Four Jews on Parnassus -- A Conversation

Four Jews on Parnassus -- A Conversation: Benjamin, Adorno, Scholem, Schönberg [With Music CD]

CARL DJERASSI
ILLUSTRATIONS BY GABRIELE SEETHALER
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/djer14654
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  • Book Info
    Four Jews on Parnassus -- A Conversation
    Book Description:

    This book features a CD of rarely performed music, including a specially commissioned rap by Erik Weiner of Walter Benjamin's "Thesis on the Philosophy of History."

    Theodor W. Adorno was the prototypical German Jewish non-Jew, Walter Benjamin vacillated between German Jew and Jewish German, Gershom Scholem was a committed Zionist, and Arnold Schönberg converted to Protestantism for professional reasons but later returned to Judaism. Carl Djerassi, himself a refugee from Hitler's Austria, dramatizes a dialogue between these four men in which they discuss fraternity, religious identity, and legacy as well as reveal aspects of their lives-notably their relations with their wives-that many have ignored, underemphasized, or misrepresented.

    The desire for canonization and the process by which it is obtained are the underlying themes of this dialogue, with emphasis on Paul Klee's Angelus Novus (1920), a canonized work that resonated deeply with Benjamin, Adorno, and Scholem (and for which Djerassi and Gabrielle Seethaler present a revisionist and richly illustrated interpretation). Basing his dialogue on extensive archival research and interviews, Djerassi concludes with a daring speculation on the putative contents of Benjamin's famous briefcase, which disappeared upon his suicide.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51830-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Philosophy, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. 1. FOUR MEN
    (pp. 1-18)

    Parnassus is a commonly accepted metaphor for the ultimate recognition of literary, musical, or intellectual achievement. Arrival on this exalted peak demonstrates that the process of canonization is complete. In the final analysis, the underlying theme in the following conversational quintet is an examination of the desire for canonization and the process whereby it is achieved. Among my four protagonists, solely Walter Benjamin—now considered to be one of the most important and influential philosophers and socioliterary critics of the twentieth century—ascended Parnassus posthumously. The other three had reached Parnassus while still alive. At the time of his suicide...

  6. 2. FOUR WIVES
    (pp. 19-74)

    As Adorno implied in his concluding sentence, readers interested in famous men are invariably interested in their private lives. The correspondence of Adorno, Benjamin, and Scholem with each other or with friends, at times also with parents or lovers, has been published in many volumes. In the case of Schönberg, over twenty thousand letters are extant in several repositories. But where is the correspondence with their wives? It isn’t that the spouses did not correspond with each other; most of them were addicted letter writers. Does this mean that the letters were not preserved through mere sloppiness? Destroyed out of...

  7. 3. ONE ANGEL (BY PAUL KLEE)
    (pp. 75-106)

    An important thread that ran for many years through the friendship of Benjamin, Scholem, and Adorno was a preoccupation with a drawing by Paul Klee, the Angelus Novus of 1920. Benjamin owned this drawing; after his death it passed to Adorno and then to Scholem. Klee, who died in the same year (1940) as Benjamin, created over nine thousand works in his lifetime, but while the Angelus Novus is both aesthetically appealing and conceptually intriguing, artistically it is by no means one of Klee’s major works. Yet the Angelus Novus is among Klee’s most famous creations, because Benjamin featured it...

  8. 4. FOUR JEWS
    (pp. 107-144)

    As is already clear from the title of my book, Jewish identity is the key theme. In this chapter I address the nuanced question of what it means to be a Jew in the nonreligious sense: to the non-Jewish outsider and, even more important, to the specific Jew under the magnifying glass, where Jewish identity can range from proud acknowledgment or tacit admission to devious denial. The topic is debated from the viewpoints of four very verbal and very different Jews, as well as that of a fifth silent “Jew.” In many respects, it is the meaning of the quotation...

  9. 5. BENJAMIN’S GRIP
    (pp. 145-176)

    Up to this point in Four Jews on Parnassus, all exchanges among the Parnassians were based on historically grounded facts—on archival materials and published documentation that has appeared in a flood that, at least in the case of Benjamin, shows no indication of slackening. But in this final chapter we are entering the realm of speculation, starting with the question of Benjamin’s death. Did he really commit suicide on September 26, 1940, or did something more nefarious occur, possibly murder, as is implied in the oral testimony of some rather aged Spanish contemporaries shown in David Mauas’s documentary film...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 177-178)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 179-188)
  12. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 189-194)
  13. BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. ILLUSTRATION SOURCES
    (pp. 197-204)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-212)