divorced two years later, in 1930); in the same year he published Einbahnstraße (One-Way Street), and a revision of his habilitation dissertation Ursprung des Deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama). In 1929 Berlin, Asja Lācis, then assistant to Bertolt Brecht, socially presented the intellectuals to each other. In that time, he also briefly embarked upon an academic career, as an instructor at the University of Heidelberg.

Exile and death

Walter Benjamin's membership card for the Bibliotheque nationale de France (1940). BenjaminBnF.jpg
Walter Benjamin's membership card for the Bibliothèque nationale de France (1940).

In 1932, during the turmoil preceding Adolf Hitler's assumption of the office of Chancellor of Germany, Walter Benjamin left Germany for the Spanish island of Ibiza for some months; he then moved to Nice, where he considered killing himself. Perceiving the socio-political and cultural significance of the Reichstag fire (27 February 1933) as the de facto Nazi assumption of full power in Germany, then manifest with the subsequent persecution of the Jews, he moved to Paris, but, before doing so, he sought shelter in Svendborg, at Bertolt Brecht's house, and at Sanremo, where his ex-wife Dora lived.

As he ran out of money, Benjamin collaborated with Max Horkheimer, and received funds from the Institute for Social Research, later going permanently into exile. In Paris, he met other German artists and intellectuals, refugees there from Germany; he befriended Hannah Arendt, novelist Hermann Hesse, and composer Kurt Weill. In 1936, a first version of "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (originally written in German in 1935) was published, in French ("L'œuvre d'art à l'époque de sa reproduction méchanisée"), by Max Horkheimer in the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung journal of the Institute for Social Research. It was a critique of the authenticity of mass-produced art; he wrote that a mechanically produced copy of an artwork can be taken somewhere where the original could never have gone, arguing that the presence of the original is "prerequisite to the concept of authenticity". [18]

Walter Benjamin's Paris apartment at 10 rue Dombasle (1938-1940) Benjamin's apartment in Paris (fot. Mateusz Palka).jpg
Walter Benjamin's Paris apartment at 10 rue Dombasle (1938–1940)

In 1937 Benjamin worked on "Das Paris des Second Empire bei Baudelaire" ("The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire"), met Georges Bataille (to whom he later entrusted the Arcades Project manuscript), and joined the College of Sociology. In 1938 he paid a last visit to Bertolt Brecht, who was exiled to Denmark. Meanwhile, the Nazi Régime stripped German Jews of their German citizenship; now a stateless man, Benjamin was arrested by the French government and incarcerated for three months in a prison camp near Nevers, in central Burgundy.

Returning to Paris in January 1940, he wrote "Über den Begriff der Geschichte" ("On the Concept of History", later published as "Theses on the Philosophy of History"). While the Wehrmacht was pushing back the French Army, on 13 June Benjamin and his sister fled Paris to the town of Lourdes, just a day before the Germans entered the capital with orders to arrest him at his flat. In August, he obtained a travel visa to the US that Max Horkheimer had negotiated for him. In eluding the Gestapo, Benjamin planned to travel to the US from neutral Portugal, which he expected to reach via Francoist Spain, then ostensibly a neutral country.

Walter Benjamin's grave in Portbou. The epitaph in German, repeated in Catalan, quotes from Section 7 of "Theses on the Philosophy of History": "There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism" Grab Walter Benjamin.jpg
Walter Benjamin's grave in Portbou. The epitaph in German, repeated in Catalan, quotes from Section 7 of "Theses on the Philosophy of History": "There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism"

The historical record indicates that he safely crossed the French–Spanish border and arrived at the coastal town of Portbou, in Catalonia. The Franco government had cancelled all transit visas and ordered the Spanish police to return such persons to France, including the Jewish refugee group Benjamin had joined. They tried to cross the border on 25 September 1940, but were told by the Spanish police that they would be deported back to France the next day, which would have thwarted Benjamin's plans to travel to the United States. Expecting repatriation to Nazi hands, Walter Benjamin killed himself with an overdose of morphine tablets that night, while staying in the Hotel de Francia; the official Portbou register records 26 September 1940 as the official date of death. [6] [19] [20] [21] [22] Benjamin's colleague Arthur Koestler, also fleeing Europe, attempted suicide by taking some of the morphine tablets, but he survived. [23] Benjamin's brother Georg was killed at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in 1942. Despite his suicide, Benjamin was buried in the consecrated section of a Roman Catholic cemetery. (It may be noted that not all writers on Benjamin, and this moment in history, accept that it is unquestionable Benjamin committed suicide). [24] [25] [26]

The others in his party were allowed passage the next day (maybe because Benjamin's suicide shocked Spanish officials), and safely reached Lisbon on 30 September. Hannah Arendt, who crossed the French-Spanish border at Portbou a few months later, passed the manuscript of Theses to Adorno. Another completed manuscript, which Benjamin had carried in his suitcase, disappeared after his death and has not been recovered. [27] Some critics speculate that it was his Arcades Project in a final form; this is very unlikely as the author's plans for the work had changed in the wake of Adorno's criticisms in 1938, and it seems clear that the work was flowing over its containing limits in his last years.

Thought

Paul Klee's 1920 painting Angelus Novus, which Benjamin compared to "the angel of history" Klee, Angelus novus.png
Paul Klee's 1920 painting Angelus Novus , which Benjamin compared to "the angel of history"

Walter Benjamin corresponded much with Theodor Adorno and Bertolt Brecht, and was occasionally funded by the Frankfurt School under the direction of Adorno and Horkheimer, even from their New York City residence. The competing influences—Brecht's Marxism, Adorno's critical theory, Gerschom Scholem's Jewish mysticism—were central to his work, although their philosophic differences remained unresolved. Moreover, the critic Paul de Man argued that the intellectual range of Benjamin's writings flows dynamically among those three intellectual traditions, deriving a critique via juxtaposition; the exemplary synthesis is "Theses on the Philosophy of History". At least one scholar, historian of religion Jason Josephson-Storm, has argued that Benjamin's diverse interests may be understood in part by understanding the influence of Western Esotericism on Benjamin. Some of Benjamin's key ideas were adapted from occultists and New Age figures including Eric Gutkind and Ludwig Klages, and his interest in esotericism is known to have extended far beyond the Jewish Kabbalah. [28]

"Theses on the Philosophy of History"

"Theses on the Philosophy of History" is often cited as Benjamin's last complete work, having been completed, according to Adorno, in the spring of 1940. The Institute for Social Research, which had relocated to New York, published Theses in Benjamin's memory in 1942. Margaret Cohen writes in the Cambridge Companion to Walter Benjamin:

In the "Concept of History" Benjamin also turned to Jewish mysticism for a model of praxis in dark times, inspired by the kabbalistic precept that the work of the holy man is an activity known as tikkun. According to the kabbalah, God's attributes were once held in vessels whose glass was contaminated by the presence of evil and these vessels had consequently shattered, disseminating their contents to the four corners of the earth. Tikkun was the process of collecting the scattered fragments in the hopes of once more piecing them together. Benjamin fused tikkun with the Surrealist notion that liberation would come through releasing repressed collective material, to produce his celebrated account of the revolutionary historiographer, who sought to grab hold of elided memories as they sparked to view at moments of present danger.

In the essay, Benjamin's famed ninth thesis struggles to reconcile the Idea of Progress in the present with the apparent chaos of the past:

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

The final paragraph about the Jewish quest for the Messiah provides a harrowing final point to Benjamin's work, with its themes of culture, destruction, Jewish heritage and the fight between humanity and nihilism. He brings up the interdiction, in some varieties of Judaism, to try to determine the year when the Messiah would come into the world, and points out that this did not make Jews indifferent to the future "for every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter."

"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"

Perhaps Walter Benjamin's most well known essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," identifies the perceptual shift that takes place when technological advancements emphasize speed and reproducibility. [29] The aura is found in a work of art that contains presence. The aura is precisely what cannot be reproduced in a work of art: its original presence in time and space. [29] He suggests a work of art's aura is in a state of decay because it is becoming more and more difficult to apprehend the time and space in which a piece of art is created.

This essay also introduces the concept of the optical unconscious, a concept that identifies the subject's ability to identify desire in visual objects. This also leads to the ability to perceive information by habit instead of rapt attention. [29]

The Origin of German Tragic Drama

Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels ( The Origin of German Tragic Drama , 1928), is a critical study of German baroque drama, as well as the political and cultural climate of Germany during the Counter-Reformation (1545–1648). Benjamin presented the work to the University of Frankfurt in 1925 as the (postdoctoral) dissertation meant to earn him the Habilitation (qualification) to become a university instructor in Germany.

Professor Schultz of University of Frankfurt found The Origin of German Tragic Drama inappropriate for his Germanistik department (Department of German Language and Literature), and passed it to the Department of Aesthetics (philosophy of art), the readers of which likewise dismissed Benjamin's work. The university officials recommended that Benjamin withdraw Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels as a Habilitation dissertation to avoid formal rejection and public embarrassment. [15] He heeded the advice, and three years later, in 1928, he published The Origin of German Tragic Drama as a book. [30]

The Arcades Project

The Passagenwerk (Arcades Project, 1927–40) was Walter Benjamin's final, incomplete book about Parisian city life in the 19th century, especially about the Passages couverts de Paris   the covered passages that extended the culture of flânerie (idling and people-watching) when inclement weather made flânerie infeasible in the boulevards and streets proper. In this work Benjamin uses his fragmentary style to write about the rise of modern European urban culture. [31]

The Arcades Project, in its current form, brings together a massive collection of notes which Benjamin filed together over the course of thirteen years, from 1927 to 1940. [32]

The Arcades Project was published for the first time in 1982, and is over a thousand pages long.

Writing style

Susan Sontag said that in Walter Benjamin's writing, sentences did not originate ordinarily, do not progress into one another, and delineate no obvious line of reasoning, as if each sentence "had to say everything, before the inward gaze of total concentration dissolved the subject before his eyes", a "freeze-frame baroque" style of writing and cogitation. "His major essays seem to end just in time, before they self-destruct". [33] The difficulty of Benjamin's writing style is essential to his philosophical project. Fascinated by notions of reference and constellation, his goal in later works was to use intertexts to reveal aspects of the past that cannot, and should not, be understood within greater, monolithic constructs of historical understanding.

Walter Benjamin's writings identify him as a modernist for whom the philosophic merges with the literary: logical philosophic reasoning cannot account for all experience, especially not for self-representation via art. He presented his stylistic concerns in "The Task of the Translator", wherein he posits that a literary translation, by definition, produces deformations and misunderstandings of the original text. Moreover, in the deformed text, otherwise hidden aspects of the original, source-language text are elucidated, while previously obvious aspects become unreadable. Such translational modification of the source text is productive; when placed in a specific constellation of works and ideas, newly revealed affinities, between historical objects, appear and are productive of philosophical truth.

His work "The Task of the Translator" was later commented by the French translation scholar Antoine Berman ( L'âge de la traduction ).

Legacy and reception

Since the publication of Schriften (Writings, 1955), 15 years after his death, Benjamin's work—especially the essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (French edition, 1936)—has become of seminal importance to academics in the humanities disciplines. In 1968, the first Internationale Walter Benjamin Gesellschaft was established by the German thinker, poet and artist Natias Neutert, as a free association of philosophers, writers, artists, media theoreticians and editors. They did not take Benjamin's body of thought as a scholastic "closed architecture [...], but as one in which all doors, windows and roof hatches are widely open", as the founder Neutert put it—more poetically than politically—in his manifesto. [34] The members felt liberated to take Benjamin's ideas as a welcome touchstone for social change. [35]

Like the first Internationale Walter Benjamin Gesellschaft, a new one, established in 2000, researches and discusses the imperative that Benjamin formulated in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History": "In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest the tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it."

The successor society was registered in Karlsruhe (Germany); Chairman of the Board of Directors was Bernd Witte, an internationally recognized Benjamin scholar and Professor of Modern German Literature in Düsseldorf (Germany). Its members come from 19 countries, both within and beyond Europe and represents an international forum for discourse. The Society supported research endeavors devoted to the creative and visionary potential of Benjamin's works and their view of 20th century modernism. Special emphasis had been placed upon strengthening academic ties to Latin America and Eastern and Central Europe. [36] The society conducts conferences and exhibitions, as well as interdisciplinary and intermedial events, at regular intervals and different European venues:

In 2017 Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project was reinterpreted in an exhibition curated by Jens Hoffman, held at the Jewish Museum in New York City. The exhibition, entitled "The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin", features 36 contemporary artworks representing the 36 convolutes of Benjamin's Project. [38]

Commemoration

Commemorative plaque for Walter Benjamin, Berlin-Wilmersdorf Berliner Gedenktafel Walter Benjamin Prinzregentenstrasse 66 Berlin-Wilmersdorf.jpg
Commemorative plaque for Walter Benjamin, Berlin-Wilmersdorf

A commemorative plaque is located by the residence where Benjamin lived in Berlin during the years 1930–1933: (Prinzregentenstraße 66, Berlin-Wilmersdorf). A commemorative plaque is located in Paris (10 rue Dombasle, 15th) where Benjamin lived in 1938–1940.

Close by Kurfürstendamm, in the district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, a town square created by Hans Kollhoff in 2001 was named "Walter-Benjamin-Platz". [39] There is a memorial sculpture by the artist Dani Karavan at Portbou, where Walter Benjamin ended his life. It was commissioned to mark 50 years since his death. [40]

Works (selection)

Among Walter Benjamin's works are:

See also

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The University of Muri is the fictional creation of critic and metaphysician Walter Benjamin, and historian of Jewish mysticism and Philosopher Gershom Scholem. It is presumed to be located in Muri, Switzerland and though it was shut down by Benjamin and Scholem a number of times it is, or was at last report, still "open." In his essay Walter Benjamin and his Angel Scholem writes, "The guardian angel of the Kabbalah from the year 1921 has become the guardian angel of the University of Muri, in whose Transactions a "philosopher" and a "kabbalist"—who in a traditional sense were neither a philosopher nor a kabbalist—made the traditional university and its scholars the object of their derision."

Péter Szondi was a celebrated literary scholar and philologist, originally from Hungary.

Richard Sieburth is a translator, essayist, editor, and literary scholar. A graduate of the University of Chicago and of Harvard University, he retired from university life in early 2019, after 45 years of teaching. Over the course of his career, he directed many doctoral dissertations that resulted in successful books and academic careers, and advised dozens of other students who went on to careers in translation, publishing, and other corridors of the Arts.

<i>Arcades Project</i> book by Walter Benjamin

Passagenwerk or Arcades Project was an unfinished project of German literary critic Walter Benjamin, written between 1927 and 1940. An enormous collection of writings on the city life of Paris in the 19th century, it was especially concerned with Paris' iron-and-glass covered "arcades".

Erich Unger Jewish German Philosopher

Erich Unger (1887-1950) was a Jewish philosopher of standing who published many articles and a number of books, many of them in his native tongue, German. His writings cover a wide range of topics: poetry, Nietzsche, political theory, general philosophy and Jewish philosophy.

<i>Angelus Novus</i> Painting by Paul Klee

Angelus Novus is a 1920 monoprint by the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, using the oil transfer method he invented. It is now in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Werner Scholem was a member of the German Reichstag in 1924–1928 and a leading member of the Communist Party of Germany.

Vivian Liska Academic

Vivian Liska, born in New York City, United States is a professor of German Literature and Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. Since 2013 she is also Distinguished Visiting Professor at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Abraham Rovigo was a Jewish scholar, rabbi and kabbalist.

The 1660 destruction of Safed occurred during the Druze power struggle in Mount Lebanon, at the time of the rule of Ottoman sultan Mehmed IV. The towns of Safed and nearby Tiberias, with substantial Jewish communities, were destroyed in the turmoil. Only a few of the former residents of Safed had returned to the town after the destruction. Gershom Scholem considers the 1662 reports about the destruction of Safed as "exaggerated". The community, however, recovered within several years, whereas Tiberias lay in waste for decades.

<i>The Origin of German Tragic Drama</i> book by Walter Benjamin

The Origin of German Tragic Drama or Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels was the postdoctoral major academic work (Habilitation) submitted by Walter Benjamin to the University of Frankfurt in 1925, and not published until 1928. The book is a study of German drama during the baroque period and was meant to earn Benjamin the qualification of university instructor. The academic community rejected the work, and Benjamin withdrew it from consideration. In spite of this early rejection, the book was rediscovered in the second half of the 20th century and has come to be considered a highly influential piece of philosophical and literary criticism.

David Baumgardt was an early 20th century German Jewish philosopher in the field of philosophical history. He was a professor of Philosophy at the University of Berlin.

Beginning with the correspondence between Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem interpretations, speculations, and reactions to Kafka's Judaism became so substantial during the 20th century as to virtually constitute an entire minor literature. Meditations about how and to what extent Kafka anticipated or represented the incoming Holocaust of the European Jewry comprise a major component of most scholarship along these lines.

Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism is a work on the history of the Jewish Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem, published in 1941.

Yehuda Liebes Israeli academic, scholar of Kabbalah

Yehuda Liebes is an Israeli academic and scholar. He is the Gershom Scholem Professor Emeritus of Kabbalah at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is considered a leading scholar of Kabbalah; his other research interests include Jewish myth, Sabbateanism, and the links between Judaism and ancient Greek religion, Christianity, and Islam. Author of many books and articles, his work is often cited by other scholars. He is the recipient of the 1997 Bialik Prize, the 1999 Gershom Scholem Prize for Kabbalah Research, the 2006 EMET Prize for Art, Science and Culture, and the 2017 Israel Prize.

References

  1. Erasmus: Speculum Scientarium, 25, p. 162: "the different versions of Marxist hermeneutics by the examples of Walter Benjamin's Origins of the German Tragedy [ sic ], ... and also by Ernst Bloch's Hope the Principle [ sic ]."
  2. Walter Benjamin, "L'œuvre d'art à l'époque de sa reproduction méchanisée", 1936: "The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura." [Die Einzigkeit des Kunstwerks ist identisch mit seinem Eingebettetsein in den Zusammenhang der Tradition. Diese Tradition selber ist freilich etwas durchaus Lebendiges, etwas außerordentlich Wandelbares. Eine antike Venusstatue z. B. stand in einem anderen Traditionszusammenhange bei den Griechen, die sie zum Gegenstand des Kultus machten, als bei den mittelalterlichen Klerikern, die einen unheilvollen Abgott in ihr erblickten. Was aber beiden in gleicher Weise entgegentrat, war ihre Einzigkeit, mit einem anderen Wort: ihre Aura.]
  3. Josephson-Storm, Jason (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 227–8. ISBN   978-0-226-40336-6.
  4. Josephson-Storm, Jason (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 230. ISBN   978-0-226-40336-6.
  5. Duden Aussprachewörterbuch (6 ed.). Mannheim: Bibliographisches Institut & F.A. Brockhaus AG. 2006.
  6. 1 2 3 Witte, Bernd (1991). Walter Benjamin: An Intellectual Biography (English translation) . Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. pp.  9. ISBN   0-8143-2018-X.
  7. Howard Eiland, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life, Harvard University Press (2014), p. 20
  8. Witte, Bernd. (1996) Walter Benjamin: An Intellectual Biography. New York: Verso. pp. 26–27
  9. Experience, 1913
  10. 1 2 Jay, Martin (1999). "Walter Benjamin, Remembrance, and the First World War". Review of Japanese Culture and Society. 11/12: 18–31. ISSN   0913-4700. JSTOR   42800179.
  11. Jewish philosophy and the crisis of modernity (SUNY 1997), Leo Strauss as a Modern Jewish thinker, Kenneth Hart Green, Leo Strauss, page 55
  12. Scholem, Gershom. 1981. Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship. Trans. Harry Zohn, page 201
  13. The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem, 1932–40, New York 1989, page 155-58
  14. https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf?fbclid=IwAR20go0YtEANreIbblZUVillhi_ks2wSFyRq0SUvKQ7UzNgUTrXISsEgcP0
  15. 1 2 Jane O. Newman, Benjamin's Library: Modernity, Nation, and the Baroque, Cornell University Press, 2011, p. 28: "...university officials in Frankfurt recommended that Benjamin withdraw the work from consideration as his Habilitation."
  16. Seits, Irina S. Invisible Avant-Garde and Absent Revolution: Walter Benjamin’s New Optics for Moscow Urban Space of the 1920s, in Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art: Collection of articles, vol. 8. St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Univ. Press, 2018, pp. 575–582. ISSN 2312-2129.
  17. Moscow Diary
  18. Benjamin, Walter (1968). "The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction". Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. pp. 217–253.
  19. Arendt, Hannah (1968). "Introduction". In Walter Benjamin (ed.). Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. pp. 23–24.
  20. Jay, Martin The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research 1923–1950.
  21. Leslie, Esther (2000). "Benjamin's Finale". Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism. Modern European Thinkers. Pluto Press. p. 215. ISBN   978-0-7453-1568-3 . Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  22. Lester, David (2005). "Suicide to Escape Capture: Cases". Suicide and the Holocaust. Nova Publishers. p. 74. ISBN   978-1-59454-427-9 . Retrieved August 28, 2009.
  23. "Afraid of being caught by the Gestapo while fleeing France, [Koestler] borrowed suicide pills from Walter Benjamin. He took them several weeks later when it seemed he would be unable to get out of Lisbon, but didn't die." Anne Applebaum, "Did The Death Of Communism Take Koestler And Other Literary Figures With It?" Huffington Post, 28 March 2010, URL retrieved 15 March 2012.
  24. The Guardian, July 8, 2001
  25. Washington Examiner, the mysterious death of walter benjamin
  26. haaretz.com, 2012, chronicling walter benjamins final hours
  27. van Straten, Giorgio. "Lost in migration". aeon.co. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  28. Josephson-Storm, Jason (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 226–36. ISBN   978-0-226-40336-6.
  29. 1 2 3 Manuel, Jessica S. (2019-05-13). "How Time and Space Converge to Evoke Walter Benjamin's Aura". Book Oblivion. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  30. Introducing Walter Benjamin, Howard Cargill, Alex Coles, Andrey Klimowski, 1998, p. 112
  31. Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 40.
  32. Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing. The MIT Press, 1991, p. 5.
  33. Susan Sontag Under the Sign of Saturn, p. 129.
  34. Cf. Mit Walter Benjamin. Gründungsmanifest der Internationalen Walter-Benjamin-Gesellschaft. Copyleft Verlag, Hamburg, 1968, p. 6.
  35. Hereto Helmut Salzinger: Swinging Benjamin. Verlag Michael Kellner, Hamburg 1990. ISBN   3-927623-05-9
  36. "International Walter Benjamin Society". walterbenjamin.info.
  37. Cf. WalterBenjamin.info
  38. "The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin (March 17 - August 6, 2017)". The Jewish Museum. thejewishmuseum.org. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  39. Stadtplatz aus Stein: Eröffnung der Leibniz-Kolonnaden in Berlin. (in German). May 14, 2001. BauNetz . baunetz.de. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
  40. "Walter Benjamin a Portbou". walterbenjaminportbou.cat.

Further reading

Primary literature

Secondary literature