Three Takes on Time (was Re: Enjoying Orthodoxy)

Paul Flewers hatchet.job at
Mon Jun 26 11:02:41 MDT 2000

List members interested in Walter Benjamin should check out the new book just
published by the London-based expert on Benjamin, Esther Leslie -- Walter
Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism, Pluto Press, London 2000, 300 pages.  
Contents   Preliminaries: An Accumulation of Technological Themes  Chapter one:
Explosion of a Landscape  Chapter two: Benjamins Objectives  Chapter three:
Berlin Chthonic, Photos and Trains and Films and Cars   Chapter four: Dream
Whirled: Technik and Mirroring  Chapter five: Murmurs from Darkest Europe 
Chapter six: The Work of Art in the Age of Unbearable Capitulation   Chapter
seven: Time for an Unnatural Death  Benjamins Finale; Excavating and
Re-memberings:    Pluto Press says:   Walter Benjamin's writings on culture,
philosophy and politics are among the most important of the twentieth century. 
Surveying the entirety of Benjamin's work, including his unpublished German
texts, Esther Leslie's concise, well-organised study provides a valuable
introduction to this independently-minded Marxist.  Leslie focuses on Benjamin's
commentary on the politics and aesthetics of technology -- from his work on
nineteenth century industrial culture to his analyses of the Nazi deployment of
the bomber -- this providing the first English language assimilation of this key
area of Benjamin's writing. With an overview of Benjamin's political
affiliations and the political context in which he wrote, this important new
study corrects the post-structuralist bias that has characterised so much
Benjamin scholarship and restores Benjamin to the political arena.   The
author's own synopsis says:   This study offers detailed readings of a number of
writings seldom referenced in 'Benjaminiana', including 'Theories of German
Fascism', 'Berlin Chronicle', 'A Small History of Photography', preliminary
studies and notes, letters and journalism. A lengthy analysis of the second
version of the famous 'Artwork Essay', the variant which Benjamin had hoped to
publish, exposes the many misreadings of this canonic essay, which has most
often appeared -- in English and German -- in severely edited form. Mindful of
Benjamin's approving reference to Sedlmayr -- each artefact is like a 'little
world' -- this study also reads out of better-known texts, such as 'Surrealism',
the 'Arcades Project', 'The Author as Producer' and 'Theses on the Philosophy of
History', the context of contemporary historical, political and doctrinal
developments on the Left in Europe. An appropriately political reading of
Benjamin disposes with the myth of the melancholic, mystical suicide peddled by
so many academic commentators. The study concludes with a charting of
Benjamin-reception and surveys what has, in effect, become a Benjamin-industry,
oscillating between the manufacture of absolute adulation and despondent
spurning. Such oscillation is tightly bound up with the fashions of academia,
which occasions Benjamin's multiple remouldings -- as post-structuralist or
Talmudic scholar, and as proselytiser for a communist ideology which collapsed
in 1989. Staging an encounter between Benjamin and Trotsky, the author hopes to
re-align Benjamin and also rethink revolutionary possibilities.    

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