In Memory of Walter Benjamin


Walter Benjamin’s notebook entries


Walter Benjamin’s notebook entries

The worst that one Frankfurt School theorist could say of another was that his work was insufficiently dialectical. In 1938, Adorno said it of Benjamin, who fell into a months-long depression.
I do think that Benjamin’s Arcades Project – over a thousand pages of it in this first English-language edition – is some kind of prose Communist Cantos to set beside the verse Fascist one we have…what we have in The Arcades Project is the wreckage of a book that did not get written. Hitler, exile, poverty, despondency, the fall of France, fear, flight and suicide got in the way. And maybe the project itself careered out of control before the final disaster.
Reservations of the Marvellous, a review of the Arcades Project by T.J. Clark, 1999
What Benjamin meant was that how we act in the present can change the meaning of the past. The past may not literally exist (any more than the future does), but it lives on in its consequences, which are a vital part of it. Benjamin also thought this about works of art. In his view, the meaning of a work of art is something that evolves over time. Great poems and novels are like slow-burning fuses. As they enter into new, unpredictable situations, they begin to release new meanings that the author himself could not have foreseen, any more than Goethe could have foreseen commercial television. For Benjamin, it is as though there are meanings secreted in works of art that only come to light in what one might call its future. Every great drama, sculpture or symphony, like every individual person, has a future that helps to define what it is, but which is beyond its power to determine.

So Benjamin was a postmodern theorist after all!

Did Stalin’s Killer Liquidate Walter Benjamin?, The New Statesman, July 2001

Part of the point of reading The Arcades Project, then, is being prepared to lose one’s way. I do not think reviewers should set up too many signposts, or pretend that other readers will not find quicker ways through the maze. All readers of Benjamin will have moments when they think they have got it at last. We gloat and gape and chafe at the bit, but then we think we see what the charlatan is up to – he is showing his hand at last. He can say what he means if he wants to – so why shouldn’t we?
Reservations of the Marvelous, a review of the Arcades Project by T.J. Clark, London Review of Books, 1999


One Way Street: Fragments for Walter Benjamin. 1992. Directed by John Hughes

For the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.
The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility

Looks like some bad translation!


Walter Benjamin for Children

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.
Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History (via waragainstintelligence)

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