In Memory of Walter Benjamin

In spite of Benjamin’s lifelong preoccupation with theology and politics, English-speaking readers have largely concentrated on his literary criticism and ignored his philosophical writings, which have been central to his readers on the continent. The sorry state of English editions of his works has only perpetuated our provinciality in this regard. A second collection of essays chosen by Arendt was published in 1978, three years after her death, under the title Reflections, and, in the years since, two of Benjamin’s three completed books have appeared in English, along with a few collections containing newly translated essays. These publications, however, are only a small fraction of Benjamin’s writings.

Despite the lack of material—or perhaps because of it—an enormous Anglo-American industry of post-structuralist and postmodernist interpretation has grown up around the translations we have, distorting Benjamin’s real concerns. Apart from specialists familiar with the German background to his work, English-speaking readers are probably no closer to understanding Benjamin’s writings than they were when Hannah Arendt first introduced him in America over twenty-five years ago.

"The Riddle of Walter Benjamin" by Mark Lilah
From the New York Review of Books

Maybe his works are untranslatable? Maybe the task is too large?

Since this piece was published in 1995, more of Benjamin’s works have been translated into English, including four volumes of writing published by Harvard University Press, available at Amazon.


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