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Benjamin's Library

Modernity, Nation, and the Baroque

Jane O. Newman

Publication Year: 2011

In Benjamin's Library, Jane O. Newman offers, for the first time in any language, a reading of Walter Benjamin's notoriously opaque work, Origin of the German Tragic Drama that systematically attends to its place in discussions of the Baroque in Benjamin's day. Taking into account the literary and cultural contexts of Benjamin's work, Newman recovers Benjamin's relationship to the ideologically loaded readings of the literature and political theory of the seventeenth-century Baroque that abounded in Germany during the political and economic crises of the Weimar years.

To date, the significance of the Baroque for Origin of the German Tragic Drama has been glossed over by students of Benjamin, most of whom have neither read it in this context nor engaged with the often incongruous debates about the period that filled both academic and popular texts in the years leading up to and following World War I. Armed with extraordinary historical, bibliographical, philological, and orthographic research, Newman shows the extent to which Benjamin participated in these debates by reconstructing the literal and figurative history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books that Benjamin analyzes and the literary, art historical and art theoretical, and political theological discussions of the Baroque with which he was familiar. In so doing, she challenges the exceptionalist, even hagiographic, approaches that have become common in Benjamin studies. The result is a deeply learned book that will infuse much-needed life into the study of one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-8

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pp. ix-xvi

In his famous essay “Literaturgeschichte und Literaturwissenschaft” (Literary History and the Study of Literature) (1931), Walter Benjamin describes the methods of contemporary literary historians as akin to the clumsy acts of a platoon of mercenaries, who, entering into a beautiful house full of treasures and claiming to admire...

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pp. xvii-xx

While this book had its beginning and its end in Benjamin’s city of Berlin, no book is ever really written in one place. Rather, it emerges in the extended conversations with the people with whom one works and lives, on the one hand, and in the encounters with the books, projects, and institutions that one has as one writes,...

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Textual Note

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pp. xxi-24

When quoting from the texts of Walter Benjamin that have not been translated, I refer to the Frankfurt edition, Gesammelte Schriften, published by Suhrkamp Verlag, by volume and page. In cases where translations are available, I refer to Selected Writings, published by Harvard University Press, by volume and page....

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Introduction. Benjamin’s Baroque: A Lost Object?

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pp. 1-22

Herder’s claim already more than two hundred years ago that the history of the Baroque is “obscure” is just as accurate in the early twenty-first century as it was in his day, this in spite of the enormous amount of attention devoted by literary, art historical, and art theoretical scholars to both the period (c. 1550–1700) and its styles...

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1. Inventing the Baroque: A Critical History of Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Debates

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pp. 23-76

In 1935, just seven years after Benjamin’s book on the German tragic drama appeared, the Paris publishing house Gallimard released a slim volume entitled Du baroque (On the Baroque) by the Spanish philosopher and man of letters Eugenio d’Ors. Midway through the book, d’Ors indicates, in an idiosyncratic chart...

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2. The Plays Are the Thing: Textual Politics and the German Drama

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pp. 77-137

In addition to being the subject of important art theoretical and literary-historical debates during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Baroque texts were crucial as material objects to the enterprise undertaken during these same years to define and celebrate the period as something other than a foreign...

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3. Melancholy Germans: War Theology, Allegory, and the Lutheran Baroque

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pp. 138-184

In the last prewar summer of 1913, Benjamin wrote to his friend Franz Sachs about a visit to the Basel art museum with his mother. The young university student describes, in somewhat puzzling fashion, his viewing there of the “originals of some of the most famous of Dürer’s graphic oeuvre: The Knight, Death, and...

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Conclusion: Baroque Legacies: National Socialism’s Benjamin

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pp. 185-203

The preface to Benjamin’s Library began with a quote from Benjamin’s essay “Literary History and the Study of Literature” (1931). I repeat that quote below because of its aptness as an introduction to the discordant image called up by the title of my conclusion, in which I discuss a particularly uncanny afterlife for Benjamin’s...


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pp. 205-223


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pp. 225-237

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801476594

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1