Posts Tagged ‘Walter Benjamin


Adorno and the standpoint of redemption

For the critical thoughtist, Theodor Adorno (1903 – 1969) is a guiding light. A secular Jewish marxist of the Frankfurt School, he proposed a negative critique of exisiting social conditions that must avoid the affirmative illusions of the present. Interesting then that in one of his key works,   ‘Minima moralia: reflections on a damaged life’ he concluded in a tone clearly influenced – like his late friend Walter Benjamin – by Jewish religious conceptions, possibly even the notion of Tiqqun as the redemption of the broken world associated with Lurianic Kabbalah:

‘The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from self contact with its objects – this alone is the task of thought. It is the simplest of all things, because consummate negativity, once squarely faced, delineates the mirror-image of its opposite. But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hair’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, if it shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape. The more passionately thought denies its conditionality for the sake of the unconditional, the more unconsciously, and so calamitously, it is delivered up to the world. Even its own impossibility it must at last comprehend for the sake of the possible, but beside the demand thus placed on thought, the question of the reality or unreality of redemption itself hardly matters.’


A dream of Walter Benjamin

I have started recording my dreams; as it says in the Zohar ‘A dream must be interpreted, or else it remains an unread letter’. I have done this before and it is surprizing how quickly the practice of writing down dreams improves the recall of what was dreamt. Of course there is a danger of overinterpreting every sleeping as well as every waking hour, something unintentionally signalled in the use of the term ‘dream work’ to describe this practice – our days are already dominated enough by work, let us not subject our rest to labour. And indeed one of the depressing results of recording dreams is acknowledging how much of our nocturnal brain capacity is wasted on processing petty work anxieties- dreams of job interviews and office politics, of photocopiers and emails.

No noticeably Kabbalist content in my dreams yet, except perhaps this recent one. In the dream I came across a stall in Luton Arndale Centre, selling only books by Walter Benjamin. They were luxury hardback editions, burgundy and purple covers embossed with gold lettering and a portrait of the author. What Benjamin would have made of the Arndale we can only wonder – he did after all devote years to his unfinished arcades project.  But for me he is a key figure, a marxist in the 1930s who didn’t lose his critical bearings in the age of Fascism and Stalinism and who maintained an interest in jewish mystical thought as well as altered states of consciousness, experimenting with drugs in Ibiza a full half century before acid house!

He was also a close personal friend of the great Kabbalist scholar Gershom Scholem. Indeed the latter dedicates his ‘Main currents in Jewish Mysticism’, first published in 1941, as follows: ‘To the memory of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), the friend of lifetime whose genius united the insight of the Metaphysician, the interpretatitve power of the Critic and the erudition of the Scholar. Died at Port Bou (Spain) on his way to freedom’. The latter is a reference to Benjamin’s tragic death – he took his own life after being refused entry to Spain while fleeing the advance of the Nazis.