Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
$22.73
Buy Used
Buy Used from BN.com
$17.35
(Save 41%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $14.65
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 50%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (18) from $14.65   
  • New (11) from $21.33   
  • Used (7) from $14.65   

Overview

Walter Benjamin was one of the most original and important critical voices of the twentieth century, but until now only a few of his writings have been available in English. Harvard University Press has now undertaken to publish a significant portion of his work in definitive translation, under the general editorship of Michael W. Jennings. This volume, the first of three, will at last give readers of English a true sense of the man and the many facets of his thought. (The magnum opus of Benjamin’s Paris years, The Arcades Project, has been published in a separate volume.)
Walter Benjamin emerged from the head-on collision of an idealistic youth movement and the First World War, which Benjamin and his close friends thought immoral. He walked away from the wreck scarred yet determined “to be considered as the principal critic of German literature.” But the scene, as he found it, was dominated by “talented fakes,” so—to use his words—“only a terrorist campaign would I suffice” to effect radical change. This book offers the record of the first phase of that campaign, culminating with “One Way Street,” one of the most significant products of the German avant-garde of the Twenties. Against conformism, homogeneity, and gentrification of all life into a new world order, Benjamin made the word his sword.
Volume I of the Selected Writings brings together essays long and short, academic treatises, reviews, fragments, and privately circulated pronouncements. Fully five-sixths of this material has never before been translated into English. The contents begin in 1913, when Benjamin, as an undergraduate in imperial Germany, was president of a radical youth group, and take us through 1926, when he had already begun, with his explorations of the world of mass culture, to emerge as a critical voice in Weimar Germany’s most influential journals.
The volume includes a number of his most important works, including “Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin,” “Goethe’s Elective Affinities,” “The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,” “The Task of the Translator,” and “One Way Street.” He is as compelling and insightful when musing on riddles or children’s books as he is when dealing with weightier issues such as the philosophy of language, symbolic logic, or epistemology. We meet Benjamin the youthful idealist, the sober moralist, the political theorist, the experimentalist, the translator, and, above all, the virtual king of criticism, with his magisterial exposition of the basic problems of aesthetics.
Benjamin’s sentences provoke us to return to them again and again, luring us as though with the promise of some final revelation that is always being postponed. He is by turns fierce and tender, melancholy and ebullient; he is at once classically rooted, even archaic, in his explorations of the human psyche and the world of things, and strikingly progressive in his attitude toward society and what he likes to call the organs of the collective (its architectures, fashions, signboards). Throughout, he displays a far-sighted urgency, judging the present on the basis of possible futures. And he is gifted with a keen sense of humor. Mysterious though he may sometimes be (his Latvian love, Asia Lacis, once described him as a visitor from another planet), Benjamin remains perhaps the most consistently surprising and challenging of critical writers.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Lingua Franca

For many readers, [Benjamin's]…scrupulous attention to detail, this sense that everything can be made to speak, explains [his] force as a writer. His hermeneutic skill is nowhere more evident than in his essay on Goethe's Elective Affinities, the most important previously untranslated article included here. He confronts the novel from several perspectives, using it to illuminate the institution of marriage, the morality of love, and the project of artistic creation. At the same time, the essay offers a powerful—and frankly mystical—image of criticism itself… Esoteric much of the work is, but its originality inspires. If cultural studies is headed back to basics, Benjamin's luminous musings are a rewarding place to start.
— James Surowiecki

New Republic

To encounter Benjamin's piece ['The Life of Students'] is like overhearing the opening notes of one of the most intellectually compelling friendships of our century. It is greatly to the credit of Harvard University Press to have made the text finally available to English-speaking readers. In general, the editors of this volume have made an exemplary choice of what to include, and when their projected multi-volume section is complete, it will constitute the most important compilation of Benjamin's writings outside the mammoth German Collected Works.
— Michael André Bernstein

Times Higher Education Supplement
[A] splendid new edition of Benjamin's own Selected Writings.
Washington Times

Benjamin has gradually emerged as a major presence in 20th-century letters. This reputation rests on his extraordinary and highly idiosyncratic gift for original and far-reaching insights. It was his ambition to become Germany's leading literary critic, a status that many no doubt would be inclined to award him posthumously… Benjamin is sometimes misunderstood, since only certain parts of his overall output have come into view here. The 65 pieces collected in this excellent first volume of the new Harvard Benjamin should help clarify the larger picture as well as deepen and enliven the discussion.
— Steve Dowden

American Book Review

[Walter Benjamin] is no less than a major enrichment and revision of the image of Walter Benjamin's criticism in the English-speaking world.
— Tyrus Miller

The Observer

Today, the presence of Walter Benjamin is invoked in aesthetics, in political philosophy, in the theory of literature and of film, in linguistics and theology… [T]his [is a] sumptuous first volume of [his] Selected Writings… [T]here is more to this feast of a book than demanding gravity. The look at 'Old Forgotten Children's Books' is an arch delight. The sketch of 'Naples' (1925) anticipates the vital part the Mediterranean was to play in Benjamin's search for inexpensive nirvanas. The brief entry on 'Love and Related Matters' of 1920 speculates on the coming sexual revolution… Throughout Walter Benjamin, the prodigality of suggestion haunts one.
— George Steiner

Artforum

The appeal of Benjamin's writing, according to Terry Eagleton, lies in the way it 'manages marvellously to combine…[Marxist] 'aesthetics' with the entrancing esotericism of the Kabbala.'… Benjamin is admired not in spite of but because of his arcane syntax, murky vocabulary, and buried meanings… You have to seek the truth in Benjamin's writings, if you have the patience, and not treat them as conveying knowledge. There is an awful lot of husk to burn in the process, but the theory of truth, if true, explains the obscurity.
— Arthur C. Danto

Quarterly Journal of Speech

Bullock and Jennings's Selected Writings series offers and opportunity to reevaluate Benjamin within the context of rhetoric, from a wider body of documents than previously available… This first volume of the Selected Writings gives scholars of rhetoric a critical mass of text (from notebook jottings, to student writings and early published works, to Benjamin's dissertation) from which to evaluate Benjamin's work. From this new vantage point, we might identify his potential contribution to rhetorical theory through his writing on communication, the philosophy of language, aesthetics and the political. In some cases, Bullock and Jennings's new edition resonates with and reiterates themes found in the canonical anthologies. In other cases, we are exposed to a Benjamin not previously seen in English… There are key insights here, especially in these times when the Critical Theory project which has driven the study of mass communication comes into rhetorical studies… Benjamin reminds us that to embrace and preserve the true fragment exceeds the condemnation of the system, of the whole.
— David Beard

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

Booklist
[W]ith the advent of this volume…Benjamin's bold and invigorating philosophy of literature will reach a broader audience and truly make its power felt. Here are Benjamin's earliest writings, the youthful efforts of an emerging aesthetic theorist already in command of a vast wealth of material and unafraid to voice strong and controversial opinions about everything from children's books to Goethe, Dostoevsky, Baudelaire, and such concepts as perception, the philosophy of history, and theories of knowledge and the imagination.
Jerusalem Post

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

Boston Phoenix

[T]he publication of an ambitious new edition of Benjamin's selected writings [is] a genuinely exciting event. In place of a limited selection of Benjamin's more immediately accessible pieces, American readers now have the chance to wander the full range of his work, and to gain a real sense of the often contradictory but always provocative combination of philosophy, criticism, and cultural history that it offers.
— James Surowiecki

The Nation

A glance at the Table of Contents of Selected Writings—he writes on language, time, colors, children's books, love, violence, messianism—shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety. The two longest pieces, both from the early twenties and neither translated till now, are his doctoral thesis, 'The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,' and his long essay on Goethe's late novel, Elective Affinities… [The latter] is an exemplary piece of lit crit, brilliantly analyzing the book's layers, motifs, symbols and subtexts…Benjamin's reverent feeling for tradition gives weight to his radical readings of tradition. Both essays could be an inspiration to people doing cultural studies today.
— Marshall Berman

The Irish Times

Selected Writings, Volume I increases our understanding of this most important of writers exponentially. There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year.
— David Wheatley

Lingua Franca - James Surowiecki
[T]he publication of an ambitious new edition of Benjamin's selected writings [is] a genuinely exciting event. In place of a limited selection of Benjamin's more immediately accessible pieces, American readers now have the chance to wander the full range of his work, and to gain a real sense of the often contradictory but always provocative combination of philosophy, criticism, and cultural history that it offers.
New Republic - Michael André Bernstein
To encounter Benjamin's piece ['The Life of Students'] is like overhearing the opening notes of one of the most intellectually compelling friendships of our century. It is greatly to the credit of Harvard University Press to have made the text finally available to English-speaking readers. In general, the editors of this volume have made an exemplary choice of what to include, and when their projected multi-volume section is complete, it will constitute the most important compilation of Benjamin's writings outside the mammoth German Collected Works.
Washington Times - Steve Dowden
Benjamin has gradually emerged as a major presence in 20th-century letters. This reputation rests on his extraordinary and highly idiosyncratic gift for original and far-reaching insights. It was his ambition to become Germany's leading literary critic, a status that many no doubt would be inclined to award him posthumously… Benjamin is sometimes misunderstood, since only certain parts of his overall output have come into view here. The 65 pieces collected in this excellent first volume of the new Harvard Benjamin should help clarify the larger picture as well as deepen and enliven the discussion.
The Nation - Marshall Berman
A glance at the Table of Contents of Selected Writings—he writes on language, time, colors, children's books, love, violence, messianism—shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety. The two longest pieces, both from the early twenties and neither translated till now, are his doctoral thesis, 'The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,' and his long essay on Goethe's late novel, Elective Affinities… [The latter] is an exemplary piece of lit crit, brilliantly analyzing the book's layers, motifs, symbols and subtexts…Benjamin's reverent feeling for tradition gives weight to his radical readings of tradition. Both essays could be an inspiration to people doing cultural studies today.
American Book Review - Tyrus Miller
[Walter Benjamin] is no less than a major enrichment and revision of the image of Walter Benjamin's criticism in the English-speaking world.
The Observer - George Steiner
Today, the presence of Walter Benjamin is invoked in aesthetics, in political philosophy, in the theory of literature and of film, in linguistics and theology… [T]his [is a] sumptuous first volume of [his] Selected Writings… [T]here is more to this feast of a book than demanding gravity. The look at 'Old Forgotten Children's Books' is an arch delight. The sketch of 'Naples' (1925) anticipates the vital part the Mediterranean was to play in Benjamin's search for inexpensive nirvanas. The brief entry on 'Love and Related Matters' of 1920 speculates on the coming sexual revolution… Throughout Walter Benjamin, the prodigality of suggestion haunts one.
The Irish Times - David Wheatley
Selected Writings, Volume I increases our understanding of this most important of writers exponentially. There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year.
Artforum - Arthur C. Danto
The appeal of Benjamin's writing, according to Terry Eagleton, lies in the way it 'manages marvellously to combine…[Marxist] 'aesthetics' with the entrancing esotericism of the Kabbala.'… Benjamin is admired not in spite of but because of his arcane syntax, murky vocabulary, and buried meanings… You have to seek the truth in Benjamin's writings, if you have the patience, and not treat them as conveying knowledge. There is an awful lot of husk to burn in the process, but the theory of truth, if true, explains the obscurity.
Quarterly Journal of Speech - David Beard
Bullock and Jennings's Selected Writings series offers and opportunity to reevaluate Benjamin within the context of rhetoric, from a wider body of documents than previously available… This first volume of the Selected Writings gives scholars of rhetoric a critical mass of text (from notebook jottings, to student writings and early published works, to Benjamin's dissertation) from which to evaluate Benjamin's work. From this new vantage point, we might identify his potential contribution to rhetorical theory through his writing on communication, the philosophy of language, aesthetics and the political. In some cases, Bullock and Jennings's new edition resonates with and reiterates themes found in the canonical anthologies. In other cases, we are exposed to a Benjamin not previously seen in English… There are key insights here, especially in these times when the Critical Theory project which has driven the study of mass communication comes into rhetorical studies… Benjamin reminds us that to embrace and preserve the true fragment exceeds the condemnation of the system, of the whole.
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.'
Jerusalem Post - Haim Chertok
Wherever [Benjamin] turned his incisive gaze…the clarity of morning's first light shines forth.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Walter Benjamin's posthumous influence as philosopher and critic has grown since his suicide in 1940, when it appeared that his escape from France into Spain would end with deportation to a concentration camp. Brodersen's biography, awkwardly and sometimes impenetrably translated and edited, will do Benjamin's established reputation no harm while doing little to make his ideas more accessible. Born in Berlin in 1892, Benjamin outlasted WWI as a graduate student but was denied the essential postdoctoral Habilitation, which would have opened doors to an academic post. He made his way instead as a freelance critic. A working wife (from whom he was later divorced) and an allowance reluctantly continued by his father, a merchant, kept him going when he made little from his writings, which nevertheless brought him increasing respect from his peers, despite the pervasive anti-Semitism of his time. Expecting recognition to come slowly, he wrote wryly of his intellectual "wine cellar." In his lifetime, respect for his theories on the interdependence of language, politics and literature arose largely from his periodical contributions, some of them published after his death. Although Brodersen notes in a preface that he was refused access to documents by the writer's estate, the most valuable dimension of his book may be 187 reproductions of documents and pictures (captions alone seen by PW) that illuminate Benjamin's career and flesh out the inadequate text. While the biography furnishes some clues about the rivalries in perceptions and personalities within the German intelligentsia between the wars, extracting them is hard going. (Nov.)
Library Journal
In recent years a small number of Benjamin's works have been translated, including a volume of correspondence (The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910-1940, LJ 4/15/94), but the majority of his work has been unavailable in English. Now this press plans to publish a substantial amount of Benjamin's work in four volumes. This first volume, edited by Bullock (German, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) and Jennings (German, Princeton Univ.), covers the years 1913-26, when Benjamin began to emerge as a major critic in Germany. Included in this volume are essays, reviews, and fragments covering a wide variety of subjects from aesthetics to children's books, many of which were not published in Benjamin's lifetime. Major works included are Goethe's Elective Affinities, The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, and The Task of the Translator. A helpful chronology of Benjamin's life aids the reader in understanding how his critical perspective developed. Benjamin is rarely easy reading, but in their depth and scope his ideas are always rewarding. For academic collections.-Ronald Ray Ratliff, Chapman H.S. Lib., Kan.
Kirkus Reviews
A cause for excitement among literary essayists and critics: Walter Benjamin's scattered works are at last being translated and collected in a carefully edited edition.

The great German essayist died by his own hand while in flight from the Nazis. Between 1913 and his suicide in 1940 he wrote a great many essays and reviews in his native German. Relatively few have appeared in English translation. Hannah Arendt, who knew him and admired his work, edited a concise selection of his essays under the title Illuminations in 1969. The scholar Peter Demetz published a further selection under the title Reflections in 1978. Though these solid editions remain in print, and though various of Benjamin's other works have appeared here and there in translation, most of his writings—including some of his most extraordinary accomplishments—have never been translated. The loss for American readers is substantial. At long last, under the general editorship of Jennings (German/Princeton), and in collaboration with other prominent Benjamin experts, a three-volume, chronologically organized edition of the essays, memoirs, reviews, aphorisms, fragments, and other short forms is being issued. The present volume includes a fine translation of the crucial essay on Goethe's novel The Elective Affinities. The overall quality of the translations is high, even though they are by diverse hands. And in Benjamin's special case, this is no mean accomplishment: His German prose can be arrestingly precise, but it can also be extraordinarily difficult, and not infrequently it is nearly opaque. His peculiar gift was not for writing lucid, logical essays but instead for lightning flashes of sudden, precise, and idiosyncratic illumination. The translators have supplied useful (though relatively sparing) explanatory notes, and the editors have appended a narrative chronology of Benjamin's life through 1926.

While there is some overlap with existing editors, this new Benjamin set will be the standard work.

Boston Phoenix Literary Section
[T]he publication of an ambitious new edition of Benjamin's selected writings [is] a genuinely exciting event. In place of a limited selection of Benjamin's more immediately accessible pieces, American readers now have the chance to wander the full range of his work, and to gain a real sense of the often contradictory but always provocative combination of philosophy, criticism, and cultural history that it offers.
— James Surowiecki
The Irish Times (Dublin)
Selected Writings I increases our understanding of this most important of writers exponentially. There is nothing like Benjamin, and I can hardly imagine a more rewarding book being published this year.
— David Wheatley
Nation
A glance at the Table of Contents of Selected Writings--he writes on language, time, colors, children's books, love, violence, messianism--shows us at once Benjamin's provocativeness and his infinite variety. The two longest pieces, both from the early twenties and neither translated till now, are his doctoral thesis, 'The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,' and his long essay on Goethe's late novel, Elective Affinities...[The latter] is an exemplary piece of lit crit, brilliantly analyzing the book's layers, motifs, symbols and subtexts...Benjamin's reverent feeling for tradition gives weight to his radical readings of tradition. Both essays could be an inspiration to people doing cultural studies today.
— Marshall Berman
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674013551
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/16/2004
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 800,169
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

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

Marcus Bullock is Professor of German, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

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

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

  • Metaphysics of Youth, 1913–1919
    • “Experience”
    • The Metaphysics of Youth
    • Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin
    • The Life of Students
    • Aphorisms on Imagination and Color
    • A Child’s View of Color
    • Socrates
    • Trauerspiel and Tragedy
    • The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy
    • On Language as Such and on the Language of Man
    • Theses on the Problem of Identity
    • Dostoevsky’s The Idiot
    • Painting and the Graphic Arts
    • Painting, or Signs and Marks
    • The Ground of Intentional Immediacy
    • The Object: Triangle
    • Perception Is Reading
    • On Perception
    • Comments on Gundolf’s Goethe
    • On the Program of the Coming Philosophy
    • Stifter
    • Every Unlimited Condition of the Will
    • Types of History
    • The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism
    • Fate and Character
    • Analogy and Relationship
    • The Paradox of the Cretan
    • The Currently Effective Messianic Elements


  • Angelus Novus, 1920–1926
    • The Theory of Criticism
    • Categories of Aesthetics
    • On Semblance
    • World and Time
    • According to the Theory of Duns Scotus
    • On Love and Related Matters
    • The Right to Use Force
    • The Medium through Which Works of Art Continue to Influence Later Ages
    • Critique of Violence
    • The Task of the Translator
    • Notes for a Study of the Beauty of Colored Illustrations in Children’s Books
    • Riddle and Mystery
    • Outline for a Habilitation Thesis
    • Language and Logic (I–III)
    • Theory of Knowledge
    • Truth and Truths / Knowledge and Elements of Knowledge
    • Imagination
    • Beauty and Semblance
    • The Philosophy of History of the Late Romantics and the Historical School
    • The Meaning of Time in the Moral Universe
    • Capitalism as Religion
    • Announcement of the Journal Angelus Novus
    • Goethe’s Elective Affinities
    • Baudelaire (II, III)
    • Calderón’s El Mayor Monstruo, Los Celos and Hebbel’s Herades und Mariamne
    • Letter to Florens Christian Rang
    • Stages of Intention
    • Outline of the Psychophysical Problem
    • Even the Sacramental Migrates into Myth
    • On the Topic of Individual Disciplines and Philosophy
    • “Old Forgotten Children’s Books”
    • Naples
    • Curriculum Vitae (I)
    • Reflections on Humboldt
    • Review of Bernoulli’s Bachofen
    • Johann Peter Hehel (I): On the Centenary of His Death
    • Johann Peter Hebel (II): A Picture Puzzle for the Centenary of His Death
    • A Glimpse into the World of Children’s Books
    • One-Way Street


  • A Note on the Texts
  • Chronology, 1892–1926
  • Index

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)