Germanic Languages | Colloquium
G625 | 2815 | Prof. Uwe Steiner


More than half a century after his death, the writings of Walter
Benjamin have not lost their enormous attraction and relevance for the
present, even if that relevance is continually redefined. The history
of their reception demonstrates how Benjamin's works are susceptible
to highly divergent readings. He has, for instance, simultaneously
been celebrated as a revolutionary Marxist and a profound
metaphysician with roots leading back to Jewish mysticism and
messianism. Nearly every academic fashion has found its very own
Walter Benjamin, and it remains to be seen which of his many different
faces will show itself to the readers of the forthcoming English
edition of his Selected Writings. With this reception history in mind,
it may be appropriate to recall that Benjamin first of all was taking
part in the intellectual discussions of the Weimar Republic, and that
a clue to his often extraordinarily difficult texts lies in the
historical circumstances of their origin. This may not be an answer to
the question of their present relevance, but it would seem to be a
necessary prolegomena. We will focus on at least three texts: "The
Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism," the essay "On
Surrealism," and the "Theses on the Concept of History." Further
readings will depend on student desires.