The legendary correspondence between the critic Walter Benjamin and the historian Gershom Scholem bears indispensable witness to the inner lives of two remarkable and enigmatic personalities. Benjamin, acknowledged today as one of the leading literary and social critics of his day, was known during his lifetime by only a small circle of his friends and intellectual confreres. Scholem recognized the genius of his friend and mentor during their student days in Berlin, and the two began to correspond after Scholem's emigration to Palestine. Their impassioned exchange draws the reader into the very heart of their complex relationship during the anguished years from 1932 until Benjamin's death in 1940.
An impassioned glimpse into the death throes of the German-Jewish tradition can be gleaned from the correspondence between Walter Benjamin, the great literary-social critic who lived in exile in Paris, and Gershom Scholem, scholar of the Jewish mystical tradition who migrated to Palestine in 1923. These close friends might seem totally dissimilar: Benjamin was a Marxist, comrade of Brecht, Scholem a Zionist who found in the Kabbalah the seeds for an anarchist spiritual renewal of Judaism. Yet both exiles sought divine sparks in profound texts and the ruptures of history. Their dialogue on Kafka is instructive: for Benjamin, the Czech writer was a prophet of planetary annihilation, while Scholem read Kafka as a latter-day Jewish gnostic commentator on divine judgment. The letters end in early 1940, a few months before Benjamin fled to the Spanish border and committed suicide. (Sept.)