Currently approaching some six thousand titles, my personal library is of comparable size to that of Herr Benjamin's back when he put pen to paper; the learned author comes off as a more intelligent kindred spirit to this reviewer, one whose book-based similarities both measure and explain the bibliomaniac's obsessions and joys with a reassuring abundance of lucidity and enthusiasm. A book is a microcosm of life itselfeach page a separate day, with its own unique events, thoughts, conversations, and actions. Thus, if you love books you must perforce bear some lovehowever imperceptible it seemsfor life itself; and by this measure Benjamin's passion for existence must have been deep. My favorite of Benjamin's intellectual recipes is his brief essay on translation: confounding and difficulta dialectic prose puzzlebut flush with profound insight and a depth of analysis that rings very true to me, especially that of a good translation advancing the suitor language, of necessity accessing the ur-language inherent to conveyed experience and which exists on a higher level even to the original tongue. The entire piece is a wonderwending the difficult prose reveals remarkable burnishing of Proust's image, the two-sided tapestry his great text wove, in which story and characterization were the penumbral opposite of recollection, the structural key in which details of existence were salvaged from the slate gray interweaving of forgetting's loom.
The thoughts on Kafka explore the mystical as well as the shock of the modern.
Very interesting, Proust is kind of a weird guy but Benjamin offers a lot of insightful commentary on his life and how this influenced Proust's work and his way of dealing with time, memory, past, present, and how this all plays a role in examination of the self. Following paragraphs are my thoughts (like I said meandering) on Benjamins essay on Mechanical Reproduction, I will do my best, this would be an essay to reread carefully because there is a lot there, and I dont doubt Ive missed certain nuances and points but that wont stop me from writing about it haha! This is a very good essay as it hits upon a lot of interesting insights but I have some issues. To reduce it, Huxley comes across as the type of guy who thinks only one type of person (genius) is fit to produce art (his example is based on the art of writing), his view is that a greater amount of people creating (due to greater amount of reading public) has led to a high output of garbage art (literally he calls it garbage!) and vulgarity that caters to lowest common denominators. Different things appeal to different people which is why Im happy there is a lot of different kinds of art and diversity of practitioners, creators, and a broad diverse public that consumes the work. Of course I judge art based on my time, place, upbringing, experiences, views, tastes, and am influenced by the people and culture around me, but I will never say something is universally good or great, tastes wax and wane and vary across cultures, all that matters is that something speaks to us. To project ones personal artistic tastes as being the be all end all definition of what good art is is the height of arrogance and pride imo, so you know I kinda gotta throw Huxley in the doghouse on that one because he might be very brilliant in many ways but from the passage Benjamin quotes he strikes me as the kind of guy who thinks his standard is the only standard (you can tell this is a subject that really riles me up right?! In his eyes the modern art techniques like film are not all bad, in fact they have a lot of potential due to the force of their democratizing possibilities, but they also feature a capacity to exploit, dominate, indoctrinate, and subjugate people. To be fair I think one can make an argument that this is not new at all, for example painting and previous modes of art were exploited in such a manner by the Catholic church, maybe not as broadly due to limitations of the medium but churches and art within them were tools and had broad reach in both physical but also spiritual realms/lives of people living in medieval Europe, certainly exploited to gain greater power and exert social control. Maybe my thinking is more democratic about art and modern techniques because I was raised with them, Ive consumed a lot of visual forms and I enjoy film a lot. Maybe I miss some of his nuance even though I have to agree that some of his critiques of modern art forms are on point but the negative aspects of the critique are overemphasized vs the positive aspects, while the reverse is true for how he treats the older modes like painting. Sometimes I think the focus on the artificiality of photography and film has more to do with these being new techniques of the modern age, and in a way this newness is frightening to people like Benjamin who were witnessing a flux of new techniques and mediums. But to overlook the artificiality of previous modes of creation is a bit silly to me, even if the human hand was more involved in past times it was still using tricks of technique to create illusion (heck I wonder what hed have to say about the use of the camera obscura going way back, its highly likely that many artists including Vermeer were using this technique to capture greater realism within their work. But even on this issue I think people should consume art however they see fit, whether it be via concentration or the goal of distraction. As I said, to distill my view I see art as a mode of communication that helps us connect with each other and try to better understand this world, life experience, others, ourselves; a conduit to share ideas and experience. Art is a bridge, and when we are lucky it can help us expand our minds, help us transcend daily reality, allow us to share ideas and experience, make us connect with things beyond ourselves, reveal insights into our own selves and the world we live in.
Sentimentality I still talk about "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" 30 years after I first read it. I think Benjamin displayed some degree of sentimentality and attachment to the original work of art. The wine versus the bottle (I originally thought this analogy was from Nicholas Negroponte's "Being Digital".
Benjamin's writings on Proust, Kafka, Baudelaire and Leskov are really brilliant and engrossing.
Besides for the mountains of literary references and the oblique angles from which Benjamin approaches his subjects, his languid, flâneur-like writing makes it difficult to follow his train of thought. These essays, selected by Hannah Arendt, focus on a number of Modernist writers (Proust, Kafka, Baudelaire, Leskov whom I hadn't heard of, Brecht) and their approach to society. As a Marxist, Benjamin saw the cultural as tightly embedded in the political - as he concludes the most best-known essay in the book, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Fascism seeks to make the aesthetic political (glorifying war and destruction), and Communism must respond by politicising the aesthetic. Benjamin is fascinated by Proust, focusing on the Bergsonian metaphysics underpinning In Search of Lost Time.
a little, like: what's the point? William: seriously i have to finish up my heidegger-hoelderlin chapter and i'm so bored with heidegger so stodgy and airless me: totally William: in contrast, if you read walter benjamin, from walter you can get interested in a myriad of different subjects: history, german romanticism, theater, capitalism, brecht whereas if you read heidegger, it's this lonely little room where it's just fucking BEING all the time
I had never been much for theory before, and my initial encounter with his writing was sort of like one of those old 3D puzzle pictures: first, a dense field of mesmerizing psychedelic prose, and then POW!
As a sociological and cultural critic, Benjamin combined ideas drawn from historical materialism, German idealism, and Jewish mysticism in a body of work which was a novel contribution to western philosophy, Marxism, and aesthetic theory.