Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life

Walter Benjamin is one of the twentieth century s most important intellectuals and also one of its most elusive His writings mosaics incorporating philosophy literary criticism Marxist analysis and a syncretistic theology defy simple categorization And his mobile often improvised existence has proven irresistible to mythologizers His writing career moved from the brilliant esotericism of his early writings through his emergence as a central voice in Weimar culture and on to the exile years with its pioneering studies of modern media and the rise of urban commodity capitalism in Paris That career was played out amid some of the most catastrophic decades of modern European history the horror of the First World War the turbulence of the Weimar Republic and the lengthening shadow of fascism Now a major new biography from two of the world s foremost Benjamin scholars reaches beyond the mosaic and the mythical to present this intriguing figure in full br br Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings make available for the first time a rich store of information which augments and corrects the record of an extraordinary life They offer a comprehensive portrait of Benjamin and his times as well as extensive commentaries on his major works including The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility the essays on Baudelaire and the great study of the German i Trauerspiel i Sure to become the standard reference biography of this seminal thinker i Walter Benjamin A Critical Life i will prove a source of inexhaustible interest for Benjamin scholars and novices alike


Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3, 1935-1938

Radical critic of a European civilization plunging into darkness yet commemorator of the humane traditions of the old bourgeoisie such was Walter Benjamin in the later s This volume the third in a four volume set offers twenty seven brilliant pieces nineteen of which have never before been translated br br The centerpiece i A Berlin Childhood around i marks the first appearance in English of one of the greatest German works of the twentieth century a profound and beautiful account of the vanished world of Benjamin s privileged boyhood recollected in exile No less remarkable are the previously untranslated second version of Benjamin s most famous essay The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility with its striking insights into the relations between technology and aesthetics and i German Men and Women i a book in which Benjamin collects twenty six letters by distinguished Germans from to in an effort to preserve what he called the true humanity of German tradition from the debasement of fascism br br Volume also offers extensively annotated translations of essays that are key to Benjamin s rewriting of the story of modernism and modernity such as The Storyteller and Paris the Capital of the Nineteenth Century as well as a fascinating diary from and penetrating studies of Bertolt Brecht Franz Kafka and Eduard Fuchs A narrative chronology details Benjamin s life during these four harrowing years of his exile in France and Denmark This is an essential collection for anyone interested in his work


The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media

p Benjamin s famous Work of Art essay sets out his boldest thoughts on media and on culture in general in their most realized form while retaining an edge that gets under the skin of everyone who reads it In this essay the visual arts of the machine age morph into literature and theory and then back again to images gestures and thought p p This essay however is only the beginning of a vast collection of writings that the editors have assembled to demonstrate what was revolutionary about Benjamin s explorations on media Long before Marshall McLuhan Benjamin saw that the way a bullet rips into its victim is exactly the way a movie or pop song lodges in the soul p p This book contains the second and most daring of the four versions of the Work of Art essay the one that addresses the utopian developments of the modern media The collection tracks Benjamin s observations on the media as they are revealed in essays on the production and reception of art on film radio and photography and on the modern transformations of literature and painting The volume contains some of Benjamin s best known work alongside fascinating little known essays some appearing for the first time in English In the context of his passionate engagement with questions of aesthetics the scope of Benjamin s media theory can be fully appreciated p


The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire

Walter Benjamin s essays on the great French lyric poet Charles Baudelaire revolutionized not just the way we think about Baudelaire but our understanding of modernity and modernism as well In these essays Benjamin challenges the image of Baudelaire as late Romantic dreamer and evokes instead the modern poet caught in a life or death struggle with the forces of the urban commodity capitalism that had emerged in Paris around The Baudelaire who steps forth from these pages is the flAneur who affixes images as he strolls through mercantile Paris the ragpicker who collects urban detritus only to turn it into poetry the modern hero willing to be marked by modern life in its contradictions and paradoxes He is in every instance the modern artist forced to commodify his literary production Baudelaire knew how it stood with the poet as a flAneur he went to the market to look it over as he thought but in reality to find a buyer Benjamin reveals Baudelaire as a social poet of the very first rank br br The introduction to this volume presents each of Benjamin s essays on Baudelaire in chronological order The introduction intended for an undergraduate audience aims to articulate and analyze the major motifs and problems in these essays and to reveal the relationship between the essays and Benjamin s other central statements on literature its criticism and its relation to the society that produces it


On Hashish

Walter Benjamin s posthumously published collection of writings on hashish is a detailed blueprint for a book that was never written a truly exceptional book about hashish as Benjamin describes it in a letter to his friend Gershom Scholem A series of protocols of drug experiments written by himself and his co participants between and together with short prose pieces that he published during his lifetime i On Hashish i provides a peculiarly intimate portrait of Benjamin venturesome as ever at the end of the Weimar Republic and of his unique form of thought br br Consciously placing himself in a tradition of literary drug connoisseurs from Baudelaire to Hermann Hesse Benjamin looked to hashish and other drugs for an initiation into what he called profane illumination At issue here as everywhere in Benjamin s work is a new way of seeing a new connection to the ordinary world Under the influence of hashish as time and space become inseparable experiences become subtly stratified and resonant we inhabit more than one plane in time What Benjamin in his contemporaneous study of Surrealism calls image space comes vividly to life in this philosophical immersion in the sensuous br br This English language edition of i On Hashish i features a section of supplementary materials drawn from Benjamin s essays letters and sketches relating to hashish use as well as a reminiscence by his friend Jean Selz which concerns a night of opium smoking in Ibiza A preface by Howard Eiland discusses the leading motifs of Benjamin s reflections on intoxication


Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2, 1931-1934

In the frenzied final years of the Weimar Republic amid economic collapse and mounting political catastrophe Walter Benjamin emerged as the most original practicing literary critic and public intellectual in the German speaking world Volume of the i Selected Writings i is now available in paperback in two parts br br In Part Benjamin is represented by two of his greatest literary essays Surrealism and On the Image of Proust as well as by a long article on Goethe and a generous selection of his wide ranging commentary for Weimar Germany s newspapers br br Part contains in addition to the important longer essays Franz Kafka Karl Kraus and The Author as Producer the extended autobiographical meditation A Berlin Chronicle and extended discussions of the history of photography and the social situation of the French writer previously untranslated shorter pieces on such subjects as language and memory theological criticism and literary history astrology and the newspaper and on such influential figures as Paul Valery Stefan George Hitler and Mickey Mouse


Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940

Every line we succeed in publishing today is a victory wrested from the powers of darkness So wrote Walter Benjamin in January 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 br br 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 br br 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


Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 1, 1927-1930

In the frenzied final years of the Weimar Republic amid economic collapse and mounting political catastrophe Walter Benjamin emerged as the most original practicing literary critic and public intellectual in the German speaking world Volume of the i Selected Writings i is now available in paperback in two parts br br In Part Benjamin is represented by two of his greatest literary essays Surrealism and On the Image of Proust as well as by a long article on Goethe and a generous selection of his wide ranging commentary for Weimar Germany s newspapers br br Part contains in addition to the important longer essays Franz Kafka Karl Kraus and The Author as Producer the extended autobiographical meditation A Berlin Chronicle and extended discussions of the history of photography and the social situation of the French writer previously untranslated shorter pieces on such subjects as language and memory theological criticism and literary history astrology and the newspaper and on such influential figures as Paul Valery Stefan George Hitler and Mickey Mouse


Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 2, 1927-1934

In the frenzied final years of the Weimar Republic amid economic collapse and mourning political catastrophe Walter Benjamin emerged as the most original practicing literary critic and public intellectual in the German speaking world Volume of Selected Writings covering the years to displays the full spectrum of Benjamin s achievements at this pivotal stage in his career br br Previously concerned chiefly with literary theory Benjamin during these Years does pioneering work in new areas from the stud of popular Culture a discipline he virtually created to theories of the media and the visual arts His writings on the theory of modernity most of them new to readers of English develop ideas as important to an understanding of the twentieth century as an contained in his widely anthologiied essay The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproducibility br br This volume brings together previously untranslated writings on major figures such as Brecht Valery and Gide and on subjects ranging from film radio and the novel to memory kitsch and the theory of language We find the manifoldly inquisitive Benjamin musing on the new modes of perception opened tip by techniques of photographic enlargement and cinematic montage on the life and work of amp Goethe at Weimar on the fascination of old toys and the mysteries of food and on the allegorical significance of Mickey Mouse


The Arcades Project

To great writers Walter Benjamin once wrote finished works weigh lighter than those fragments on which they labor their entire lives Conceived in Paris in and still in progress when Benjamin fled the Occupation in i The Arcades Project i in German i Das Passagen Werk i is a monumental ruin meticulously constructed over the course of thirteen years the theater as Benjamin called it of all my struggles and all my ideas br br Focusing on the arcades of nineteenth century Paris glass roofed rows of shops that were early centers of consumerism Benjamin presents a montage of quotations from and reflections on hundreds of published sources arranging them in thirty six categories with descriptive rubrics such as Fashion Boredom Dream City Photography Catacombs Advertising Prostitution Baudelaire and Theory of Progress His central preoccupation is what he calls the commodification of things a process in which he locates the decisive shift to the modern age br br i The Arcades Project i is Benjamin s effort to represent and to critique the bourgeois experience of nineteenth century history and in so doing to liberate the suppressed true history that underlay the ideological mask In the bustling cluttered arcades street and interior merge and historical time is broken up into kaleidoscopic distractions and displays of ephemera Here at a distance from what is normally meant by progress Benjamin finds the lost time s embedded in the spaces of things