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Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought

by Uwe Steiner and Michael Winkler University of Chicago Press
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Hbk 248 pages
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Seven decades after his death, German Jewish writer, philosopher, and literary critic Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) continues to fascinate and influence. Here Uwe Steiner offers a comprehensive and sophisticated introduction to the oeuvre of this intriguing theorist.

Acknowledged only by a small circle of intellectuals during his lifetime, Benjamin is now a major figure whose work is essential to an understanding of modernity. Steiner traces the development of Benjamin’s thought chronologically through his writings on philosophy, literature, history, politics, the media, art, photography, cinema, technology, and theology. Walter Benjamin reveals the essential coherence of its subject’s thinking while also analyzing the controversial or puzzling facets of Benjamin’s work. That coherence, Steiner contends, can best be appreciated by placing Benjamin in his proper context as a member of the German philosophical tradition and a participant in contemporary intellectual debates.

As Benjamin’s writing attracts more and more readers in the English-speaking world, Walter Benjamin will be a valuable guide to this fascinating body of work.

Preface Translator’s Note Benjamin’s Works Cited in This Study Chapter One: Introduction 1. A Contemporary of Modernity 2. Life and Works 3. Companions, Influences Chapter Two: Early Writings, 1914–18 1. Apotheosis of the Mind (Geist): Beginnings inside the Youth Movement “Dialogue on Contemporary Religiosity” (1912); “The Life of Students” (1915–16) 2. Life of the Work of Art “Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin” (1914–15); “The Idiot by Dostoevsky” (1917–21) 3. Defining His Philosophical Position “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy” (1917–18) 4. The Magic of Language Letter to Buber of July 17, 1916; “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man” (1916); “The Task of the Translator” (1921) Chapter Three: Art Criticism and Politics, 1919–25 1. Romantic Philosophy of Art and Its Contemporary Relevance The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism (1919–20) 2. Exemplary Criticism: “Goethe’s Elective Affinities” “Announcement of the Journal Angelus Novus” (1912); “Goethe’s Elective Affinities” (1921–25) 3. The Problematic of Art: Criticism and Allegorical Artwork Origin of German Tragic Drama (1923–28) 4. Paul Scheerbart and the Concept of the Political “Theological-political Fragment” (1920–21); “The True Politician” (1921–25); “Critique of Violence” (1921); “Paul Scheerbart: Lesabéndio” (1917–19)   Chapter Four: Journalistic Commitment and Essayistic Work, 1925–331. Profane Illumination: Surrealism and Politics One-Way Street (1923–28); “Moscow” (1927); “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the German Intelligentsia” (1929) 2. The “Strategist in the Literary Struggle” Reviews of Literary Scholarship (1926–31): Gundolf, Walzel, Kommerell, Ermatinger; “Politicizing the Intelligentsia” (1930–32): Reviews of Haas, Kästner, Hiller, Kracauer, Jünger 3. The Task of the Critic “Collected Essays on Literature” (1929–30); “Journal Project: Krisis und Kritik” (1930); “Johann Peter Hebel” (1926); “Gottfried Keller” (1927); “Robert Walser” (1929); “Julien Green” (1929); “On the Image of Proust” (1929); “Karl Kraus” (1931); “Paul Valéry” (1931); “Bert Brecht” (1930); “What Is the Epic Theater?” (1931–39)   Chapter Five: Exile Writings, 1933–39 1. The Changing Function of Art “The Present Social Situation of the French Writer” (1933–34); “The Author as Producer” (1934); “Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian” (1937); “‘The Regression of Poetry’ by C. G. Jochmann” (1939) 2. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility “Little History of Photography” (1931); “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1935–36) 3. Reinstatement of Epic Narration 126 “Experience and Poverty” (1933); “The Crisis of the Novel: Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1930); “The Storyteller: Observations on the Works of Nikolai Leskov” (1936); “Franz Kafka: Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer” (1931); “Franz Kafka. On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death” (1934) Chapter Six: Primal History of Modernism, 1931–401. Berlin Childhood around 1900 “Berlin Chronicle” (1932); “Berlin Childhood around 1900” (1932–38); “Doctrine of the Similar/On the Mimetic Faculty” (1933) 2. Parisian Arcades The Arcades Project (1927–1940); “Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century” (1935); “Paris, capitale du XIXème siècle” (1939) 3. Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire” (1938); “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” (1939); “Central Park” (1939) 4. The Concept of History “On the Concept of History” (1940); “Arcades Project: Files J and N”   Chapter Seven: Posthumous Influence and Stages of Reception 1. Record of Extant Material and Editions 2. Reception Chronology Notes Select Bibliography Index of Names

“Uwe Steiner is widely regarded as one of the leading Benjamin scholars working today, with particular expertise in aspects of Benjamin’s work that are less familiar to an English-language audience. In Walter Benjamin, he has produced a truly outstanding introduction to Benjamin’s work; this book is the product of a career spent thinking about Benjamin. Steiner is able not just to open up major works and concepts, but to show, in very short compass, their place in a complex cultural field. His ability to combine deep reading with broad contextualization is the ideal combination for a critical introduction to this major thinker. Written with precision and lucidity, this book does a real service to the legions of readers interested in Benjamin.”

Uwe Steiner is professor in and chair of the Department of German Studies at Rice University and the author or editor of numerous books in German. Michael Winkler is professor emeritus of German studies at Rice University.