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156 the minnesota review Terry Eagleton, Walter Benjamin or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (London: New Left Books, 1981). Pp. 187. $10.00 (cloth), $3.25 (paper). The magnetic power which Walter Benjamin's name and work have acquired in the years of his posthumous recognition is a phenomenon that should arouse the deepest suspicion. This is not, even in the slightest degree, to suggest that this recognition is misplaced. It is, however, strongly suspect in its form. As Brecht noted in Galileo, it is an unhappy land which is in need of heroes — likewise, only a poor sort of critical world will make a heroic fetish of a corpus of critical texts. Thus Terry Eagleton pays no compliment to Walter Benjamin in joining the varied crew of those who foist this status on him in order to lay claim to his "spirit" for themselves, even though his motives may indeed be of the best. Since, under present conditions, the obscure fragmentation of any world from which it is possible to write makes it difficult to find any light not emitted predominantly by personal experience, Benjamin is certainly an exemplary figure. What makes it difficult to lay hold of his texts, however, is that they are written at a temperature near to absolute zero. Those who are unwilling to give up the warming consolation of a life in full process, of of a reassuring movement, are unlikely to find a way into his writings. They will mythologize them instead. Perhaps they may want to be Uke him, perhaps they may want his approval, but the cost of reading him is more than they can afford to pay. It is convenient for them, but unfortunate for the desperate issues in whose name Benjamin labored, that an apparent alibi is provided so easily. The technique of "quoting out of context," of pressing disparate elements together to produce an effectively illuminating constellation is Benjamin's praxis par excellence — a tool which lays bare what might otherwise be passed by and remain concealed to any other approach. But what cuts true in the hands of the practitioner committed in one way, works differently if he is committed in another. Eagleton dispenses with the task of a careful reading of the materials because, he states in his preface: "I am trying to manhandle them for my own purposes." That would be fine if it were accurate; that is, if this "purpose" meant what it is suposed to mean. Borrowing a phrase from the Theses on the Philosophy ofHistory which has bowled him over entirely, Eagleton declares he intends to "blast them out of the continuum of history, in ways I think he would have approved." Benjamin writes in One Way Street that quotations in bis work are Uke highwaymen along the road who ambush the idlepasser-by and rob him of his convictions. That is not the modus operandi in Eagleton's book. Where a Une or two will reinforce our convictions, it will be laid down in the text to smooth and reinforce our passage. It is aimed at securing our approval of these positions. What we receive, therefore, is not critique, but propaganda. AU the difference in the world exists between the task of the critic, whose concern is that his poUtical force should be true in direction before it presses forward, and the rhetorician, for whom the matter of truth has always been settled and closed off, outside and prior to the sphere of movement. For the latter, the question of effectiveness lies in adapting to prevailing positions, in operating at a temperature congenial to those who must be drawn into a sphere of influence . This corresponds exactly to what Benjamin opposed most, going "with the stream" of history. Eagleton has therefore, for good or ill, "blasted" Benjamin back into the continuum. What the deceased Walter Benjamin would or would not have approved is clearly not the real issue. Only what the grandeur of a hero of our culture, a treasure, can produce when set up and pressed into service. Ifthe purpose for which this "manhandling" is undertaken is not a political truth, but a political mythologizing, then it is not a use...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 156-158
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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