In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

390Philosophy and Literature Still, for its wide erudition, ability to synthesize, original comparisons, and lack of snobbery, Peter Rabinowitz's Before Reading is a pleasure to read, and should serve as a corrective to much of the canonical New Criticism, which continues to appear under newer guises in the academic marketplace today. University of MaineCathleen M. Bauschatz On Woher Benjamin: Critical Essays and Recollections, edited by Gary Smith; xi & 400 pp. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988, $25.00. Walter Benjamin might well have approved ofGary Smith's edition of essays and recollections—not least of all because it constitutes a publishing milestone in presenting English-language readers with a comprehensive selection of (mainly) Continental criticism devoted to the German scholar's life and work. In addition to translating several influential essays, Smith and his colleagues have compiled what Benjamin would have called a genuine collection: if the chronological format acknowledges the increasing sophistication ofcritical writing on Benjamin's oeuvre, the articles themselves resist this logic of progression by addressing central issues from often antithetical points of view. Providing a welcome respite from the rigors of critical attention, the five essays assembled under the rubric of "Recollections" recall fascinating episodes in Benjamin's life. Theodor W. Adorno's "Introduction to Benjamin's Schriften" (1955) opens the critical dialogue. Adorno introduces the primary speculative threads running throughout the "textum" of Benjamin's work, focusing mainly on the Jewish messianism informing Benjamin's philosophy and its relation to the materialist emphasis in his rehabilitation ofallegorical representation. Opposing theological and materialist orientations, Gershom Scholem's "Walter Benjamin and His Angel" (1972) and Jürgen Habermas's "Walter Benjamin: Consciousness -Raising or Rescuing Critique" (1972) reflect the major controversy in Benjamin 's reception during the 1960s and early 1970s; Scholem reads Benjamin's "Agesilaus Santander" as an esoteric allegory ofJewish identity, while Habermas charges Scholem with ignoring what Benjamin himself called the "overcoming of religious illumination" through "profane illumination" (p. 109). In "Propaedeutics of Profane Illumination" (1971), Hermann Schweppenhäuser explores in the writings on hashish the expanded awareness Benjamin sought to pierce the phantasmagoria of exoteric reality and illuminate its "manifold interpretability " (p. 43). Comparing Benjamin's study of Baroque allegory to the Symbolist philosophy of language, Charles Rosen similarly argues in "The Ruins of Walter Benjamin" (1977) that the representational strategy ofjuxtaposing quotations is designed to release "their multifaceted meaning" (p. 164). IfRosen Reviews391 underestimates the analogy to the Kabbalah, Hans Mayer asserts in "Walter Benjamin and Franz Kafka" (1980) that Benjamin's understanding of Kafkaesque allegory was gready influenced by Scholem's insistence on the Talmudic plurality of Kafka's texts with their "endless possible interpretations" (p. 197). Since explanation is perpetually postponed in allegory, illumination in Kafka's world becomes purely "prophecy without hope" (p. 208). In "Walter Benjamin's City Portraits" (1962), Peter Szondi suggests that Benjamin 's "language of images" is actually twofold (p. 26): there is indeed the allegorical fragment that destroys mythic analogies, but there is also the reconstructive moment "when the author takes two different objects and reveals their essence by linking them in a metaphor based on common property" (p. 28). In "Walter Benjamin: From Rupture to Shipwreck" (1981), Pierre Missac locates a liminal imagistic category between fragmentand metaphor—theBruchst ückor productofrupture—manifesting what Benjamincalled the "weak Messianic power" through which the past is transmitted to the present (p. 216). Irving Wohlfarth in "Resentment Begins at Home" (1981) is well aware that this historical interaction requires complex maneuvering on the part of Benjamin's "materialist historian," who must fragment the myths of tradition yet save the significant pieces (p. 226). In "Dialectics at a Standstill" (1982), RolfTiedemann accordingly demonstrates that "dialectical images" as "configurations ofthe Now and the Then" constitute the central category in the unfinished edifice of Benjamin's Passagen-Werk (p. 284). Two essays undermine the general excellence of Smith's collection. Hans RobertJauss's "Reflection on the Chapter 'Modernity' in Benjamin's Baudelaire Fragments" (1979) is a virtually unintelligible excerpt from a longer essay. In "Walter Benjamin's Theory of Myth" (1983), Winfried Menninghaus all too briefly distinguishes Benjamin's approach to myth from seven venerable theories . If one is going to argue that...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 390-391
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.