Constellation: Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin in the Now-Time of History

Constellation: Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin in the Now-Time of History

James McFarland
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Constellation: Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin in the Now-Time of History
    Book Description:

    Constellation is the first extended exploration of the relationship between Walter Benjamin, the Weimar-era revolutionary cultural critic, and the radical philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The affinity between these noncontemporaneous thinkers serves as a limit case manifesting the precariousness and potentials of cultural transmission in a disillusioned present. In five chapters, Constellation presents the changing figure of Nietzsche as Benjamin encountered him: an inspiration to his student activism, an authority for his skeptical philology, a manifestation of his philosophical nihilism, a companion in his political exile, and ultimately a subversive collaborator in his efforts to think beyond the hopeless temporality--new and always the same--of the present moment in history. By excavating this neglected relationship philologically and elaborating its philosophical implications in the surviving texts of both men, Constellation produces new and compelling readings of their works and through them triangulates a theoretical limit in the present, a fractured "now-time" suspended between madness and suicide, from which the collective future regains a measure of consequential and transformative vitality.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5045-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XVI)
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  6. Introduction: Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Nietzsche
    (pp. 1-15)

    At 10 o’clock on 22 May 1934, in a dim Paris room, Walter Benjamin injected 20 mg of mescaline into his thigh, one of the last of the drug experiments he had engaged in since the late 1920s. A protocol of the trip was recorded by his friend Fritz Fränkel. It is an arresting document. The gestures of controlled empirical psychology provide a sober framework for the narrative: Fränkel administers Rorschach tests, describes Benjamin’s gestures in minute detail, registers his disconnected remarks. But the strained objectivity cannot eliminate the bohemian resonances round this garret exploration and the man undertaking it....

  7. CHAPTER ONE Mortal Youth
    (pp. 16-66)

    Taking, for reasons that will prove to be not wholly arbitrary, 8 August 1914 as aterminus ad quemfor the juvenilia in Benjamin’s oeuvre, we face a heterogeneous body of material. Some twenty essays, a few primitive verses, the first pages of a novella, ninety-one letters, several travel diaries, scattered fragments on philosophical topics, a book review, a curriculum vitae. Only one piece is an academic assignment: a discussion of Grillparzer’s “Sappho” written in connection with Benjamin’sAbitur.¹ The two distinctive features that make a task instructional in this academic sense—inconsequence and standardization—are in fact what these...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Presentation
    (pp. 67-102)

    Exposed by Zarathustra to the origin of Heinle’s ultimately suicidal stance, the Nietzsche of the youthful facies explodes into Benjamin’s mature writing with the full force of catastrophe. As youth’s displaced prophet, Nietzsche had exemplified a superhuman confidence of expression whose genuine manifestation in the present Benjamin took to be a condition of contemporary cultural renewal. At the same time, Nietzsche’s writings themselves remained fraught with dangers, advocating a naturalism and an individualism that could derail the militancy of youth and serving as the original for a vacant and self-aggrandizing pose within adult culture. As Benjamin reoriented and deepened his...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Inscription
    (pp. 103-166)

    We owe the oldest formulation of the paradox of the Cretan not to a philosopher but to an apostle. Paul, in his Epistle to Titus, warns the acolyte: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true” (Titus 1:12-13). The formal implications of the remark were perhaps not foremost in his mind. The implicit contradiction, however, has troubled philosophy throughout the intervening two millennia. Is the Cretan lying or is he telling the truth? In its simpler version, the paradox has the Cretan Epimenides (to whom...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Collaboration
    (pp. 167-207)

    Benjamin published two aphoristic sequences under the title “Short Shadows,” the first in November of 1929 in theNeue Schweitzer Rundschau, and the second in 1933 in theKölnische Zeitung. These two sequences have only one aphorism in common, the short concluding thought-image [Denkbild] that itself bears the title of the sequence.

    Short Shadows. Toward noon, shadows are no more than the sharp, black edges at the feet of things, prepared to retreat silently, unnoticed, into their burrow, into their secret. Then, in its compressed, cowering fullness, comes the hour of Zarathustra—the thinker in “the noon of life” [“Lebensmittag”],...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Mad Maturity
    (pp. 208-248)

    Benjamin’s youthful works approach theory from the orator’s stage. The position of the public speaker, hortatorily engaged with a collective audience on the basis of a prepared text: This is the situation implicit in the posture of the youthful facies and through which its conceptual apparatus is directed and then explicated. This, too, is the essential posture of Kraus, manifested directly in the public performances of Shakespeare and Offenbach that Benjamin stresses in his reading of the satirist. The performance, though congruent with the network of conventional expectations supporting living speech acts, is not subsumed into them, but occurs along...

  12. Conclusion: Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin
    (pp. 249-262)

    In January of 1886, as Friedrich Nietzsche struggled to negotiate the private printing of forty-five copies ofZarathustra’sfinal book, the Scotch author Robert Louis Stevenson brought out a hugely successful story:Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Its germ, like the germ of Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein, had come to him in a vivid dream. Countless cinematic visualizations have hardly exhausted the force of the tale’s central image: the accomplished if stuffy doctor imbibing a volatile tincture and transforming into his snarling alter ego. The birth of the bestial protégé, in an obscene induced masculine labor, seems to...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 263-300)
    (pp. 301-310)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 311-326)