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.
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.
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’s “Critique of Violence,” widely considered his final word on law, proposes that all manifestations of law are false stand-ins for divine principles of truth and justice that are no longer available to human beings. However, he also suggests that we must have law—we are held under a divine sanction that does not allow us to escape our responsibilities. James R. Martel argues that this paradox is resolved by considering that, for Benjamin, there is only one law that we must obey absolutely—the Second Commandment against idolatry. What remains of law when its false bases of authority are undermined would be a form of legal and political anarchism, quite unlike the current system of law based on consistency and precedent.
Martel engages with the ideas of key authors including Alain Badiou, Immanuel Kant, and H.L.A. Hart in order to revisit common contemporary assumptions about law. He reveals how, when treated in constellation with these authors, Benjamin offers a way for human beings to become responsible for their own law, thereby avoiding the false appearance of a secular legal practice that remains bound by occult theologies and fetishisms.
“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.
Howard Eiland Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress PT2603.E455Z6455 2013 | Dewey Decimal 838.91209
Walter Benjamin was perhaps the twentieth century's most elusive intellectual. His writings defy categorization, and his improvised existence has proven irresistible to mythologizers. In a major new biography, Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings present a comprehensive portrait of the man and his times, as well as extensive commentary on his work.
Eli Friedlander Harvard University Press, 2011 Library of Congress B3209.B584F75 2011 | Dewey Decimal 193
Walter Benjamin is often viewed as a cultural critic who produced a vast array of brilliant, 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 finds an overarching coherence and a deep-seated commitment to engage the philosophical tradition.
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.
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.
Walter Benjamin is today regarded as one of the leading thinkers of the twentieth century. Often captured in pensive pose, his image is now that of a serious intellectual. But Benjamin was also a fan of the comedies of Adolphe Menjou, Mickey Mouse, and Charlie Chaplin. As an antidote to repressive civilization, he developed, through these figures, a theory of laughter. Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Film is the first monograph to thoroughly analyse Benjamin's film writings, contextualizing them within his oeuvre whilst also paying attention to the various films, actors, and directors that sparked his interest. The book situates all these writings with Benjamin's 'anthropological materialism', a concept that analyses the transformations of the human sensorium through technology. Through the term 'innervation', Benjamin thought of film spectatorship as an empowering reception that, through a rush of energy, would form a collective body within the audience, interpenetrating a liberated technology into the distracted spectators. Benjamin's writings on Soviet film and German cinema, Charlie Chaplin, and Mickey Mouse are analysed in relation to this posthuman constellation that Benjamin had started to dream of in the early twenties, long before he started to theorize about films.