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and I mean this. It is one of the saddest places on earth. shows you Walter Benjamin’s alleged grave. examination programme. I hope many of you have been. of inadequacy. This room is filled with those better qualified than myself. comical university called Muri. Gershom Scholem also loved to have his meals at the Schweizerhof Hotel in Bern. it’s a suburb of Bern. What are the prerequisites before we admit him to our imaginary seminar?’ The game turned very serious. of the Journal . to be invited to address you tonig ht. We do not know anything about where that grave is. 13 .It is a very great honour. And there is the contrasting immensity of the Benjamin industry of this occasion tonig ht. And one night Scholem said. visiting Port Bou. at the end of World War I. The graveyard is of infinite desolation. sensing the tourist. Stakhanovites in the field of Benjamin Studies. or are going to be. the Universität Muri. He took me to the very table where he and Walter were always together and where. seminar programme. In the winter of 1972/73 I had the privileg e of sharing the guesthouse of the University of Zürich with Gershom Scholem. That is tourist food. The ironies are deep. too elementary. of course. they drew up the statutes. The guide. of the academic voracity around his work. masters of deconstruction and postmodernism. I’m very worried lest these remarks may seem to you. ‘let’s sit down and do the prerequisites for any student wanting to enter a seminar on Benjamin. a very genuine simple feeling. of an imaginary satiric. the postcolonial lyric. There is a grim little plaque consigned to the ‘Filósofo Alemán’ — those words are wrong. to me deeply moving. It is also a feeling.
pro-war attitude and a militant patriotism. with its ethical. German pacifism was very rare. in a very complex and peculiar way. a cult which will be reflected in the great 1923–24 Wahlverwandtschaften essay of Benjamin. And the impact of this debate and of these tensions and dialectics on Benjamin. a largely idealised vision of an emancipated Voltairean France of the Lumières . Among Jews this meant an almost ludicrous overcompensation. says Scholem: a study of the German youth movements. according to Bismarckian ideals of a nation-state. It is almost a predestined number. And the very history of the term ‘Führer’ which Benjamin will use a great deal at the beginning . and the figure 12 is of course not innocent for a Judaic thinker and kabbalist. intellectual talent. but across the horizon. as did so many others. peculiar to this German-Jewish emancipated bourgeoisie. the search in Germany at that time for discipleship. never used. ‘Führer’. the ancient new land. And then. Number one. not only in France but throughout Europe. the explosive deployment of commercial. fiscal. through Freud. in this long. the emancipation of the German-Jewish bourgeoisie after Napoleon and Heine. and we decided together on twelve areas before you can read a word of Walter Benjamin. encyclopaedic essay for the Moscow Encyclopaedia. The profound ambiguity of this situation: on the one hand. through Einstein.as such games do. on the other hand. between assimiliationist nationalism and nascent Zionism. 14 Steiner / To speak of Walter Benjamin . most dramatically in the Stefan George circle. the implosive containment of the ghetto behind it. so that the tragic fausse situation was there from the start. mystical resonance: the teacher. And then also. Rosenzweig. a vision put under extreme pressure and crisis by the Dreyfus affair and all its consequences. on Goethe of 1925–26. Walter Benjamin’s self-isolation from the Freideutsche Jugend was the first tragedy of his life. modulating into the politics of the pragmatic. summed up in Herzl’s famous ambiguous title Altneuland. The creation of our modernity in the secularisation of Judaism through Marx. A third chapter would be the as yet very little understood history of German pacifism. ‘Altneuland’ which is to be Zionist Israel. There are the ever more strained debates around figures such as Buber and somewhat later. The Goethe-cult of that Jewish emancipated community for whom Goethe was a talismanic. but in so many other groups too. Prerequisite two. the first master of Benjamin. Their complex coexistence still into the time of Benjamin’s parents. So prerequisite one: an understanding of that very intricate piece of European history. the master. not only of Gustav Wyneken. He split from the Freideutsche Jugend which adopted a militant. At the core of this construct. the emergence from the ghetto. a vision of France. as we know. there are the tensions for the young German Jew. commanding presence of European humanistic hope. and yet formed. the paradigmatic exemplar.
And when one reads the Scholem letters and the Scholem-Benjamin letters above all. through the pioneering work of Norbert Hellingrath. of an ultimate clarity. because Scholem’s German is preternaturally lucid. as these become available. the fantastic pride he took in feigning madness. notorious texture of the opening section of the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels remains inaccessible. that section is finally ‘so much more difficult than anything in Kant’ (Adorno). in Heidegger above all. as you remember. much more simply. as we will find them in the first of the two great Römerbriefe of Karl Barth. the development of the German language out of the Luther Bible translations. out of the mystical-illuminated lineage of Böhme. Without a close awareness of this semantic history. and to the death of many who were very close to them and who would not have wanted to evade their duty in any way. Dramatic hermeticism. or dare I say. there are less than half a dozen references to the World War raging around them. Fifth. and I use a vulgar word. This is very important. that I do not have any insight into. leading ultimately to the ‘Sprache im Norden der Zukunft’ (‘the language in the North of the future’). obtained through the pressure of privileged family. and dialectical expressionism. immediately prior to and after the First World War. of course. Or. but I know it is a very deep and important one. the famous. capable of handling German at any such level — into the immediacy of that richest. and above all of the parataxic techniques of Hölderlin and the Sophocles translations and commentaries on Oedipus and Antigone. forgive me. ‘I regard the whole thing as totally incomprehensible’ (Scholem). and wonderfully ironic after the generous welcome we have received here. Fourth. And even if one is plunged at first hand — and so many now in the Benjamin industry are not. very important and in need of study. almost uncannily like Freud’s. the famous line of Paul Celan. in feigning epilepsy. And Scholem found Benjamin’s choice of the esoteric very. On this I found it impossible — how could one ever — to query Scholem.of being more patriotic than the Germans around them. as I would call it. and that until we can tackle and grasp this issue. in Ernst Bloch’s Geist der Utopie. and he has done it in writing . in faking his way through three revision boards. The moral psychological complications of Scholem’s and Benjamin’s. Freud and Scholem are the two great masters of clarity. most complex chapter in the history of the German language. in the two volumes already available. Novalis. Angelus Silesius. Scholem used to recount. Benjamin had completely fraudulent medical certificates. He himself of course falls heroically in the front lines. the inaccessibility to the academic which is such a commanding part of 15 . There is a problem here. This peculiar and particular German grows out of a dual legacy of the Lutheran pietist strain and of the great Romantic prose with which Benjamin deals in his early writing s and thesis. ‘draftdodging’ and their refuge in Switzerland. there is a great deal we are missing.
How true was he the obituary in the New York Yiddish and refugee newspaper Aufbau. never. totally inexplicable. The failure climaxing in the withdrawal of the Habilitationsgesuch of 1925. But there are manifest links. It is this failure which will compel Walter Benjamin towards the fitful bohemia and necessities of freelance cultural journalism. the point being that Adorno’s academic status. but it was more than a witticism. the collection of figuri and configurations. for whom the rag-picker in the Paris streets is a prime witness to the nature of late mercantile civilisation. ‘I dream of writing a book made up only of quotations’ — entirely a collector’s remark. one of the most haunting . Annäherung . Benjamin. He is a supreme ‘picker-up of unconsidered trifles’. nevertheless when papers and visas were issued. Or the famous boutade. of radio and publishing ventures. One would have had to be Kafka to write that one. Never was there a professor more manqué. then ‘nichts anfang en’. Six. ‘there will be mythology so long as there are beggars’. and Bildannäherung. one obituary. How true was he a obituary. That’s a detail. was of immense importance. but which is just as right for Benjamin. with Spur.Benjamin’s tragedy and life. He said if you don’t understand that. of a virtuoso of catalogues resonnés . I’ll come back to it. as Shakespeare. The emblematics of Benjamin’s fascination with allegory and the baroque. which reports 11th October 1940 ‘The tragic suicide of Professor Walter Benjamin. en passant. the renowned collector and exegete of 19th century children’s books and toys. the expert bibliophile. Why? There is biographical detail. parlous as it was. And yet Benjamin hungered for that acceptance. The word. marginal as it was. the only obituary. the mentality of the collector. with his concept of image and trace. the marvellously skilled and passionate book trader. The seventh chapter. the remark of a virtuoso of book catalogues. which Scholem again emphasised in conversation. I imagine. The inability to gain a foothold in the academic. and again and again stated that it might have saved his life. the famous and magnificent collection. He did it professionally. Bild. Benjamin the graphologist. almost fatefully. has a fantastic eye for the tiny. with his meditations on the act of scripture and writing with enigmas of similitude. which Lévi-Strauss will launch. on the Institute of Social Research and maecenasship of Horkheimer and Adorno. and totally convincing of his aphorisms. he earned very hard needed money from graphological analysis. towards a lifelong dependence on the interest and/or goodwill of newspapers. is totally closed to me. which is 16 Steiner / To speak of Walter Benjamin . Benjamin. and then. guides us. the bricolageethos and bricolage-ethics which will underlie the entire Passagen-Werk. an enormously rich and difficult chapter. which is conceivable only to a collector. the well-known academic psychologist’. Deeply defining of Benjamin’s sensibility is the nostalgia for an ironic ressentiment towards the academic. Hence. ‘no use’.
Cocteau’s drug-taking is not our drug taking. posthumous of course. of surrealism. you cannot get anywhere near the centre of the doctrine of the image and of the concrete. I think this is totally erroneous. does the drug complex relate also to the visionary reading s of the Angelus Novus. relations of extreme abstraction. and a very formidable formal logician. It was not our status. The sociology was deeply different. As I understood Scholem. einbilden. we now know. goes back in to die for the KPD. and that difference is one of the most fascinating transitions into modernity. the addict and the mystic are able to make concrete. durchbilden. Apparently. These go back. which begin with Asja Lacis in 1924. 17 . the genuine illuminatio and the drug road. he does the relating himself — to Benjamin’s incessant preoccupation with Baudelaire. We now have the diary of the 1925–26 Moscow visit. the repeated and. and so on. but also to his immersion in the counterlogic of dreams. And I ask. though I do not think it is correct. and to the very peculiar imaging of abstract discourse. The ninth chapter. We think we understand the concept of the materiality and technicity of language and the arts in its derivation from Marxist theory. Remember. We look. fairly massive experiments with narcotics. to the famous chiasmic doctrine of the aestheticization of fascism and nazism against the politicization of the arts in communism. even in the late theses. fatally with Horkheimer and Adorno. I repeat. goes back. We know of the relations. And he says these are the two roads. one need only look at the Stalinist and East German history of art to know that this utopian distinction doesn’t work. And there’s a darkening role of the meta-marxist involvement in Benjamin’s conflicts with Scholem and then. ausbilden. They relate — of course. if you’re going to do a serious graphological analysis. who will perish in this drama. I’ve no competence whatever in what may be indeed this vital synaptic domain relating many areas of Benjamin’s work. Far too little is said of the deep and tragic relation to his brother. of the hallucinatory in art and of poetics in general. and if you know neither. bilden. He explored deeply the drug world. it would appear — there’s much still to be learned —. in graphology these can be delicately and exactly disting uished. to image. again closed to me. and you have to.not analogy or equation. that iconic presence dates back as you know to 1921. experienced it at a time when its status was different from ours. or we think we know. the truly labyrinthine question of Walter Benjamin’s involvement with rejections of Marxism and Leninist-Marxist Communism. it’s not an analogy. even formal logic. A similitude is not an equation. The eighth zone. with hashish in particular. to at least 1927 but probably earlier. Scholem was a mathematician. who as you remember. It is Benjamin’s complex integrity in regard to what remained of his very. as we know. but it was a very important suggestion.
most novels are — but which simply throws as a selfevident motif Benjamin’s resort to brothels. A very poor novel — that’s not its fault. And we want to know a lot more about the Brecht chapters in Benjamin’s life and labours which begin in 1929. was a translator of Baudelaire. at all. of course often at second hand. The universal semiology of the correspondence. of Balzac. the enmetamorphic recursion to a lost or concealed authenticity in the Urtext. in form. Valery translator. Over and over. a great Dante translator. (A footnote: there has just appeared a novel — there will be a hundred — a Benjamin novel in New York. End of footnote. to which again Scholem attached very great if somewhat sardonic importance. by George. Baudelaire. an unattractive figure. and particularly the extent to which Brecht’s virtuoso genius as a writer of metaphor. between gesture and emblem. out of a semantic set of intuitions prior to the limiting resources of any one language and of the formal lexical and grammatical constraints of natural language. I don’t think we can understand those incredible last theses. either way. says Brecht) for the long passage. translates himself into German. out of no less than 37 languages. Fundamental to his ontology was the notion of the Adamic tongue which underlies all seemingly separate articulations and the methodology of decipherment. an irritating figure. A semiology of translatability. and the utterly indispensable intimacy with Scholem almost impossible on the other. but as it happens a man of genius. I’ve already mentioned that the German of Benjamin or his doctrines is inconceivable without Hölderlin’s Sophocles translations.very special Marxist convictions. German grows out of the Luther Bible translation and out of Goethe’s translations. Walter Benjamin. the 18 Steiner / To speak of Walter Benjamin . of Baudelaire and Proust etc. to contract into the crystalline totality of brevity to save meaning. the ardent failure of lasting relationships. which made the life-saver contact with New York more and more difficult on the one hand. historical theses. Verlaine. and he kept a very close eye on a figure largely forgotten. also in German. translations of Dante. now at last becoming available in a properly edited form. of aphorism. in German-speaking consciousness and in German literature. A tenth chapter would be the unique instrumentalities of translation in the history of the German language. theological. out of Baudelaire. of course. As I’ve tried to show it in After Babel . was Benjamin and eros . The eleventh chapter. between Wort und Bild. Benjamin’s language and Celan’s are translations. who was Rudolf Borchardt. of inter. I do not know of a single shred of evidence. like Paul Celan after him. formally without going back to Brecht’s Kleines Organon and the way Brecht tries to make (in a time when there’s no time.and intratextuality.) Benjamin and eros . of laconic brief parable and fable will influence a late Benjamin’s ambition in regard also to the aphorismic and didactic. Benjamin himself. But this novel treats it as bien connu. but not always.
historical theses. Four fellow exiles in the tragic era of modern Judaism. ‘the angel of history’. 19 . And since Scholem himself. perhaps at one point. No single scholar.passionate incapacity of a lasting relationship. an Energie of spirit or Sprachkrise. each of which solicits study and evaluation. sexuality. or derived from. Lisa Fittko. of our age. ‘the numinous’. ‘the messianic’. the theological. where the word ‘parodist’ is of the utmost gravity. or constellation of argument and terminology in Benjamin that is not akin to. it’s a quote with which every Benjamin study must begin). into the matrix of his thought. Benjamin and modern Heidegger are the two parodist theologians. Unmatched in the delicacy of his reading of every nuance of the gamut across Eros. in the late theological. ‘the blotter of theology that underlies every line I write. There is scarcely a node. Twelve. he is working within and against the grain of theology precisely as did Novalis. where would the list stop? Where Walter Benjamin is at the highest pitch of his revealing receptions. of reserve and of brutality reported of Benjamin’s pronouncements on sexuality on the need of and equally necessary fear of women. Asja Lacis. and in a crucially transvestite mode as did Karl Marx. with lives and sensibilities kindred to Benjamin’s own haunted and dishevelled condition. ‘the decay of the sacred’. and Karl Löwith and Adorno. ‘the iconic’. in an imaginary seminar. and Hannah Arendt. Hölderlin and Hegel. the famous discrimination between ‘the tragic’ and ‘the suffering’. and so many others. a motion. which takes modernity from Sigmund Freud and Wittgenstein and Karl Kraus to the Frankfurt School. If one picks just at random words such as ‘aura’. This is the whole point. Liebe. in an imaginary university. The incomparable finesse of Benjamin’s analysis of eros and sexuality in Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften. ‘the Adamic tongue’. Benjamin’s Jewish identity and fate is the one single axis around which turns the bewildering range of his interests. Jula Cohn. shall we call them ‘spaces’. it is thought. The singular mixture of shyness. and I quote (you know it all. as well as their fragmented incomplete and provisional form. Walter Benjamin’s work would scarcely exist. the kaleidoscope of his writings. I know of no one left with the immediacy of trained insight into Walter Benjamin’s appalling ly destroyed world. no hermeneutic reader can master them all.’ That is its inverse mirroring . be it with Dora Kellner. of course. And finally to the twelfth chapter of the imaginary prerequisites. in the writings on Kafka. the wholly decisive matter of theology. Leidenschaft. The context of Walter Benjamin is that of a fundamentally Jewish moto spirituale. on the interlinear nature of textuality. Without the theological recourse and idioms so often explicit. ‘Spiegelbild’. That condition is the absolutely determinant fact of every aspect and facet of his being and thought.
We do not need Freud to teach us that where there is that onslaught there is the counter-motion. which makes current attempts to incorporate Benjamin into the deconstructive. the salvation. though repentant is the wrong word. arises intimately out of the Jewish revolt. nothing to do with the glittering array of sociologic. To overlook. and I quote the great cry at the end of Moses and Aaron: ‘du Wort. 20 Steiner / To speak of Walter Benjamin . and from that structuralism to the direction set by Husserl and Lévinas. first in the DDR where I was and saw them beginning to come. in Benjamin and his contemporaries in suffering. you word that I lack. charged with the dialectics of the sacrilisation of language. But a revolt paradoxically. I believe. a cry which sums up the great Jewish language drama. ineluctably knit to the Rettung. the salus of the word. du Wort das mir fehlt’. of a Paul Celan. deconstructive issues and attitudes so prodigal at this Congress. of Scholem himself. the defining. to Roman Jakobson. The current plethora. It has. for the fatal silence of the Sirens in Kafka — each of which cardinal moments is rooted in tragic Judaism. ‘you word. The never to be accomplished. psychoanalytic. no scholar can — Judentum that is the life and work of Walter Benjamin. inevitably. A direction whose logical ‘afterword’ is that of current derridean deconstruction.’ For the transg ression into essential meanings of meaning at the barriers of speech in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus . Benjamin was in unremitting search for. as it is called in American philosophy. both self-lacerating and parodistic. now so largely unrecapturable — we can’t recapture it. to the falsification of his memory and legacy. and forgive my frankness. or if you will. ‘You come home to where you have never been’ is. embracing . and the very slow resurrection of the works. the Errettung. yet always imminent homecoming to where we have never been before. is to add to the desolation. against a millennial logocracy. in the dialectic of worry force conscience and despair. it is precisely this counter-motion of deeply Talmudic. I know. no. and a Walter Benjamin. The great Sprachmystik in the desperate rearguard actions of Rosenzweig. Thus for me. be it for a moment. of a Lévinas. This revolt is as visible in the Sprachkritik of Wittgenstein and of Karl Kraus as it is in the play with indeterminacy and emptiness of deconstruction in postmodernism. against a sacrilisation of the revealed text as law and truth. the explosion of secondary material — it begins terribly ambiguously with a special number of the magazine Benjamin zum Gedächtnis issued by the repentant Institute for Social Study Research in New York in 1942. or that fails me. Already it should be clear that this ‘language turn’. to the injustice. That is how I imagine the messianic.to Lévi-Straussian semiotic structuralism. Kabbalistic language sacrilisation. to speak of Walter Benjamin is to say kaddish at Port Bou. let alone ‘lacanian’ or postmodern carnival so misguided and so exploitative.
the German word is the only right one. Texture and textuality. that early. I’m arrogant enough to hope that After Babel is a tiny footnote to Benjamin’s essay. There is his pioneering aesthetic of photography. and then with the ‘Suhrkampkultur’. grammatical tropes. to attempt any balance-sheet. surpointé — the English remark is very crude. current media studies can enlist Walter Benjamin as one of their begetters. though only very partly in any classic Marxist way. Benjamin was among the very first intellectuals and cultural critics to master. Walter Benjamin has made highly communicative what William Blake in that wonderful phrase called ‘the holiness of the minute particular’. much in the famous essay on the ‘Task of the Translator’ is. What is his presence. It is a precious paradoxicality of expression. to use Kierkegaard’s great phrase. Secondly. But this vituoso text and Benjamin’s praxis as a translator. again what Shakespeare called ‘a local habitation and a name’. I know that. in his work. generates a materialism which is dialectical. or. enactment? Any answers can only be tentative and. and that God’s immensity lies in the detail. in ‘49. Dinglichkeit — which of course goes back to Kant — of even the abstract concatination and reticulation in Benjamin so as to generate a very rare particularized universality. I cannot put it more intellig ently. ‘the thingness of things’. almost assuredly turn out to be erroneous. I know that I’ll get it wrong. and Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage to which I’ve referred already. überpointiert. Like Aby Warburg he knows that God lies in the detail. seine Gegenwart-Vergangenheit. will surely continue to exercise a seminal role in the hermeneutics and poetics of translation. But I do want to ask what in the thought and writing s of Walter Benjamin will survive. Any Bilanz is immensely difficult to try and arrive at. in 1950. his ‘present past’. but it is a good strong remark. both. it makes it very precarious. I repeat. which is what matters to us — we are not archaeologists? What will. Thirdly. now being very much studied. in today’s sociology of art. and the Abi Warburg–Panowski school of art history and iconology.let’s never forget it. This visionary — dare I call it — hyper-realism is surely fruitful in today’s social history. be a source for future argument and application. His anti-systematic vision of specific objects. or ‘callings’. urban locales. for example in the famous assertion: the nondirection of translation towards any actual reader or reading . his brief but vividly suggestive consideration of the iconographic reproducability and mass dissemination of art — from which without acknowledgement André Malraux in the Musée Imaginaire draws and draws without ever mentioning his source. I think that in a configuration which would include the Annales historians such as Marc Bloch. out of the tiny detail he does afford abstract and general theses. and I ask you to bear with what is clearly a personal intuition. artefacts. ‘too clever by half’. the past that is present. particularly among specialists. as I tried to call it and define it. to evaluate at 21 .
Einbildung. the enslaved. Probably again the key sentence to Benjamin. only a hunch. which may insinuate the germ of falsehood. It is this intimation. large heading. which he knew so well. Against the dread winds thrusting the Angulus Novus into blind futurity. His is the explicit doctrine of what we call in Hebrew ‘tikun olam’. For me it is the long letters on Kafka exchanged with 22 Steiner / To speak of Walter Benjamin . which means roughly.its true measure. We find it in the radical remembrancers who are the Prophets in Israel. It may be that Benjamin’s most important insight related to the above is his development of Nietzsche’s fragmentary proposals as to the elective affinities. his absolutely central paradox or antinomy. It is an integral element of the retrospective utopias of Marxism in revolutionary socialism. of corruption and cruelty in the aesthetic act itself. social thinker. throughout the dix-neuvième siècle and her miserables. Benjamin’s plea for justice is at work in today’s recuperative histories of colonialism. I venture to believe. Its entailments are in part social. We find it in the outcry of Blanqui: ‘Do not let our despots lie by writing our history’. theologian. of the child. historical theses which does not touch on. the role of the radio-talk. between fiction and responsible imagining . or is not touched by. from the Trauerspiel monograph to the posthumous theological. the victims of successful injustice. between the humanities and the inhuman. and most evidently. of enacted remembrance. in the increasing ly despairing attempts to recuperate the Shoah from falsification and oblivion. Last. which underlies the meshing. to the frequent enslavement which underlie the resplendent monuments of high culture. of evasion. tikun olam. an internet world of image and text. do represent some kind of fulfilment of Benjamin’s inspired premonitions and I cannot suppress the hunch. questions of authenticity and fac-similitude implicit in the new multi-media. Wahlverwandtschaften. ‘the reparation’. Fourth. The commanding document here is Benjamin’s own life. But Benjamin gives it undoubtedly a singular intensity and urgency and dignity. But the crux lies much deeper. But there is scarcely a significant Benjamin text. of feminity. between culture and barbarism. Benjamin points to the mass suffering. It is in every line of the book of Amos. This is not original to Benjamin. It comports for Benjamin those opaque interrelations between language and physical reality. At the climax of the summit we each have something perhaps we love most in Benjamin. Today. to rescue from oblivion the oppressed. We find it in the humanitarian rages of Victor Hugo. ‘the rescuing to make good of what is left of this smashed world’. ‘the making good’. of the great critic. the thesis whereby it is the ethical and cognitive duty of history. to bring them back to protesting life out of the strategic amnesia imposed by the history-writing of the victors. that he will still give us instruments to approach the enormously difficult epistimological problems posed by the new world of Virtual Reality.
These topics cannot easily be circumscribed or compacted into any single figura. and together with Paul Celan after the midnight hours. of a bestiality and injustice forever irreparable. He stands for that. in his person. none of us can conceive of it. That is crucial. And he would not. The waste. of what could have been. Those three. Such was Benjamin’s depth of spirit. I thank you. has come to stand. of a civilisation annihilated. to an unmatched height. totally irreparable. however fascinating to the specialist. He bears immemorial witness. wish us to do otherwise. of reading . Gegenwart — remember. Yet it is precisely this figura which makes the sum greater than the parts. it is always dual and dialectic — Walter Benjamin’s Gegenwart will busy this Congress over the next days. in so many ways — let us not fool ourselves — pathetic. Walter Benjamin carries on his bent shoulders the inconceivable load of a world made ash. none of us can begin to conceive the waste of the Shoah. such was his articulate genius for sadness.Scholem in 1938 and which I think bring the craft of literary criticism. Together with Kafka. Presence in German is adversity. that this one man. and defeated. I think. long before Hegel. 23 . one knew that ‘Gegenwart’ has in it the word ‘against’. before the midnight hours. for a limitless immensity of waste and desolation. so terribly defeated. a beggar. These and numerous other facets of Walter Benjamin’s presence.
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