Walter Benjamin

Philosopher, Author

1892 – 1940

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Who was Walter Benjamin?

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German literary critic, philosopher, social critic, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist. Combining elements of German idealism or Romanticism, historical materialism and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory and Western Marxism, and is associated with the Frankfurt School.

Among Benjamin's major works as a literary critic are essays on Goethe's novel Elective Affinities; the work of Franz Kafka and Karl Kraus; translation theory; the stories of Nikolai Leskov; the work of Marcel Proust and perhaps most significantly, the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. He also made major translations into German of the Tableaux Parisiens section of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and parts of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu.

His turn to Marxism in the 1930s was partly due to the influence of Bertolt Brecht, whose critical aesthetics developed epic theatre and its Verfremdungseffekt. An earlier influence was friend Gershom Scholem, founder of the academic study of the Kabbalah and of Jewish mysticism.

Influenced by the Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen, Benjamin coined the term "auratic perception", denoting the aesthetic faculty by means of which civilization may recover an appreciation of myth. Benjamin's work is often cited in academic and literary studies, especially the essays "The Task of the Translator" and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

Famous Quotes:

  • The destructive character lives from the feeling, not that life is worth living, but that suicide is not worth the trouble.
  • Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories.
  • Nothing is poorer than a truth expressed as it was thought. Committed to writing in such cases, it is not even a bad photograph. Truth wants to be startled abruptly, at one stroke, from her self-immersion, whether by uproar, music or cries for help.
  • Gifts must affect the receiver to the point of shock.
  • Opinions are a private matter. The public has an interest only in judgments.
  • He who observes etiquette but objects to lying is like someone who dresses fashionably but wears no vest.
  • Any translation which intends to perform a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information -- hence, something inessential. This is the hallmark of bad translations.
  • Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method. Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like.
  • Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred.
  • The art of the critic in a nutshell: to coin slogans without betraying ideas. The slogans of an inadequate criticism peddle ideas to fashion.

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Born
Jul 15, 1892
Berlin
Religion
  • Judaism
Ethnicity
  • Jewish people
  • Germans
Nationality
  • Germany
Profession
Education
  • Humboldt University of Berlin
  • University of Berne
  • Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg
  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Lived in
  • Berlin
Died
Sep 26, 1940
Portbou

Submitted
on July 23, 2013

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"Walter Benjamin." Biographies.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 3 Dec. 2021. <https://www.biographies.net/people/en/walter_benjamin>.

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