Talk:Walter Benjamin

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The passage on Benjamin's Habilitation thesis formerly read: "When submitted as a Habilitation thesis (a higher degree in the German academic system that, after a PhD, gives legal authority to teach in a university), Benjamin's supervisor Gershom Scholem [Scholem was not Benjamin's thesis supervisor!] claimed it was unreadable and refused to award the degree, thus Benjamin was never allowed to teach in a university again." but I have deleted the very questionable reference to Scholem as thesis supervisor, pending further information. Pinkville 19:01, 5 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Horkheimer played some role in this, I think.--Radh (talk) 10:12, 16 August 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The original sentence ("The party he was with were told they would be denied passage across the border.....") implies that Benjamin hadn't yet crossed into Spain when he committed suicide. The revision ("The party he was with were told by the Spanish police that they would be deported back to France...") fixes that problem. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Lfernandez (talkcontribs) 18:17, 23 December 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Why does the article state "alleged suicide"? I've read many accounts of Benjamin's life and none of them ever stated that it might have been anything else. 06:43, 10 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

In 1984 Juan Goytisolo (“El Crimen fue en Port Bou”, El Pais, 5 August ) advanced a hypothesis that WB was murdered by Gestapo. Some English articles a couple of years ago insinuated that Stalin's NKVD was somehow enmeshed too, and that Arthur Koestler had some role to play. I suppose close reading of Lisa Fittko's books might help to either advance or lay these theories to rest. --Feldmarshmellon 21:32, 14 July 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Working over the article and adding some material about the Arcades Project [which merits its own entry) I edited the bit about his death/suicide somewhat. The wording "alleged suicide" seems unhappy, since it might easily give the idea he died from accidental causes, which is very unlikely. He was certainly aware the Nazis wanted to kill him. i kept the line that "the circumstances of his death are unclear" and stated the case for that it was suicide and that they were halted primarily to get Benjamin. Strausszek September 4, 2006

I added a few clauses to the end of the Biography section making it clearer that suspicions that Benjamin didn't commit suicide have gathered steam in the last several years, and also a link to the section discussing his death.--BlackAndy 01:08, 9 October 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It seems appropriate to add Benjamin's 25/9/40 letter to Henny Gurland and Adorno: "Dans une situation sans issue, je n'ai d'autre choix que d'en finir. C'est dans un petit village dans les Pyrenees ou personne ne me connait ma vie va s'achever." Rather clear in meaning, and referenced (p342 of the Harvard edition of the Benjamin-Adorno letters), but it subverts much of the Life and Death material of the article. No bad thing, as I think the speculative material is conspiratorial romanticism (seeking to institute a thread of meaning in actions by Dark Forces). AllyD (talk) 09:41, 22 June 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

This is Koestler's account (The Invisible Writing. Being the second volume of Arrow in the Blue. An Autobiography. London: Collins / Hamish Hamilton, 1954), as described by Jay Martin (1973. The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-50. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. ISBN: 9780316458306): "Benjamin, in ill health at the time because of a heart condition, was one of a party of refugees who set out for the frontier on September 26, 1940. In his baggage were fifteen tablets of morphine compound, which, so he told Arthur Koestler in Marseilles a few days earlier, 'were enough to kill a horse.' By chance the Spanish government had closed its border just before their arrival. Tired by the trip, distraught over the prospect of returning to Gestapo seizure, and still unenthusiastic about his future in America, Benjamin swallowed the pills during the night. Refusing to have his stomach pumped the next morning, he died in agony, a few months past his forty-eighth birthday. On the next day, the Spanish border guards, shaken by his suicide, allowed the rest of the party to pass through to safety. As a grim footnote to the story, Koestler, hearing the news, took some of the same pills, which Benjamin had given him in Marseilles, 'But,' he wrote later, 'Banjamin apparently had a better stomach, for I vomited the stuff out.'" — Preceding unsigned comment added by Pgallagher (talkcontribs) 16:04, 16 July 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The second sentence of this paragraph is a mess:

Moreover, even a quick read of Benjamin makes it clear that (like Adorno) he was antagonistic of the idea that writing should have an denotative relation to what it is overtly about. As such, he write himself into a modernist in which the philosophical merges with the litterary: through logical argumentation philosophical reasoning cannot account for all experience, especially those which concern self-representation through artistic medium.

I can't correct it myself because I have no clue as to the sentence's intended meaning. Thanks! —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 20:19, 5 December 2006 (UTC).Reply[reply]

Also, please note that media is the correct plural form of medium. Mediums means more than one fortune teller. I've corrected this throughout the article. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:18, 23 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Task of the Translator[edit]

The paragraph from "Criticism" that deals with Benjamin's translation essay is pretty straightforwardly wrong:

"His concerns regarding style are exemplified in his essay The Task of the Translator, in which he argues that any literary translation -- by definition -- comunicates misreadings, and that a translation always fights with the original text because the original cannot be understood fully in a language other than that in which it was written; this latter point relates to the work of Jacques Derrida."

I don't know if the author was reading the _Illuminations_ translation or what, but Benjamin's point is not that the original text in its original language maintains some originary relation to its content, but rather that translation, a deformation like many of Benjamin's favorite objects of criticism, illuminates aspects of the work unseen in its original form. The text, cut off from the original and with a life of its own, is the ruin of the original, a state that is the precondition for its actual working into Benjamin's major philosophical topos, the constellation. I edited the paragraph, but it still needs reworking, as my edits are academic prose and need streamlining.

I also deleted the reference to Derrida in that sentence, as I think it's more confusing than is worthwhile: certainly Derrida's work has numerous affinities with Benjamin's, but their points are different enough that I think it's more confusing than productive to reference Derrida there. Perhaps such a sentence belongs in the Legacies section. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 16:43, 18 January 2007 (UTC).Reply[reply]

Trauerspiel section[edit]

The section on Benjamin's Trauerspiel book needs significant rewriting. Firstly, the extensive excursus on Jewish mysticism should take a back seat to the actual content of the book (where Jewish mysticism is never mentioned). Secondly, the book's major theoretical contribution is not merely to praise allegory over and against symbolism, and then to say that Baroque allegory is blocked. Instead, the Trauerspiel makes history perceptible. Will try to edit accordingly.

The whole article recapitulates Hannah Arendt's New Yorker article on Benjamin, where Jewish mysticism is made to seem the dominant force in Benjamin's work. There has been thirty years of Benjamin scholarship since then elucidating other, far more important aspects of his work (his theory of history, play, death, etc): the article should reflect that.

HalIncandenza 16:41, 19 January 2007 (UTC) I can't think how the reference to bürgerliches Trauerspiel crept in. The Ursprung is on the baroque Trauerspiel, a specifically 17th century form, as Benjamin shows, informed down to its allegorical structures and preferences by the loss of transcendence that follows from the Counter-Reformation -- for Catholics and Protestants alike. The 18th century bourgeois tragedy, associated with Lessing, is by definition quite different. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:57, 20 October 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]


i put a "copy-editing" template in this section, as the whole of it is pretty awful and i don't know much about the subject. there are..

run-on sentences: "In 1902 Benjamin was enrolled at Kaiser Friedrich School, in Berlin Charlottenburg, and finished high school ten years later, then moved to the University, where he studied literature and psychology", "They separated in 1921, next year he moved to the University of Heidelberg where he tried an academic career"

unqualified allusions: "adhering to the Freie Studentenschaft and collaborating in the magazine of this republican movement"

changing tense: "In 1912 Benjamin travels to Italy", "In 1927 Benjamin started his monumental and unfinished The Arcades Project"

and there are at least a few glaring ambiguities or contradictions: "In 1924 ... Benjamin spent several months in the Italian island of Capri ... where he first met Asja Lacis" compared to "In 1929, he met Bertold Brecht and Asja Lacis, then his assistant, in Berlin"; "[Kellner and Benjamin] separated in 1921, next year he moved to the University of Heidelberg where he tried an academic career." compared to "Benjamin divorced only in 1930." -Hjijch 04:07, 10 June 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

the section is better now, but the 8th paragraph ("In 1927 Benjamin started his monumental and unfinished The Arcades Project...") is still pretty unclear about "meeting" Scholem and Lacis. the wording makes it seem like it could have been the first time he met them - it doesn't give any context or motivation, and with Lacis even any sense of significance. Hjijch 02:35, 20 June 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Also, the accompanying photograph is not of Walter Benjamin


Seems like there should be a note on how to pronounce "Benjamin," but I'm hopeless with the international phonetic alphabet that Wikipedia favors ... anyone smarter than I care to take that on? --Andersonblog 12:56, 5 September 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It is [ˈvaltɐ ˈbɛnjamiːn] VAHL-ter BEHN-yah-meen, according to the Duden Aussprachewörterbuch.--Carnby (talk) 14:18, 11 August 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]


It states "he was buried in a consecrated section of a Roman Catholic cemetery, thus meaning that his death was not reported a suicide." While the same belief holds in Judaism re: suicide, why was he buried in a non-Jewish cemetery in a section apparently reserved for Roman Catholics? I think that requires citation. MSJapan (talk) 04:11, 6 February 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

the sentence in quote also sounds strange to me. there is nothing in roman catholicism that prevents burial in a cemetery (whether the soil has been consecrated to that particular purpose or not).. of course, if the person in question is not catholic, then it may not make sense to go through the catholic rite during the burial. (the priest may say however a prayer and blessing over the remains at request of family members). in any case, most cemeteries in Spain are not property of the church. why are roman catholics mentioned? the thing just has to be cleared..

well this here's your dad and i said git youre butt in the house boy — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:59, 5 October 2016 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Dora Sofie Pollack/Dora Kellner[edit]

In the "Life" section, it is stated "In 1917 he married Dora Sophie Pollack." Then, later, there is the assertion that "Walter Benjamin and Dora Kellner separated in 1921." Were the two Doras the same person?Lestrade (talk) 19:53, 12 February 2008 (UTC)LestradeReply[reply]

According to Momme Brodersen's Walter Benjamin: A Biography, her birth name is Dora Sophie Kellner and she was married to a Max Pollak before Benjamin, so Dora Sophie Pollak. Dora did take Benjamin's name during their marriage--they divorced in 1929. The biography's index lists her primarily as Dora Sophie Kellner, with the "Benjamin" and "Pollak" versions of her name pointing to that (as in "see Kellner, Dora Sophie"). Perhaps we should do the same, or at the very least correct the spelling of "Pollak". freshacconcispeaktome 20:08, 12 February 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

A bit more on Kellner, she was the daughter of scholar Leon Kellner and established herself in the 1930s as a writer of children's literature. Walter Benjamin's sister was also named Dora hence his wife's name, Dora Sophie, to avoid confusion. Pollack was Kellner's first husband. Smash the Iron Cage (talk) 02:17, 10 May 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I killed some of the superfluous language from the introduction, fixed the translation of the artwork essay, and got rid of what, unsourced, reads like interpretation. The last sentence of the intro still doesn't make sense to me--what is "auratic perception?" HalIncandenza (talk) 02:37, 4 April 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Walter Benjamin Conference in Germany[edit]

Does anybody know about a Walter Benjamin conference/exhibit that is currently happening in Germany? I believe I saw an ad for this in the New York Review of Books but have not been able to find info. Also thought it was in the city called Marburg or Manberg... If there is a current event happening it may be worth adding to the article. Any help appreciated. yokyle (talk) 17:14, 15 June 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Sentence Clarification[edit]

'The theory that Benjamin was murdered by Stalinist agents is supported by no evidence whatever, as can be seen from reading the only article that attempts to argue this point -- that by Stephen Schwartz.[6]'

I believe this requires either a) more explication, or b) deletion. It is clearly an opinion, requiring substantiation at the very least. TheFireTones 21:56, 29 March 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

M. Brodersen: Spinne im eigenen Netz, Walter Benjamin, Leben und Werk (p. 321) mentiones an idea (of Arnold Zweig), that another Benjamin was not to be allowed into Spain. The Gestapo idea comes prob. from Juan Goytisolo, Brodersen only gives a newspaper article as reference on this: H[ermann] Deml, Walter Benjamin von der Gestapo ermordet? In: Allgemeine jüdische Wochenzeitung, 19. 10. 1984).--Radh (talk) 13:15, 1 October 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Against Aura[edit]

Benjamin in his late and outspoken communist phase hated the Aura and wanted to destroy it, this seems to be the main point of his Kunstwerk essay. This is made clear also in his remarks to and about Brecht or Carl Einstein. The pro-Aura argument of Joseph Mali (can be read in part at google books and it) does make sense, only if one accepts Mali's idea of a post-1936 radical anti-communist turn of Benjamin. Is a radical break with Marxism that certain? Mali has letters to back his ideas, but Benjamin perhaps wrote different things to different people. And even if Mali is 100% right, it seems impossible to agree to this "Mali Benjamin" and the "Benjamin of the Kunstwerk Aufsatz" at the same time.--Radh (talk) 23:56, 20 August 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Trauerspiel section, part. 2[edit]

It's still very hard to read, even for someone familiar with the book. If possible, the section should have less jargon and more explanation and/or examples of his ideas. Also, is Benjamin's Trauerspiel really the same as the Bourgeois Trauerspiel of the linked article? I recall Benjamin talking about Hamlet and the like.... I'm tempted to unlink the term. Aristophanes68 (talk) 00:44, 9 January 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Yes, it's the same thing. Benjamin reads the one in light of the other. DionysosProteus (talk) 15:34, 19 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Photograph: is it authentic?[edit]

The photo has no credit (date, photographer etc). I haven't seen it in any book about Benjamin, and apart from the site it was taken from, can only find it on the web as a poster. I wonder if it shows an actor playing Benjamin rather than Benjamin himself. For a start, it's in colour. Also, the eyes don't look to me like those on authentic photos, and the hair looks too long, the moustache too wide. In photos, Benjamin can be seen to have a large mole above the left side of his mouth (i.e. viewer's right), and I can't see it in this pic. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Arcadeproject (talkcontribs) 16:36, 29 January 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Follow-up: yes, it's authentic. I find it reproduced in Scholem's "Walter Benjamin", described as showing Benjamin in Paris in 1939, and credited to Gisela Freund. The mole on the cheek varies between different pictures as some have evidently been reproduced back-to-front, but it seems to have really been on his right cheek, and is visible in the photo. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Arcadeproject (talkcontribs) 11:54, 2 February 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Good research. I will update those details on the picture. The Sound and the Fury (talk) 17:21, 19 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Deletion of three paragraphs[edit]

I deleted three paragraphs because they appeared to me nonsensical and of negative value to the reader. If someone disagrees, please explain. The Sound and the Fury (talk) 03:19, 14 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

They are dense, I agree, but so is the book, compared to his later writings. Until the book spawns its own article, this is the only source of information on that work in the wiki, and as such ought to remain, I feel, since it is an important part of the tradition of criticism about tragedy. DionysosProteus (talk) 15:31, 19 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Since you understand what it is talking about, why don't you rewrite it into the language of ordinary mortals? That would be helpful for readers. If you have restored it, of course I won't delete it again, but at the moment it's not putting the reader first. The Sound and the Fury (talk) 17:16, 19 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
By Jeebus you're both right. Although I don't think it was necessarily nonsensical, it was academic and therefore not in the proper style for Wikipedia. Until an article is written, some info on the Trauerspiel book should be included but in layman terms. For good or bad, I will be undertaking a study of the book over the next couple of years, god help me, so if no article exists by, say, December 2010 I may give it a shot. Until then, a paragraph would be useful because I can imagine some readers may turn to Wikipedia to try to understand what the book is about. The text, as written, is too advanced, however (this is not a judgment on the intelligence of your average reader; there are many science articles which are over my head). The question is: who wants to summarize what was written into something easier to digest? freshacconci talktalk 17:29, 19 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
If you tell me what it means, I would be happy to digest it and drop it back onto the page... The Sound and the Fury (talk) 13:57, 20 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I don't have the time myself at the moment as I'm engaged on editing elsewhere, but it is an interest, so I am bound to get to him eventually. In lieu of someone else taking it on, I would suggest that we stay with the material that was already there, with appropriate wikilinks. Glancing at the edit history, I'd suggest that the prologue material suffers mostly from some poor phrasing ("to wit"?). The summary probably belongs at the start (and my rudimentary German tells me that "tragedy" in the Athenian sense, isn't "trauer") and the tragedy and eschatology bits belong to the distinction section. However it's rearranged, as a minimum we ought to have the comparison with tragedy (time/space, myth/history) and symbolism/allegory. I notice that Richard Wolin's book is preview-able on google books, and this has a material on the Trauerspiel book, so perhaps that might be of use? Sorry I'm only able to comment, rather than fix at the moment. DionysosProteus (talk) 14:41, 20 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Here's the text in question for any editors who happen by and don't know what the hell we're talking about. I won't be able to touch this either over the next few weeks as I'm in the middle of moving to a different province and this really shouldn't be my priority. If anyone else wants to give it a go, please be my guest. I'd say we should leave the text out for now until someone feels they can make a serious go of editing it prior to restoring. freshacconci talktalk 15:31, 20 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Here's the ref. for Epistemo-Critical prologue... --Artiquities (talk) 16:41, 20 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Unfortunately I haven't a clue what the text I removed meant (which is why I removed it), otherwise I would love to rewrite it. I look forward to when someone can have a crack at it. The Sound and the Fury (talk) 02:50, 23 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]
If everyone deleted those parts of W~ that they didn't understand there wouldn't be much left. QuentinUK (talk) 00:06, 1 May 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Date of Death[edit]

There are several dates mentioned in the article. At the beginning of the article Benjamin is listed as having died on 27.Sept. 1940. Further down in the article the dates 25th and 26th are mentioned: "the night of 25 September 1940, yet the official Portbou register records 26 September 1940 as the official date of death." Further down in the article: "died on the night of 27/28 September 1940".

When unclear of date of death, shouldn't it be mentioned at the beginning of the article? Tinakj (talk) 15:19, 12 September 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

It is actually at the beginning. The Sound and the Fury (talk) 18:08, 14 September 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Woland1234 has recently removed the references to the Frankfurt school in the infobox and the nav template linking to other Frankfurt articles. Why? Books such as The Essential Frankfurt school reader place Benjamin firmly in this category, don't they? DionysosProteus (talk) 11:59, 6 April 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Secondary literature[edit]

Today, somebody made some minor changes to the text of the article and deleted a bibliographic information in the Secondary literature. As it was done without being registered with a username and without giving reasons on the discussion page of the article, I will reestablish the deleted information. If somebody thinks, that it should be deleted, please give some reasons here. Gast2011 (talk) 00:03, 13 October 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The historical record indicates that he safely crossed the French-Spanish border and arrived at the coastal town of Portbou, in Catalonia. The Franco government had cancelled all transit visas and ordered the Spanish police to return such persons to France, including the Jewish refugee group Benjamin had joined. It was told by the Spanish police that it would be deported back to France, which would have destroyed Benjamin's plans to travel to the United States.

When was the group told it would be deported? What event precipitated this? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Slowlikemolasses (talkcontribs) 23:08, 21 November 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

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Re-revert in lede[edit]

On 6 February 2020 User:XxiaXxia made an uncommented edit to the opening sentence in the lede from "... German Jewish philosopher, cultural critic and essayist" to "... was a German philosopher, literary critic and essayist". This edit was quickly reverted by User:Freshacconci, with the comment "Unexplained changes; discuss on talk page first (TW)". A week later on 13 February User:XxiaXxia re-reverted that sentence, and added a number of categories, with the comment "(WP:ETHNICITY and added categories)", but without any discussion here on the talk page.

I'm no scholar of Walter Benjamin, but a couple of things stand out to me. The first question is whether WP:ETHNICITY applies in this case—my feeling is that it would not, for two different reasons. First, much of his writing integrated a specifically Jewish viewpoint, as noted in the next sentence: "An eclectic thinker, combining elements of German idealism, Romanticism, Western Marxism, and Jewish mysticism ..." Second, the fact of his being a Jew was precisely why he was fleeing Germany and Europe, leading to his suicide when he was trapped at the Spanish border, trying to get to Portugal and safety in the U.S. The link German Jewish takes us to the article History of the Jews in Germany, which discusses the situation of being a German Jew at this particular time.

The second question is whether literary critic better describes his work than the original formulation cultural critic. I suggest that here, "cultural" includes and subsumes "literary". The opening sentence in the very next paragraph reads "Among Benjamin's best known works are the essays "The Task of the Translator" (1923), "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (1940)." Then it goes on to list several of "his major work[s] as a literary critic".

To me there is no question but that in this context, "cultural critic" is a preferable description. Thus I am taking the liberty of changing both of these back to read as they did before the 6 February edits. Others may disagree, and will want to discuss their reasons here. Milkunderwood (talk) 05:19, 28 February 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I inserted a sentence about Benjamin's Theses on History. I guffawed when some nincompoop said that it was 'non-neutral' and deleted it! First, he or she knows nothing about Benjamin's thought, and secondly the notion that WB's thought can be described in 'non-neutral' language is fatuous. A reading of Leslie's short work on WB, or Michael Lowy's Fire Alarm, would be a start ... The article as it stands is anxious to imply that WB owed nothing to historical materialism, which is a joke!

Friendship with Scholem ?[edit]

In the section "Friendships" it is not clear whether 'one of Benjamin's high-school best friends (also a German Jew)' refers to Scholem. If this is so, it should be stated. If it refers to somebody else, than that person's name ought to be stated. As it is now it remains very mysterious and leaves the reader wondering. This is obviously not a desired result of a wikipedia entry.

Hskoppek (talk) 11:36, 4 June 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Considering the line in question reads "One of Benjamin's high-school best friends (also a German Jew) committed suicide by gas at the outbreak of the first world war..." and Scholem died in 1982, it's clearly not about Scholem. Scholem isn't mentioned until later in the paragraph, the possibility of confusion is minimal. If the source mentions the high school friend's name we could include it but as Benjamin and Scholem were five years apart and didn't attend high school together, I'm not sure any confusion exists. freshacconci (✉) 11:44, 4 June 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]