Walter Benjamin (Critical Lives)

Walter Benjamin (Critical Lives)

Esther Leslie

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: 1861893434

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Drawing upon a wealth of journal writings and personal correspondence, Esther Leslie presents a uniquely intimate portrait of one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin. She sets his life in the context of his middle-class upbringing; explores the social, political, and economic upheaval in Germany during and after World War I; and recounts Benjamin’s eccentric love of toys, trick-books, travel, and ships. From the Frankfurt School and his influential friendships with Theodore Adorno, Gershom Scholem, and Bertolt Brecht, to his travels across Europe, Walter Benjamin traces out the roots of Benjamin’s groundbreaking writings and their far-reaching impact in his own time. Leslie argues that Benjamin’s life challenges the stereotypical narrative of the tragic and lonely intellectual figure—instead positioning him as a man who relished the fierce combat of competing theories and ideas.
Closing with his death at the Spanish-French border in a desperate flight from the Nazis and Stalin, Walter Benjamin is a concise and concentrated account of a capacious intellect trapped by hostile circumstances.

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determinism of fate and its guilt complex. Benjamin’s treatise approvingly cited Hermann Cohen, whose thought fused Neo-Kantianism and Judaism and formed a reference point for Benjamin in those years. Another stimulus was Ernst Bloch. Hugo Ball introduced Benjamin to Bloch, who was living nearby in Interlaken. Bloch later recalled Benjamin’s ‘secluded life’, spent ‘up to his ears in books’.18 One of those books was Bloch’s Geist der Utopie. On 19 September 1919 Benjamin informed Schoen that he

Intellect was the aspect around which the school revolved, quite unlike the experience at the Kaiser-Friedrich school, which left its residue in unpleasantly recalled images of selfish and smelly bourgeois boys thrusting themselves up and down stairwells, their sporty and energetic bodies clumping into a massed and violent form from which Benjamin was excluded. The boys and girls under Wyneken’s influence were encouraged in their idealism. Granted autonomy, the young would find their way to

experience was conceived as close and practised knowledge of whatever was at hand. Recurrent in Benjamin’s delineations of experience were the words tactile, tactics and the tactical, entering German as it entered English via the Latin tangere, touch. To touch the world was to know the world. Pottery featured here – as model and as metaphor – naturally enough, as it was a form of Handwerk, handiwork or artisan labour. Storytelling ‘submerges the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to

on the philosophy of history, it contained a bibliographic note on Benjamin’s writings, two essays by Max Horkheimer and an essay by Adorno. In an introduction to the theses, Adorno noted that, though not intended for publication, ‘the text has become a legacy’. Adorno and Horkheimer, joint-editors of the volume, wrote: ‘We dedicate these contributions to the memory of Walter Benjamin. The historical philosophical theses at the front are Benjamin’s last work.’7 Published as a special issue of the

on the philosophy of history, it contained a bibliographic note on Benjamin’s writings, two essays by Max Horkheimer and an essay by Adorno. In an introduction to the theses, Adorno noted that, though not intended for publication, ‘the text has become a legacy’. Adorno and Horkheimer, joint-editors of the volume, wrote: ‘We dedicate these contributions to the memory of Walter Benjamin. The historical philosophical theses at the front are Benjamin’s last work.’7 Published as a special issue of the

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