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A Companion to the Works of Walter Benjamin

A Companion to the Works of Walter Benjamin

Edited by Rolf J. Goebel
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 328
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    A Companion to the Works of Walter Benjamin
    Book Description:

    Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) has emerged as one of the leading cultural critics of the twentieth century. His work encompasses aesthetics, metaphysical language and narrative theories, German literary history, philosophies of history, the intersection of Marxism and Messianic thought, urban topography, and the development of photography and film. Benjamin defined the task of the critic as one that blasts endangered moments of the past out of the continuum of history so that they attain new significance. This volume of new essays employs this principle of actualization as its methodological program in offering a new advanced introduction to Benjamin's own work. The essays analyze Benjamin's central texts, themes, terminologies, and genres in their original contexts while simultaneously situating them in new parameters, such as contemporary media, memory culture, constructions of gender, postcoloniality, and theories of urban topographies. The Companion brings together an international group of established and emerging scholars to explicate Benjamin's actuality from a multidisciplinary perspective. Designed for audiences interested in literary criticism, cultural studies, and neighboring disciplines, the volume serves as a stimulus for new debates about Benjamin's intellectual legacy today. Contributors: Dominik Finkelde, Wolfgang Bock, Bernd Witte, Lutz Koepnick, Eric Jarosinski, Karl Ivan Solibakke, Marc de Wilde, Vivian Liska, Willi Bolle, Dianne Chisholm, Adrian Daub. Rolf J. Goebel is Professor of German at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-727-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    R. J. G.
  4. Sources of Benjamin’s Works
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chronology of Benjamin’s Major Works
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Benjamin’s Actuality
    (pp. 1-22)
    Rolf J. Goebel

    Is our time — late capitalist postmodernity in the age of globalizing politics and digital media — particularly destined to actualize Walter Benjamin?¹ If one understands actuality (Aktualität) to be a critical moment in which something or somebody in the past becomes simultaneously real and current for the present, and by actualization (Aktualisierung) the historically contingent process of bringing about this actuality, then the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.” As even the most casual Internet surfing will show immediately, Benjamin’s texts and images are everywhere, at least in cyberspace. But as with any apparently obvious answer, the very terms of...

  7. 1: Walter Benjamin’s Criticism of Language and Literature
    (pp. 23-45)
    Wolfgang Bock

    In Walter Benjamin’s intellectual physiognomy, criticism plays a leading role: one finds the term in many of his writings, and many of the books and articles about him bear the words “critique” or “critic” in their titles.¹ He established himself as a leading critic of language as well as of literature and art during the Weimar Republic until his suicide in 1940. Every text by Walter Benjamin is a textonlanguage, expressed in a certain wayinlanguage. In “Notiz über ein Gespräch mit Béla Ballasz” (“Notes on a Conversation with Béla Balász”) he refers to a characterization of...

  8. 2: The Presence of the Baroque: Benjamin’s Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels in Contemporary Contexts
    (pp. 46-69)
    Dominik Finkelde

    Die Arbeit des Herrn Dr. Benjamin . . . ist überaus schwer zu lesen. Es werden eine Menge Wörter verwendet, deren Sinn zu erläutern der Verfasser nicht für erforderlich hält.”¹ (The work of Dr. Benjamin . . . is excessively difficult to read. A lot of words are used whose sense the author does not feel obliged to explain.) These are the first words of a review written by the scholar Hans Cornelius in 1925, at a time when Benjamin was trying to obtain the academic title of professor at the University of Frankfurt.

    And Cornelius’s judgment is right. The...

  9. 3: Lost Orders of the Day: Benjamin’s Einbahnstraße
    (pp. 70-90)
    Wolfgang Bock

    Walter Benjamin’sEinbahnstrasse(One-Way Street,written 1923–26, published 1928) is a collection of longer and shorter aphorisms and aperçus. It starts with a dedication that is more or less an aphorism itself:

    Diese Straße heißt


    Nach der die sie

    Als Ingenieur

    Im Autor durchgebrochen hat (GSIV. 1: 83)

    [This street is named

    Asja Lacis Street

    after her who

    as an engineer

    cut it through the author (SW1: 444)]

    When Benjamin wrote this passage, it was intended as a promise for a better life. Starting in the 1920s, Benjamin developed a new interest in Marxism, which had...

  10. 4: Literature as the Medium of Collective Memory: Reading Benjamin’s Einbahnstraße, “Der Erzähler,” and “Das Paris des Second Empire bei Baudelaire”
    (pp. 91-111)
    Bernd Witte

    Walter Benjamin was first introduced to postwar Germany by Theodor W. Adorno as one of the initiators of the Frankfurt School of Social Philosophy. As an unorthodox Marxist he was later chosen by the generation of the 1968 revolts to be one of their predecessors. Alternatively, Gershom Scholem emphasized the Jewish and metaphysical roots in Benjamin’s intellectual legacy. Ultimately, though, he was discovered by a large readership as the theoretical force behind a non-auratic concept of art, and this has been the basis for his international reputation. Today his fame rests on his having shaped the theoretical basis for and...

  11. 5: Benjamin in the Age of New Media
    (pp. 112-129)
    Lutz Koepnick

    Upon entering the main exhibition venue of the 2007 Documenta in Kassel, visitors to the Fridericianum first encountered a rather unexpected sight: Paul Klee’s 1920 paintingAngelus Novus,famous mostly of course because of Walter Benjamin’s penetrating interpretation of the work as an allegorical depiction of the melancholic angel of history, trying to pay tribute to what has been smashed in the catastrophic course of modern time. Klee’s painting in fact is now inextricably bound to what Benjamin wrote about it in the last months of his life. To look at it is to hear Benjamin’s voice; to cast our...

  12. 6: One Little Rule: On Benjamin, Autobiography, and Never Using the Word “I”
    (pp. 130-152)
    Eric Jarosinski

    To read Walter Benjamin’s autobiographical writings is to engage with much more, and much less, than the story of his life. What they might lack in coherent detail, especially in regard to Benjamin’s adult life, is an absence indicative of the many questions they articulate about the identity of the self, the nature of experience, and the possibility of giving expression to both within modernity. While the figure of Benjamin has assumed numerous guises in the now nearly seventy years since his death in 1940 — among them, the Marxist critic, the Jewish mystic, the “last European” — the image he presents...

  13. 7: The Passagen-Werk Revisited: The Dialectics of Fragmentation and Reconfiguration in Urban Modernity
    (pp. 153-176)
    Karl Ivan Solibakke

    Since its publication in 1982 Walter Benjamin’sPassagen-Werk(The Arcades Project) has become an essential compendium of nineteenth-century modernism in European intellectual history and an exhaustive though fragmentary inquiry into the emergence of bourgeois urban culture between the Revolution of 1830 and the Paris Commune in 1871. Compiled in the years between 1927 and the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, the material the German-Jewish cultural critic drew together laid the groundwork for what was to have been a definitive monograph on Paris during the central decades of the nineteenth century. Transforming geographic space into a matrix of text, Benjamin...

  14. 8: Benjamin’s Politics of Remembrance: A Reading of “Über den Begriff der Geschichte”
    (pp. 177-194)
    Marc de Wilde

    The task of actualizing Walter Benjamin’s political thought confronts us with a problem: many of the positions that he himself, writing in the 1920s and 1930s, regarded as necessary and critical must seem to us, reading him in the twenty-first century, to have become outdated and unacceptable. What are we to think, for example, of his admiration for the revolution’s law-destroying violence, his eulogy of the sacrifice, and his attack on parliamentary democracy? And, more fundamentally, what are we to think of his defense of Communism, and his plea for a political messianism? Even some of Benjamin’s most generous readers...

  15. 9: The Legacy of Benjamin’s Messianism: Giorgio Agamben and Other Contenders
    (pp. 195-215)
    Vivian Liska

    In the opening lines of his seminal essay “Bewußtmachende oder rettende Kritik,”¹ published in 1973 on the occasion of Benjamin’s eightieth birthday, Jürgen Habermas locates the relevance of Benjamin’s work in the conflicts it continues to raise among those who consider themselves close to his philosophical and political vision. Habermas recognizes a direct continuity between the battle lines defining the reception of Benjamin’s writings since their publication in the fifties and sixties and the divergent political positions that had an impact on him in his lifetime. These positions were, for Habermas, embodied by Benjamin’s friends Gershom Scholem, Theodor W. Adorno,...

  16. 10: Paris on the Amazon? Postcolonial Interrogations of Benjamin’s European Modernism
    (pp. 216-245)
    Willi Bolle

    The first publication of Walter Benjamin’sPassagen-Werk(The Arcades Project; GSV. 1 and V. 2)¹ in Latin America — the Brazilian edition, launched in 2006 under the titlePassagens² — promises, together with the Spanish version published in 2005 in Barcelona, to inaugurate a new phase of reception on this continent. In this context I wish to inquire into the usefulness and significance of Benjamin’s study on the European metropolis of Paris for a better understanding of huge cities on the “periphery” of the world, such as Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Ciudad de Mexico, and São Paulo. To what degree,...

  17. 11: Benjamin’s Gender, Sex, and Eros
    (pp. 246-272)
    Dianne Chisholm

    Pivotal movements of Benjamin’s thought are modulated by his critical, if convoluted, attention to gender, sex, and Eros. Images of esoteric love, male impotence, mass prostitution, feminine fashion, utopian lesbianism, and androgyny and hermaphroditism help formulate Benjamin’s larger philosophical preoccupations with language, history, technology, metropolitan culture and society, and even with such messianic matters as awakening and redemption. They appear as recurrent motifs that evolve over the course of his oeuvre, from the earliest meditations on Eros and language in “Metaphysik der Jugend” (“The Metaphysics of Youth,” 1913–14) and on modernity’s unprecedented transformation of sex in “Über Liebe und...

  18. 12: Sonic Dreamworlds: Benjamin, Adorno, and the Phantasmagoria of the Opera House
    (pp. 273-294)
    Adrian Daub

    If there is such a thing as “popular imagination” among cultural theorists, then Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno have come to occupy nearly opposite positions in it. Benjamin, theflâneur,the collector, the producer of fragments, hero of the academic precariate; Adorno, the professor, the secret (or not-so-secret) systematician, the comfortable resident of the “Grand Hotel ‘Abgrund,’” the fuddy-duddy felled by a couple of bare breasts. And yet it is the very lectures at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research that the infamousBusenaktioninterrupted¹ that at times find Adorno practicing the hermeneutics commonly associated with Benjamin: distraction, illumination,flânerie....

  19. Select Bibliography and List of Further Reading
    (pp. 295-298)
  20. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 299-302)
  21. Index
    (pp. 303-314)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-315)