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A Philosophical Portrait: Walter Benjamin on the 120th Anniversary of his Birth

Gisèle Freund, Walter Benjamin in the Bibliothèque National, 1939

If 2012 is the year our world comes to an end, as doomsayers predict, that will provide additional employment for the angel of history, who observes the past and the wreckage of humanity as described by Walter Benjamin in his essay “On the Concept of History.” But if the world and its inhabitants continue to exist, they will be able to observe, next July 15, the 120th anniversary of Benjamin’s birth. His influence has only been growing in recent decades, and his writings are increasingly the inspiration for discussion and reconsideration.

The growing corpus of works about Benjamin is about to be augmented with the publication, in January, of a comprehensive study, “Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait,” by Prof. Eli Friedlander (Harvard University Press ). Friedlander, head of the Philosophy Department at Tel Aviv University, discusses Benjamin’s approaches to concepts such as history, mythology, language, beauty and truth. His aim is to tie together the threads of thought spun by the philosopher, who committed suicide in 1940.

“Many people,” Friedlander says, “emphasize the enigmatic and enchanting aspect of Benjamin’s writings. They present him, as Hannah Arendt did, as a kind of pearl fisherman retrieving precious treasures from the depths. But the amazement at that marvelous uniqueness is also a sure way to isolate him and avoid becoming seriously involved in his thought.”

Friedlander’s book revolves around the relationship between history and philosophy, which he elucidates through Benjamin’s unfinished work “The Arcades Project.” “Benjamin’s thought is faithful to concrete historical content, so much so that it sometimes seems his writing lacks the recognizable form of philosophy,” Friedlander observes. “Benjamin wrote philosophical history, or more accurately, wrote philosophy with historical materials whose ordering and arranging he worked on for years. The most salient expression of this commitment to concreteness is ‘The Arcades Project,’ which was intended to be a book consisting largely of quotations focusing on the arcades of Paris in the 19th century. After Benjamin’s death, the material he had compiled remained divided into convolutes according to subjects such as ‘modes of lighting,’ ‘iron construction’ and ‘the flaneur.’ These are certainly not the typical subjects of philosophy.”

Text By Avner Shapira in Ha’aretz. Continue HERE

“Walter Benjamin: A Philosophical Portrait”

2 thoughts on “A Philosophical Portrait: Walter Benjamin on the 120th Anniversary of his Birth

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