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Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, 4: 1938-1940

Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, 4: 1938-1940


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"Every line we succeed in publishing 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674022294
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/31/2006
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 1,186,141
Product dimensions: 6.38(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

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

Howard Eiland is an editor and translator of Benjamin’s writings.

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

Table of Contents


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


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)


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


List of writings in Volumes 1-4


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