Walter Benjamin: Presence of Mind, Failure to Comprehend (Social and Critical Theory)

Walter Benjamin: Presence of Mind, Failure to Comprehend (Social and Critical Theory)

Language: English

Pages: 188

ISBN: 9004235620

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In Walter Benjamin. Presence of Mind, Failure to Comprehend Stéphane Symons offers an innovative reading of the work of German philosopher, essayist and literary critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) that characterizes his writings as ""neither a-theological, nor immediately theological.

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compagnons de route, Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) and Gershom Scholem (1897–1982). The reasons why both thinkers have remained skeptical about Benjamin’s singular blend of historical materialism and Jewish messianism seem graspable for even a mind that is not vexed in all the subtleties of both philosophical and theological systems of thought. While the former’s manner of endorsing materialism made him suspicious of religion as such, the latter clung so firmly to his Jewish beliefs that categories

translation.’5 The first part of this chapter retraces some of the basic characteristics of the concept of ‘weak messianic power’ as it was introduced in On the Concept of History. The second part will go beyond the context of that essay and explores the notion of the messianic from the perspective of some of Benjamin’s other texts. 1. The Notion of ‘Weak Messianic Power’ in On the Concept of History In On the Concept of History, the notion of ‘messianic power’ is linked to a specific view on

reduce the work of art to a ‘means’ to gain knowledge of the particular historical and geographical circumstances in which it originated. In Benjamin’s mind, following the lead of the prominent scholar of the second Viennese school Otto Pächt (1902–1988), a ‘rigorous’ study of art is to do away with all such presuppositions of ‘intrinsic meaning or content’ and to replace them by the insight that “the realm of perception [Anschauungsspielraum] itself changes over time and in accordance with

the mass of historical happenings the way Sisyphus rolled the stone. As he does so, its nether side comes to light: it is not a pleasant sight, but Kafka is capable of bearing it: “To believe in progress is not to believe that progress has already taken place. That would be no belief.”79 The second part of this statement is most significant. Kafka is deemed ‘capable of bearing’ the ‘nether side’ of history, that is, the absence of a dynamic of salvation at work within the world, and this,

the Author.” in Roth, What I Saw, 226. 152 conclusion years of his life in exile in Paris and, like Roth, he had grown increasingly despairing about the world-political situation, writing in the mid-thirties that “[h]umankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure.”3 In 1927, in a short book with the title

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