20th Century Philosophy

Walter Benjamin 1892 - 1940

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Walter Benjamin and the Corpus of Autobiography
Walter BenjaminWalter Benjamin : A Biography by Momme Brodersen, Malcolm R. Green (Translator), Ingrida Ligers (Editor), Martina Dervis (Editor) 

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) is now generally recognized as one of the most original and influential thinkers of this century. In Britain and the United States, in particular, he has acquired a status unlike that of any other German philosopher, as successive generations of readers find their own paths through the endlessly fruitful ambiguities of his work. Now available for the first time in English, Momme Brodersen's Walter Benjamin is the most comprehensive biography so far published, and has been widely acclaimed in its author's native Germany. Brodersen provides a fuller and more coherent account of Benjanin's career than has any previous writer. In telling detail, he recounts Benjamin's emotional and intellectual relationships and discusses many hitherto neglected aspects of Benjamin's life, including his role as literary critic. Brodersen pays particular attention to Benjamin's childhood and youth, his activities in the radical section of the German Youth Movement, and the formative, irreconcilable influences of idealism, socialism and Zionism. At the same time, he gives a fresh and lucid presentation of Benjamin's written work -- much of which remains unavailable in English -- and of the extraordinary diversity of his ideas and enthusiasms. Thoroughly revised and updated for this English edition, and accompanied by nearly a hundred documentary photographs, this biography, is an essential study of the man who himself remains an indispensable guide to the ruins and enchantments of the twentieth century.

Momme Brodersen teaches German literature and cultural history at the University of Palermo. He has compiled two Benjamin bibliographies and has edited a casebook of Benjamin studies.

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The Arcades Project


The Arcades project went through many kinds of existence between 1927 and 1939. It never achieved a completed form. What remains are vast quantities of notes, images, quotes and citations; capable of being ordered and reordered in endlessly different constellations. This site is the beginning of an ongoing experiment in just such a reordering, its increasingly multiple links between material bringing elements into new juxtapositions and hopefully generating new meanings out of the debris of the era of high capitalism. (Mind you, this could also just be an exercise in giving these materials an aura, an air of nostalgic mystery which already hangs around their appearance in this present, if not that of the 1930s).


From 'Rausch' To Rebellion: Walter Benjamin's Uncompleted Book on Hashish

An essay by Scott Thompson

Excerpt from the Introduction:

When Thomas Mann and Georg Lukacs reprimanded Aldous Huxley for "glorifying" his mescaline experiences to the world , they were convinced that their position represented reason and the responsibility of intellectuals in the face of neo-fascist mind-control and late capitalist chemical escapism. What they failed to consider was that they were playing into the hands of a propaganda machine which had functioned quite well under the Nazis. Called "Rauschgiftbekaempfung" [The Combatting of Drugs],it was a true precursor to the U.S. War on Drugs which has mobilized the entire U.S. armed forces to root out the demonized forces of irrationalism threatening the performance principle of Late Capital's global sweat shop. Mann and Lukacs, who have no doubt made very valuable contributions to western literature, represent an academic attitude toward the irrational that would appear to be based on certain aesthetic biases. We can locate the germs of their anti-inebriant bigotry in the debates on Expressionism, particularly those between Lukacs and Ernst Bloch. Mann and Lukacs represent that "grandeur in repose" of neo-classicism, which is always so predictably horrified by displays of passion. Visionary inebriants evidently threatened their "masks of composure"...


Hashish in Berlin: An Introduction to Walter Benjamin's Uncompleted Work On Hashish

Paper read at the Walter Benjamin Congress 1997 under the title "From Rausch to Rebellion." by Scott J. Thompson.


This motto beginning Walter Benjamin's Berlin Childhood Around the Turn of the Century and appearing in a slightly altered form in Berliner Chronik has its origins in Benjamin's experiments with hashish, as Gershom Scholem and the editors of Benjamin's Gesammelte Schriften have noted. The "golden leading strings" of childhood and the attempt to recapture their magic are interlaced throughout Benjamin's writings and experimental notes on hashish, opium and mescaline. As he expressed it in the mescaline protocol recorded by Dr. Fritz Fränkel in Paris on 22. May 1934, "The first experience the child has of the world is not that the adults are stronger, but rather that it cannot conjure." In Benjamin's novella Myslowitz - Braunschweig - Marseilles: Story of a Hashish Rausch (1930), the narrator's hashish vision transforms a man in a restaurant into the image of a young boy in an Eastern European town.  In the essay "Hashish in Marseilles" (1932), a young boy on an electric tram is transformed into the sad child, Barnabus, from Kafka's The Castle.  In Crock Notes (1932), the opium smoker and hashish eater are said to "playfully exhaust those experiences of the ornament which childhood and fever made us capable of observing." In the protocol to the hashish experiment with Gert and Egon Wissing in March 1930, Benjamin recorded the following:

I was not very attentive...


"International Walter Benjamin Congress 1997: Perception & Experience in Modernity"

A participant's critical evaluation of the first annual . Amsterdam: July 24-26, 1997.

Excerpt from the Preface:

At the conclusion of his essay, "The Integrity of the Intellectual: In Memory of Walter Benjamin," Leo Lowenthal, sociologist of literature and editor of the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung , posed a challenge:

Now that the edition of Benjamin's collected works is completed, the publishing house and the group responsible for it can collectively regard themselves as the writers of Benjamin's history. It will remain a concern to all of us, especially those younger than we, to define his gift to us from the enemy...

In an attempt to wrest the tradition Benjamin fought for from the enemy, the publishers and their tenured ministeriales, the Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate sent a delegate to the International Walter Benjamin Congress 1997: "Perception and Experience in Modernity/ Wahrnehmung und Erfahrung in der Moderne," which was held in Amsterdam, July 24th through July 26th, at the Felix Meritis Foundation of the University of Amsterdam.

The Congress itself was well-attended, as was indicated by the number of people standing in the aisles during the plenary papers. Between the plenary sessions parallel workshops were held throughout the Felix Meritis Foundation on Keizersgracht and the Bungehuis on Spuistraat. Plenary Speakers included George Steiner, Samuel Weber, Gary Smith, Sigrid Weigel, Irving Wohlfahrt, Martin Jay, Mona Jean & Kim Yvon Benjamin (WB's granddaughters), Michael Benjamin (WB's nephew), Burkhardt Lindner, Werner Hamacher, and Susan Buck-Morss. Over one hundred people gave short presentations (15 minutes) in the parallel workshop sessions.


Walter Benjamin Reflections


While a member of the "outer circle" of the Institute, Benjamin does the least amount of addition, or correction to Marxist theory. The added perceptive that he does provide is perhaps the most at odds with Marx, because of what Marx would call "unscientific" methods.

In the collection of his works, Walter Benjamin demonstrates complete adherence to the notion of history moving through the necessary epochs set forth by Marx; to human material desire being the prime mover of mankind; to the notions of alienation; and to the proletariat being the class with the ability to move mankind (through revolution) from the current epoch of capitalism, to the next epoch, communism. Benjamin challenges orthodox Marxism, with the notion that the individual participant in the bourgeoisie can come to a full awareness of his of his part in the current disintegration of man, by the structure of his method, and by questioning the deterministic element of Marxism. Benjamin’s method is a combination of an artful use of literary tools, empirical observation, and "transcendent" experience....


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