Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938-1940

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Overview

"Every line we succeed in publishing today...is a victory wrested from the powers of darkness." So wrote Walter Benjamin in January 1940. Not long afterward, he himself would fall prey to those powers, a victim of suicide following a failed attempt to flee the Nazis. However insistently the idea of catastrophe hangs over Benjamin's writings in the final years of his life, the "victories wrested" in this period nonetheless constitute some of the most remarkable twentieth-century analyses of the emergence of modern society. The essays on Charles Baudelaire are the distillation of a lifetime of thinking about the nature of modernity. They record the crisis of meaning experienced by a civilization sliding into the abyss, even as they testify to Benjamin's own faith in the written word.

This volume ranges from studies of Baudelaire, Brecht, and the historian Carl Jochmann to appraisals of photography, film, and poetry. At their core is the question of how art can survive and thrive in a tumultuous time. Here we see Benjamin laying out an ethic for the critic and artist--a subdued but resilient heroism. At the same time, he was setting forth a sociohistorical account of how art adapts in an age of violence and repression.

Working at the height of his powers to the very end, Benjamin refined his theory of the mass media that culminated in the final version of his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility." Also included in this volume is his influential piece "On the Concept of History," completed just before his death. The book is remarkable for its inquiry into the nature of "the modern" (especially as revealed in Baudelaire), for its ideas about the transmogrification of art and the radical discontinuities of history, and for its examples of humane life and thought in the midst of barbarism. The entire collection is eloquent testimony to the indomitable spirit of humanity under siege.

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Editorial Reviews

South Caroline Review

The variety of subjects and the grace of a style that shines though even in translation help explain Benjamin's reputation as one of our... shrewdest commentators on literature and culture.
— Frank Day

Financial Times

Readers new to Benjamin will find this a welcome introduction to a challenging but rewarding writer. Those already familiar with his work will be grateful to be reminded, once again, of the wisdom of his maxim, "all the decisive blows are struck left-handed."
— Graham McCann

Macgrill's Literary Annual

The edition at hand...represents the first serious attempt to present his works with systematic chronology, judicious but inclusive selection, and sensitively accurate translation. The effect is nothing less than electric.
— Peter Brier

Washington Post Book World

The latest volume of Havard's majestic annoted edition [is] exhilarating...You feel smarter just holding this book in your hand.
— Michael Dirda

Jerusalem Post

Whenever [Benjamin] turned his incisive gaze...the clarity of morning's first light shines forth.
— Haim Chertok

The Nation

A glance at the table of contents...shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety.
— Marshall Berman

Irish Times (Dublin)

There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year.
— David Wheatley

Choice

The final volume in this collection of the German philosopher's writing, this title covers the last three years of Benjamin's life and is masterfully translated, edited, and annotated. Presented here are Benjamin's grandest themes: the arcades of Paris, Baudelaire, the concept of remembrance, and materialist theology. Also included is the third version of Benjamin's most famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," which was unpublished in the author's lifetime. This essay alone makes the volume indispensable for any scholar of interwar literature, philosophy, or modern European thought. Together with the first three volumes in the set (1996-2002), this is one of the most remarkable editorial achievements in contemporary thought and politics.
— M. Uebel

The Guardian

Walter Benjamin's Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-40 brings to a conclusion the magisterial series published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
— Ciaran Carson

H-Net

First things first: this is a magnificent volume. Translating the work of a gifted translator is undoubtedly a somewhat daunting task...Benjamin’s Selected Writings is probably the most outstanding editorial achievement in modern cultural history and political thought that has been published in the last few years. Especially intellectual and social historians of early-twentieth-century Europe, who have traditionally not always paid much attention to Benjamin because of the latter’s appropriation by literary theory, now have every reason to take Benjamin’s writings more seriously.
— Christian J. Emden

Choice
The final volume in this collection of the German philosopher's writing, this title covers the last three years of Benjamin's life and is masterfully translated, edited, and annotated. Presented here are Benjamin's grandest themes: the arcades of Paris, Baudelaire, the concept of remembrance, and materialist theology. Also included is the third version of Benjamin's most famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," which was unpublished in the author's lifetime. This essay alone makes the volume indispensable for any scholar of interwar literature, philosophy, or modern European thought. Together with the first three volumes in the set (1996-2002), this is one of the most remarkable editorial achievements in contemporary thought and politics.
— M. Uebel
The Nation
A glance at the table of contents...shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety.
— Marshall Berman
The Guardian
Walter Benjamin's Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-40 brings to a conclusion the magisterial series published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
— Ciaran Carson
Financial Times
Readers new to Benjamin will find this a welcome introduction to a challenging but rewarding writer. Those already familiar with his work will be grateful to be reminded, once again, of the wisdom of his maxim, "all the decisive blows are struck left-handed."
— Graham McCann
Jerusalem Post
Whenever [Benjamin] turned his incisive gaze...the clarity of morning's first light shines forth.
— Haim Chertok
Washington Post Book World
The latest volume of Havard's majestic annoted edition [is] exhilarating...You feel smarter just holding this book in your hand.
— Michael Dirda
H-Net
First things first: this is a magnificent volume. Translating the work of a gifted translator is undoubtedly a somewhat daunting task...Benjamin’s Selected Writings is probably the most outstanding editorial achievement in modern cultural history and political thought that has been published in the last few years. Especially intellectual and social historians of early-twentieth-century Europe, who have traditionally not always paid much attention to Benjamin because of the latter’s appropriation by literary theory, now have every reason to take Benjamin’s writings more seriously.
— Christian J. Emden
South Caroline Review
The variety of subjects and the grace of a style that shines though even in translation help explain Benjamin's reputation as one of our... shrewdest commentators on literature and culture.
— Frank Day
Macgrill's Literary Annual
The edition at hand...represents the first serious attempt to present his works with systematic chronology, judicious but inclusive selection, and sensitively accurate translation. The effect is nothing less than electric.
— Peter Brier
Irish Times (Dublin)
There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year.
— David Wheatley
Publishers Weekly
The appearance of this volume marks the completion of a grand project, bringing a fully representative set of texts by German critic Benjamin (1892-1940) into English; volume 4 joins the first three installments along with The Arcades Project, Benjamin's massive set of meditations on 19th-century Paris. While this volume has fewer surprises than earlier sets, it does include the third and final version of "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility"; the previously untranslated "Germans of 1789"; the famed, explosive "On the Concept of History"; "The Paris of the Second Empire of Baudelaire" (which introduces the figure of the flaneur); and, among other texts touching on Baudelaire, "Central Park," constructed of serial aphorisms and literary observations. A number of reviews and epistolary exchanges with Adorno give a fuller picture of this period, as does the fine chronology at the book's end. Eiland, lecturer in literature at MIT, and Princeton University German professor Jennings show Benjamin caught within a Europe convulsed by Nazism, placing him in exile in Denmark (with Brecht), in a transit camp on the outskirts of Paris and, finally, on the French-Spanish border. Benjamin's apparent suicide in a hotel on the Spanish side came after he was told that the border was closed and that his party would be returned to France the next day. These events are handled with extreme care by the editors, as are Benjamin's marvelous works, which remain inimitable and irreplaceable. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
South Caroline Review - Frank Day
The variety of subjects and the grace of a style that shines though even in translation help explain Benjamin's reputation as one of our... shrewdest commentators on literature and culture.
Financial Times - Graham McCann
Readers new to Benjamin will find this a welcome introduction to a challenging but rewarding writer. Those already familiar with his work will be grateful to be reminded, once again, of the wisdom of his maxim, "all the decisive blows are struck left-handed."
Macgrill's Literary Annual - Peter Brier
The edition at hand...represents the first serious attempt to present his works with systematic chronology, judicious but inclusive selection, and sensitively accurate translation. The effect is nothing less than electric.
Washington Post Book World - Michael Dirda
The latest volume of Havard's majestic annoted edition [is] exhilarating...You feel smarter just holding this book in your hand.
Jerusalem Post - Haim Chertok
Whenever [Benjamin] turned his incisive gaze...the clarity of morning's first light shines forth.
The Nation - Marshall Berman
A glance at the table of contents...shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety.
Irish Times (Dublin) - David Wheatley
There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year.
Choice - M. Uebel
The final volume in this collection of the German philosopher's writing, this title covers the last three years of Benjamin's life and is masterfully translated, edited, and annotated. Presented here are Benjamin's grandest themes: the arcades of Paris, Baudelaire, the concept of remembrance, and materialist theology. Also included is the third version of Benjamin's most famous essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility," which was unpublished in the author's lifetime. This essay alone makes the volume indispensable for any scholar of interwar literature, philosophy, or modern European thought. Together with the first three volumes in the set (1996-2002), this is one of the most remarkable editorial achievements in contemporary thought and politics.
The Guardian - Ciaran Carson
Walter Benjamin's Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-40 brings to a conclusion the magisterial series published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
H-Net - Christian J. Emden
First things first: this is a magnificent volume. Translating the work of a gifted translator is undoubtedly a somewhat daunting task...Benjamin’s Selected Writings is probably the most outstanding editorial achievement in modern cultural history and political thought that has been published in the last few years. Especially intellectual and social historians of early-twentieth-century Europe, who have traditionally not always paid much attention to Benjamin because of the latter’s appropriation by literary theory, now have every reason to take Benjamin’s writings more seriously.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674022294
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 703,515
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was the author of many works of literary and cultural analysis.

Howard Eiland teaches literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Michael W. Jennings is Class of 1900 Professor of Modern Languages at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

FRUITS OF EXILE, 1938 (PART 2)

1. The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire

2. Blanqui

3. The Study Begins with Some Reflections on the Influence of Les Fleurs du mal

4. Exchange with Theodor W. Adorno on "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire"

5. Review of Renéville's Expérience poétique

6. Review of Freund's Photographie en France au dix-neuvième siècle

7. Reviw of Francesco's Macht des Charlatans

8. A chronicle of Germany's Unemployed

9. A Novel of German Jews

THEORY OF REMEMBRANCE, 1939

1. Review of Hönigswald's Philosophie und Sprache

2. Review of Sternberger's Panorama

3. Review of Béguin's Ame romantique et le rêve

4. Note on Brecht

5. Central Park

6. Exchange with Theodor W. Adorno on "The Flâneur" Section of "The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire"

7. Commentary on Poems by Brecht

8. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third Version

9. Germans of 1789

10. What is the Epic Theater? (II)

MATERIALIST THEOLOGY, 1940

1. On Some Motifs in Baudelaire

2. "The Regression of Poetry," by Carl Gustav Jochmann

3. Curriculum Vitae (VI): Dr. Walter Benjamin

4. On Scheerbart

5. On the Concept of History

6. Paralipomena to "On the Concept of History"

7. Letter to Theodor W. Adorno on Baudelaire, Goerge and Hofmannsthal

A Note on the Texts

Chronology

List of writings in Volumes 1-4

Index

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