History as Critique

Walter Benjamin

Authored by: Eli Friedlander

The Routledge Companion to the Frankfurt School

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138333246
eBook ISBN: 9780429443374
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter begins with an account of Benjamin’s idea of critique as he elaborates it in the context of the work of art. The initial discussion of the relation of commentary and critique of the literary work is extended to account for the critical character of Benjamin’s historical materialism, whose model he hoped the Arcades Project would establish. The chapter further develops Benjamin’s conception of historical life and the expressive unity he seeks to present through the material contents gathered in the convolutes of the project. Historical life comes to expression for the present in the afterlife of the material contents, initially, it is argued, as a configuration of primal history, polarized into the mythical and the utopian. It is against that ‘dream configuration’ of meaning that the authentic historical consciousness emerges as the actualization or rescue of the past that at the same time constitutes a critique of the present order.

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