Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s ’On the Concept of by Michael Lowy, Chris Turner

By Michael Lowy, Chris Turner

This illuminating learn of Benjamin’s ultimate essay is helping free up the secret of this nice philosopher

Revolutionary critic of the philosophy of growth, nostalgic of the earlier but dreaming of the longer term, romantic partisan of materialism — Walter Benjamin is in each experience of the be aware an “unclassifiable” thinker. His essay “On the idea that of background” used to be written in a nation of urgency, as he tried to flee the Gestapo in 1940, ahead of ultimately committing suicide.

In this scrupulous, transparent and engaging exam of this essay, Michael Löwy argues that it is still probably the most very important philosophical and political writings of the 20 th century. taking a look intimately at Benjamin’s celebrated yet usually mysterious textual content, and restoring the philosophical, theological and political context, Löwy highlights the complicated courting among redemption and revolution in Benjamin’s philosophy of historical past.

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Extra resources for Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s ’On the Concept of History’

Example text

It is an enigmatic, allusive, even sybilline text, its hermeticism studded with images, allegories and illuminations, strewn with strange paradoxes and shot through with dazzling insights. If we are to be able to interpret this document, it is, I believe, indispensable to situate it within the development of Benjamin’s work. Let us attempt to identify, in the movement of his thought, the moments that prepare or prefigure the text of 1940. Benjamin’s philosophy of history draws on three very different sources: German Romanticism, Jewish messianism and Marxism.

Perhaps, indeed, it is merely advice to the readers of the document: use theology, but do not show it. Or, alternatively, since the text was not intended for publication, it was not necessary to conceal the hunchbacked dwarf from the public gaze. In any event, the reasoning is analogous to that in a note to The Arcades Project, which Benjamin had incorporated into the so-called ‘Paralipomena’ to the theses: ‘My thinking is related to theology as blotting pad is related to ink. It is saturated with it.

The document ‘On the Concept of History’ was written in the early days of 1940, shortly before its author’s attempt to escape from Vichy France, where Jewish and/or Marxist German refugees were handed over by the authorities to the Gestapo. As we know, that attempt failed: intercepted by Franco’s police at the Spanish border (Port-Bou) in September 1940, Walter Benjamin chose suicide. The first reference to the document appears in a letter from Benjamin to Adorno, written in French, on 22 February 1940.

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