Who is Walter Benjamin?June 26, 2021
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin (15 July 1892, Berlin – 26 September 1940, Portbou) was a German literary critic, thinker, cultural historian and aesthetic theorist.
Coming from a Jewish family, Benjamin studied philosophy in Berlin, Freiburg (Breisgau), Munich and Bern. He settled in Berlin in 1920 and started working as a literary critic and translator. When his doctoral thesis, Ursprung des Deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragedy), which he presented in 1928, was rejected at Frankfurt University, he gave up entirely on an academic career, which he had not taken kindly to.
Under the influence of Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno and Bertolt Brecht, Benjamin gradually moved closer to Marxism in the 1930s, leaving Germany in 1933 and settling in Paris. There he wrote criticism and essays for literary magazines and Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung ([[Journal of Social Studies]]) published by Adorno and Horkheimer in New York. In 1939, he was stripped of his German citizenship because of an article published in a magazine published by German refugees. He fled to Portbou in the south of France in 1940, after the Germans occupied France and the Gestapo raided his home in Paris; He committed suicide when he learned that he would be handed over to the Gestapo by the police.
He is one of the greatest Marxist ideologues of the last period. Even though he put Karl Marx at the bottom of his reading list, his criticisms are very important for Marxist theory.
The German philosopher Walter Benjamin is affiliated with the Frankfurt School, a group of neo-Marxist social theorists who explore the importance of mass culture and communication. Benjamin was also influenced by film and literary techniques and published “One Way” in 1926, an essay in literary fiction. Here he puts together a collection of observations—intellectual and empirical—that come to mind as he walks down the street of an imaginary city. Benjamin does not put forward a grand theory in his essay. Instead, he wants to surprise us with his ideas, just as we are surprised by something that catches our eye while walking down the street. Towards the end of his article, he says, “The quotations in my work are like robbers leaping from the side of the road, waving their guns from side to side, and dissipating the boredom of the wanderer born from the sense of certainty.”
The idea that the best way to know a person is to love him without hope becomes apparent in the middle of the summer under the heading “Arc Lamp”. Benjamin stands in the light of a flame and just thinks about it, then the writing suddenly moves to another chapter. We find it difficult to understand what he means. Is he saying that knowledge is born out of love? Or do we see our lover clearly only when we stop hoping for an outcome? We don’t know. All we can do is walk down the street with Benjamin and live in the flame of passing thoughts.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook