Benjamin: Gathering Storm
Aberrant Marxist, heretical Jew, maverick social theorist—Walter Benjamin remains difficult to classify, but his mystique only continues to grow
In the last five years, more than 300 books and articles on Walter Benjamin have appeared in English alone. Not bad for a man who was virtually forgotten when he committed suicide in 1941.
It’s always been hard to pin Benjamin down. Aberrant Marxist, heretical Jew, maverick social theorist, deconstructive spirit—he has been many things to many people. It is equally hard to describe what he did, in part because Americans don’t really make intellectuals like him. Benjamin, whose most important work was written in Berlin during the ’20s and then in Paris during the ’30s, wasn’t just a book reviewer, although he wanted to be the best one in Germany. He was hardly a journalist, but a good deal of his considerable production was written for newspapers. He was not a philosopher, but he is treated like one. To use a quaint expression, he was a man of letters. Even that does not do him justice.