Walter Benjamin by Walter Benjamin
Selected Writings, Vol. 4, 1938-1940

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Synopsis

"Every line we succeed in publishing today...is a victory wrested from the powers of darkness." So wrote Walter Benjamin in January 1940. Not long afterward, he himself would fall prey to those powers, a victim of suicide following a failed attempt to flee the Nazis. However insistently the idea of catastrophe hangs over Benjamin's writings in the final years of his life, the "victories wrested" in this period nonetheless constitute some of the most remarkable twentieth-century analyses of the emergence of modern society. The essays on Charles Baudelaire are the distillation of a lifetime of thinking about the nature of modernity. They record the crisis of meaning experienced by a civilization sliding into the abyss, even as they testify to Benjamin's own faith in the written word.

This volume ranges from studies of Baudelaire, Brecht, and the historian Carl Jochmann to appraisals of photography, film, and poetry. At their core is the question of how art can survive and thrive in a tumultuous time. Here we see Benjamin laying out an ethic for the critic and artist--a subdued but resilient heroism. At the same time, he was setting forth a sociohistorical account of how art adapts in an age of violence and repression.

Working at the height of his powers to the very end, Benjamin refined his theory of the mass media that culminated in the final version of his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility." Also included in this volume is his influential piece "On the Concept of History," completed just before his death. The book is remarkable for its inquiry into the nature of "the modern" (especially as revealed in Baudelaire), for its ideas about the transmogrification of art and the radical discontinuities of history, and for its examples of humane life and thought in the midst of barbarism. The entire collection is eloquent testimony to the indomitable spirit of humanity under siege.

 

About Walter Benjamin

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Published June 23, 2003 by Belknap Press. 496 pages
Genres: Arts & Photography, Literature & Fiction, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Walter Benjamin

The Guardian

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Walter Benjamin's Archive: Images, Texts, Signs Edited by Ursula Marx, Gudrun Schwarz, Michael Schwarz and Erdmut Wizisla;

Jan 27 2008 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

Publishers Weekly

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After reading an essay by Walter Benjamin in a Dairy Queen during his hometown's centennial celebration, McMurtry set out to ponder how Benjamin's conclusions about the death of the oral tradition apply to his own desolate patch of Texas cattle country.

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Book Reporter

An essay called "The Storyteller" by Walter Benjamin prompted Larry McMurtry to ponder the role of the oral storyteller in our modern world and in the lonely world of Texas his pioneer grandparents faced in the late 1800s.

Jan 24 2011 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

London Review of Books

Maybe this was one of the fantasies of the book – the book to beat capital at its own game – which drove the convolutes mad.

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London Review of Books

Fredric Jameson reviews ‘The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin 1910-1940’ edited by Gershom Scholem and Theodor Adorno, translated by Manfred Jacobson and Evelyn Jacobson and ‘T.W.

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The New York Review of Books

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The New York Review of Books

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Nov 10 1977 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

The New York Review of Books

Gershom Scholem is celebrated as the twentieth century’s most profound student of the Jewish mystical tradition;

Apr 30 2003 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

The New York Review of Books

(“To great writers,” wrote Benjamin, “finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they work throughout their lives.”) By his heroic if futile effort to save his manuscript from the fires of fascism and bear it to what he thinks of as the safety of Spain and, further on, the United ...

Jan 11 2001 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

The New York Review of Books

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.

May 25 1995 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

Los Angeles Review of Books

More 33 total reviews Biography & Autobiography "I don't think anyone should write their autobiography until after they're dead."

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Los Angeles Review of Books

He asked for donations of letters and other materials for his Benjamin archive in Jerusalem, for the sake of those who never knew Benjamin, but who might someday read his work: “for future friends of Walter.” Even with his resolute optimism, in 1942 Scholem could hardly have imagined the flouri...

Jul 26 2012 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

Book Forum

Benjamin, however, believed that history had to emerge from his project, rather than be imposed on it, and in this vein he was more of a historical materialist than Adorno made him out to be—although, as Hannah Arendt once remarked, Benjamin may have been "the most peculiar Marxist ever."

May 01 2012 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

Project MUSE

This is true to the extent that sentences, like the following about Benjamin taken from the Introduction, begin to apply to her own writing as well: "Benjamin practices the practices of which he writes, from the very beginning" (5).

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Project MUSE

Now, the collection of essays brought together as In the Language of Walter Benjamin, essays written from the late sixties through the early nineties, makes possible a reading of Jacobs's writing on Benjamin as a whole -- as a critical reflection in which we find (and lose) ourselves falling into...

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Project MUSE

But above all, Hanssen's investigation takes into consideration the immense suspicion under which Derrida has put Benjamin: that early essays like the one on the critique of violence belong "to the great anti-parliamentary and anti-Aufklärung wave on which Nazism so to speak surfaced and even sur...

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The Paris Review

One day in late March, I took some pictures of the crowds of protesters in Union Square, newly arrived from Zuccotti Park.

Sep 06 2012 | Read Full Review of Walter Benjamin: Selected Wri...

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