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.
In the frenzied final years of the Weimar Republic, amid economic collapse and mourning political catastrophe, Walter Benjamin emerged as the most original practicing literary critic and public intellectual in the German-speaking world. Volume 2 of Selected Writings, covering the years 1927 to 1934, displays the full spectrum of Benjamin's achievements at this pivotal stage in his career.
Previously concerned chiefly with literary theory, Benjamin during these Years does pioneering work in new areas, from the stud of popular Culture (a discipline he virtually created) to theories of the media and the visual arts. His writings on the theory of modernity-most of them new to readers of English--develop ideas as important to an understanding of the twentieth century as an contained in his widely anthologiied essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility.
Crisis and Critique, 1930 Notes (II) Notes (III) Program for Literary Criticism Notes on a Theory of Gambling The Crisis of the Novel An Outsider Makes His Mark Theories of German Fascism Demonic Berlin Hashish, Beginning of March 1930 Julien Green Paris Diary Review of Kracauer's die Angestellten Food Bert Brecht The First Form of Criticism that Refuses to Judge From the Brecht Commentary Against a Masterpiece Myslovice--Braunschweig--Marseilles A Critique of the Publishing Industry Graphology Old and New Characterization of the New Generation The Need to Take the Mediating Character of Bourgeois Writing Seriously False Criticism Antitheses
Ibizan Sequence, 1932 Experience On Ships, Mine Shafts, and Crucifixes in Bottles On the Trail of Old Letters A Family Drama in the Epic Theater The Railway Disaster at the Firth of Tay Privileged Thinking Excavation and Memory Oedipus, or Rational Myth On Proverbs Theater and Radio Ibizan Sequence A Berlin Chronicle Spain, 1932 Light from Obscurantists The Handkerchief In the Sun The Rigorous Study of Art Hashish in Marseilles The Eve of Departure On Astrology "Try to Ensure that Everything in Life Has a Consequence" Notes (IV)
Thought Figures, 1933 The Lamp Doctrine of the Similar Short Shadows (II) Kierkegaard Stefan George in Retrospect Agesilaus Santander (First Version) Agesilaus Santander (Second Version) Antitheses Concerning Word and Name On the Mimetic Faculty Thought Figures Little Tricks of the Trade Experience and Poverty
The Author's Producer, 1934 Once Is as Good as Never The Newspaper Venal but Unusable The Present Social Situation of the French Writer The Author as Producer Notes from Svendborg, Summer 1934 Hitler's Diminished Masculinity Franz Kafka
A Note on the Texts Chronology, 1927-1934 Index
Reviews of this book: For those who know only the small selection of essays and longer texts previously translated into English, this book may be a revelation. Selected Writings: Volume 2, spanning the period from his abandonment of academia and his emergence as an important literary journalist in 1927 to his near silencing after the Nazis seized power and his exile in 1934, shows the writer at his sparkling best...All his published work of this time is included here, from a few longer essays on themes as varied as the history of photography and Kafka to three-page pieces on recent French fiction, art history, 'the crisis of the novel,' food and the effects of hashish. The new book also includes a generous selection of Benjamin's notes, diary entries and drafts. Interesting in themselves, and indispensable to anyone seeking insight into Benjamin's thinking, they also offer a view of the writer at work, developing different aspects of a thought or recycling successful paragraphs from one assignment to another. --Paul Mattick, New York Times Book Review
Reviews of this book: Volume 2 of the Harvard edition, a welcome project that I cannot praise enough, is filled with astonishingly 'annihilating trivia,' as astonishing, I dare say, as Benjamin's half-dozen fully realized monographs. Thanks to it, his luminosity, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of his premature death, is happily in focus. --Ilan Stavans, Forward
Reviews of this book: The period from 1927 to 1934 spanned in this volume was for Walter Benjamin both grievous and fertile...The range of topics and perspectives is immense. It extends from considerations on kitsch and pornography to repeated encounters, personal or indirect, with Gide, Kierkegaard and surrealism. The cultural history of toys fascinates Benjamin as he records his own Berlin childhood. Insights into 'Left-Wing Melancholy' alternate with thoughts on Mickey Mouse, on Chaplin, and on graphology, which Benjamin practised to eke out his earnings. --George Steiner, The Observer
Reviews of this book: No matter how seemingly idiosyncratic the topic, Benjamin drills deep until, almost invariably, he excavates prose that sparkles with a high specific density: hard aphoristically gem-like, and often brilliant...Benjamin's Selected Writings, Volume 2, should, I think, bowl over and beguile any who, caring about the life of the mind, have not yet succumbed to the bearish charms of this gloomy observer of his besotted times. Wherever he turned his incisive gaze the clarity of morning's first light shines forth. --Haim Chertok, Jerusalem Post
Reviews of this book: While the Harvard series [of Walter Benjamin's writings includes] Benjamin's epochal contributions to Marxist theory and literary criticism, they also do English-language readers a great service by emphasizing his more accessible writings: fanciful personal essays, journalistic articles and book reviews. These pieces are, at times, giddily delightful; at other moments, they offer lightening-quick, piercing insights. Particularly surprising are the writings on food, such as an account of buying a bunch of figs from an open-air market and consuming them all in a frenzy. Benjamin concludes that one only understands the essence of a given food when one continues to eat it past the point of disgust. --Publishers Weekly
Reviews of this book: This second volume of [Walter Benjamin's] selected writings covers all aspects of the time, with the great figures of European thought in the background. Surrealism, Russian films, Chaplin, Keller, Kafka, Gide, Proust, hashish, children's toys and literature, Hoffmansthal, travel, Goethe, Berlin life, radio talks, Stefan George--it is all here and all living...This volume cannot be praised too highly. --Gene Shaw, Library Journal
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 Lacis, 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 Lacis 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.
Reviews of this book: "The German literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, who died in 1940, was one of Europe's grandest thinkers. This diary covers only two months in the winter of 1926-1927, but it feels like a lifetime. His meticulous, almost macabre attention to detail gives his perceptions a kind of scientific brilliance, whether he is describing the streets of the city, a curious shop sign, the sanatorium where his friend Asja Lacis is a patient, the wash table in his hotel room, or the ragged beds that stand at every street corner in `the open air sick bay called Moscow.' The book is a supreme example of the kind of mental equipment any traveller would like to take with him, to any place."
--The Independent [UK]
"[An] unsurpassably quirky memoir of Bolshevik literati as Stalin consolidated power."
"In the '20s and '30s, [Benjamin] was a Jew in Berlin, a visitor to the Russian Revolution, a refugee in France, a citizen of the world in flames. More a man of letters than scholar, and more poet than either one, he wandered through Western culture as if it had been destroyed centuries earlier, and he were a revenant poking through its remains. He amassed quotations and collected books and toys, with no illusion of finding a living civilization, but seeking the artifacts of a shattered one...Love, mixed with obsession, is at the heart of Moscow Diary, the private record of Benjamin's two-month visit to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1926. Edited and with an afterword by Gary Smith and lucidly translated by Richard Sieburth, it is a many-faceted jewel: a portrait of the Russian revolution in its still unsettled transition to Stalinism, a vivid picture of Moscow life, Benjamin's intellectual journal, and above all, the tragicomic story of his pursuit of the Estonian actress, Lacis Asja."
--Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Moscow Diary is chiefly interesting not for what it tells us about Moscow during December 1926 but for what it tells us about Walter Benjamin, who has by now emerged as both a major figure in modern German literature and criticism and as the preeminent poet-historian of the modern European city. Moscow Diary is the longest of Benjamin's autobiographical writings...[Benjamin's] insights into Russia's struggle to define its cultural identity are often compelling. Above all, the Diary is the story of the triangle among Benjamin, Asja, and the expatriate German playwright Bernhard Reich. Their story of emotional instabilities and obstacles provides a fascinating counterpart to the story of Russia's cultural dilemma. The edition is superbly translated, annotated, and illustrated, and contains a fine preface and afterword."
Walter Benjamin Harvard University Press, 1996 Library of Congress PT2603.E455A26 1996 | Dewey Decimal 838.91209
Radical critic of a European civilization plunging into darkness, yet commemorator of the humane traditions of the old bourgeoisie--such was Walter Benjamin in the later 1930s. This volume, the third in a four-volume set, offers twenty-seven brilliant pieces, nineteen of which have never before been translated.
The centerpiece, A Berlin Childhood around 1900, marks the first appearance in English of one of the greatest German works of the twentieth century: a profound and beautiful account of the vanished world of Benjamin's privileged boyhood, recollected in exile. No less remarkable are the previously untranslated second version of Benjamin's most famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," with its striking insights into the relations between technology and aesthetics, and German Men and Women, a book in which Benjamin collects twenty-six letters by distinguished Germans from 1783 to 1883 in an effort to preserve what he called the true humanity of German tradition from the debasement of fascism.
Volume 3 also offers extensively annotated translations of essays that are key to Benjamin's rewriting of the story of modernism and modernity--such as "The Storyteller" and "Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century"--as well as a fascinating diary from 1938 and penetrating studies of Bertolt Brecht, Franz Kafka, and Eduard Fuchs. A narrative chronology details Benjamin's life during these four harrowing years of his exile in France and Denmark. This is an essential collection for anyone interested in his work.
Table of Contents:
Paris Old and New, 1935 Brecht's Threepenny Novel Johann Jakob Bachofen Conversation above the Corso: Recollections of Carnival-Time in Nice Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century Exchange with Theodor W. Adorno on the Essay "Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century" Problems in the Sociology of Language: An Overview The Formula in Which the Dialectical Structure of Film Finds Expression Rastelli's Story
Art In a Technological Age, 1936 The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version A Different Utopian Will The Significance of Beautiful Semblance The Signatures of the Age Theory of Distraction The Storyteller: Observations on the Works of Nikolai Leskov German Men and Women: A Sequence of Letters Letter from Paris (2): Painting and Photography Translation'For and Against The Knowledge That the First Material on Which the Mimetic Faculty Tested Itself
Dialectics and History, 1937 Addendum to the Brecht Commentary: The Threepenny Opera Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian
Fruits of Exile, 1938 (Part 1) Theological-Political Fragment A German Institute for Independent Research Review of Brod's Franz Kafka Letter to Gershom Scholem on Franz Kafka The Land Where the Proletariat May Not Be Mentioned: The Premiere of Eight One-Act Plays by Brecht Diary Entries, 1938 Berlin Childhood around 1900
Reviews of this book: This latest volume of Harvard's majestic annotated edition of the essays and fragments includes reflections on Brecht, Kafka and the collector Eduard Fuchs, an early version of the famous analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (here more accurately translated as "technological reproducibility") and the equally exhilarating inquiry into the nature of narrative, "The Storyteller." You feel smarter just holding this book in your hand. --Michael Dirda, Washington Post
Reviews of this book: Over the past few years, Harvard's systematic presentation of the work of German cultural critic Benjamin has proved a revelation...This third of four planned volumes...offers two major texts that are new to English...as well as a fascinating re-translation of one of the cornerstones of Benjamin's reputation, here rendered as the essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility"...This is another splendid volume that will leave aficionados on campus and off awaiting the final installment. --Publishers Weekly
Reviews of this book: For those who know only the small selection of essays and longer texts previously translated into English, this book may be a revelation. Volume 2 of the Selected Writings, spanning the period form Benjamin's abandonment of academia and his emergence as an important literary journalist in 1927 to his near silencing after the Nazis seized power and his exile in 1934, shows the writer at his sparkling best. --Paul Mattick, New York Times Book Review
Reviews of this book: While the Harvard Series does include Benjamin's epochal contributions to Marxist theory and literary criticism, it also does English-language readers a great service by emphasizing his more accessible writings: fanciful personal essays, journalistic articles, and book reviews. These pieces are, at times, giddily delightful; at other moments, they offer lightning-quick, piercing insights. --Publishers Weekly
"Every line we succeed in publishing today...is a victory wrested from the powers of darkness." So wrote Walter Benjamin in January 1940. Not long afterward, he himself would fall prey to those powers, a victim of suicide following a failed attempt to flee the Nazis. However insistently the idea of catastrophe hangs over Benjamin's writings in the final years of his life, the "victories wrested" in this period nonetheless constitute some of the most remarkable twentieth-century analyses of the emergence of modern society. The essays on Charles Baudelaire are the distillation of a lifetime of thinking about the nature of modernity. They record the crisis of meaning experienced by a civilization sliding into the abyss, even as they testify to Benjamin's own faith in the written word.
This volume ranges from studies of Baudelaire, Brecht, and the historian Carl Jochmann to appraisals of photography, film, and poetry. At their core is the question of how art can survive and thrive in a tumultuous time. Here we see Benjamin laying out an ethic for the critic and artist--a subdued but resilient heroism. At the same time, he was setting forth a sociohistorical account of how art adapts in an age of violence and repression.
Working at the height of his powers to the very end, Benjamin refined his theory of the mass media that culminated in the final version of his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility." Also included in this volume is his influential piece "On the Concept of History," completed just before his death. The book is remarkable for its inquiry into the nature of "the modern" (especially as revealed in Baudelaire), for its ideas about the transmogrification of art and the radical discontinuities of history, and for its examples of humane life and thought in the midst of barbarism. The entire collection is eloquent testimony to the indomitable spirit of humanity under siege.
On Some Motifs in Baudelaire "The Regression of Poetry," by Carl Gustav Jochmann Curriculum Vitae (VI): Dr. Walter Benjamin On Scheerbart On the Concept of History Paralipomena to "On the Concept of History" Letter to Theodor W. Adorno on Baudelaire, George, and Hofmannsthal
A Note on the Texts Chronology List of Writings in Volumes 1-4 Index
Reviews of this book: Harvard's systematic presentation of the work of German cultural critic Benjamin has proved a revelation...This is another splendid volume. --Publishers Weekly
Reviews of this book: Readers new to Benjamin will find this a welcome introduction to a challenging but rewarding writer. Those already familiar with his work will be grateful to be reminded, once again, of the wisdom of his maxium, "all the decisive blows are struckleft-handed." --Graham McCann, Financial Times
Reviews of this book: The edition at hand...represents the first serious attempt to present his works with systematic chronology, judicious but inclusive selection, and sensitively accurate translation. The effect is nothing less than electric. --Peter Brier, Macgrill's Literary Annual
Reviews of this book: The latest volume of Havard's majestic annoted edition [is] exhilarating...You feel smarter just holding this book in your hand. --Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World
Reviews of this book: Whenever [Benjamin] turned his incisive gaze...the clarity of morning's first light shines forth. --Haim Chertok, Jerusalem Post
Reviews of this book: A glance at the table of contents...shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety. --Marshall Berman, The Nation
Reviews of this book: There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year. --David Wheatley, Irish Times (Dublin)
Reviews of this book: The final volume in this collection of the German philosopher's writing, this title covers the last three years of Benjamin's life and is masterfully translated, edited, and annotated. Presented here are Benjamin's grandest themes: the arcades of Paris, Baudelaire, the concept of remembrance, and materialist theology. Also included is the third version of Benjamin's most famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," which was unpublished in the author's lifetime. This essay alone makes the volume indispensable for any scholar of interwar literature, philosophy, or modern European thought. Together with the first three volumes in the set (1996-2002), this is one of the most remarkable editorial achievements in contemporary thought and politics. --M. Uebel, Choice
Reviews of this book: Walter Benjamin's Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-40 brings to a conclusion the magisterial series published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. --Ciaran Carson, The Guardian