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166Philosophy and Literature intertextual, and interdisciplinary—presents to the reader an accurate overview of the present state of the discipline. Hamilton CollegeCarol Schreier Rupprecht Benjamin's Ground: New Readings ofWalter Benjamin, edited by Rainer Nägele; 190 pp. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989, $24.95 cloth, $13.95 paper. Rainer Nägele defines a praxis of reading to which Benjamin's work can challenge "expert readers" rather than "Benjamin-experts" (p. 8). Attributing to the latter a tendency to privilege Benjamin's more accessible late workespecially his relatively explicit formulation of a politico-historical agenda in "On the Concept of History"—Nägele emphasizes the accentuation in these essays on Benjamin's early writings that question, in content as well as form, "the possibility of literary history, art history, and the history of philosophy" (p. 9). This greater resistance to critical appropriation, Nägele argues, necessitates an intensive interpretive approach incorporating Benjamin's own rigorous demarcation "between historical life and the work of art as artifact and object of interpretation" (p. 15). Aimed primarily at rendering inauthentic the application of teleological paradigms to atemporal aesthetic phenomena, Benjamin 's installation of an alienating gap between history and art forces critical acknowledgment, according to Nägele, "of the radical difference and otherness of the textual order," which opens up a potential relation of genuine historicity between objective text and interpreting subject (p. 18). In their essays tided "Benjamin's Ground" and "Benjamin's Theory of the Lyric," Nägele and David Wellbery locate inscriptions of the "violent caesura" between history and art in Benjamin's reading of Hölderlin's poetics (p. 28). The shock of alienation is figured for Nägele in the Medusa-head—an image infusing Benjamin's discourse on Hölderlin's petrification of the ground of historical life into spellbound poetic moments. Nägele accordingly quotes Benjamin on the "incomparable language of the skull: complete expressionlessness —the blackness of the eye cavities—together with the wildest expression— the grinning rows of teeth" (p. 26). The death of expression in poetic caesuras embodies for both critics Benjamin's concept of the "Gedichtete," a poeticized space in which "the identity of perceptual and spiritual forms" is aesthetically realized (Wellbery, p. 51). In Wellbery's terms, Benjamin articulates the intersection ofthe "spiritual/intellectual" order ofthe gods with the "sensate/intuitive" plane of human experience at certain points in Hölderlin's poem tided "BIo- Reviews167 digkeit"—an aesthetic union of antithetical principles signified by "a peculiar deadening" of men and gods alike (p. 52). If Nägele and Wellbery give innovative accounts of the crucial role caesural inexpression plays in Benjamin's critical methodology, Avital Ronell in "StreetTalk " explores the topic of speech as rumor while inadvertendy describing the language of the death's head in its aspect as wild expression. Ronell's staged encounter between Benjamin, Heidegger, and Rousseau addresses the question of "rumorological paranoia" (p. 120)—especially in the efforts of the latter two to quell rumors damaging to their reputations and legacies. Conversely, Benjamin 's relation to rumor is largely theoretical: focusing on "The Destructive Character" and "Karl Kraus," Ronell elucidates Benjamin's concept of rumor as a promiscuous rhetoric of pestilence in which public and private discourses, to quote Benjamin, "commingle demonically in pratde" (p. 121). Analogous to Nägele's and Wellbery's ground of historical life, rumor represents the monstrous materiality ofexperience untouched by intellectual form. One could wish that Ronell's writing exhibited less of a stylistic cleverness itself verging on Tumorous excess; but on the whole, she subjects her topical ground to rigorous thought. Others may respond more readily than I to Rodolphe Gasché's location of an intersection between philosophy and theology in Benjamin's theory of language , or to Beryl Schlossman's and Werner Hamacher's singular accounts of the caesural image, while Timothy Bahti's analysis of fate and forgetting may seem less obscure to those who can accept a quasi-deconstructionist approach to Benjamin's texts. If Nägele's praxis of reading requires the critic to admit the otherness ofBenjamin's oeuvre, this prerequisite further implies the adoption of what Wellbery calls "the discourse of modesty...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 166-167
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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