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Walter Benjamin and the Remains of a Philosophy of History

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A Review of Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought by Uwe Steiner

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Uwe Steiner’s Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought is a comprehensive and compelling account of Walter Benjamin’s life and work, which will satisfy both newcomers to Benjamin and those with an existing interest. In this review, I argue that Steiner’s account goes beyond similar encounters with Benjamin in two main ways: first, by focusing specifically on Benjamin’s personal and intellectual relationship with ‘modernity’ and, second, by presenting Benjamin’s enduring appeal as a result of the creative interpretation of his work according to changing times and tastes. Yet Steiner’s historicising account of Benjamin also somewhat neutralises his critical potential as a historical-materialist thinker. Drawing on the work of Benjamin’s erstwhile friend and contemporary Ernst Bloch, as well as on Peter Osborne’s concept of modernity as a specific consciousness of time, I argue that the act of interpretation itself requires a weakly teleological concept of history, such as we find with Bloch and, between the lines perhaps, also with Steiner’s Benjamin.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Germanic Studies, University of Sydney


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1. Benjamin Walter Zohn Harry"‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’" Illuminations 1968 New York Pantheon
2. Bloch Ernst Plaice Neville, Plaice Stephen, Knight Paul The Principle of Hope 1995Vol Volume 1 Cambridge, MA. The MIT Press
3. Eagleton Terry Walter Benjamin: Or, Towards a Revolutionary Criticism 2009 London Verso
4. Erlin Matt"‘Reluctant Modernism: Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of History’" Journal of the History of Ideas 2002Vol 63 1 83 104
5. Jacobson Eric Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem 2003 New York Columbia University Press
6. Koselleck Reinhart Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time 2003 New York Columbia University Press
7. Leslie Esther Walter Benjamin 2007 London Reaktion Books
8. Lessing Gotthold Ephraim Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts und andere Schriften 1994 Stuttgart Reclam Verlag
9. Mendelssohn Moses Arkush Allan Jerusalem: Or, On Religious Power and Judaism 1984 Lebanon, NH Brandeis University Press
10. Osborne Peter The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde 1995 London Verso
11. Siebers Johan Dietschy Beat, Zeilinger Doris, Zimmermann Rainer E."‘Novum’" Bloch-Wörterbuch. Leitbegriffe der Philosophie Ernst Blochs 2012 Berlin Walter de Gruyter
12. Steiner Uwe Winkler Michael Walter Benjamin: An Introduction to His Work and Thought 2010 Chicago University of Chicago Press
13. Witte Bernd Rolleston James Walter Benjamin: An Intellectual Biography 1991 Detroit Wayne State University Press

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