Monday, January 24, 2011

Osborne, Peter. "Walter Benjamin." STANFORD ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY January 18, 2011.

Walter Benjamin's importance as a philosopher and critical theorist can be gauged by the diversity of his intellectual influence and the continuing productivity of his thought. Primarily regarded as a literary critic and essayist, the philosophical basis of Benjamin's writings is increasingly acknowledged. They were a decisive influence upon Theodor W. Adorno's conception of philosophy's actuality or adequacy to the present (Adorno 1931). In the 1930s, Benjamin's efforts to develop a politically oriented, materialist aesthetic theory proved an important stimulus for both the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and the Marxist poet and dramatist Bertolt Brecht.

The delayed appearance of Benjamin's collected writings has determined and sustained the Anglophone reception of his work. (A two-volume selection was published in German in 1955, with a full edition not appearing until 1972–89; English anthologies first appeared in 1968 and 1978; the four-volume Selected Writings, 1996–2003.) Originally received in the context of literary theory and aesthetics, the philosophical depth and cultural breadth of Benjamin's thought have only recently begun to be fully appreciated. Despite the voluminous size of the secondary literature that it has produced, his work remains a continuing source of productivity. An understanding of the intellectual context of his work has contributed to the recent philosophical revival of Early German Romanticism. His essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility’ remains a major theoretical text for film theory. One-Way Street and the work arising from his unfinished research on nineteenth century Paris (The Arcades Project), provide a theoretical stimulus for cultural theory and philosophical concepts of the modern. Benjamin's messianic understanding of history has been an enduring source of theoretical fascination and frustration for a diverse range of recent philosophical thinkers, including Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben and, in a critical context, Jürgen Habermas. The ‘Critique of Violence’ and ‘On the Concept of History’ are important sources for Derrida's discussion of messianicity, which has been influential, along with Paul de Man's discussion of allegory, for the poststructuralist reception of Benjamin's writings. Aspects of Benjamin's thought have also been associated with the recent revival of political theology, although it is doubtful this reception is true to the tendencies of Benjamin's own political thought. . . .

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