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History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447

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History of European Ideas
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/histeuroideas

Purity (Benjamin with Kant)
Carlo Salzani *
Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia

A R T I C L E I N F O

A B S T R A C T

Article history:
Available online 21 August 2010

The essay analyses the notion of ‘purity’ in the early writings of Walter Benjamin, focusing more
specifically on three essays written around the crucial year 1921: ‘Critique of Violence’, ‘The Task of the
Translator’, and ‘Goethe’s Elective Affinities’. In these essays, ‘purity’ appears in the notions of ‘pure
means’, ‘pure violence’, ‘pure language’, and, indirectly, the ‘expressionless’. The essay argues, on the one
hand, that the ‘purity’ of these concepts is one and the same notion, and, on the other, that it is strongly
indebted to, if not a by-product of, Kant’s theorisation of the moral act. In order to make this claim, the
essay analyses Benjamin’s intense engagement with Kant’s writings in the 1910s and early 1920s:
‘purity’ is a category strongly connoted within the philosophical tradition in which the young Benjamin
moved his first steps, namely Kantian transcendental criticism. The essay argues that the notion of
‘purity’ in Benjamin, though deployed outside and often against Kant’s theorisation and that of his
followers, and moreover influenced by different and diverse philosophical suggestions, retains a strong
Kantian tone, especially in reference to its moral and ethical aspects. Whereas Benjamin rejects Kant’s
model of cognition based on the ‘purity’ of the universal laws of reason, and thus also Kant’s theorisation
of purity as simply non empirical and a priori, he models nonetheless his politics and aesthetics around
suggestions that arise directly from Kant’s theorisation of the moral act and of the sublime, and uses a
very Kantian vocabulary of negative determinations construed with the privatives-los and -frei (motivfrei, zweck-los, gewalt-los, ausdrucks-los, intention-frei, etc). The essay explores thus the connections
that link ‘pure means’, ‘pure language’ and ‘pure violence’ to one another and to the Kantian tradition.
ß 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords:
Purity
Walter Benjamin
Immanuel Kant
Critique
Violence
Ethics

Around 1921 Benjamin wrote three seminal essays: ‘Critique of
Violence’ [Zur Kritik der Gewalt] commenced at the end of 1920,
completed in January 1921 (cf. GB 2:131)1 and published in issue 3
(August 1921) of the Archiv fu¨r Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik;
‘The Task of the Translator’ [Die Aufgabe des U¨bersetzers], written in

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 151 576 85135 (mobile); fax: +49 228 73 3986.
E-mail addresses: carlo.salzani@monash.edu, carlosalzani@hotmail.com.
1
All references to Benjamin’s and Kant’s works are made parenthetically in the
text. All references to Benjamin’s works are provided both to the German text of the
Gesammelte Schriften (Collected Writings), ed. Rolf Tiedemann, Hermann Schweppenha¨user, 7 vols. in 15 (Frankfurt am Main, 1972–1989), or the Gesammelte Briefe
(Collected Letters), ed. Christoph Go¨dde, Henri Lonitz, 6 vols. (Frankfurt am Main,
1995–2000) (hereafter cited as GS and GB, respectively), and to the English
translation of the Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock, Michael W. Jennings, 4 vols.
(Cambridge, MA, 1996–2003) and The Origin of German Tragic Drama, Trans. John
Osborne (London & New York, 1998) (hereafter cited as SW and OT, respectively).
When no English translation is available, I will use my own. All references to Kant’s
works are provided both to the German text of the Werke (Works), ed. Wilhelm
Weischedel, 6 vols. (Darmstadt, 1956ff), and to the following English translations:
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott
(Mineola, NY, 2005); Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott
(Mineola, NY, 2004); The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge,
1996); Critique of Judgement, Trans. J.H. Bernard (Mineola, NY, 2005) (hereafter cited
as GMS, KPV, MS and KU, respectively).
0191-6599/$ – see front matter ß 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.histeuroideas.2010.07.003

Autumn 1921 and published in October 1923 as foreword of
Benjamin’s own translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux parisiens; and
‘Goethe’s Elective Affinities’ [Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften],
probably composed between Autumn 1921 and Summer 1922,
and published in two issues of Hofmannsthal’s Neue Deutsche
Beitra¨ge (the first part in April 1924 and the second in January
1925). The three essays, though devoted to different subjects,
present nonetheless a certain unity of tone and a sort of kinship in
the recurrence of some fundamental themes of Benjamin’s early
theorisation, like myth, representation, morality, law and language. One peculiar notion holds them together, not only because
it constitutes, in a sense, the kernel of the respective analyses, but
also insofar as the way this notion is theorised in each of the essays
can help explain its significance for the other two: purity [Reinheit].
In ‘Critique of Violence,’ it informs the politics of ‘pure means’
[reines Mittel] construed around the notion of ‘pure violence’ [reine
Gewalt]; in ‘The Task of the Translator,’ it is present in ‘pure
language’ [reine Sprache], a notion which informs also the Goethe
essay, where purity does not explicitly appear, but is implicit in the
form of the ‘expressionless’ [das Ausdruckslose]; in turn, the notion
of the expressionless can be connected back to the essay on
violence, since it is identified with ‘critical violence’ [kritische
Gewalt] and endowed with moral significance. It is noteworthy that

1:179/SW 1:236). ‘‘Poor and rich are equally forbidden to spend the night under the bridges’’’ [Hiermit tritt in furchtbarer Urspru¨nglichkeit dieselbe mythische Zweideutigkeit der Gesetze. This constitutive ambiguity of the law is called by Benjamin ‘mythic. P. 8 jenseits aller Rechtsordnung und also Gewalt. however. Friedensliebe.1:198/SW 1:249).’ 9–10. even in the most favourable case. gewalt-los. Rather. the mythic ambiguity of laws that may not be ‘‘infringed’’ – the same ambiguity to which Anatole France refers satirically when he says. be considered ‘means-in-themselves. but their 2 A similar argument is put forward by Benjamin Morgan.1:191–2/SW 1:244–5). ‘Pure means’ cannot. ‘ends-in-themselves. ‘Pure ends.’6 and this means that Technik is their proper sphere. welche die Gewalt ausmachen] (GS 2. 4 ‘The realm of ends. and specifically in the context of a critique of violence as a means. die nicht ?u¨bertreten’ werden du¨rfen.5 Their ‘subjective’ preconditions are located in the ‘culture of the heart’ [Kultur des Herzens]. separated by the means necessary to achieve them. the realm in which violence is deployed as a means to the higher ends of civil cohabitation. means are by definition dependent on the idea of end.1:200/SW 1:250). As example of this technique Benjamin singles out the ‘conference’ or ‘interlocution’ [die Unterredung]. since. however.’ Zur Theorie der Gewalt und Gewaltlosigkeit bei Walter Benjamin (Heidelberg. ‘Undoing Legal Violence: Walter Benjamin’s and Giorgio Agamben’s Aesthetics of Pure Means. G. denen sie dienen. Dagegen fa¨llt in ihr Zentrum die Frage nach der Berechtigung gewisser Mittel. 5 ‘All violence as a means is either lawmaking or law-preserving. sympathy. presents for Benjamin a constitutive ‘ambiguity’ [Zweideutigkeit]: the formal freedom guaranteed by law remains indissolubly bound to the ‘guilt’ to which the law inevitably sentences life. rather. die Rechtszwecke. Whereas Benjamin rejects Kant’s model of cognition based on the ‘purity’ of the universal laws of reason.1 (Spring 1998). 15 Figal. and explicitly limit the latter to the question of violence as means in its relation to morality. in Erscheinung. 439 ‘objective’ manifestation is restricted to ‘indirect resolution’ [mittelbarer Lo¨sung]. a critique of violence must seek its criterion ‘within the sphere of means themselves. and uses a very Kantian vocabulary of negative determinations construed with the privatives-los and -frei (motiv-frei. To the contrary.’ or. he models nonetheless his politics and aesthetics around suggestions that arise directly from Kant’s theorisation of the moral act and of the sublime. . though deployed outside and often against Kant’s theorisation and that of his followers. to matters concerning ‘objects’ [Sachen]: ‘The sphere of non-violent means opens up in the realm of human conflicts relating to goods. Vertrauen]. B.C. ‘syllogistic’10 relationship between means and ends. 247). Daraus aber folgt. and from this derives the necessity of dissolving the mutual implication of means and ends. das Recht selbst zu wahren. means cannot be easily made independent. 10 B. Other examples are the proletarian general strike as described by Geroges Sorel. The notion of ‘pure means. 11 Cf. Morgan focuses on Benjamin’s (and Agamben’s) debt to the Kantian aesthetics for the development of the politics of pure means. in Kant’s definition. sondern vielmehr durch die. ‘‘‘Out of the Order of Number’’: Benjamin and Irigaray toward a Politics of Pure Means. ‘which in its perfected form stands outside the law’7 (GS 2. in this context. it forfeits all validity. by the intention of preserving the law itself’12 (GS 2. a category strongly connoted within the philosophical tradition in which the young Benjamin moved his first steps. zweck-los.’ Journal of Law and Society 34. Morgan. highly paradoxical. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. In other words.15 By assigning to God alone the determination of the justness of ends Benjamin dismantles the connection between the realm of just ends and the question of justified means.’13 the very same ambiguity which characterises the pronouncements of ‘fate’ and is the final reason for the ‘ultimate insolubility of all legal problems’14 (GS 2. 7 in ihrer vollendeten Form außerhalb des Rechts steht. they must proceed case by case and without contracts. Cf. etc). trust’ [Herzensho¨flichkeit.1:190/SW 1:243). 46–7. 12 das Interesse des Rechts an der Monopolisierung der Gewalt gegenu¨ber der Einzelperson sich nicht durch die Absicht erkla¨re. but at the same time disavows any critique that sought in a system of just ends its criterion of judgment. as the only possible non-violent instance of conflict resolution. namely Kantian transcendental criticism. and thus from any possible law. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 the three essays were written within little more than a year. however.’ since to be ‘in itself’ means to be ‘as its own end. unter Bru¨ckenbogen zu na¨chtigen] (GS 2.1 (March 2007). they are such only if they serve certain ends. in ‘courtesy. 195/SW 1:245. ausdrucks-los. 2000). from Aristotle to Kant. 9 Cf. Hanssen. especially in reference to its moral and ethical aspects. Fenves. is. 1979). 28. and thus also Kant’s theorisation of purity as simply non empirical and a priori. 46–64. without regard for the ends they serve’3 (GS 2. Wenn sie auf keines dieser beiden Pra¨dikate Anspruch erhebt. is sustained in fact ‘not by the intention of preserving legal ends but.1:183/ SW 1:239).1:181/SW 1:237). educative power [erzieherische Gewalt].’ instrumental connection to ends. Benjamin proposes thus to separate means from their ‘natural. the central place is given to the question of the justification of certain means that constitute violence’ [Das Bereich der Zwecke und damit auch die Frage nach einem Kriterium der Gerechtigkeit schaltet fu¨r diese Untersuchung zuna¨chst aus. I will attempt to illustrate the meaning of purity in Benjamin’s three essays and to explore the connections that link them to one another and to the Kantian tradition.’9 However. in a terribly primitive form. whereas I argue that this aesthetics is also strictly related to the theorisation of the moral act.4 ‘Pure means’ are put forward. 14 die letztlichen Unentscheidbarkeit aller Rechtsprobleme. Instead. Pure means In ‘Critique of Violence’ Benjamin proposes a politics of ‘pure means’ that would interrupt the instrumental cycle of means-ends characteristic of Western moral and political thought. and thus ‘language’ as the sphere of human agreement absolutely inaccessible to violence (GS 2. the existence of the legal order [das Recht]. the definition of morality must be free of any ambiguity. 13 ‘Here appear.11 Moreover. As Peter Fenves notes. If it lays claim to neither of these predicates. The first paragraph of the essay situates violence in the realm of means. and their actions is thus ‘beyond all legal systems and therefore beyond violence’8 (GS 2. is implicated in the problematic nature of law itself’ [Alle Gewalt ist als Mittel entweder rechtsetzend oder rechtserhaltend. Neigung. it can be argued that the ‘purity’ of pure means. Critique of Violence: Between Poststructuralism and Critical Theory (London and New York. whereas the notion of ‘pure ends’ inhabits the Western philosophical tradition. and therefore also the question of a criterion of justness. and moreover influenced by different and diverse philosophical suggestions. and the recurrence of ‘purity’ in them cannot therefore be merely coincidental. however.1:193. pure language and pure violence is one and the same notion. dass jede Gewalt als Mittel selbst im gu¨nstigsten Falle an der Problematik des Rechts u¨berhaupt teilhat] (GS 2.2 In what follows. retains a strong Kantian tone. in this sense. for it would merely constitute a criterion for the uses of violence. ohne Ansehung der Zwecke. It follows. exclude the realm of ends and the question of justice from its critique. wenn er sagt: Sie verbieten es Armen und Reichen gleichermaßen. and the task of diplomats. It is my contention that the notion of purity in Benjamin. analogously to the agreement between private persons.’ of means ‘purified’ of their ends. the traditional. one that would disengage violence from its law-making and law-preserving character and from law in general. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. and not for violence itself as a principle. are excluded for the time being from this study.’ Diacritics. peaceableness. 3 in der Spha¨re der Mittel selbst. Figal. so verzichtet sie damit selbst auf jede Geltung. whose ‘generali- 6 In der sachlisten Beziehung menschlicher Konflikte auf Gu¨ter ero¨ffnet sich das Gebiet der reinen Mittel. Purity is also. 9–10. which find their own ‘perfection’ in themselves – as in Aristotle – and are therefore im-mediate and ab-solute. that all violence as a means. 20.1:196/SW 1:247).’ are those which are independent of means. von der Anatole France satirisch spricht. intention-frei.

‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. Honneth. 20 Hamacher. then. Figal. we are left to wonder what these might be (GS 2.] from the outset constitutes them as mediated.22 Furthermore. 1797]. Kant’s moral philosophy is in fact structured on the circular relation between means and ends. 22 Cf. but by their absence. the mention is too often limited to underline the fact that the essay starts off formally following the conventions of transcendental critique and finally opposes to Kant’s Enlightenment rationalism a messianism deep-rooted in the Jewish tradition. precedes in a certain sense the two extremes it links: as a ‘form of interpersonality. They reject thus the very notion of instrumentality and can be qualified as non-instrumental.’19 This mediacy. ‘contradicts the nature of justice’26 (GS 2. Strike. GS 2. Pure will If Benjamin’s politics of pure means sets itself explicitly against the formal structure of Kant’s moral philosophy. BA 52/38): 16 Haxel Honnet restricts the meaning of ‘purity’ mainly to this first trait. These traits make for the medial character of pure means. . What characterises then ‘pure means’? Gu¨nter Figal identifies three main traits: firstly.Werk . . ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. generalization [Verallgemeinerung]. Strike. oneself or another in any respect as a means. Hanssen.18 The sphere of mediacy is therefore the realm of pure means: ends situated outside this sphere. 2006).’ When Benjamin states that a critique of violence cannot be implied in a system of just ends. 32 Cf. Benjamin implicitly undermines the Kantian system based on the universality of reason. Critique of Violence. they relate rather to objects. as what interrupts the mythical cycle of violence and retribution that characterises the legal order. Cf. 23 Cf. but rather to his friend Hugo Ball’s Zur Kritik der deutschen Intelligenz (1918). 30 ob es erlaubt sei. 26 was diesem Merkmal [der Gerechtigkeit] [.20 The rejection of the realm of just ends takes the Kantian ethics directly to task. transition or transmittal. and which would claim to be removed from. 252). emphasis added). Burkhardt Lindner (Stuttgart.1:196/SW 1:247. 1140.’ Benjamin-Handbuch: Leben . if not a by-product of.1:179/SW 1:236). as will become evident in the analysis of language as medium. ‘Zur Kritik der Gewalt. Animals.’ 6. and never merely as a means’27 – is inadequate insofar as positive law too – ‘if conscious of its roots’28 – does claim to ‘acknowledge and promote the interest of mankind in the person of each individual’29 through the representation and preservation of the legal order. 31 Cf. Mack. He acknowledges that Benjamin formally adopts Kant’s methodology.1:196/ SW 1:247). but. and Hanssen.1:187/ SW 1:241. 204.Wirkung. 1979).1:196/SW 1:247). Hanssen. the law merely preserves an ‘order imposed by fate’ [schicksalhaften Ordnung]. 130. What particularly interests me here is the relation that links the notion of ‘pure means’ to Kant’s theorisation of the moral act: in spite of Benjamin’s rejection of the Kantian ethics and especially of its dependence of the means-ends instrumentality. 25 Handle nur nach derjenigen Maxime. and superior to it. Moreover. 29 das Interesse der Menschheit in der Person jedes einzelnen anzuerkennen und zu fo¨rdern.17 Finally.’ 2. What morality they present must lie in themselves. seiner selbst oder eines andern in irgendwelcher Hinsicht auch als eines Mittels sich bedienen zu lassen oder zu bedienen. M. but emphasises how he radically undermines the latter’s theory of law as secularised Recht issuing not from God.. that the title ‘Zur Kritik der Gewalt’ harks back not to the Kantian model of critique. its indebtedness to Kant’s theorisation must nonetheless be emphasised. 28 wo es seiner Wurzeln sich bewusst ist. A. emphasis in the original) and is based on the notion of ‘just ends. but at the same time is also its interruption: it works simultaneously as condition and caesura. dass sie ein allgemeines Gesetz werde. Kant’s theorisation of the moral act. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel.’ 11–2.’ it ‘does not have as its initiator and its addressee already constituted subjects. dass Du die Menschheit sowohl in Deiner Person als in der Person eines jeden Anderen jederzeit zugleich als Zweck. Benjamin wonders whether this demand does not contain too little and whether ‘it is permissible to use. Walter Benjamin’s Other History: Of Stones. In seeking to recognise the interest of humanity in every individual. niemals bloß als Mittel brauchest. Michael Mack argues. for example B. 33 Figal. ed. the two essays which constitute Gu¨nter Figal and Horst Folkers. which constitutes the formal foundation of universal freedom23: ‘For it is never reason that decides on the justification of means and the justness of ends: fateimposed violence decides on the former.’ Cardozo Law Review (1991–1992). ethics is defined as the ‘system of the ends of the pure practical reason’21 (MS. and Angels (Berkeley.32 As Figal points out. the notion of ‘pure means’ is strongly indebted to. they are qualified as non-violent. but from autonomous reason. and a look back at Kant’s system becomes necessary in order to shed light on it. as well as of its Enlightenment rationalism and legalist metaphors. of this interruption. for it would only contain the criterion for cases of the use of violence and not for violence itself as a principle. on the contrary. Werner Hamacher emphasises that mediacy as mediation. ‘Purity’ is thus an indicator of this absence. which highly criticised Kant’s theory of law. A 5/146. ‘Between Kant and Kafka: Benjamin’s Notion of Law. 27 . 3– 4. Benjamin’s debt to the Kantian project.’ 1141. a ‘purification’ from. Critique of Violence. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel.] widerspricht. durch die du zugleich wollen kannst. 19 W. Hamacher continues. but has not enjoyed much echo. however. by restricting to God alone the realm of just ends. 1785] – Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law25 (GMS. Human Beings. is the condition of possibility of the transition between the two extremes. 1998).440 C. Figal. ‘Afformative.16 Secondly.33 It is not only that Benjamin adopts Kant’s fundamental distinction between morality and legality and disengages the morality of the act from the legal system. or allow to be used. The paragraph that follows constitutes also a critique of the first formulation of the categorical imperative in the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals [Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. and God on the latter’24 (GS 2. which is the constitutive principle of law. therefore. 257. he disavows the systematic construction of the Kantian ethics (cf.31 The early critical analysis of Gu¨nter Figal and Horst Folkers investigates. Benjamin attacks the program established with the categorical imperative as minimalist and insufficient: the second formulation of it – ‘act in such a way that at all times you use humanity both in your person and in the person of all others as an end.. sondern schicksalhafte Gewalt u¨ber jene. Benjamin’s ethical construction in this early phase must be considered a modification of Kant’s moral philosophy. ‘Afformative. upon which both natural and positive law are based: In Metaphysics of Morals [Metaphysik der Sitten. Cf. handle so. as often happens in his work. they cannot be identified with any action that finds its origin in a subject and are thus subject-less.2 (April 2001). 24 Entscheidet doch u¨ber Berechtigung von Mitteln und Gerechtigkeit von Zwecken niemals die Vernunft. This debt is usually acknowledged in the literature on ‘Critique of Violence’ and on Benjamin’s early works more in general. their ‘purity’ is not derived from just ends. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 sation’ [Verallgemeinerung] contradicts the nature of justice (GS 2. 18 Figal. would only mask in their ambiguity the historicity of their determination. 21 System der Zwecke der reinen praktischen Vernunft. and this means that their morality is independent – purified – from any determinable will. Explicitly. against the usual assumption of the commentators. 17 Cf. they are not justified by any end or purpose.’ Neophilologus 85. Hamacher. Zur Theorie der Gewalt und Gewaltlosigkeit bei Walter Benjamin (Heidelberg: FEST. the relation is much deeper and fundamental. 21. purified from the notion of subject itself: as Technik of indirect resolution. u¨ber diese aber Gott.’ 8–9. but [.’30 He claims that good grounds could be adduced in favour of this point.

A 127/76. the concept itself is rarely thematized’. on the notion of ‘end’ [Zweck]. it has no exterior and could not occur on the basis of anything external to it: it is pure only insofar it arises from itself and is identical with the moral law. not from the purpose which is to be attained by it. . 47 Mack.’ 258. since as such it is no psychological variable. One of the few points at which Kant approaches a self-sufficient definition of purity is in his equation of the pure and the original. as long as it is free of motivations and purposes. 6/10. The centre of Benjamin’s ethics is therefore. ohne Beziehung auf einen andern Zweck. Kant emphasises. sondern nur (wie hier auch geschieht) nach demselben und durch dasselbe bestimmt werden mu¨sse. which is moral only insofar it is done from duty [aus Pflicht]. which is testified by a series of fragments. what stands in the middle and thus as middle point between two extremes) and Vermittlung (mediation. that is. MA. was man will (oder doch mo¨glich ist. emphasis in the original). 36 Und doch ist nichts unzuga¨nglicher. but also instrumentality). vo¨llig aus Prinzipien a priori. The discussion of the imperatives clarifies this point: whereas the hypothetical imperative represents ‘the practical necessity of a possible action as means to something else that is willed (or at least which one might possibly will). 1995). belongs to the Enlightenment master narrative of universal emancipation and ends up. welche dadurch erreicht werden soll. BA 40/31). he continues. of some proposed end. Jene stellen die praktische Notwendigkeit einer mo¨glichen Handlung als Mittel.’ 4–5. 40 Nicht etwa in anderer Absicht als Mittel.’ 35 einzig bestimmt durch das Sittengesetz. inevitably. both in the doctrine of right [Rechtslehre] and the doctrine of virtue [Tugendlehre].e.1:49. geschehen ist. I want to dwell a bit longer on the structure of Kant’s ethics. These determinations resound not only in Benjamin’s description of the purity of means. . but merely on the principle of volition by which the action has taken place. conversely implicates that the pure will cannot be conveyed or communicated [vermittelt]. in his theorisation of language as medium and in the moral value endowed to his notion of art criticism. The goal of moral education is the creation of the moral will.41 (GMS. da er als solcher keine psychologische Gro¨ße ist. unangesehen aller Gegensta¨nde des Begehrungsvermo¨gens. 1788]. sondern an sich selbst guten Willen. ‘Between Kant and Kafka. as non-empirical38 and. however. with a justification of the existent power. for Figal. 42 Alle Imperativen nun gebieten entweder hypothetisch. condition. is founded on. sondern in der Maxime. der ohne alle empirische Bewegungsgru¨nde. What is essential in the moral worth of actions is thus ‘that the moral law should directly determine the will’45 (KPV. Consequently. most importantly. and is a necessary by-product of. then the form of the moral act cannot be developed from the notion of means. A 110/66. and. Figal points out.’39 and the task of the metaphysics of morals is precisely to examine the idea and the principles of this pure will (GMS. it must not be concerned with what comes after it and is beyond any criterion: it has no purpose outside itself and constitutes the only purpose of its own realisation. but ‘nothing is more inaccessible than this moral will. but also. ‘Pure is often used synonymously with terms such as a priori. 39 Eine solchen. especially the fragments of the section ‘Zur Moral und Anthropologie. nach welchem die Handlung. Important for my argument is the fact that he emphasises a peculiar trait of Kant’s distinction between legality and morality: the fundamental determination of the moral will [sittliches Willen] is that it must be motivfrei. 38 ‘In Kant’s philosophy pure is inevitably opposed to empirical. die Norm: handle gut. 44 Der Begriff des Guten und Bo¨sen nicht vor dem moralischen Gesetze (dem es dem Anschein nach so gar zum Grunde gelegt werden mu¨sste). die man mit Mitteln behandeln ko¨nnte. dass man es wolle). In the Critique of Practical Reason [Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. spontaneityreceptivity. 46 Cf.’ H. as objectively necessary’42 (GMS. which finally justifies and affirms the authority of the immanent ruler. passim. in which Benjamin takes a strong Kantian approach to ethics in relation to ‘absolute’ pedagogical demands. A 85=B 117)’. and a priori-a posteriori.’ the good will must be good in itself [an sich]40 (GMS. BA 4. form. On some occasions a priori concepts and intuitions are pure because they are a priori. Howard Caygill underlines how the notion of ‘purity’ in Kant is usually defined only negatively. emphases in the original) The foundation of the moral act is therefore always a selffoundation. it presents also no temporal exterior. but finally legitimates the status quo (in the form of the unquestionability of law) and even authorises the use of coercion. oder kategorisch. which will be echoed in the discussion of Mitteilbarkeit (communicability) in the language essays. then. but its is also used to qualify these same terms as in ‘‘pure a priori’’ (KU. ‘only determined by the moral law. pure will is as inaccessible to the educator as the pure and only valid moral law. and uses a language which insists obsessively on juridical metaphors. and therefore does not depend on the realization of the object of the action. that the necessity involved in the moral law is not of a physical type. rather. The Metaphysics of Morals is not only based. and thus moral. 34 Cf.. BA 14/16. The moral. 12). ha¨ngt also nicht von der Wirklichkeit des Gegenstandes der Handlung ab. 45 Das moralische Gesetz unmittelbar den Willen bestimme. is thus ‘one which should be determined solely from a priori principles without any empirical motives. which commands: act well’35 (GS 2. as defined in the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals.47 Morality is 41 Eine Handlung aus Pflicht hat ihren moralischen Wert nicht in der Absicht. Before turning to this point. 37 Figal. The inaccessibility of the pure will through means.’ the categorical imperative represents ‘an action as necessary of itself without reference to another end.] Although it was widely used by Kant. A 60/35).46 Michael Mack argues that Kant’s political agenda. [. ‘shaping of morality. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 The roots of the politics of pure means must be sought in Benjamin’s intense engagement with Kant’s work during the 1910s. cushion Benjamin’s criticism to the Kantian system: Kant construes his moral philosophy around pure reason and its tribunal and laws.34 The most complete document is ‘The Moral Lesson’ [Der Moral Unterricht]. bestimmt werde. the immanentist justification of autonomous reason. autonomy-heteronomy. a moral act. as we will see. the quest for a moral act (Gestaltgewinnung des Sittlichen. zu etwas anderem. . als objektiv-notwendig vorstellte. autonomy and original. als eben dieser sittlicher Wille. In other words.’ §E. condition-conditioned.37 The vocabulary of the politics of pure means is therefore already contained here in the play between the terms Mittel (means. autonomous and a priori. and so inaccessible to the meansends logic – and to subjectivity. Independent of what it performs or effects. ‘not merely good as a means to something else. GS 6. 43 Kann also bloß in formalen Bedingungen der Mo¨glichkeit eines Gesetzes u¨berhaupt bestehen. 341. nach der sie beschlossen wird. that is. original-derived. welcher eine Handlung als fu¨r sich selbst.’ in Benjamin’s words) that would not be a mediation or instrumentality [Vermittlung]. only as such. however. without regard to any object of desire. his notion of law is characterised by objective universality and necessity. the will is pure. zu gelangen. vor. If the principle of morality is not communicable [vermittelbar]. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. i.C. This point does not. published in July 1913 in Wyneken’s Die Freie Schulgemeinde. 342. BA xii/ 5). for example the ‘Introduction to the Doctrine of Right. emphasis added). Pure will [reines Willen]. prior-posterior. sondern bloß von dem Prinzip des Wollens. 441 derives its moral worth. As such. it can only consist in the ‘formal conditions of the possibility of the law in general’43 (KPV. literally. on others they are a priori because they are pure. but from the maxim by which it is determined. moreover. The paradox of this pure formalism consists in the fact that ‘the concept of good and evil must not be determined before the moral law (of which it seems as if it must be the foundation). Der kategorische Imperativ wu¨rde der sein. which could be achieved through means’36 (GS 2. emphasis in the original). that is. and both are aligned with a matrix of position which include form-matter. but only after it and by means of it’44 (KPV. free of any motivation. Caygill. A Kant Dictionary (Oxford & Cambridge.1:48).

unmittelbar and Unmittelbarkeit (immediate and immediacy). the famous letter Benjamin sent to Martin Buber on July 17. The great transformation and correction the coming philosophy should perform. is language.1916. when it is considered ‘poetic prophetic factual’ [dichterisch prophetisch sachlich].’60 ‘Real’ [wirklich] action is the word in its purity [Reinheit] (GB 1:325–7). Kant’s autonomous reason works as a justification of the bourgeois state founded of the rationalisation of money and property: ‘The violence of the law that upholds such a bourgeois and ‘rational’ state of society must not be reasoned against.’58 Only in this sense is language properly political [hochpolitisch]: not as means of an instrumental conception. ‘Der Brief an Buber vom 17. 58 Diese Elimination des Unsagbaren scheint mir gerade mit der eigentlich sachlichen der nu¨chternen Schreibart zusammenfallen und die Beziehung zwischen Erkenntnis und Tat eben innerhalb der sprachlichen Magie anzudeuten. necessarily undermines the purity of the act and reinserts it into the means-ends cycle.49 Moreover. but rather ‘as leading towards that which the word withholds. the 1916 approach of the language essay and spells Benjamin’s large-scale plan. in radical separation from the religious sphere. ultimately.7.52 (GS 2.’ Benjamin writes to Buber in order to explain why he will not contribute to the journal Der Jude and centres his argument on the political function of language. 603–8. Kant ‘forbids any exploration into the origins of both state power and state law: the subjects of the state must not question the validity of the violence that enforces positive law. Walter Benjamin’s Other History. by founding power on the universal and eternal laws of reason.’ 264.442 C. unquestionable and static and violence is only envisaged as a subversion of the rational order of things which the immanent law of the state must restrain.’ Benjamin-Handbuch. construed around the autonomy of reason. undermines the idea of autonomous reason and substitutes it for his intense messianism. The 1916 language essay is construed around the play of a number of strictly related terms: Mitteilung. to overcome. 57 nicht durch die Vermittlung von Inhalten sondern durch das reinste Erschließen ihrer Wu¨rde und ihres Wesens. that is. that is.’57 which takes place through the ‘elimination of the ineffable’ [Elimination des Unsagbaren]: ‘This elimination of the ineffable appears to me as coinciding precisely with the properly factual of pure writing and as intimating the relation between knowledge and action right within the linguistic magic. they have to be aware of the debt they owe to the Recht. All communication of the contents of the mind. despite all his attempts to do so’51 (GS 2.’59 Benjamin insists on the term Wirkung: really affective is language when the word is intensely directed ‘in the kernel of inner silence. ‘each action founded in the expansive tendency of the word-to-word sequence appears to me dreadful and all the more disastrous where this whole relation of word and deed increasingly spreads. 62 teilt das ihr entsprechende geistige Wesen mit. 30. 54 Hanssen. ‘Between Kant and Kafka. ‘a conception that he was unable. 60 Nur die intensive Richtung der Worte in den Kern des innersten Verstummens hinein gelangt zur wahren Wirkung. Weber. 59 hinzufu¨hren auf das dem Wort versagte. he writes.’55 The real impact and agency [Wirkung] of language rests rather on its ‘secret’ [Geheimnis]. 52 Es ist die Aufgabe der kommenden Erkenntnistheorie fu¨r die Erkenntnis die Spha¨re totaler Neutralita¨t in Bezug auf die Begriffe Objekt und Subjekt zu finden. but also because of the figure of ‘pure language. Mack. these laws are eternal. 49 Pure language Benjamin’s philosophy of language is fundamental for an understanding of his politics of pure means.’ which appears in both the 1916 ‘On Language as Such and on the Language of Man’ [U¨ber Sprache u¨berhaupt und u¨ber die Sprache des Menschen] and the 1921 ‘The Task of the Translator. It is this cognitive model that establishes the relation of instrumentality (Vermittlung) between the two metaphysical entities ‘subject’ and ‘object.’56 Effective [wirksam] is language ‘not through the transmission of contents but rather through the pure revelation of its majesty and true essence.’ 265.48 In the end. and refers to. language ‘communicates the mental being corresponding to it. Benjamin states.’50 Benjamin. im-mediate and un-mediated. but more explicitly in the 1918 ‘On the Program of the Coming Philosophy’ [U¨ber das Programm der kommenden Philosophie]. Mack’s argument leads to a fundamental point in the discussion of Benjamin’s politics of pure means: Benjamin takes issue with Kant’s ethics because the cognitive model on which it is founded. Benjamin argues. 51 trotz aller Ansa¨tze dazu nicht endgu¨ltig u¨berwundene Auffassung. Benjamin labels Kant’s (and the NeoKantian) epistemology as ‘mythical’ because it is based on the traditional subject-object divide. as was attempted by Hamann during Kant’s lifetime’53 (GS 2. Language as ‘mere means’ [bloßen Mittel] is rendered powerless [ohnma¨chtige] and debased [herabgewu¨rdigte]. the excellent essay by S. in ‘Critique of Violence. mitteilen and mitteilbar (communication. ‘Between Kant and Kafka. He rejects the common argument that the written word can influence the moral world and human action by providing motives for action because language is here considered ‘merely a means’ [nur ein Mittel]. innate sphere of knowledge in which this concept in no way continues to designate the relation between two metaphysical entities.’ 266.61 This letter contains in nuce the fundamental trait of Benjamin’s language philosophy. is to find for knowledge the sphere of total neutrality in regard to the concepts of both subject and object. The conclusion of the Kant’s essay echoes.’ and thus law must preclude the revolutionary violence of those who rebel against it. in Beatrice Hanssen words. Already in the 1914 essay on Ho¨lderlin. rather. in other words. 53 kann nur durch eine Beziehung der Erkenntnis auf die Sprache wie sie schon zu Kants Lebzeiten Hamann versucht hat gewonnen werden.’62 However. 56 magisch das heißt un-mittel-bar. 61 For a reading of this letter. ‘this 55 Jedes Handeln das in der expansiven Tendenz des Wort-an-Wort-Reihens liegt scheint mir fu¨rchterlich und um so verheerender wo dieses ganze Verha¨ltnis von Wort und Tat wie bei uns in immer steigendem Maße als ein Mechanismus zur Verwirklichung des richtigen Absoluten um sich greift. as in our country.1:168/SW 1:108). illustrates and emphasises the political implications of his philosophy of language and helps relate it to ‘Critique of Violence. in a word which will recur in the language essay. 50 Mack. it is to discover the autonomous.’ as pure means. though formally adopting Kant’s transcendental method and the main character of his moral philosophy.’ Another important text. or.1:161/SW 103). communicate and communicable). Not only because language is singled out. ‘magic. ‘to exchange the reflection model of the philosophy of consciousness for the insight of a full-fledged philosophy of language. cf. ‘Between Kant and Kafka. 1916. developed then in the essay written in the same year: the mediality of language. . moreover. Mediale and Medium (mediacy and medium). or language as medium. The rational subject of the Kantian tradition is confined within this circularity and the attempt to construe the moral act on the self-founding.1:163/SW 1:104) The Kantian foundational myth the new epistemology must overcome is precisely its methodological point of departure: subjectivity.’ and finally leads to the mythical circularity of means and ends. mit andern Worten die autonome ureigne Spha¨re der Erkenntnis auszumitteln in der dieser Begriff auf keine Weise mehr die Beziehung zwischen zwei metaphysischen Entita¨ten bezeichnet. ‘can be attained only by relating knowledge to language. as a mechanism for the realisation of the right absolute. pure will of the subject fails insofar as it cannot overcome the divide. The task of future epistemology. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 defined in relation to the laws of autonomous reason.’54 48 Mack. Mack writes.

Im Namen ist das geistige Wesen. and this is why. of altering itself. This.C. and in which. das ist die Unmittelbarkeit aller geistigen Mitteilung. Language in its mediacy is pre-positional. ‘only insofar as the word ‘without’ defines a relation not of simple exclusion or negation. 70 S. Communicability is. more literally. as their mediacy in a third entity. Mediation. as Figal puts it..’ 1144.’ ‘Imparting’ [Mitteilung]. into the abyss of prattle. 75 in den Abgrund der Mittelbarkeit aller Mitteilung. it is in the purest sense ‘medium’ of the communication. thus. 78 weil die zum Kompromiß fu¨hrende Strebung nicht von sich aus. rather.] But such yearning. as Werner Hamacher writes. it is pure means.77 On the same basis Benjamin distinguishes between compromise [Kompromiß]. but cannot be considered the opposite of a means either. eben von der Gegenstrebung. which abandons the name (GS 2. Benjamin notes in ‘Critique of Violence. perfect or perfectible. of the empty word. because no compromise. and conference or interlocution [Unterredung]: compromise remains embroiled within the means-ends logic and is therefore violent because. is not a means for a subject to transmit any content. der Zwangscharakter nicht weggedacht werden kann. 443 simply there. Both Hamacher and Weber relate therefore language to the title of the second of the two sections which. the mental entity that communicates itself is language. as Rodolphe Gasche´ notes. not by actually becoming something else but by naming the structural potentiality of such leavetaking. 1988).’67 There is no such a thing as a content of language: ‘as communication. Language. language parts with itself and can thus be said to constitute a medium of virtuality. by the opposing effort. und in dem die Sprache selbst und absolut sich mitteilt.’ Weber. Das Mediale. 88.’ Benjamin’s Ground: New Readings of Walter Benjamin.’70 This possibility. Benjamin’s -Abilities (Cambridge. he quotes from Erich Unger. however freely accepted. things communicate that they are of divine origin. MA/London. ‘Unmittelbar (immediate[ly]) means not just ‘immediate[ly]’ but also. takes leave of itself. ‘is a means which has no need of positing and which may underline any established linguistic political. 65 Jede Sprache teilt sich in sich selbst mit. is a knowledge from outside.1:144/SW 65) It is only after the Fall. sie ist im reinsten Sinne das . It is 63 dieses geistige Wesen sich in der Sprache mitteilt und nicht durch die Sprache. that is. but as the immediate possibility of being imparted. In language. This means. in a verbal sense of their expression. an end in itself. of the word as means. 12. preperformative – and. 76 Der Baum der Erkenntnis stand nicht wegen der Aufschlu¨sse u¨ber Gut und Bo¨se. that it precedes any performative utterance as a form of mediacy. als Mitteilung teilt die Sprache ein geistiges Wesen. of its nominal character. durch das sich nichts mehr. identical with its presence. ed. compromise presents a law-positing character. but as something that splits off from itself.73 (GS 2. is conceivable without a compulsive character’78 (GS 2. an inter of their languages. or legal institution at any time. as medium. according to a letter Benjamin sent to Scholem in December 1920.’72 Language as medium is the name: The name is that through which. sondern als Wahrzeichen des Gerichts u¨ber den Fragenden. when name becomes ‘human word’ [menschliches Wort]. 74 Das Wort soll etwas mitteilen (außer sich selbst). wie freiwillig auch immer aufgenommen. in this sense. 197. das sich mitteilt. language has no speaker. but rather as a ‘real possibility (dunamis) of potency in language. Not things yearn to be heard: only that part of them that is spiritual. ‘all language communicate itself’64 (GS 2. 66 Figal. without which they would not be language. In thus being named.66 This notion of language as immediate mediation rejects its instrumentality: it ‘knows no means. Strike. des eitlen Wortes verfiel.1:142–3/SW 1:64. it is. As medium and articulation of mediacy. in short. Gasche´. which is the immediacy of all mental communication. such intention in language. 89. im Garten Gottes.’75 The very question of good and evil is in this sense ‘prattle’: ‘The Tree of Knowledge stood in the garden of God not in order to dispense information on good and evil. communicability is constituted by things’ yearning to relate to the origin of their creation in the Word. would have composed the second part of his Politik: teleology without final purpose [Teleologie ohne Endzweck] (cf. . Therefore.’ 1143–4. d. An important consequence is that it is only after the Fall that judgement [das Gericht] becomes possible: knowledge of good and evil is in itself nameless [namenlos]. without means or instrumentality. kein Mittel. ‘rather than a category of possibility. but as an emblem of judgement over the questioner. Language is not something external to the mental being. ‘the effort toward compromise is motivated not internally but from outside. of its place and position. he continues. that which is communicable in a mental entity. keinen Gegenstand und keinen Adressaten der Mitteilung. then. communicates the linguistic being of things.’ p. weil aus jedem Kompromiß..’74 but as such it looses the true knowledge of things and becomes ‘prattle’ [Gescwa¨tz].1:154/SW 1:72). the language of names takes leave of itself. GB 2:109).’71 Weber acutely highlights another fundamental trait of the medium: it is not a means. diplomatic transactions. die Sprache. Rainer Na¨gele (Detroit. Hamacher.’63 In this sense. 64 jede Sprache teilt sich selbst mit.1:145–6/SW 1:66. no object. sondern von außen. not as a subjective characteristic. 77 Cf. language itself communicates itself absolutely. GS 2. complete. that language steps out of name-language and becomes a means: ‘The word must communicate something (other than itself).i. language communicates a mental entity – something communicable per se’68 (GS 2. motiviert wird. a virtual medium that cannot be measured by the possibility of self-fulfilment but by its constitutive alterability. In the Fall. an objective (metaphysical) category that designates the difference that expression or language makes to the extent that as expression and language it communicates all by itself its difference’. oriented towards the realisation 72 He continues. This immense irony marks the mythic origin of law’76 (GS 2. it retains one decisive aspect of the means. but rather offers itself as the form of mediacy between speakers. not a means to its communication.1:192/SW 1:145). ‘Afformative. language does not initially lay the foundation for anything outside itself. and if one chooses to call this immediacy magic. .’ Hamacher. die er zu geben vermocht ha¨tte. Figal points out. Weber adds. Benjamin’s –Abilities.. therefore. so ist das Urproblem der Sprache ihre Magie. emphasis in the original). ist das Grundproblem der Sprachtheorie. stretching Benjamin’s theory in a strongly deconstructionist direction: ‘What is ‘immediate’ is that which is defined by the potentiality of taking leave of itself. in a talk. which is that ‘it is not self-contained. in Samuel Weber words. Language as pure mediality is therefore prior to the judgement on good and evil. Diese ungeheure Ironie ist das Kennzeichen des mythischen Ursprung des Rechts. In stepping outside the purer language of name.Medium’ der Mitteilung. In short. ‘Saturnine Vision and the Question of Difference: Reflections of Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Language. is not to be intended as a Kantian formal condition of possibility. 67 kennt . des Wortes als Mittel.’ Weber. Benjamin continues. emphases in the original) Mediation is im-mediate. Language. that is. As such. Strike. an Unterredung. 73 Der Name ist dasjenige. In the name. eine Mitteilbarkeit schlechthin mit. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel.65 (GS 2. 42. in den Abgrund des Geschwa¨tzes. afformative.1:152–3/SW 1:71). [. 71 R. Benjamin’s – Abilities. 68 Einen Inhalt der Sprache gibt es nicht. 117. and thus as ‘sheer. Put differently: All language communicates itself in itself. and no addressee of communication. man makes language a means and therefore also a mere sign.1:142/SW 1:63).1:191/SW 1:244). is the fundamental problem of linguistic theory. already linguistic – the residue of the creative word – does so. und wenn man diese Unmittelbarkeit magisch nennen will. preinstrumental technique.’ fraud or deceit [Betrug] came only late under the sanction of law (cf. then the primary problem of language is its magic. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 mental being communicates itself in language and not through language. Weber. language precedes any distinction between ‘true’ and ‘false’ and is not subject to it.’69 Or. 2008). is not subjective. . but of participation ‘with’ the ‘out’-side of an irreducible and yet constitutive exteriority. man abandoned immediacy in the communication of the name and ‘fell into the abyss of the mediateness of all communication. is to be understood not as a ‘means’ to some other goal. 69 He continues: ‘Even before and even during its performative effects. ‘Afformative. but it is at the same time the clearest manifestation of this being.

‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. 95 Hamacher. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 of a superordinate end: ‘compromise is a form of law-positing which has no law-preserving violence at disposition. above. 74–5. Hirsch. endgu¨ltiges und entscheidendes Stadium aller Sprachfu¨gung. T. Das Gemeinte is in a constant state of flux [Wandel] – an historical flux which translation helps developing by transposing each time the language of the original into a ‘higher and purer linguistic air’86 – ‘until it is able to emerge as the pure language from the harmony of all the various ways of meaning.90 Language. 83 Der Inbegriff dieser intensiven Totalita¨t der Sprache als des geistigen Wesen des Menschen ist der Name.1:145/SW 1:65).’ 180.’ the ‘language of truth’ or the ‘true language’89 (GS 4. Pure language as translation was that which inhabited and exceeded singular languages and idioms. Christiaan L.’ 15.’ Hanssen.1 (January–March 1996). Hamacher also underlines an important commonality with Kant. but also pointed to a transcendence.’ Weber. translatability presents the character of a demand [Forderung] analogous to the Kantian moral law. but is a demand which arises from the essence [Wesen] of each work.1:195/SW 1:247).1:162/SW 1:104). but only in it: The quintessence of this intensive totality of language as the mental being of man is the name. 760–1. its ur-image (Urbild) was the interlinear version of the scriptures. to be sure. jenseits aller Rechtsordnung und also Gewalt. ‘Intensive Sprachen. Benjamin’s –Abilities. Inasmuch as this transcendence manifested itself in translation. Gasche´.’’ as it does etymologically.’ in a way. 22. 81 Cf. Walter Benjamin’s Other History. something that is aporetical. in the life and transformation of historical languages. Pure language is related to another fundamental notion: the expressionless [das Ausdruckslose].93 Hamacher interestingly relates the notion of pure language to Benjamin’s critique of Kant: what in the 1918 Kant’s essay Benjamin called ‘pure ‘epistemological (transcendental) consciousness’’ [reinen erkenntnis-theoretischen (transzendentalen) Bewusstsein] (GS 2. Man is the namer. but rather it ‘wraps’ and ‘involves.91 Neither a Ursprache nor a universal language. a theory of a ‘pure transcendental language. have priority over what is meant – this would be a language that seems to approach what Benjamin ‘‘means’’ by ‘‘pure language. 82 Cf. 2001). pure insofar as beyond its utilitarian and symbolic functions. and it is this ‘objectiveness’ of language which constitutes it as techne`. Hamacher. translatability is not moulded on the conditions of its fulfilment. especially in the notion of translatability: because it structurally transcends the limits of finite subjectivity. then. spannungslos und selbst schweigend aufbewahrt sind. by this we recognize that through him pure language speaks. finally.’ In the same way that the pure transcendental consciousness would overcome the relation between subjects and objects. . Der Mensch ist der Nennende. 85 die Allheit ihrer einander erga¨nzenden Intentionen.’ 18–9. ed. who therefore cannot communicate himself by it. At the risk of pressuring the limits of the German language.’79 The work of diplomats lacks this law-positing character because ‘it is beyond all legal systems and therefore beyond violence’80 (GS 2.444 C. U 93 Cf.’ Aut Aut: Rivista di Filosofia e Cultura. and thus from language itself. 51. In the 1921 translation essay this notion takes a slightly different connotation: pure language is here defined as the ‘totality of their [all human languages] intentions supplementing one another’85 (GS 4. It is at the same time present. Kritik und U¨bersetzung: Die Praxis der Reproduktion im Fru¨hwerk Walter Benjamins (Gießen. to relations of communication [Mitteilbarkeit]. 110. and is as such a possibility that does not need to refer to any actual reality.’ 92. could also be called. therefore.’ Benjamin-Handbuch. dass aus ihm die reine Sprache spricht. and C. ‘Die Aufgabe Des ¨ bersetzers. ‘Saturnine Vision and the Question of Difference. 92 Cf. albeit hidden and fragmentary. in a word. V. 87 bis es aus der Harmonie all jener Arten des Meinens als die reine Sprache herauszutreten vermag. pure language signifies the messianic end (telos and not Zweck) of the historical movement of all languages.81 When Beatrice Hanssen writes thus that in Unterredung Benjamin seemingly retained the legacy of liberalism.1:16/SW 1:259). um die alles Denken sich mu¨ht. 88 ein letztes. In the language essay the 91 Cf.82 The notion of language as pure means relates to another fundamental notion: pure language.’ Etudes Germaniques. a teleological movement (but an ‘intentionless’ one.94 However. and refers rather to relations internal to languages and between languages. ‘Il linguaggio: Benjamin e Heidegger a confronto. This language as the ‘paradisiacal language’ [paradiesische Sprache] is one of perfect knowledge (GS 2. 119–20. ‘Intensive Sprachen. Hanssen. language as medium is not determined von außen. Do¨rr. they only differ in ‘the way of meaning’ [die Art des Meinens]. 89 Wenn anders es aber eine Sprache der Wahrheit gibt. ohne Endzwecke) of progressive ‘purification’ towards a sort of cumulative totality which constitutes nevertheless the empty space of universal linguisticity. Critique of Violence. and not the other way round.’ U¨bersetzen: Walter Benjamin. the speaker. a ‘final. conclusive. 1988). one could perhaps say that in Benjamin’s essay the German term for translation (U¨bersetzung) no longer only denoted ‘‘transfer’’ or ‘‘transposition. 175–6. from outside. as a nucleus [Kern]. 22. to the medial character of language and thus to its Wesen. as the movement of language. was immanent to the diversity of empirical languages.95 A similar point is made by Figal when he argues that Benjamin is still strongly Kantian in his systematic determination of the morality in language on its ‘intensive totality. 94 W.’87 Pure language corresponds therefore to the messianic end of the history of all historical 79 Figal.’ MLN 90 (1975). she misses the mark.’96 We could stretch the argument to argue that the tension on which pure language is construed (like the politics of pure means. or languages and objects. pure language overcomes that between languages and subjects. that is u¨ber. Like the moral law.M. 84 Die Sprache – und in ihr ein geistiges Wesen – spricht sich nur da rein aus. Hanssen argues. a ‘tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate secrets for which all thought strives. in welcher die letzten Geheimnisse. since signifying always entails a signified and hence cannot be entirely pure. daran erkennen wir. and finally also pure violence) still presents a strong affinity with Kant’s formulation of the moral act. yet it transcended them. ‘Die Ethik Walter Benjamins als Philosophie der reinen Mittel. The kinship [Verwandtschaft] of languages resides in the fact that ‘what is meant’ [das Gemeinte] in all of them is the same. ‘‘‘Gewalt’’ jenseits der Gewalt: Zu Walter Benjamins Theorie der Gewaltlosigkeit. in which the ways of meaning. it is the speaker who is ‘referred to’ by language.’’ This would be a language that performs by signifying without being absorbed or determined by entities that appear to exist independently of all signifying. Hamacher argues. A.83 (GS 2. ‘The Monstrosity of Translation. translation. wo sie im Namen spricht. only expresses itself purely where it speaks in name’84 (GS 2. 273–4 (May–August 1996). 86 in einen gleichsam ho¨heren und reineren Luftkreis der Sprache hinauf. and A. so ist diese Sprache der Wahrheit – die wahre Sprache 90 ‘Pure language. simultaneously in a relation of immanence and transcendence to empirical languages.1:14/SW 1:257). to a law (Gesetz) that transcends. 35. that which is purely language. 80 languages. nebst einigen Anmerkungen zu einer ‘‘Kritik’’ der Reprsa¨ntation. Hart Nibbrig (Frankfurt a. ‘linguisticality’ [Sprachlichkeit]. As such. their distribution and relations. for which he advocated against subjectivism and the consequent subject-object divide. 614. Jacobs. But a relation to language in which syntax – the sequential arrangement of words – takes precedence over the time-and-space transcending rues of grammar and semantics.1:144/SW 1:71). In the language essay Benjamin states that language itself constitutes the mental being of man. nothing but language.92 without final purposes. Vitiello. In Unterredung. Samuel Weber writes: ‘language that is pure of everything that is outside it is a language that would consist of pure signifying. 96 Figal.1:13/SW 1:257). and in it a mental entity. and thus also stands.1:144/SW 1:65) Pure language is identified here with the name-language: ‘language. decisive stage of all linguistic creation’88 (GS 4. Hirsch. it was also at once immanent.

denn es gibt keine Eindeutigkeit und also nicht einmal Irrtum im Mythos] (GS 1. Semblance. it ‘is not itself a word. 104 zwingt das Ausdruckslose die zitternde Harmonie einzuhalten und verewigt durch seinen Einspruch ihr Beben. errant totality – the absolute totality. as meaning-less. forming. die gegenrhythmische Unterbrechung. 1784] and Zum ewigen Frieden [Perpetual Peace.’108 in which. better. das reine Wort.103 What arrests this semblance and interrupts the harmony is the expressionless: it ‘compels the trembling harmony to stop and through its objection immortalises its quivering. 175. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 question of the ‘inexpressible’ and the ‘inexpressed’ [das Unausprechliches. 110 B. not a 102 verzaubert (Chaos) auf einen Augenblick zur Welt. endows beauty with the main trait of myth: ambiguity [Zweideutigkeit] (GS 1. but afformative. die nichts mehr meint und nichts mehr ausdru¨ckt. 99 In dieser reinen Sprache. Dieses erst vollendet das Werk. by shattering it into a thing of shards. in order to give free reign to an expressionless power inside all artistic media’109 (GS 1. rupture. combined with the criticism of art he found in the Early German Romantics.335). ‘Das Ausdruckslose: Walter Benjamins Metamorphosen der Bilderlosigkeit.. irrende Totalita¨t – die absolute. aller Sinn und alle Intention auf eine Schicht. the violence which constitutes the moral word is caesura. the ‘purity’ of this expressionless violence – ‘pure word’ as immanent pure language. however. Critical violence The years which separate the language essay and the translation essay saw Benjamin’s intense engagement with Kant’s work. Cf. as Hamacher famously argued. Ingrid und Konrad Scheurmann (Frankfurt a.’ Benjamin-Handbuch. semblance and signification. into a fragment of the true world. He maintains the necessity of an engagement with the letter of Kant’s philosophy (GB 1:402–3) and considers – and later discards – the hypothesis of a doctoral dissertation on the Kantian notion of unendliche Aufgabe (infinite task). written between May 1924 and April 1925]. or transforming. an engagement which became critical counterposition and led him to attempt a peculiar Aufhebung of the Kantian critical project along the lines of the philosophy of language exposed in the language essay. sondern zugleich Symbol des Nicht-Mitteilbaren. trifft endlich alle Mitteilung.110 Or. For it shatters whatever still survives as the legacy of chaos in all beautiful semblance: the false. ‘Das Ausdruckslose. along with harmony. Winfried Menninghaus notes. 107 This page is taken almost literarily from an early fragment written in 1919– 1920. 106 Im Ausdruckslosen erscheint die erhabne Gewalt des Wahren. The expressionless ‘shatters’ [zerschla¨gt].105 This moral word appears as ‘sublime violence’: In the expressionless. that which remains unexpressed and inexpressible – is ‘never positing. Lindner. he was strongly disappointed. 109 jeder Ausdruck sich legt. This moral word. ‘On Semblance’ [U¨ber ‘Schein’]. but as ‘the great opponent’ [der gro¨ßte Gegener].’ As ‘objection’ [Einspruch]. however. Menninghaus.1:156/SW 1:74).1:175/SW 1:335). 489–90. Benjamin’s –Abilities. the counter-rhythmic rupture. Goethe im Gesamtwerk. zum Fragmente der wahren Welt. Kant remains the fundamental reference. Und noch dazu wird gerade die ethische Seite der Geschichte als einer besondern Betrachtung unzuga¨nglich hingestellt und das Postulat einer naturwissenschaftlichen Betrachtungsweise und Methode aufgestellt] (GB 1:408). 105 Cf.1:181/SW 1:340)107 Weber points out that pure language is essentially described negatively.). W. it is interruption of the mythical unity of expression. The former recasts pure language in the 97 das Ausgesprochenste zugleich das reine Geistige ist. ‘There is no truth. Benjamin writes. welches es zum Stu¨ckwerk zerschla¨gt. Es ist na¨mlich Sprache in jedem Falle nicht allein Mitteilung des Mitteilbaren. ‘‘‘Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften’’. that which is meant in all languages – all information. This thought is developed in the translation essay precisely in relation to pure language: In this pure language – which no longer means or expresses anything but is. precisely the ethical side of history as specific observation is made inaccessible and the postulate of an analytical mode proper to the natural sciences is established’ [Es handelt sich bei Kant weniger um die Geschichte als um gewisse geschichtliche Konstellationen von ethischem Interesse.. and all intention finally encounter a stratum in which they are destined to be extinguished. is no word and entails no signification.1:19/SW 1:261) aesthetic field as the ‘expressionless’ [das Ausdruckslose].1:181–2/SW 1:340–1). all sense. sondern als ausdrucksloses und scho¨pferisches Wort das in allen Sprachen Gemeinte ist. 1992). At the same time. GS 1. insofar as it introduces the unequivocalness of truth and justice – purity – into the ambiguity of appearance and myth. the cornerstones of this critical project are represented by the essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities and the book on the German Baroque Play of Mourning [Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels.174/SW 1:326.1:162/SW 1:326). as form ‘enchants chaos momentarily into the world’102 and becomes ‘mere semblance’ [bloßer Schein] in the forms of ‘mere beauty’ and ‘mere harmony’ [bloße Scho¨nheit and bloße Harmonie] (GS 1.1:181/SW 1:340).99 (GS 4. 101 Benjamin’s correspondence helps outlining this development: if in October 1917 he still harboured the idea of writing his doctoral dissertation at the university of Berne on Kant and history (GB 1:390–1). transcendent telos in which all languages are destined to be extinguished – and this will be a fundamental point for the analysis of pure violence.M. a symbol of the noncommunicable’98 (GS 2. from literature to history to politics. On this aspect Benjamin will found the power of critique. as expressionless and creative Word. ‘destroys’ and reduces semblance – that semblance which is the aesthetic correlate of myth – to shards and fragments. In addition. when he finally read Kant’s relevant works on the subject. This does not entail. das Unausgesprochene] is connected to the concept of revelation [Offenbarung]: revelation is the linguistic state where ‘the most expressed is at the same time the purely mental’97 (GS 2.101 The critical model elaborated in these crucial years will remain a constant in Benjamin’s later work and will be applied to the most diverse fields. In December of the same year he wrote to Scholem: ‘The issue in Kant is not much history but certain historical constellations of ethical interest. at the same time.3:832–3/SW 1:224–5. intention-less and expression-less. Dieses na¨mlich zerschla¨gt was in allem scho¨nen Schein als die Erbschaft des Chaos noch u¨berdauert: die falsche.’ Fu¨r Walter Benjamin: Dokumente. wie es nach Gesetzen der moralischen Welt die Sprache der wirklichen bestimmt. as Benjamin writes in a letter to Ernst Schoen in May 1918 (GB 1:455–6). for there is no unequivocalness – and hence no error – in myth’ [Es gibt keine Wahrheit. Burkhardt Lindner writes.’104 Benjamin defines the expressionless as ‘critical violence’ [kritische Gewalt] insofar as it possesses violence ‘as a moral dictum’ [moralisches Wort]: it is only the moral word that can dispel the ambiguity of semblance and introduce what is presented as the characteristic of truth and justice: unequivocalness [Eindeutigkeit] (GS 1. 1795]. ‘every expression simultaneously comes to a standstill. 100 Weber.. or. it is also the immanent unexpressed and inexpressible which inhabits all historical languages and as such disarranges and interrupts the continuum of signification. the pure word. 98 445 A passage from Ho¨lderlin’s Anmerkungen zum O¨dipus [Annotations to Oedipus] helps Benjamin clarify the concept: the expressionless emerges in the Ho¨lderlin quotation as the ‘caesura. 103 . in der sie zu erlo¨schen bestimmt sind. Menninghaus. zum Torso eines Symbols.’ 175. ed.100 It is the messianic. into the torso of a symbol.1:162. a pure correspondence between language and communication: ‘For language is in every case not only communication of the communicable but also. 77.106 (GS 1. Only the expressionless completes the work.C. namely Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbu¨rgerlicher Absicht [Idea For a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose. Essays und ein Entwurf. The violent caesura constituted by the ‘pure word’ entails a moral force. rather. the sublime violence of the true appears as that which determines the language of the real world according to the laws of the moral world.1:146/ SW 1:67). The work of art. 108 Ca¨sur (. um einer innerhalb aller Kunstmittel ausdruckslosen Gewalt Raum zu geben.

but rather interrupts it. Menninghaus. als das Gebot: Du sollst dir kein Bildnis machen.. etc. translated by Edmund Jephcott as ‘the sovereign’ (GS 2.w. and in its symbolic analogy to morality in us (cf.124 It is important thus to clarify this point. noch irgend ein Gleichnis. vol. as pure language. and the speaker creates the silence of a new language.’ 170. vielmehr irgendwie anders. its first auditor’ [der Ho¨rende fu¨hrte das Gespra¨ch zum Rande der Sprache und der Sprachende erschuf das Schweigen einer neuen Sprache. which for Kant expresses the agreement of the form with the subjective harmony of imagination and understanding. . 119 eine Gewalt anderer Art [. and strongly influence by his work. nor the likeness of anything which is in heaven or on the earth or under the earth.] that certainly could be either the justified or the unjustified means to [just] ends but was not related to them as means at all but in some different way’119 (GS 2. but this is a dangerous term. becomes the main trait of revelation [Offenbarung] as sublime disclosure [Enthu¨llung]. Pure violence Hamacher famously related the critical violence of the expressionless of the Goethe essay to the ‘pure violence’ of ‘Critique of Violence. begriffslos [non-conceptual] and more importantly bilderlos. The theme of ‘silence’ can be traced back to Benjamin’s early writings at the time of his involvement in the Jugendbewegung. (. Cf. Borso`. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 positing. 178–205.’ Benjamins Begriffe. ‘Walter Benjamin . As Menninghaus notes. who saw it haunted by the spectre of radical destruction120: Benjamin speaks of ‘destruction’ or ‘annihilation’ [Vernichtung] of legal violence/power and describes pure violence non only as divine [go¨ttliche Gewalt]. since. weder dessen was im Himmel. [. he. It is no means. ‘Kritik. accordingly carries through victoriously.]. Benjamin writes that ‘conversation strives toward silence’ [Das Gespra¨ch strebt zum Schweigen]. revolutionary outburst of violence which strikes out of nowhere and has no end in sight. B 118 = A 116/81).’ Using the terminology of speech-act theory. whereby the dialectics between expressionless and revelation takes on the traits of the third moment of the ‘Analytic of the Beautiful’: the ‘purposiveness without any purpose’ [Zweckma¨ßigkeit ohne allen Zweck]114 (KU. it does not belong to any spoken language. the listener holds ‘true language’ [die wahre Sprache] in readiness and leads ‘the conversation to the edge of language.1:288/ OT 109). . sondern u¨berhaupt nicht als Mittel zu ihnen. Giorgio Agamben importantly calls the attention to a letter Benjamin wrote to Ernst Schoen on 29 January 117 Menninghaus. notably to Derrida.1:202–3/SW 1:252). ‘Afformative. 509. B 62 = A 61/ 54). Derrida. and this makes for the unity of veil and veiled which constitutes beauty (GS 1. but. this silence is ‘sublime’ [erhabne].M.’ 174. it constitutes the very possibility of language and social life themselves. As such.1:286/OT 108). B 125 = A 123/86). Slavoj Zˇizˇek conceives it thus as divine in the sense of the Latin motto vox populi.113 As Uwe Steiner writes.’118 The notion of pure violence arises as a response to the quest for ‘a different kind of violence [. the following writings on language and aesthetics and finally re-emerges in the Goethe essay and. striking [schlagend]. and they are acknowledged by Benjamin himself. for Benjamin.1:195–6/SW 1:350–1). Strike.’ wordless word. like the violence of truth which appears in the expressionless. 1921]: ‘the tragic hero has only one language that is completely proper to him: silence’ [Der tragische Held hat nur eine Sprache. ‘Force of Law: The ‘‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’’.116 More generally. Cf. 121 im wahren Kriege and im Gottesgericht der Menge am Verbrecher. . law and myth. stands in a necessary relationship to it. die ihm vollkommen entspricht: eben das Schweigen] (GS 1. Menninghaus points out. in silence. This theme traverses. Strike. ihr erster Lauscher].. Alle Scho¨nheit ha¨lt wie die Offenbarung geschichtsphilosophische Ordnungen in sich. Denn sie macht nicht die Idee sichtbar.] The same is true of the moral law and of the tendency to morality in us’ [Vielleicht gibt es keine erhabenere Stelle im Gesetzbuche der Juden.1:199/SW 1:249–50). pure. the first part of the 1913 unpublished ‘Metaphysics of Youth’ [Metaphysik der Jugend]. er. though contrasting with the semblance. purity stands in Benjamin as some form of sublime – losigkeit at the core of his philosophical project. In ‘The Conversation’ [Das Gesprach]. it does not ‘perform’ any signification or positing [Setzung]. 120 Cf.’ Theologie und Politik: Walter Benjamin und ein Paradigma der Moderne. 2 (Frankfurt a. pure violence is non-violent and noninstrumental and ‘may at any time – if not universally at any time – break through the cycle of laws and their decay. in a much higher sphere than the psychological. Vittoria Borso` speaks of an ‘ambivalence’ of both pure violence and pure language. Bernd Witte and Mauro Ponzi (Berlin.s. it does non signify anything. 114 Scho¨nheit ist Form der Zweckma¨ßigkeit eines Gegenstandes.115 The expressionless.1:91–3/SW 1:6–7). but as law-destroying [rechtsvernichtend].) Eben dasselbe gilt auch von der Vorstellung des moralischen Gesetzes und der Anlage zur Moralita¨t in uns] (KU. an ihm wahrgenommen wird. die dann freilich zu jenen Zwecken nicht das berechtigte noch das unberechtigte Mittel sein ko¨nnte..1:182/SW 1:341). ohne Vorstellung eines Zwecks. presents evident traits of the ‘Analytic of the Sublime. Benjamin quotes from Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlo¨sung [Star of Redemption. ‘Kritik. which Kant explicitly relates to the Jewish Bilderverbot.’ 1153–4. B 125=A 123/86). Violence (New York.’ 1140–5. and in this sense has no meaning: like language as medium. ed. like the expressionless. Here tragic silence as ‘speachlessness’ [Sprachlosigkeit] intensifies the condition of the tragic hero. 112 Ausdruckslose explicitly resonates with a number of aesthetictheological concepts which sustain Kant’s project and all end with the syllable-los [-less]: zwecklos [purposeless].Theologe und Politiker: eine gefa¨hrliche Verbindung. 122 Cf. J. 118 . V. niemals Mittel heiliger Vollstreckung.’ 508. immediate violence’ [reinen unmittelbaren Gewalt] that might call a halt to the mythic violence of law. it is a ‘pure’ sign. S. ed. noch unter der Erden ist u. its methodical tendencies. then.1:195–6/SW 1:351). ‘pure.446 C.’ 1138–9. in the form of the Jewish Bilderverbot. Zˇizˇek. that the foundation of beauty is a relational character. For beauty makes visible not the idea but rather the latter’s secret’ [Kants Lehre.’ Cardozo Law Review 11 (1989–1990). but the interruption of propositional utterance by something which neither speaks nor posits’. he called ‘afformative’ the deposing [Entsetzung] which characterises pure violence.111 It is perceptible in tragedy as ‘the falling silent of the hero’ [als Verstummen des Helden] (GS 1. sondern deren Geheimnis] (GS 1. It is the ultimate task of a politics of pure means to identify such ‘pure. The difficulty in interpreting this figure has led to the most diverse reading. das 111 Hamacher. ‘Das Ausdruckslose. Like revelation. KU.’ especially in its negative character (cf. all beauty holds in itself the orders of the history of philosophy.112 The sublimity of the true word constitutes the ‘secret’ [Geheimnis] at the core of the critique of beauty: the expressionless. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image. ‘Silence is the internal frontier of conversation’ and ‘greatness is the eternal silence after the conversation’ [Schweigen ist die innere Grenze des Gespra¨ches and Gro¨ße ist das ewige Schweigen nach dem Gespra¨ch] (GS 2. ‘Afformative. 113 ‘Kant’s doctrine. Kant’s third critique is here revisited along the lines of Benjamin’s philosophy of language. Kantian suggestions are here very strong. Steiner. KU. Steiner. 115 U. especially the ‘Post-scriptum.. 116 ‘Perhaps there is no sublimer passage in the Jewish Law than the command.. Hamacher. As it has been noted.1:196/ SW 1:247). interesselos [disinterested]. 64–5. Michael Opitz and Edmut Wizisla. 124 Cf. in the Trauerspiel book. . noch aud der Erden. ‘Das Ausdruckslose. sich verhalten wu¨rde. because it resonates with that ambiguity [Zweideutigkeit] which rather characterises. 2005). 2000).117 As in Kant. it is precisely the absence of words that represents the maximum of communication [Mitteilung]: ‘it is an articulation of the nonarticulation. more powerfully. as a subterranean current. ‘lethal without bloodshed’ [auf unblutige Weise letal] and as not stopping short of annihilation [macht nicht Halt vor der Vernichtung] (GS 2. dass ein Relationscharakter die Grundlage der Scho¨nheit sei. vox dei. moreover.122 The last sentence of the essay describes it as ‘the sign and seal but never the means of sacred dispatch’123 and calls it die waltende. Silence represents the ‘sublimity of linguistic expression’ [einer Erfahrung vom Erhabnen des Sprachlichen Ausdrucks] (GS 1. of which it would play a series of variation. this ‘revolutionary violence’ [revolutiona¨re Gewalt] is also said to possibly manifest itself in a ‘true war’ and in ‘the crowd’s divine judgement on a criminal’121 and is not recognizable as such with certainty. setzt demnach in einer sehr viel ho¨hern Spha¨re als der psychologischen siegreich ihre methodischen Tendenzen durch.’ But more importantly. sofern sie. The language Benjamin uses to describe this pure violence became suspicious to many readers. 2008). 123 Insignium und Siegel.

198. Mit anderen Worten: Die Reinheit jedes (endlichen) Wesen ist nicht von ihm selbst abha¨ngig. 128 Weber.’ It is interesting to note that walten is commonly used in combination with schalten in the idiomatic expression ‘schalten und walten’ (to bustle around) and ‘frei schalten und walten’ (to do what one wants. trans. insofar as it interrupts and dissolves the signification of every historical language. allow. but only that of the mediality of the pure medium identified in the language essays. and precisely because of this. in their correlation. disarranges and thus exposes the continuum of this connection. ‘is there a kind of manifestation.’ that is. recur again to the analogy with pure language: pure violence can be described as the messianic. 126 G. Salzani / History of European Ideas 36 (2010) 438–447 1919 and in which he gives a definition of ‘purity. on the other hand. Sie will als Restauration. or absolute. origin. oder absolut. vielmehr dem Werden und Vergehen Entspringendes gemeint.’ Benjamin writes: The purity of a being is never unconditional.Philosophie’ dieser Geschichte deswegen. scheidende und entscheidende Einstellung auf ihre zeitlichen Data ermo¨glicht.’ We can.1:202/SW 1:251) The pivotal term is here Ausgang. and thus the mythic bound which unites law and violence. like pure language at the end of the history of languages. in its relation to law. if purity is not a substantial but a relational notion.’ As such. like many other interpreters. Agamben. Unabgeschlossenes andererseits erkannt sein] (GS 1.’ but which could also be translated as ‘outcome.) Im nackten offenkundigen Bestand des Faktischen gibt das Urspru¨ngliche sich niemals zu erkennen. This relation.’ 204. though. This condition varies depending on the being the purity of which is at issue. Benjamin’s –Abilities. in relation to a story or to history (both Geschichte in German). als Wiederherstellung einerseits. he continues. but rather as the idea as ‘constellation’ of the Trauerspiel book. The common usage.’ The ‘idea’ of this Ausgang is to be read neither as a Kantian ‘regulative idea’ nor as the idea of the Platonic tradition. ‘Gnade walten lassen’ (to show mercy). ‘Zur Kritik Der Gewalt. following Benjamin. but as the afformative interruption of the expressionless pure language. Axel Honneth seems to mean something similar when he writes that its function is to prepare the terminology with which Benjamin will asses the relation between law and violence from the transcendental perspective of some future morality.. as noun. like the expressionless within every linguistic expression. is involved in a violence that is waltend but not schaltend? Can the two be as clearly separated or distinguished as Agamben. 62. als eben darin Unvollendetes.. the connection between schalten and walten. . Kevin Attell (Chicago and London. but holds itself in relation to its own mediality.1:202/SW 1:252).’ ‘exit. On the one hand it needs to be recognized as a process of restoration and reestablishment. 130 ‘The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being. however.’ ‘egress. as pure language constitutes the potency of language as dunamis.’ as Hamacher would say. ‘exposes and severs the nexus between law and violence and can thus appear in the end not as violence that governs or executes (die schaltende) but as violence that purely acts and manifests (die waltende). that. Cf. discriminating. . as something imperfect and incomplete’ [Im Ursprung wird kein Werden des Entsprungenen.’ or.’126 Pure violence. transcendent telos in which. emphases in the original) Agamben calls this conception of purity ‘relational’ rather than substantial and argues therefore that the purity of pure violence ‘is not a substantial characteristic belonging to the violent action in itself’.C. 61–2. define the philosophy of history which informs – and connects – both ‘Critique of Violence’ and ‘The Task of the Translator. it is however used often in combination with the verb lassen (to let.129 (GS 2. State of Exception. weil die Idee ihres Ausgangs allein eine kritische. niemals aber liegt diese Bedingung in dem Wesen selbst. Agamben underlines the relation between pure violence and pure language: ‘pure violence is that which does not stand in a relation of means toward an end. he argues. a kind of act that is defined precisely through just such a relation to something other than itself? What. and the expression ‘das walte Gott’ means simply ‘amen. 2005). therefore. make). Diese Bedingung ist verschieden je nach dem Wesen um dessen Reinheit es sich handelt.] That which is original is never revealed in the naked and manifest existence of the factual. Honneth. to have a free hand).125 (GB 2:11–2. then how can it consist in an action that manifests violence ‘itself’ or ‘as such.’ as distinct from everything other than itself? Or. as in the expressions ‘Vernunft walten lassen’ (to let reason prevail). however. he concludes. (. to let somebody do as he pleases). but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance. sie ist stets einer Bedingung unterworfen. in short. und einzig einer Doppeleinsicht steht seine Rhythmik offen.’127 The expression ‘purely acts’ [puramente agisce] needs though a specification: ‘acts’ cannot be read ‘performatively. but.’ ‘so be it. but in its relation to something external.1:226/OT 45). In other words. as ‘denouement’ or ‘conclusion. it is always subjected to a condition.130 Ursprung and Ausgang. seems to believe?’128 Weber might have in mind the peculiar utilisation of the verb walten in German: used alone. we must read pure violence as the immanent critical violence that. so pure violence constitutes the dunamis of the deposition of the schalten-walten connection and thus the messianic idea of a ‘new historical epoch’ [ein neues geschichtliches Zeitalter] (GS 2. it is used in expressions like ‘das Walten der Naturgewalten/ Gottes’ (the workings of the forces of nature/of God). It is important. Die . 447 somebody have a free rein. 127 Agamben. and decisive approach to its temporal data. ‘the difference between pure violence and mythico-juridical violence does not lie in the violence itself. ‘Vorsicht/Milde walten lassen’ (to exercise caution/leniency). In fact. we could argue. cannot be that of means and end. The perspective that must be adopted in finally assessing the ‘purity’ of violence is that invoked by Benjamin at the beginning of the last paragraph of the essay: The critique of violence is the philosophy of its history – the ‘philosophy’ of this history because only the idea of its development makes possible a critical. testifies of the intimate relation of the two terms. however. its rhythm is apparent only to a dual insight. precisely that relation which is at issue in the ‘purification’ of violence. [.. . is destined to be extinguished. which Jephcott renders as ‘development. it can mean to rule. this condition is never to be found in the being itself. Weber explores the question further by reading Agamben reading Benjamin’s analysis of Kafka and the relation between law and life. the purity of any (finite) being does not depend on itself. pure violence is finally ‘attested to only as the exposure and deposition of the relation between violence and law. Samuel Weber acutely notes. as in the expression ‘u¨ber jemanden oder etwas walten’ (to rule over somebody or something). 129 Die Kritik der Gewalt ist die Philosophie ihrer Geschichte. not to forget also the immanent side of pure language: at the same time. ‘jemanden walten lassen’ (to let 125 Die Reinheit eines Wesens ist niemals unbedingt. intimately related to the notion of Ursprung. but this issue exceeds the scope of the present analysis. State of Exception. in other words.