Benjamin, Walter


Benjamin, Walter
(1892-1940)
   intellectual; a Frankfurt School* as-sociate, remembered for the aphorism "Every monument to civilization is also a monument to barbarism." Born to a wealthy Jewish home in Berlin,* he volunteered for the army in World War I. Although he took a doctorate in philosophy in 1920, a likely brilliant career miscarried when his Habilitation was rejected in 1925 at Frankfurt; later published as Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (Origin of German tragedy), the thesis was too unconventional for the academy. Thereafter, he directed his intellect to writing and criticism; much of his work appeared after his death. An authority on German literature, he cultivated an expertise in French studies, translating the work of Proust and Baudelaire. His essays appeared in Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung, a journal edited by his friends Theodor Adorno* and Max Horkheimer.* Attracted to Marxism, he visited the Soviet Union* in 1926-1927 and thereafter focused on a critique of "reductionism" (i.e., explaining society's superstructure through reference to its economic foundation). But he never joined the KPD; his esoteric thought, like that of his colleagues, was directed more to philosophy than pol-itics. Astutely aware of the arts (he was a devotee of Bertolt Brecht*), he claimed that the impact of film* and mass reproduction would forever change aesthetics.
   Benjamin grasped his vulnerability in 1933 and emigrated to France. At-tempting to escape in 1940, he feared capture by the Gestapo and committed suicide near the Spanish border.
   REFERENCES:Arendt, "Introduction"; Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; David Gross, "Kultur"; Laqueur, Weimar; Lunn, Marxism and Modernism.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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