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Benjamin's Library

Benjamin's Library: Modernity, Nation, and the Baroque

Jane O. Newman
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Benjamin's Library
    Book Description:

    In Benjamin's Library, Jane O. Newman offers, for the first time in any language, a reading of Walter Benjamin's notoriously opaque work, Origin of the German Tragic Drama that systematically attends to its place in discussions of the Baroque in Benjamin's day. Taking into account the literary and cultural contexts of Benjamin's work, Newman recovers Benjamin's relationship to the ideologically loaded readings of the literature and political theory of the seventeenth-century Baroque that abounded in Germany during the political and economic crises of the Weimar years.

    To date, the significance of the Baroque for Origin of the German Tragic Drama has been glossed over by students of Benjamin, most of whom have neither read it in this context nor engaged with the often incongruous debates about the period that filled both academic and popular texts in the years leading up to and following World War I. Armed with extraordinary historical, bibliographical, philological, and orthographic research, Newman shows the extent to which Benjamin participated in these debates by reconstructing the literal and figurative history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books that Benjamin analyzes and the literary, art historical and art theoretical, and political theological discussions of the Baroque with which he was familiar. In so doing, she challenges the exceptionalist, even hagiographic, approaches that have become common in Benjamin studies. The result is a deeply learned book that will infuse much-needed life into the study of one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6088-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Benjamin’s Baroque: A Lost Object?
    (pp. 1-22)

    Herder’s claim already more than two hundred years ago that the history of the Baroque is “obscure” is just as accurate in the early twenty-first century as it was in his day, this in spite of the enormous amount of attention devoted by literary, art historical, and art theoretical scholars to both the period (c. 1550–1700) and its styles in the intervening years.¹ Benjamin’s Library thus engages in a “critical” task in the sense in which Benjamin uses that term in his “Elective Affi nities” essay, taking as its subject the Baroque that becomes visible in a careful reading...

  2. 1 Inventing the Baroque: A Critical History of Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Debates
    (pp. 23-76)

    In 1935, just seven years after Benjamin’s book on the German tragic drama appeared, the Paris publishing house Gallimard released a slim volume entitled Du baroque (On the Baroque) by the Spanish philosopher and man of letters Eugenio d’Ors. Midway through the book, d’Ors indicates, in an idiosyncratic chart entitled “Genre: Barocchus” (161), that the Baroque is far more than an “oddly shaped pearl” or “the fourth mode of the second figure in the scholastic nomenclature of syllogisms” that René Wellek would famously cite, but then reject, as possible definitions some ten years later in his “The Concept of Baroque...

  3. 2 The Plays Are the Thing: Textual Politics and the German Drama
    (pp. 77-137)

    In addition to being the subject of important art theoretical and literaryhistorical debates during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Baroque texts were crucial as material objects to the enterprise undertaken during these same years to define and celebrate the period as something other than a foreign Renaissance’s poor cousin. It is to these print objects, and to the multiple editorial ideologies, anthologization practices, and translation projects that constructed the Baroque as an object of the national imagination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that I now turn. It is well known that Benjamin was himself a...

  4. 3 Melancholy Germans: War Theology, Allegory, and the Lutheran Baroque
    (pp. 138-184)

    In the last prewar summer of 1913, Benjamin wrote to his friend Franz Sachs about a visit to the Basel art museum with his mother. The young university student describes, in somewhat puzzling fashion, his viewing there of the “originals of some of the most famous of Dürer’s graphic oeuvre: The Knight, Death, and the Devil, Melancholy, Jerome and many others. . . . Now, for the first time, I understand Dürer’s power, and the Melancholy above all is an inexpressibly deep and expressive piece.” Benjamin also describes works by Holbein and Grünewald. It may well have been this sheer...

  5. Conclusion: Baroque Legacies: National Socialism’s Benjamin
    (pp. 185-204)

    The preface to Benjamin’s Library began with a quote from Benjamin’s essay “Literary History and the Study of Literature” (1931). I repeat that quote below because of its aptness as an introduction to the discordant image called up by the title of my conclusion, in which I discuss a particularly uncanny afterlife for Benjamin’s Baroque. This post-Benjaminian version of the Baroque resonates uneasily, however, with some of the same issues that he addresses in the Tragic Drama book, namely the ability of “works,” both literal Baroque texts and the ideas associated with them, to play a role in arguments about...