Walter Benjamin

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Benjamin at the Abbey of Pontigny, 1938. Photo by Gisèle Freund.
Born July 15, 1892(1892-07-15)
Berlin, German Empire
Died September 26, 1940(1940-09-26) (aged 48)
Portbou, Catalonia, Spain
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Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a literary critic, philosopher, social critic, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist. Combining elements of German idealism or Romanticism, historical materialism and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory and Western Marxism, and is associated with the Frankfurt School.

Life and work[edit]

This section is based upon Marianne Franklin's article on Walter Benjamin (2003), pp 14-16.

Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was born in Berlin, Germany, into a ‘wealthy run-of-the-mill assimilated Jewish family’. He was raised in a well-off quarter of the city and came of age during the Weimar Republic years before becoming a political refugee, fleeing to Paris in 1933. The historical record of his life and career has been clarified with several recent detailed biographies. He often planned to open a bookstore due to his passion for book collecting, but eventually established himself by 1928 as a formidable critic. He made his living through his both journals and newspapers, and only later received a stipend from the Frankfurt School for Passagenwerk during the years of his exile, 1933 - 1940.

The longevity and extent of Walter Benjamin’s posthumous fame is due to the great breadth of his intellectual pursuits, which allowed him to circulate through the most important artistic and intellectual groups, such as G Magazine and Bataille's discussion group, the Collège de Sociologie. His publishing career while alive spanned two decades, yet begun in the 1990s by Harvard University Press, the bulk of his voluminous writings are now published. The rise of Nazism prevented him from establishing a university career. His scholarly research appeared throughout the 1920s, but slowed during the 1930s, during which time he worked on Passagenwerk. With the publication of his collected work through the joint effort of Theodor Adorno and others in 1955, Passagenwerk (Arcades Project) was first published in English at last in 1999.

Benjamin had delayed leaving Paris until the dangers became pressing, and was stopped on the Franco-Spanish border in September of 1940. In Arendt’s account, ‘the immediate occasion for Benjamin’s suicide was an uncommon stroke of bad luck’. Expecting to be sent back to Nazi Germany where certain death awaited him, he chose to take a high dose of morphine. The historical and intellectual resonances of this personal choice have become woven into the enigmatic quality of Benjamin's reception.

A crucial aspect to Walter Benjamin’s intellectual legacy is his role in critical theory, the revision of Marxist theory based at the University of Frankfurt. His close – albeit stormy – intellectual relationship with Adorno and Horkheimer, the doyens of the Frankfurt School, is an important theme in the literature. Benjamin, who ‘was no-one’s disciple’, followed but never joined the European Communist party, visited the Soviet Union yet also had an abiding interest in Jewish mysticism; contributed to aesthetic and architectural theory and philosophy of history; was an accomplished translator; wrote (famously) about Goethe, Proust, Baudelaire and Kafka, book collecting, and technological change.

Works[edit]

Monographs[edit]

  • Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik [The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism], Bern: Francke, 1920, 111 pp. Dissertation defended at Bern University in 1919.
  • Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels [The Origin of German Tragedy], Berlin, 1928; new ed., ed. Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1963; 2000, 240 pp. [1] [2]
  • Einbahnstraße [One-Way Street], Berlin, 1928; repr., Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2001, 128 pp. [3]
  • Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert [A Berlin Childhood Around 1900], afterw. Theodor W. Adorno, postscr. Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1950; 1987; 2010, 117 pp. Written during the late 1930s. [4]

Essays (selection)[edit]

  • "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit" appeared in 5 main versions.
    • "L’œuvre d’art à l’époque de sa reproduction méchanisée", trans. Pierre Klossowski, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung V, Paris: Félix Alcan, 1936, pp 40-68; repr. in Benjamin, Werke und Nachlaß. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Bd 16: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2013, pp 164-206. Shortened [Vierte Fassung] translation of the second version [Zweite Fassung] of the essay. (French)
    • "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (Dritte Fassung)", in Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften I, Teil 2, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1980, pp 471-508; repr. in Benjamin, Werke und Nachlaß. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Bd 16: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2013, pp 96-163. Written 1936-39. [7] (German)
      • "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (Third Version)", in Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 4: 1938-1940, Harvard University Press, 2003, pp 251-283. (English)
      • "A obra de arte na época da sua possibilidade de reprodução técnica. 3ª versão", in Benjamin, A modernidade, ed. & trans. João Barrento, Lisboa: Assírio e Alvim, 2006, pp 207-241. (Portuguese)
      • L'Œuvre d'art à l'époque de sa reproductibilité technique. (Version de 1939), trans. Frédéric Joly, Paris: Payot, 2013. (French)
    • "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (Zweite Fassung)", in Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. 7, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1989, pp 350-384; repr. in Benjamin, Werke und Nachlaß. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Bd 16: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2013, pp 52-95. Revision and expansion (by 7 manuscript pages) of the first version of the essay. Written late December 1935-beginning of February 1936. First published in 1989. This second version represents the form in which Benjamin originally wished to see the work published; it served, in fact, as the basis for the first publication of the essay--a somewhat shortened form translated into French--in 1936.
    • "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (Erste Fassung)", in Benjamin, Werke und Nachlaß. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Bd 16: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2013, pp 7-51. Written in Autumn 1935 in Paris. Part (2013). (German)
    • "Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit (Fünfte Fassung)", in Benjamin, Werke und Nachlaß. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Bd 16: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2013, pp 207-255. (German)
  • Moskauer Tagebuch, ed. Gary Smith, Suhrkamp, 1980, 222 pp. (German) [8]
    • "Moscow Diary", ed. Gary Smith, trans. Richard Sieburth, October 35 (Winter 1985), MIT Press, 151 pp. (English)
    • Diario de Moscú, trans. Marisa Delgado, Buenos Aires: Taurus, 1990, 172 pp. (Spanish)
  • "Der Sürrealismus: Die letzte Momentaufnahme der europäischen Intelligenz", Literarischen Welt, Feb 1929; repr. in Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, II/1, 1977, pp 295-310. (German)
  • "The Author as Producer", in Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 2, Part 2, 1931-1934, Harvard University Press, 1999, pp 768-782. Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, 27 Apr 1934. (English)

Selected and collected writings[edit]

In German
  • Illuminationen. Ausgewählte Schriften 1, ed. Siegfried Unseld, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1961; 2001, 432 pp. [9]
  • Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit: Drei Studien zur Kunstsoziologie, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1963, 112 pp; 2003. [10]
  • Versuche über Brecht, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1966.
  • Gesammelte Schriften, Bd I-VII, in collaboration with Theodor W. Adorno and Gershom Scholem, eds. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, 7 vols. (14 parts) and 3 supplements, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1972-1999; revised ed. in 7 vols. (14 parts), Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1991. [11]
  • Charles Baudelaire. Ein Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974, 194 pp. [23]
  • Das Passagen-Werk - 2 Bände im Schuber, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982, 1380 pp. [24]
  • Deutsche Menschen - Eine Folge von Briefen, ed. Walter Benjamin, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983, 99 pp. [25]
  • Denkbilder, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1994, 138 pp. [26]
  • Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1999, 112 pp. [27]
  • Über Haschisch, ed. Tillman Rexroth, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000, 152 pp. [28]
  • Medienästhetische Schriften, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2002, 448 pp. [29]
  • Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit - und weitere Dokumente, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007, 254 pp. [30]
  • Erzählen - Schriften zur Theorie der Narration und zur literarischen Prosa, ed. Alexander Honold, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007, 349 pp. [31]
  • Passagen - Schriften zur französischen Literatur, ed. Gérard Raulet, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007, 455 pp. [32]
  • Kairos - Schriften zur Philosophie, ed. Ralf Konersmann, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007, 355 pp. [33]
  • Wahlverwandtschaften - Aufsätze und Reflexionen über deutschsprachige Literatur, ed. Jan Philipp Reemtsma, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007, 483 pp. [34]
  • Werke und Nachlaß. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 21 vols, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. [35]
    • Band 3: Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik, ed. Uwe Steiner, 2008, 398 pp. [36]
    • Band 8: Einbahnstraße, eds. Detlev Schöttker with Steffen Haug, 2009, 610 pp. [37]
    • Band 9: Rundfunkarbeiten, trans. Thomas Küpper and Anja Nowak, 2014, 900 pp. [38]
    • Band 10: Deutsche Menschen, ed. Momme Brodersen, 2008, 542 pp. [39]
    • Band 13/1-2: Kritiken und Rezensionen, ed. Heinrich Kaulen, 2011, 2000 pp. [40]
    • Band 16: Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, ed. Burkhardt Lindner, 2013, 722 pp. [41] Contents.
    • Band 19: Über den Begriff der Geschichte, 2010, 380 pp. [42]
  • Träume, ed. Burkhardt Lindner, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2008, 167 pp. [43]
  • Über den Begriff der Geschichte, ed. Gerard Raulet, Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010.
  • Benjamin's Bibliography at German Wikisource [44]
In English
In Spanish
In Serbo-Croatian
  • Eseji, trans. Milan Tabaković, Belgrade: Nolit, 1974, 324 pp.
In Czech
  • Dílo a jeho zdroj, ed. R. Grebeníčková, trans. Věra Saudková, Prague: Odeon, 1979.
  • Agesilaus Santander. Výbor z textů, Prague: Herrmann a synové, 1998.
In Portuguese
In Russian
In Slovak
  • Iluminácie, trans. Adam Bžoch and Jana Truhlářová, Bratislava: Kalligram, 1999.

Miscellanea[edit]

Correspondence[edit]

  • Briefe I, 1910-1928, ed. & annot. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1966; 1978, 885 pp. (German)
  • Gesammelte Schriften. Briefe, 2 vols., Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1978, 885 pp; 1993. (German)
  • "Reply" [to Adorno's Letters to Walter Benjamin], trans. Harry Zohn, in Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht, Lukács, Aesthetics and Politics, London: Verso, 1980, pp 134-141. Written 9 December 1938. (English)
  • with Gershom Scholem, Briefwechsel, 1933-1940, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1980. (German)
  • The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910-1940, University of Chicago Press, 1994, PDF. (English)
  • Gesammelte Briefe, 6 vols., Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1994-2000. (German)
    • Band I: Theodor W. Adorno/Walter Benjamin. Briefwechsel 1928–1940, 1994, 504 pp. [52]
    • Band II: Briefe 1919–1924, 1996, 549 pp. [53]
    • Band III: Briefe 1925–1930, 1997, 594 pp. [54]
    • Band IV: Briefe 1931–1934, 1998, 593 pp. [55]
    • Band V: Briefe 1935–1937, 1999, 672 pp. [56]
    • Band VI: Briefe 1938–1940, 2000, 632 pp. [57]
  • with Gretel Adorno, Briefwechsel 1930–1940, eds. Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2005, 434 pp. [58](German)

Diaries[edit]

  • "Conversations with Brecht", trans. Anya Bostock, in Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht, Lukács, Aesthetics and Politics, London: Verso, 1980, pp 86-99. (English)

Literature[edit]

Monographs[edit]

Walter Benjamin Studies, Bloomsbury [64]

Eds. Andrew Benjamin, Monash University, and Beatrice Hanssen.

  • Andrew Benjamin, Beatrice Hanssen (eds.), Walter Benjamin and Romanticism, 2002. [65]
  • Andrew Benjamin (ed.), Walter Benjamin and Art, 2005. [66]
  • Andrew Benjamin (ed.), Walter Benjamin and History, 2006. [67]
  • Beatrice Hanssen (ed.), Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, 2006. [68]

Journal issues[edit]

Essays (selection)[edit]

See also[edit]

Links[edit]