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A Weak Messianic Power

Figures of a Time to Come in Benjamin, Derrida, and Celan

Michael G. Levine

Publication Year: 2013

In his famous theses on the philosophy of history, Benjamin writes: "We have been endowed with a weak messianic power to which the past has a claim." This claim addresses us not just from the past but from what will have belonged to it only as a missed possibility and unrealized potential. For Benajmin, as for Celan and Derrida, what has never been actualized remains with us, not as a lingering echo but as a secretly insistent appeal. Because such appeals do not pass through normal channels of communication, they require a special attunement, perhaps even a mode of unconscious receptivity. Levine examines the ways in which this attunement is cultivated in Benjamin's philosophical, autobiographical, and photohistorical writings; Celan's poetry and poetological addresses; and Derrida's writings on Celan.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xiv

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1. A Time to Come: Hunchbacked Theology, Post-Freudian Psychoanalysis, and Historical Materialism

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pp. 1-13

There is often in writing a secret place around which thoughts—around which what is less than, not yet, and perhaps never to be thought—may gather. Walter Benjamin alludes to such a place in an April 1940 letter to his friend and confidante Gretel Adorno. Referring to the thoughts that would secretly coalesce around the writing of his now-famous theses on the...

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2. The Day the Sun Stood Still: Benjamin’s Theses, Celan’s Realignments, Trauma, and the Eichmann Trial

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pp. 14-36

Even the most sensitive and persuasive readings of Benjamin’s much-discussed last, unfinished text, his untitled theses on the philosophy of history, fail to focus sufficiently on a number of its key stylistic traits and its status within the body of his work as yet another in a series of meditations on the genre of “the last will and testament.”1 Perhaps the most definitive...

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3. Pendant: Celan, Büchner, and the Terrible Voice of the Meridian

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pp. 37-62

In his 1960 Meridian address, delivered on the occasion of receiving the Büchner Prize for Literature, the poet Paul Celan pinpoints a central organizing moment in the work of the nineteenth-century writer and dramatist in whose name the award was given. While winners of the Büchner prize are generally expected to reflect in their acceptance speeches on their relations...

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4. On the Stroke of Circumcision I: Derrida, Celan, and the Covenant of the Word

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pp. 63-79

Derrida’s “Shibboleth: For Paul Celan” is the revised text of a lecture he delivered in Seattle on October 14, 1984. Divided into seven sections marked by roman numerals, it begins: “Only one time [Une seule fois]: circumcision takes place only once [n’a lieu qu’une fois].”1 Broaching the topic of circumcision and with it the related questions of its place and taking place in the...

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5. On the Stroke of Circumcision II: Celan, Kafka, and the Wound in the Name

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pp. 80-96

The name “Rabbi Löw” is associated in Jewish tradition with a creative practice based on a certain performance of the divine Name. Invoking this practice, Celan’s poem no doubt draws attention to its own creation. Yet if “TO ONE WHO STOOD BEFORE THE DOOR” is a poem about poetry, about its own singular performance, it is poetry no longer viewed...

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6. Poetry’s Demands and Abrahamic Sacrifice: Celan’s Poems for Eric

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pp. 97-124

In the spring and summer of 1968 Paul Celan addressed a number of poems to his son Eric, the second of his sons and the only one still alive. His fi rst, François, had died shortly after birth in October 1953 and, as noted in Chapter 4, his passing is commemorated in the poem “Grabschrift für François” (“Epitaph for François”), which was published in the 1955 collection...


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pp. 125-164


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pp. 165-172


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pp. 173-178

E-ISBN-13: 9780823255146
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823255108
Print-ISBN-10: 0823255107

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 2 b/w
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Cloth