be careful with that Benjamin


My admiration for some of Benjamin’s writing, the elegance of his thinking and his language more than anything else, has accompanied me throughout my intellectual life. And this in spite of the irreparable damage I probably inflicted upon myself during my period of obsessive Benjamin reading. Because the confusion of his thinking exponentially propelled my own confusions to new heights, for many years. When you read Benjamin, you must learn to strictly separate admiration and criticism. The history of his influence is suitabably paradoxical. Benjamin’s writing, which was almost exclusively intended to be scientific in method, makes strict claims to the truth, even when it takes the form of aphorism, feuilleton, literary critique or memoir. But Benjamin today enjoys the level of worldwide adoration that is otherwise reserved for poets in Eastern Europe. He is quoted so extensively, his photograph reproduced so often, he is the subject of so many prominent congresses and meticulous exhibitions that you would be forgiven for thinking he was Germany’s leading poet. This misleading (oft kitschifying) treatment of a man who throughout his life regarded himself as a theorist, is most unusual for literary life in the west. At the very least it demands an explanation.

more from Stephan Wackwitz at Sign and Sight here.