Archiv für September 2009

In der Kategorie Text ist nun von Esther Leslie ein einführender Text zu Walter Benjamin erschienen. Eine deutschsprachige Übersetzung dieses Textes wird sich in der KSR-Broschüre befinden, die zur Zeit im Entstehen ist. --- Read

Esther Leslie: Walter Benjamin, Politics, Aesthetics

[Read this text as PDF: here]

Who was Walter Benjamin?

On 15 July 1892 Walter Benjamin was born to a well-heeled assimilated Jewish family in the capital of the Prussian Reich, Berlin. On 26 September 1940 he took his life while interrupted in his escape from Nazi Germany by way of Occupied France. Unable to cross from France into Spain because he had no visa – ill and threatened with hand-over to the Gestapo, to face certain incarceration as a Marxist and a Jew, he chose suicide. In the intervening years between these two dates he had lived in Weimar Berlin and in Paris, witness to much political turmoil and technological and social change. He made his fairly meagre money as a freelance writer selling literary criticism, historical analyses of culture and everyday life, interpretations of new technological cultural forms such as film and photography, he had written on theories of language, and delivered the radio lectures for children. The topics that attracted Benjamin are diverse: literature of the baroque, Romantic and modern periods, the philosophy of history, the social dynamics of technology, nineteenth century Paris, fascism and militarism, the city, capitalist time, childhood, memory, art and photography. Given his own precarious freelance existence, one of Benjamin’s key concerns was with the changing status of the intellectual, writer and artist over the period of capitalist industrialization. He tracked, for example, the changing fortunes of the avant-garde in nineteenth century France. He wanted to understand the ways in which artists are skewered by the contradictions of capital. In his studies of Charles Baudelaire, for example, he notes how the failure of social revolution in the late 19th century, and the inescapable law of the market, bred a hardened hoard of knowledge-workers condemned to enter the market place. This intelligentsia thought that they came only to observe it – but, in reality, it was, says Benjamin, to find a buyer. This set off all manner of responses: competition, manifestoism, nihilistic rebellion, court jestering, hackery, ideologueism. Benjamin diagnosed the situation of cultural workers that preceded him, always keen to assess their class and political positions. (mehr…)

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