Working with Walter Benjamin

Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy

Andrew Benjamin
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Working with Walter Benjamin
    Book Description:

    This book provides a highly original approach to the writings of the twentieth-century German philosopher Walter Benjamin by one of his most distinguished readers. It develops the idea of 'working with' Benjamin, seeking both to read his corpus and to put it to work - to show how a reading of Benjamin can open up issues that may not themselves be immediately at stake in his texts. The defining elements in Benjamin's writings that Andrew Benjamin isolates - history, experience, translation, technical reproducibility and politics - are put to work; that is, their utility is established in engaging the works of others. The question is how utility is understood. As Andrew Benjamin argues, utility involves demonstrating the different ways in which Benjamin is a central thinker within the project of understanding the nature of modernity. This is best achieved by noting connections and points of differentiation between his work and the writings of Adorno and Heidegger. However, the more demanding project is that 'working with' Benjamin necessitates deploying the implicit assumptions within his writings as well as demanding of his formulations more than is provided by their initial presentation. What is at stake is not the application of Benjamin's thought. Rather what counts is its use.Working with Benjamin engages with the themes central to Benjamin's work with deftness, daring and critical insight while at the same time situating those themes within current academic and cultural debates.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3435-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    So wrote Benjamin inOne-Way Street.To introduce a work that is orientated around the possibility of Benjamin’s philosophical project having an effective afterlife is an undertaking that is marked by a number of inherent difficulties. The difficulties do not stem from the presence or absence of ‘competence’. On the contrary these difficulties become clear once there is an attempt to avoid subordinating Benjamin’s work to moral or political frameworks where the latter are based on a refusal to allow the complexities and the nuances within his own work to emerge. What has to be maintained is the ‘left-handed blow’.²...

  5. Chapter 1 Opening
    (pp. 15-45)

    Dates may reveal very little. Attributing a productive centrality to specific dates therefore could only ever have force if these dates had already become the site of a form of attribution rather than an origin. In other words, dates have force, and can only have force, retroactively. And yet, within the parameters created by such a setting dates retain a type of exigency. Almost directly after the Russian revolution and in the aftermath of what could be described as the ‘failure’ of the German revolution, Walter Benjamin wrote a number of highly significant texts.¹ They are all positioned in relation...

  6. Chapter 2 The Meaning of Time in the Moral World
    (pp. 46-68)

    The first text to be taken up is an unpublished ‘fragment’ written in 1921. It will allow for the development of this project insofar as it will allow for a more systematic staging of the interconnection between destruction and morality. (The latter is what has already been referred to in terms of the presence of an implicit conception of value defined in terms of life and the ‘not-yet-attained condition of the just man’.) This connection can be taken a stage further by noting that destruction is itself bound up with the process of critique. Indeed, it can be argued that...

  7. Chapter 3 Fate and Character
    (pp. 69-93)

    With the setting created by the way in which thecaesura of allowingemerges within the framework created by Benjamin’s short fragmentary textThe Meaning of Time in the Moral World,it becomes possible to turn to another central text written at more or less the same time, namelyFate and Character (Schicksal und Charakter ).¹ That the terms ‘fate’ and ‘character’ will have already had their own historical registration is true by definition. Were that registration both to continue and their meanings to continue to be determined in advance, it would then be the case that as terms their...

  8. Chapter 4 Towards a Critique of Violence
    (pp. 94-143)

    The project of this chapter is to stage an engagement with Walter Benjamin’sTowards a Critique of Violence,a text whose structure is far more a series of overlapping elements than the presence of sustained and deliberate argumentation.¹ Hence,Towards a Critique of Violence,were it to be read properly, demands that attention be paid to its own structuring force and thus its own complex form of argumentation.² Moreover, attending to the text has another exigency here. There has to be an engagement that is consistent with the constitutive elements of this overall project, namely, that integral to the recovery...

  9. Chapter 5 Theological-Political Fragment
    (pp. 144-161)

    The title –Theological-Political Fragment– to the extent that titles are intended to name, will have always been a problem. Its provenance endures as a question. Nonetheless, it can still be argued that what this particular title stages is far from problematic. The title harbours a twofold demand. In the first instance it repeats the overriding claim that accompanies the project of recovery, namely that the theological has to be understood in terms of its radical differentiation from religion. In the second, there is the project of understanding the political within the space created by that separation. That space is the...

  10. Chapter 6 On the Concept of History
    (pp. 162-202)

    Even if it were possible to claim that Benjamin’sOn the Concept of Historyis simply a text to be read and understood, it will still be the case that it is a text whose presence will have complicated the demands of most strategies positioned within theories of reading.¹ Hence the question: what is it to read a disjointed text? For some, in attempting to answer that question the usual equivocations about Benjamin’s relation to philosophy will be raised. As though there was an already determined sense of what comprised philosophy’s presentation. Benjamin’s texts present – for philosophy, from within philosophy...

  11. Appendix A Boredom and Distraction: The Moods of Modernity
    (pp. 203-221)
  12. Appendix B Benjamin and the Baroque: Posing the Question of Historical Time
    (pp. 222-243)
  13. Appendix C The Illusion of the Future: Notes on Benjamin and Freud
    (pp. 244-254)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-263)
  15. Index
    (pp. 264-266)