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Walter Benjamin

Birthdate: 15. July 1892
Date of death: 26. September 1940

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German Jewish philosopher, cultural critic and essayist. An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory, literary criticism, and historical materialism. He was associated with the Frankfurt School, and also maintained formative friendships with thinkers such as playwright Bertolt Brecht and Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem. He was also related to German political theorist and philosopher Hannah Arendt through her first marriage to Benjamin's cousin, Günther Anders.

Among Benjamin's best known works are the essays "The Task of the Translator" , "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" , and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" . His major work as a literary critic included essays on Baudelaire, Goethe, Kafka, Kraus, Leskov, Proust, Walser, and translation theory. 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. In 1940, at the age of 48, Benjamin committed suicide at Portbou on the French–Spanish border while attempting to escape from the invading Wehrmacht. Though popular acclaim eluded him during his life, the decades following his death won his work posthumous renown. Wikipedia

Works

„That claim cannot be settled cheaply.“

—  Walter Benjamin, book Theses on the Philosophy of History

Source: Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), II
Context: There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply.

„Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method.“

—  Walter Benjamin

Unpacking my Library: A Talk About Book Collecting (1931)
Context: 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.

„This storm is what we call progress.“

—  Walter Benjamin, book Theses on the Philosophy of History

Source: Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), IX
Context: A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

„In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist.“

—  Walter Benjamin, book Theses on the Philosophy of History

Variant translation:
To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize “how it really was.” It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger. For historical materialism it is a question of holding fast to a picture of the past, just as if it had unexpectedly thrust itself, in a moment of danger, on the historical subject. The danger threatens the stock of tradition as much as its recipients. For both it is one and the same: handing itself over as the tool of the ruling classes. In every epoch, the attempt must be made to deliver tradition anew from the conformism which is on the point of overwhelming it. For the Messiah arrives not merely as the Redeemer; he also arrives as the vanquisher of the Anti-christ. The only writer of history with the gift of setting alight the sparks of hope in the past, is the one who is convinced of this: that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.
As translated by Dennis Redmond (2001)
Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940)
Context: To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist. Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.

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„There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one.“

—  Walter Benjamin, book Theses on the Philosophy of History

Source: Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), II
Context: There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim. That claim cannot be settled cheaply.

„Nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history.“

—  Walter Benjamin, book Theses on the Philosophy of History

Source: Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940), III
Context: Nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history. To be sure, only a redeemed mankind receives the fullness of its past — which is to say, only a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments. Each moment it has lived becomes a citation à l'ordre du jour — and that day is Judgement Day.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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