Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Storm from Paradise

Walter Benjamin was one of the great critical writers of the twentieth century.  Sympathetic to the Frankfurt School writers such as Theodor Adorno, but never fully affiliated to the Institut fur Sozialforschung, Benjamin lived the perilous life of a jobbing man of letters in the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, and then, as the Nazis rose to power, in France.  Scholar of German drama, connoisseur of Baudelaire, early film critic, perhaps the greatest analyst we have of urban dynamics, it's hard to categorise him and his work, which partakes of philosophy, sociology, literary criticism, literary journalism, occasionally infused by a streak of Jewish messianism.

That prophetic tone and angle is famously visible in his strange and brilliant essay 'On the Concept of History', published originally in 1940.  Like Adorno, his friend, admirer and also at times severe critic, Benjamin was influenced in his writing by Nietzsche's aphoristic style, and the 'theses' that make up 'On the Concept of History' are no ordinary arguments or statements of a systematic philosophy.  But they summon up unforgettable images and metaphors for the effort to think historically in the bad new times, none more famous than that of the 'Angelus Novus', the Angel of History.

The Storyteller, a new volume of Benjamin's creative work, joins recent volumes of autobiography, and Lecia Rosenthal's wonderful collection of his radio journalism, Radio Benjamin.  This comes from the Verso website, so often a resource of radical news and ideas.

The Storm Blowing from Paradise: Walter Benjamin and Klee's Angelus Novus



No comments:

Post a Comment