Illuminations

Illuminations

Paperback

By (author) Walter Benjamin, Volume editor Hannah Arendt, Introduction by Hannah Arendt, Translated by Harry Zohn

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  • Publisher: PIMLICO
  • Format: Paperback | 272 pages
  • Dimensions: 135mm x 216mm x 19mm | 297g
  • Publication date: 7 January 1999
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0712665757
  • ISBN 13: 9780712665759
  • Sales rank: 50,352

Product description

The literary-philosophical works of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) rank among the most quietly influential of the post-war era, though only since his death has Benjamin achieved the fame and critical currency outside his native Germany accorded him by a select few during his lifetime. Now he is widely held to have possessed one of the most acute and original minds of the Central European culture decimated by the Nazis. Illuminations contains his two most celebrated essays, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' and 'Theses on the Philosophy of History', as well as others on the art of translation, Kafka, storytelling, Baudelaire, Brecht's epic theatre, Proust and an anatomy of his own obsession, book collecting. The essay is Benjamin's domain; those collected in this now legendary volume offer the best possible access to his singular and significant achievement. In a stimulating introduction, Hannah Arendt reveals how Benjamin's life and work are a prism to his times, and identifies him as possessing the rare ability to think poetically.

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Author information

Walter Benjamin was born in Berlin in July 1832 into a prosperous Jewish family. As a student, he came under the influence of Messianic and cabbalistic ideas, and produced a brilliant, esoteric thesis on German baroque drama, which contrived to fail to win him academic tenure. Thereafter, he made a precarious living as a literary journalist, and, under the influence of Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukacs. Turned towards Marxism; in the late 1920s, he befriended, and championed, Bertolt Brecht. Driven from Germany in 1933 by the political triumph of the Nazis, he went to Paris, where he immersed himself in Surrealism and the study of Baudelaire. When the Wehrmacht rolled into Paris too, in 1940, he fled for the Spanish border, only to die by his own hand in a tragi-comic fashion at the age of forty-eight. His literary legacy is greater in stature than in size: he published only two full-scale books in his lifetime, one thesis The Origin of German tragic Drama, the other The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism. Three other books since made available are Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, Moscow Diary and Understanding Brecht. Besides these, he was the author of two books of collected reflections, One-Way Street and A Berlin Childhood Around 1900, and numerous literary and critical essays and commentaries, the finest among them collected in the present volume.

Review quote

The literary-philosophical works of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) rank among the most quietly influential of the post-war era, though only since his death has Benjamin achieved the fame and critical currency outside his native Germany accorded him by a select few during his lifetime. Now he is widely held to have possessed one of the most acute and original minds of the Central European culture decimated by the Nazis. Illuminations contains his two most celebrated essays, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' and 'Theses on the Philosophy of History', as well as others on the art of translation, Kafka, storytelling, Baudelaire, Brecht's epic theatre, Proust and an anatomy of his own obsession, book collecting. The essay is Benjamin's domain; those collected in this now legendary volume offer the best possible access to his singular and significant achievement. In a stimulating introduction, Hannah Arendt reveals how Benjamin's life and work are a prism to his times, and identifies him as possessing the rare ability to think poetically.

Editorial reviews

Walter Benjamin is the least known of the German school of neo-Marxist critics, but he is these days more often than not considered by the knowledgeable reader as being superior to Adorno, Marcuse, and Lukacs. The anti-fascist Benjamin committed suicide in 1940 at the age of forty-eight when he was stopped at the Franco-Spanish border en route to America. Thus his whole oeuvre is the work of a relatively young man. Produced in the Twenties and Thirties, Benjamin's critical essays are remarkable less as an outgrowth, however striking, of Marxist thought (Benjamin is actually more Hegelian than Marxian), than as a forerunner of the new structuralist way of looking at or "drilling" through literary texts. As Hannah Arendt states in her brilliant introduction, Benjamin chose "not to investigate the utilitarian or communicative functions of linguistic creations, but to understand then in their crystallized and thus ultimately fragmentary form as intentionless and noncommunicative utterances of a 'world essence'." Benjamin, she says, had "the gift of thinking poetically." Benjamin, alas, is also German, and while a good deal of his style delightfully employs the short reflective annotation or aphorism, he can, when his dialectical heritage goes to his head, sound like Heidegger or Holderlin. Nevertheless, though heavy weather here and there, what Benjamin has to say about Kafka, Leskov, Baudelaire, Proust, and others, is extraordinarily adventurous, original, and alive. This first English sampling of his work is a publishing event of major importance. (Kirkus Reviews)