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Benjamin, Walter


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


(1892–40) German-Jewish philosopher and literary critic. He committed suicide while attempting to cross from occupied France into Spain on his way to America. Probably the most important European theorist of C ulture this century; certainly the most important to identify with the Marxist tradition. Benjamin's writings display an extraordinary range of interests, often combining what at first sight appear to be eccentric and incompatible approaches to their objects. They are resolutely cross-disciplinary, and as concerned with what were then the latest cultural technologies (photography, film, radio) as they are with both the classical forms of bourgeois culture (drama, P oetry , the novel) and its more neglected marginalia (such as nineteenth-century children's books and toys). Benjamin's writings are associated with the theoretical combination of materialist and theological perspectives. Thus, while his work may in some respects be seen as a forerunner of the omnivorous pluralism of C ultural STUDIES, in others it belongs to a different world entirely—the world of 1920s Jewish M arxism with its subtle meditations on the inextricability of truth and history. This diversity of perspectives and concerns has produced a number of competing schools of interpretation, each with its own distinctive “Benjamin,” between which there has been heated debate: Benjamin the Critic, Benjamin ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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