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The Reception of Walter Benjamin in the Anglo-American Literary Institution

Author(s): Jeffrey Grossman

Reviewed work(s):
Source: The German Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 3/4, 1492-1992: Five Centuries of German-
American Interrelations (Summer - Autumn, 1992), pp. 414-428
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of German
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/407599 .
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University of Texas at Austin

The Reception of Walter Benjamin in the

Anglo-American Literary Institution

I ported into the literary system, will focus on

the ways in which Marxist and deconstruc-
In the last twenty years, debate about tionist critics appropriated these writings--
the meaning of Walter Benjamin's writings and the influence, in turn, which Benjamin
has exploded in a vast production of articles exerted on their own work.
and books in the academic institution, and
especially in the areas of literary and cul-
tural theory. Rather than offering another II
interpretation of the meaning of aura or al-
legory in Benjamin's works, I shall attempt After Benjamin's dissertation was reject-
to examine the ways in which editors, the- ed, he had no choice but to remain outside
orists, and critics have approached his writ- the academic institution. Thus, many of the
ings, as well as the uses and purposes for essays that he published during his lifetime
which they have enlisted them. Within aca- appeared only in various journals and
demic and literary systems, Benjamin and newspapers, including Die Literarische
his writings function as signs which various Welt, the Zeitschrift ftir Sozialforschung of
discourses attempt to rewrite according to the Frankfurt Institute, the Frankfurter
their own model.1 In each case, these dis- Zeitung, and Die Vossische Zeitung.2 An ar-
courses emphasize various concepts, works, chaeology, in Foucault's sense of the word,
or themes in order to valorize their own ar- of Benjamin's emergence as a literary figure
guments, which may, however, have less to after World War II must therefore take into
do with Benjamin's work than with their account the rather problematic history ofhis
own. A process of reduction almost inevita- publications. Not only did Benjamin publish
bly occurs, and the image of Benjamin his dissertation, Der Begriffder Kunstkritik
thereby created excludes some aspect of his in der deutschen Romantik (1920), but his
work which extends beyond the scope of the Wahlverwandtschaften essay was published
critic's project. Through an analysis of these by Hofmannsthal in his journal Neue Deut-
critical discourses, it should be possible to sche Beitrage. He also brought out a collec-
trace the importation and appropriation of tionofessaysentitledEinbahnstrafle (1928),
Benjamin's writings into the Anglo-Amer- as well as his book Der Ursprung des deut-
ican literary institution and to attempt a schen Thauerspiels(1928), which he had sub-
mapping of the various ideological positions mitted to Franz Schultz in Frankfurt in 1925
these discourses represent. Marxist and de- as a Habilitationsschrift. Benjamin with-
constructionist critics represent two of the drew it before it could be officially rejected.3
most influential groups in the Anglo-Amer- He also submitted it to Hans Cornelius
ican Benjamin reception of the last decade; (faculty of Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft),
thus, this essay, after briefly outlining the with whom Max Horkheimer and Theodor
path by which Benjamin's writings were im- W. Adorno had studied. Cornelius reacted

The German Quarterly 414

65.3-4 (Summer-Fall 1992)
GROSSMAN:Benjamin 415

negatively, supposedly after consulting with Communist Party, and although the two
Horkheimer,4 and Benjamin subsequently brothers were supposedly not very close,
found himself excluded from the institution. they may have undergone similar experi-
Critics have attributed Benjamin's failure ences that stimulated an interest in radical
with the Habilitation to various factors. politics and thought.7 The fact that Rowohlt
George Steiner suggests that Cornelius re- Verlag was willingto publish the Trauerspiel
jected it to exercise power and enhance his essay in 1928, only three years after its re-
reputation within the academic institution, jection as a Habilitationsschrift, is, in one
whereas Bernd Witte emphasizes institu- sense, symptomatic of the present conflicts
tional rigidity, which refused to acknowl- that surround Benjamin, insofar as critics
edge such an unconventional piece of writ- then and now diverge so widely. Benjamin's
ing, and to which Benjamin could not or own activities do not contribute much to an
would not conform.5 It is also possible that, easy resolution of these conflicts. Although
because the Trauerspiel essay introduced a he had supposedly discovered Marxism by
discourse so foreign to the intellectual and the time he published the Trauerspiel essay,
cultural discursive formation at the time, its even such unorthodox Marxists as Terry
readers failed to comprehend it. Such a Eagleton and Fredric Jameson read the
claim would, however, require further inves- essay only as a "threshold" work;8 they
tigation of the academic institution in the maintain that he is applying a dialectical
Germany of the mid-1920s. The inescapable method. Enough ambiguity remains in the
fact remains that, because Benjamin could essay, however, for other critics to reject the
not enter upon a university career, he could notion of any materialist dimension.9
no longer justify his intellectual pursuits to Although Benjamin published other,
the parents who had been financially sup- particularly shorter, essays during his life-
porting him. Thus, in addition to his failure time, these remained uncollected until the
to gain recognition as an intellectual, he also publication of his Schriften in two volumes
came under new economic constraints in 1955, edited by Theodor W. and Gretel
which affected his literary activity. Adorno. That the edition of the Gesammelte
To determine accurately the ways in Schriften, which has been appearing since
which his economic situation interacted 1972, presently numbers seven volumes
with the many influences and discourses in suggests a conspicuous absence of material
his life, and what effect it had on his writing, from the Adorno edition.10 Thus, the first
would require close scrutiny of the context postwar edition of Benjamin's writings
in which his various writings appear. It is seeks to propagate an image of the proto-
worth noting, however, that Benjamin's typical critical theorist whose speculative
movement toward Marxism accelerates in dialectical thought process overcomes ab-
1925, that is, at approximately the same stract systems: "Seine spekulative Methode
time his future as a university academic col- trifft sich paradox mit der empirischen."11
lapses. To suggest a direct causality would Adorno now evaluates positively Benjamin's
severely oversimplify and distort the matter. thought process as demonstrated in his book
A number of intellectual and personal on the Trauerspiel. In this work, according
factors probably influenced his turn towards to Adorno, Benjamin finds a means to
Marxism. The congruence between the apo- express his idea of truth, one in accord with
calyptic dimension of Marxism and his own Hegelian dialectics:
Jewish messianic vision, not to mention his
Diese [Vorstellungder Wahrheit] ist fir
interaction with friends such as Asja Lacis ihn so wenig wie fihr Hegel die blo3e
(whom he met in 1924), likewise influenced Angemessenheit des Gedankens an die
him in earlier years.6 Benjamin's brother, a Sache-kein Stick von Benjamin ge-
doctor, also became an active member of the horcht je diesem Kriterium-, sondern

eine Konstellationvon Ideen, die, so mag general public.16 This may, of course, also
es ihm vorgeschwebt haben, mitsammen reflect a desire for increased revenues. Al-
den gSttlichen Namen bilden, und diese
Ideen kristallisierensichjeweils im Detail though abridged editions may at times be
als in ihrem Kraftfeld.12 useful, e.g., for university courses, the need
for such an edition appears to be particularly
Adorno emphasizes moreover the centrality questionable when one considers that the
in the Passagen-Werk of Benjamin's concept Schriften alone amount to only two volumes.
of"dialektische Bilder."13Yet, in his letter to Ifllluminationen then essentially reflects a
Benjamin of 2 August 1935, Adorno severely variation on Adorno's editorship, it should
criticized Benjamin's use of the "dialekti- also be noted that his student Rolf Tiede-
sches Bild" as an undialectical concept mann is editing and annotating the Gesam-
around which motifs "sich ankristal- melte Schriften together with Hermann
lisieren.'"14Thoughts may "crystallize" for Schweppenhiiuser. Thus, Adorno's strategy
Adorno only insofar as they coalesce in a of thoroughly integrating Benjamin into the
"dialektische Konstruktion": "Nicht also history of the Frankfurt School may well
wairedanach das dialektische Bild als Traum continue in the current edition. It may prove
ins BewuBtsein zu verlegen, sondern durch worthwhile to compare Tiedemann's earlier
die dialektische Konstruktion waire der writings on Benjamin with those published
Traum zu entaiuBernund die BewuBtseins- after Adorno'sdeath, and to examine his and
immanenz selber als eine Konstellation des SchweppenhLiuser's detailed commentary,
Wirklichen zu verstehen."15 By the time to see if any sharp contrasts or breaks with
Benjamin's Schriften were published fifteen Adorno's image of Benjamin emerge. Jiirgen
years after his death, he presumably had Habermas, for example, as heir to the
worked through the concept to Adorno's Frankfurt School, advocates a confronta-
satisfaction. tional approach to Benjamin's writings
That the Schriften remained only an which nevertheless acknowledges and
abridged edition ofBenj amin's works did not accepts his discontinuities and inconsisten-
derive solely from Adorno's editorship. The cies.17
dispersion and loss of material during the Besides Adorno, Benjamin's friend
Nazi period and the difficult task of finding Gershom Scholem has exerted a consider-
a publisher for an obscure Marxist intellec- able influence on the recovery ofWalter Ben-
tual in a Germany concerned more with Wie- jamin in German- and English-speaking
deraufbau than with intellectual discourse culture. With Adorno, he published Benja-
are two factors that exerted both material min's Briefe (1966), for which they selected
and ideological constraints on this first post- only about half of the approximately 600
war edition. More unfortunate is the heavy letters extant, as they considered these to
reliance on the Schriften of early subsequent constitute a whole: "Aus dem vorliegenden
collections of Benjamin's essays, especially Material von etwa 600 Briefen haben wir
those edited by Siegfried Unseld for Suhr- mehr als 300 ausgewithlt, die, wie wir
kamp (the publisher of the Schriften). The glauben, sich zu einem Ganzen fiigen."18
selection in Illuminationen (1961), based Scholem also published Walter Benjamin
mostly on the Schriften, contains only / Gershom Scholem: Briefwechsel 1933-
addenda to the essay "Zentralpark" and 1940 (1980), an exchange of letters between
three other previously unpublished essays. himself and Benjamin collected from mate-
EvenAngelus Novus (1966) introduces only rial in the Literary Archive of the Academy
23 new titles among its collection of 51 of Arts of the former German Democratic
essays. In the "Nachbemerkung" to Illumi- Republic, and he has written the preface to
nationen, the editor notes the desire to make the Moskauer Tagebuch (1980; English
Benjamin's writings more accessible to the translation asMoscow Diary, 1986).19In ad-
GROSSMAN:Benjamin 417

dition, he wrote the first book-length biogra- kratischen Anarchismus als die sinnvollste
phy of Benjamin, WalterBenjamin-die Ge- Antwort auf die Politik hinaus.'23
schichte einer Freundschaft (1975; English In reading Scholem, it is perhaps impor-
translation, 1981), the title of which indi- tant to note the closeness of Benjamin to
cates its emphasis. Finally, Scholem also Scholem, but also Scholem's own aversion
published one of the first accounts of Benja- to Marxism, particularly in the style of
min in English, 'Walter Benjamin" (1965). Brecht. Is Marxism merely an added dimen-
The last title represents an abbreviated sion to Benjamin's thought, as Scholem
version of the book. seems to suggest? Or does a rupture occur
In the "Nachwort" to the collection of within his thought as he seeks (and perhaps
Scholem's essays on Benjamin, published fails) to work through, or integrate into his
posthumously, Rolf Tiedemann writes: "Er own discourse, the various conflictual dis-
erzdhlte von der friihen Philosophie Benja- courses that find positive expression in the
mins, die niemand kannte, wurden doch die changing German context? Neither Scho-
Manuskripte, in denen sie niedergelegt war, lem, who chooses not to engage seriously
von ihm in Jerusalem aufbewahrt."20 Tie- with Benjamin's texts, nor Adorno, who dis-
demann's comment indicates the very dif- regards for the most part influential factors
ferent image of Benjamin that Scholem con- of Benjamin's material life, seems to offer a
veyed: that of the Jewish intellectual in- comprehensive account of Benjamin. Benja-
formed by theology and inclined toward min remains largely the figure who most
mysticism (the seeds of which, according to suited their respective ideologies. As an
Scholem, were germinated and cultivated ironic footnote--at the end of his introduc-
largely through his own influence). Scholem tion to the Briefwechsel between Benjamin
also presents one of the earliest images, and himself-Scholem makes a rather
colored as it is by his own anti-Marxist cryptic comment:
stance, of Benjamin as a human figure, im- Noch eine Frage wird sich fidrdie Leser
poverished during much of his exile, and in- dieser Briefe erheben: Warum habe ich
teracting throughout his life with a network selber aus Benjamins zum Teil katastro-
of people as diverse as Martin Buber, Ernst phalen und erschiitterndenDarlegungen
Jiinger, Asja Lacis, Bertolt Brecht, and, of seiner finanziellenSituationkeine direkte
course, Adorno (whom Scholem liked) and Konsequenz gezogen, wie aus diesem
Horkheimer (whom he did not). Scholem, Buche ersichtlich ist? Diese Frage kann
ich beantworten, aber ich will sie nicht
whose writing remains mostly unpolemical,
ifat times veering into the trivial, commends
Adorno for recognizing the importance of Scholem has provided a great service to Ben-
Benjamin's theology, and criticizes Brecht jamin research by making available many of
for failing to do so.21 For Adorno, this theol- Benjamin's works and letters, and through
ogy functions dialectically in Benjamin's his own commentaries. This somewhat mys-
thought, restraining him from lapses into tifying passage, unfortunately, only begs the
either bourgeois psychology or the "vulgar unanswered question it poses about their
materialism" of a Brecht.22 For Scholem, it financial relations.
represents the metaphysical core of Benja-
min's thought. This emphasis coincides with III
Scholem's attempt to alter the image of Ben-
jamin as a radical philosopher concerned
with material history. Of their political dis- With the publication and promotion of
cussions in 1919, following the Russian Rev- Benjamin's works in the 1950s and 1960s
olution and the events in Germany, he and the rise of a form of intellectual radical-
writes: "Noch immer liefes bei uns auftheo- ism in Europe and the United States in the
418 THE GERMAN QUARTERLY Summer-Fall 1992

1960s, literature about Benjamin begins to of tragedy, has written the preface to the
appear with such rapidity that one might be translation of the Trauerspiel essay. Rather
tempted to view the situation as a Derridean than attempting an in-depth analysis of any
scene of writing taken to its nightmarish one of these critics, it may prove more pro-
extreme, where writings and reiterations ductive to cite their comments as well as
proliferate beyond human influence.25 The those of some major theorists who have con-
fact, however, that these writings emerge tributed to the image of Benjamin's writings
largely within an institutional context (as a in the Anglo-American literary institution.
glance at Germanistik or the MLA Bibliog- The purpose of these citations is not to claim
raphy will show), a context in which various (or disclaim) affiliation with these theorists,
academics and intellectuals actively but rather to produce a map, incomplete as
produce articles and books, suggests it may be, of various discourses competing
another dimension to the discourse on for dominance in the literary institution,
Walter Benjamin. An archaeology of one and to indicate the ideological positions
section of this discursive field may indicate which they occupy. Some commentary will
possible directions to pursue in an ideologi- of course be added for the sake of clarifica-
cal analysis of (1) the academic institutions, tion.
and institutions in general; (2) discursive Commenting in 1969 on what she calls
practices, and the ways in which practi- Benjamin's search for essences in small
tioners seek to attain a dominant position objects and his fascination with phenomena,
for their discourse; (3) the manipulation and Hannah Arendt writes:
exploitation of literary figures and other How remote these studies were from
types of events.26 One aim of such an analy- Marxism and dialectical materialism is
sis would be to undo such, frequently ideo- confirmed by their central figure, the
logical, manipulations. flaneur. It is to him, aimlessly strolling
If Adorno and Scholem sought to shape through the crowd in the big cities in
the image of Benjamin and counter the studied contrastto their hurried,purpose-
Brechtian influence-perceived as detri- ful activity,that things reveal themselves
mental "vulgar Marxism"--the presenta- in their secret meaning:'The true picture
tion of Benjamin's writings in English has of the past flits by" ("Philosophyof His-
tory"),and onlythe flaneurwho idly strolls
frequently assumed even more dubious by receivesthe message.29
forms. Hannah Arendt edited and intro-
duced the first English translation of Ben- Arendt completes with the words "idle"and
jamin's writings in an edition of Illumina- "flaneur"the sentence begun with a quota-
tions (1969) that contains perhaps half the tion from Benjamin. The sentence thus ap-
material published in the already abridged pears to convey Benjamin's thoughts, though
German edition of Illuminationen. 'The neither ofthese words appears in the passage
chief purpose of this collection," she writes she cites; thus, she somewhat arbitrarily
in the editor's note, "is to convey the impor- links Benjamin's thesis on historical under-
tance of Benjamin as a literary critic,'27 standing with a passive, purely receptive fig-
which constrasts with his importance in ure, who would be unlikely to become
Germany as one of"the major aestheticians engaged in Marxist politics. Later, she as-
of the Frankfurt School" along with Adorno serts that Benjamin stands closer to Heideg-
and Leo IJiwenthal.28 This claim also ob- ger than to Marxism:
scures Benjamin's tenuous connections with
the Institut fair Sozicalforschung. The other Without realizing it Benjamin actually
had more in common with Heidegger's
collection of Benjamin's essays in English remarkablesense forliving eyes and living
has been edited by the literary historian bones that had sea-changed into pearls
Peter Demetz. George Steiner, the theorist and coral,and as such couldbe saved and
GROSSMAN:Benjamin 419

lifted into the present only by doing conformity with the Talmudic prescription of
violence to their context in interpreting the 49 levels of meaning in every passage of
them with "the deadly impact" of new the Torah,"but Jameson finds the Christian
thoughts, than he did with the dialectical hermeneutic to be "more familiar" and "less
subtleties of his Marxistfriends.30
intimidating" (to whom, one wonders) than
Arendt thus enlists the features of Benja- the Talmudic model.32With its emphasis on
min's writings less or not at all assimilable allegory, it also conforms better to the model
to Marxism to argue this closeness, without for the Marxist hermeneutic that Jameson
seriously addressing the issue of how pursues, and which finds its more refined
Heidegger's intellectual writings did not development in The Political Unconscious.
prevent his serving as rector of the Univer- There, he deploys it in order to deconstruct
sity of Freiburg under Nazi rule. Institution- Northrop Frye's myth criticism.33 Nowhere
al affiliations and political views, not to men- in his essay does Jameson actually under-
tion social positioning, thus become take an explicit demonstration that this
minimalized and appear not to bear sig- model structures Benjamin's writings or
nificantly on Benjamin's work-nor on operates as an underlying system in his
Arendt's teacher, Heidegger. thought. Jameson's Marxism and Form,
Shortly after Arendt's essay, Fredric written before he had built his reputation
Jameson's"Walter Benjamin; Or,Nostalgia" (The Prlison-House of Language did not ap-
appeared in Salmagundi 52 (Fall 1969- pear until 1972), includes treatments of five
Winter 1970) and later in his bookMarxism other famous 20th-century Marxist theorists
and Form (1971), marking one of the first in addition to his own theoretical essay. It is,
essays in English on Benjamin by someone however, perhaps the cover of the book, on
who did not know him, and one of the first which the names of the six theorists appear
to be published in an English-language lit- in a column with Jameson's name under-
erary journal. Jameson, drawing on the neath, that gives away at least part of his
Trauerspiel essay, characterizes Benjamin's project:that of autogenealogy.3
thought as allegorical and associates it with If Jameson seems to exploit Benjamin,
the Christian hermeneutic model by which among other theorists, for the purpose of
Dante describes The Divine Comedy. After establishing his discourse, Rend Wellek
describing the model with its four levels enlists him in order to argue that literary
(literal, moral, allegorical and anagogical), criticism at its best transcends political
Jameson rewrites it for Marxist hermeneu- ideology. Noting numerous pronounce-
tics: ments on literature and art which suggest
Benjamin's political concerns, Wellek
It will not be hard to adapt this scheme to writes: '"Muchof this has little to do with
twentieth centuryrealities, if forliteral we
simply read psychological, retaining the literary criticism: it is ideology and, in the
second, moral level as such; if for the context of the times, a commitment to a
dominant archetypalpattern of the life of struggle with pen and ink against
Christ we substitute religion in the Nazism."35Wellek is not without some sym-
broadestsense of the religionof art, seeing pathy for Benjamin's engagement under the
the Incarnationnow as the incarnationof circumstances. He nevertheless represents
meaning in language; if finally, replacing Benjamin's Marxism as nothing more than
theology with politics,we make of Dante's a "phase," which upon closer scrutiny
eschatology an earthly one, where the
human race finds its salvationnot in eter- reveals itself to be a kind of false con-
nity, but in history itself.31 sciousness or self-delusion that serves only
to limit his scholarly abilities-until, that is,
Jameson mentions in a footnote that Ben- he transcends not only Marxism but all po-
jamin himself declares his thought to be "in litical interest. Wellek writes:

I suspect that Scholemwas right when he Steiner, a major theorist like Wellek, who is
predicted (Mar. 30, 1931, Br, 527) that perhaps best known for his book The Death
within the Communist Party Benjamin
would soon have been 'unmasked as a of Tragedy (1961), argues that we should
read Benjamin not merely as a literary critic
typical counterrevolutionary and bour-
geois.' But this would have been an even (as opposed to a Marxist or cultural critic)
sillier label than that of OrthodoxMarx- but as a sacred guardian of truth who bla-
ism. Benjamin had obviouslytranscended tantly rejects leftist politics: "Had he lived,
both these parties in his best criticism... Walter Benjamin would doubtless have
his many scattered articles make him been sceptical of any 'New Left.' Like every
what he wanted to be-'the first German man committed to abstruse thought and
critic'of his time.36
scholarship, he knew that not only the hu-
Benjamin becomes for Wellek a model of the manities, but humane and critical intelli-
disinterested scholar, the cultivated literary gence itself, reside in the always threatened
critic who can now operate within the dis- keeping of the very few.'40
course of literary criticism as practiced in the Steiner's comment about Benjamin's
traditional Anglo-American institution. unlived future is, despite the confidence of
Peter Demetz, writing six years later, the attribute "doubtless," based on pure
provides a historical account of Benjamin. speculation. The conclusion he draws about
His introduction to the second collection of Benjamin's unknowable postwar develop-
Benjamin's essays to appear in English ac- ment indicates the author's own attitude,
knowledges the contradictions that emerge with its rather unabashed elitism, more
in the latter's oeuvre, but nevertheless con- than a description of where Benjamin be-
tributes to the image of the apolitical lieved "humane and critical intelligence" to
scholar: lie. Steiner disregards that the Benjamin
His studies of Sorel and his defense of interested in abstruse thought and the hu-
anarchist spontaneity(as suggested in his manities also showed a strong interest in
essay on violence) against any Marxist the potential of technology in art and litera-
'programming' of action reveal something ture to liberate the working class--even if
in him that precedes all political theory he also warned of its dangerous manipula-
and perhaps has its origins in a mythic tive potential.
vision of a Messiah who comes with the
sword to change the world into white and Steiner's essay becomes even more inter-
goldenperfection.37 esting as a moment in the critical discourse
when Terry Eagleton cites it as an example
One thinks of Scholem's "theocratic anar- of the bourgeois readings his book Walter
chism." Demetz, like Hannah Arendt, also Benjamin, or Towards a Revolutionary Crit-
emphasizes Benjamin the flaneur, though icism (1981) opposes (xiii). Eagleton reads
his image suggests a more powerful figure: Benjamin critically, deploying poststructur-
"It is precisely his fine and fierce otherness alist strategies for what he claims to be a
that is going to change our thought.'38 The Marxist approach. His use of the term
introduction into the discourse of a word like "Marxism" nevertheless seems to vary
"otherness," along with a assing com- greatly from most traditional uses of it. The
parison to Jacques Derrida, signifies that meaning of Eagleton's Marxism, which
deconstruction, otherwise absent from differs from Jameson's emphasis on a her-
Demetz's introduction, has become an in- meneutic approach, perhaps announces
fluential presence even in the discourse of itself most explicitly inhis discussion of Ben-
those who do not practice it. At Yale, where jamin's One-WayStreet when he writes that
Demetz taught, it had become the dominant "Benjamin's imagery of excavation is out to
discourse by 1978. deconstruct the homogeneity of history into
At about the same time (1977), George what we might now, after Michel Foucault,
Benjamin 421

call an 'archaeology'... there is a sense in revolutionize Foucault.

which he is ... an archaeologist avant la Writing from a Marxist position in Lit-
lettre"(56). In citing Benjamin, Eagleton in- erary Theory, Eagleton exhorts students of
corporates Benjamin's discourse within his literature to direct their attention to "discur-
own so that it becomes difficult to distin- sive practices," a notion borrowed from Fou-
guish between the two: cault.41 In his study of Benjamin, Eagleton
[Benjamin] rejects the historicism of the adopts Benjamin's discursive style in his
Second International for a method that struggle to wrestle a neo-Marxist practice
'breaksthe epochaway fromits reifiedhis- from the hands of such "post-Marxists" as
torical community',refusing the abstract Michel Foucault. Disregarding whether
gesture of a 'cultural history' that would Foucault's approach to history remains any
subsume disparate discourses into unity. more theoretical or contemplative than Ben-
The dream of a dialectical 'history of
culture'is absurd,'sincethe continuumof jamin's or his own, Eagleton displaces his
own discourse in the direction of such post-
history, blown apart by dialectics, is
nowhere scattered over a wider area than Marxist anarchism by upholding and advo-
in that part peoplecall culture.'(56-57; my cating Benjamin as a "revolutionary" ver-
emphasis) sion of Foucault. (The assumption here is
that Foucault's analyses of prison systems
Later, when Eagleton compares Benjamin to in
Discipline and Punish, of the treatment
Bakhtin, the quotation marks are omitted of the
mentally ill in Madness and Civiliza-
altogether: tion, his attempts to uncover orders or rules
Producedin the darkestera of Stalinism,a governing the episteme, as in The Order of
period during which Bakhtin himself Things, indicate a tendency toward anar-
ominously disappeared from public view, chism.) Hence, in Eagleton's discourse, Ben-
the book [Rabelais and his World]is a
jamin's understanding of history, while still
precise enactment of Benjamin's own
political aesthetic: it blasts Rabelais's dialectical, becomes distinct from the kind
workout of the homogeneouscontinuumof of Marxist claims that Jameson makes, or
literaryhistory,creating a lethal constella- the theocratic claims of Scholem. Eagleton,
tion between that redeemed Renaissance moreover, opposes both Scholem andAdorno
moment and the trajectory of the Soviet by claiming Brecht's practical Marxism, de-
state. (144;my emphasis)
veloped in epic theater, as a positive influ-
And in the book's conclusion, we read: ence on Benjamin (22).42
Nevertheless, Eagleton notes that Ben-
In the imperialist homelands, the condi-
jamin, like other important Marxist aesthe-
tions against which Benjaminwarned are
once again in sway: a reformistmythology ticians, also lapses into idealism. Thus, if he
continues to grip whole sectors of the finds positive moments in Benjamin's "Mes-
workingclass, in a global crisis of capital- sianism," notably in its unteleological ap-
ism that places the threat of fascism once proach to history, its opposition to the
more on the agenda. In such a situation,it "treacherous utopianism" of social demo-
is more than ever necessary to blast cratic eschatology, and its function as a pow-
Benjamin's work out of its historical con- erful source for Benjamin's revolutionary
tinuum, so that it may fertilize the
present. (179;my emphasis) thought, he warns against its lapse into
idealism with all its implications: "'TheMes-
Benjamin, according to Eagleton, does not sianic idea in Judaism compels a life lived
fall into Foucault's "contemplative attitude" in radical deferment, in which nothing can
but undertakes a dialectical encounter with be definitely performed, nothing irrevocably
history, not merely as a theoretical but also accomplished" (115).43 Eagleton, however,
as a political construct (57). The implication presents the problem of Benjamin's intrac-
is that a heavy dose of Benjamin serves to table idealism as one symptomatic of
422 THE GERMAN QUARTERLY Summer-Fall 1992

Marxist cultural theorists in the 20th ment depends furthermore on his own mis-
century. As with Lulkics under Stalin and translation of the German Wehen ('"birth
Adorno in western Europe, Benjamin (and pangs") as sufferings. That he criticizes both
Eagleton) cannot but lapse into a contradic- the French and English translators of Ben-
tory idealism whose only resolution, or sub- jamin for mistranslating this word seems to
lation, is to be found in the praxis of a revo- be particularly ironic:
lutionary mass movement (114-16; 132- The two translators ... translate Wehen,
34).44In seeking to develop a "revolutionary pains, as "birth pangs," as being par-
criticism," Eagleton's own discourse draws ticularly the pains of childbirth ... Why
on those aspects of Benjamin's work which they do this is a mystery.Wehencan mean
enable him to describe and, theoretically at birth pangs, but it does mean any kind of
least, confront this dilemma. In the absence suffering,withoutnecessarilythe connota-
of that revolutionary mass movement, tion of birth and rebirth, of resurrection,
whichwouldbe associatedwith the notion
Marxist aesthetics must, for Eagleton,
of birth pangs because you suffer in
provide a critique of conditions in the impe- producingsomething ... 46
rialist homelands. Whether this Marxism
can provide a more socially constructive cri- After further inquiry into the hidden mean-
tique than non-Marxist institutionalcritical ings of words such as "Nachreife," 'iber-
approaches remains still to be demon- leben," and "'ibersetzen,"de Man concludes
strated. from Benjamin's essay that translation
Finally, there have been numerous de- means the fragmentation of language and
constructive versions of Benjamin which, that 'the political aspect of history is the
given his interest in graphology and alle- result of the poetical structure of lan-
gory, is perhaps not so surprising. The late guage.'47 Resulting from poetic structures,
Paul de Man, who occupies the position of political history has nothingto do with dialec-
the most influential deconstructive theorist tics--"a theological notion."
in the Anglo-American institution, offers the De Man's theoretical project rests largely
prototypical deconstructive reading of Ben- on the assumption that language operates
jamin. His essay "Conclusions: Walter Ben- in two fundamentally incompatible ways.
jamin's 'The Task of the Translator' "(1986) He speaks, on the one hand, of an instru-
represents an explicit attempt to misread or mental operation of language and, on the
rewrite the text in terms of its own discourse. other, of a self-reflexive operation found in
De Man's close reading of Benjamin's text fiction and poetry. "Ineveryday common ex-
does not assert that Benjamin presents a istence," language functions "as does the
mystical idea of language, or "a sense of the cobbler's or the carpenter's hammer, not as
sacred," as one might claim for this text, but the material itself, but as a tool by means of
takes issue precisely with such an assertion which the heterogeneous material of experi-
about Benjamin in general, made by Geof- ence is more or less adequately made to
frey Hartman in his Criticism in the Wilder- fit.'48 The two tropes, allegory and irony,
ness.45 This allusion to and debate with which differ for de Man only in their tempo-
Hartman functions as both a challenge and ral structure, exhibit the self-reflexive attri-
a way of limiting the sphere of discourse. bute of fictional discourse. As such, these
Indeed, the only other people cited by de tropes expose as inauthentic the belief that
Man, with the exception of the translators, language can immediately and adequately
are Derrida and Carol Jacobs, another de- relate actual experience:
constructionist. De Man claims that trans-
The act of irony,as we ... now understand
lation for Benjamin means the termination it, reveals the existence of a temporality
of language, and that Benjamin believes all that is definitelynot organic,in that it re-
texts to be untranslatable. De Man's argu- lates to its sourceonly in terms of distance
Benjamin 423

and differenceand allows forno end, forno position.49

totality.Ironydivides the flow of temporal In pursuing his argument against a Mes-
experience into a past that is pure mys- sianic or theological readingofBenjamin, de
tification and a future that remains
harassed forever by a relapse within the Man neglects to elaborate on the relation-
inauthentic. It can know this inauthen- ship between "the political aspect of history"
ticity but can never overcomeit. (222) and the "poetic structure of language." He
thereby suggests a direct causal relation-
Ironycan thus provide no positive knowledge ship between the two, while--so it
of temporal experience, and allegory, differ- appears--eliminating any element of
ing only in its temporal structure, provides human input. The role ofthe affective aspect
nothing but an illusion of the possibility of of language in politics, or the possibility of
such knowledge (223-25). De Man, who linguistic manipulation by translators, lit-
surprisingly ignores the question of allegory erary critics, or politicians remains uninves-
in Benjamin's work, differs from such Marx- tigated. De Man's mistranslation of'Wehen"
ist readers of Benjamin as Jameson and occupies a central position both in his argu-
Eagleton. Unlike Jameson, who under- ment, namely that all translation results in
stands allegory as always referring back to the "death" of the original text, and in his
history, or Eagleton, who reads Benjamin's concluding remarks on the relationship
discussion of allegory in the T7auerspiel between history and language. An ideologi-
essay in terms of commodity, de Man main- cal-critical reading of de Man's essay would
tains that the allegorical quality of language perhaps implicate him in a highly motivated
renders the signified, the meaning of any de-politicizing onslaught, not only on Ben-
utterance or piece of writing, irretrievable jamin but on all activity bound up with
(207). Allegorical signs produce meaning, de language.
Man writes, "only in the repetition (in the With Paul de Man's deconstruction of the
Kierkegaardian sense of the term) of a pre- Benjamin text in mind, it might prove
vious sign with which it can never coincide, worthwhile to examine Derrida's own
since it is of the essence of this previous sign reading or "translation," as he terms it, of
to be pure anteriority" (207). Wordsworth's the same Benjamin text. In his essay 'The
narrator, speaking from beyond the grave, Domestication of Derrida," Wlad Godzich
provides a form of knowledge that remains has argued that critics at Yale such as Paul
impossibleinlife. Thus, although de Man has de Man have "domesticated," or tamed,
argued that the referential ground for sig- Derrida's deconstruction for the Anglo-
nification consists only of the sign itself, and American literary institution.50 Their prac-
that the opposition between literal and tice differs from Derrida's in that it concen-
figural language cannot be sustained, he can trates purely on texts without consideration
indicate only one practical consequence of ofa broader institutional context. One might
this conclusion: the assertion that positive further inquire to what degree Derrida's
knowledge about fictional discourse is im- own practice of deconstruction has been do-
possible. For de Man, "a literary text is not a mesticated through his experience in this
phenomenal event that can be granted any institution.
form of positive existence, whether as a fact In 1966, Derrida first introduced decon-
of nature or as an act of mind"(107). It is thus struction to the United States when he pre-
not surprising that in his essay on Benja- sented his now famous essay "Structure,
min's '"Die Aufgabe des Ubersetzers" he Sign and Play in the Discourse ofthe Human
neglects to address actual problems of trans- Sciences" at a conference at Johns Hopkins
lation, such as the ideological implications of University. Nineteen years later, and only
mistranslation. To deal with such problems shortly after Paul de Man's analysis, he
would undermine his general theoretical engaged in a deconstructive reading of the
424 THE GERMAN QUARTERLY Summer-Fall 1992

translation process for which he deployed pectation, like the example of Babel which
his own "translation" of Benjamin's 'Task of he chooses, depends considerably on the re-
the Translator."51 Translation, a practice striction to "linguistic"systems, and the dis-
which involves the rewriting of a text from regard for the interaction of more generally
one linguistic and cultural (including social, cultural systems in the production of
historical, political etc.) system into another, language and texts. For Babel, as any proper
should, it seems, present a prototypical case name, may move freely from one linguistic
for a theory concerned with the ways in system to another, but one cannot help won-
which writing exceeds systemic constraints. dering what sort of response the word would
Thus, Derrida finds in Babel, as untrans- evoke in a Chinese uneducated in Western
latable name "imposedand opposed by God," culture and religion. Derrida's discussion of
a sign that moves freely from one system to Babel thus restricts itself quite specifically
another, but always without belongingto the to a cultural system--consisting of numer-
linguistic system (174): "Now,a proper name ous (including linguistic) subsystems-
as such remains forever untranslatable, a whose intellectual heritage descends from
fact that may lead one to conclude that it the Biblical story of Babel.
does not strictly belong, for the same reason Ten pages into "Des Tours de Babel" (the
as the other words, to the language, to the pun is untranslatable without further
system of the language, be it translated or comment; see translator's note on p. 206),
translating" (171). Babel, Derrida contin- Derrida rejects a theoretical discussion of
ues, also functions as a common noun translation, since "no theorization, inas-
meaning "confusion"in one language. Thus, much as it is provided in a language, will be
Derrida locates in Babel a moment of unde- able to dominate the Babelian performance"
cidability. It is both untranslatable proper (175). He declares that he will instead
name and translatable noun, and he asserts "attempt to translate in my own way the
moreover that this word must be (but cannot translation [by Maurice de Gandillac] of
be) translated in some ideal way: "Recourse another text [i.e., Walter Benjamin's 'Task
to apposition and capitalization ('Over of the Translator']" (175). Although he does
which he proclaims his name: Bavel, Con- not draw attention to this change of usage,
fusion') is not translating from one tongue Derrida now invests "translate" with a
into another. It comments, explains, para- meaning radically different from the pre-
phrases but does not translate" (172). vious one, a meaning which indeed allows
Derrida establishes here a specific definition paraphrase and explanation. Thus, in his
of translation. Underlying this definition, own essay, Derrida collapses the notions of
which insists on the necessity of exact cor- commentary and translation into one
respondence between one linguistic system concept. This gesture leads to a deprivi-
and another, there lurks a form of nostalgia leging of the text to be commented upon
for an ideal, or even sacred, world of lan- (Benjamin's) and a privileging of his own
guage and translation. Of course, Derrida reading. Paraphrase thereby enables
will declare this ideal world an impossibility Derrida to draw a parallel between Benja-
(or an impossible necessity), but his decon- min's text and his own framework, the dis-
struction must hold out the promise of ideal cussion of Babel. On Babel, he thus writes:
linguistic translation, an ideal indeed held
by some, but by no means all, students of Translationbecomes law, duty, and debt,
literature and of translation. In emphasiz- but the debt one can no longer discharge.
Such insolvency is found marked in the
ing the need for perfect translation of one very name of Babel: which at once trans-
linguistic sign, or set of linguistic signs, he lates and does not translate itelf... and
excludes the possibility of paraphrase and indebts itself to itself for an insolvent debt
description of terms in this process. This ex- to itself as if other. Such would be the
GROSSMAN:Benjamin 425

Babelian performance.(174-75) merely a sign in Benjamin's discourse on

translation. Rather, he incorporates it into
And on Benjamin: his own discourse. Thus, he quotes Maurice
de Gandillac with apparent affirmation (or
The title also says, fromits first word,the
else, his distance to the citation is too limited
task (Aufgabe),the mission to whichone is
as to be identified): "For,to some degree, all
destined (always by the other), the com-
mitment, the duty, the debt, the respon- the great writings, but to the highest point
sibility. Already at stake is a law, an in- sacred Scripture, contain between the lines
junction for which the translatorhas to be their virtual translation. The interlinearver-
responsible.(175) sion of the sacred text is the model or ideal
of all translation" (205). Such an affirmation,
The translator commits him- or herself not by a philosopher whose initial project
to the transmission of the text from one sys- claimed to engage in a rigorous critique of
tem to another. Rather, translation, a con- onto-theological systems, seems at the very
tract for Derrida between two (or more) lan- least mystifying. It becomes more com-
guages, functions as a figure for the trace. prehensible, in the context of his discussion,
Derrida writes that if one refers to the passages immediately
a contractbetween two foreignlanguages preceding it. There, Derrida reiterates what
as such engages to renderpossiblea trans- he calls the law of translation, that is, the
lation which subsequently will authorize fact that the literality of the sacred or ab-
every sort of contract in the originary solute text commands and refuses its trans-
sense. The signature of this singular con- lation:
tract needs no written documentor record:
it nevertheless takes place as trace or as There is only letter, and it is the truth
trait, and this place [sic]takes place even if of pure language, the truth as pure lan-
its space comes under no empirical or
mathematical objectivity. (185; my em- This law would not be an exteriorcon-
phasis) straint; it grants a liberty to literality. In
the same event, the letter ceases to op-
By introducing the "trace"into his "transla-
tion" of Benjamin's text, Derrida appears press insofar as it is no longerthe exterior
here to be rewriting Benjamin's somewhat body or the corset of meaning. The letter
also translates itself of itself, and it is in
mystical notion of the third language in this self-relation of the sacred body that
translation as a proto-deconstructionist the task of the translator finds itself
project, an act which he acknowledges when engaged. (204)
he writes that he has "moreor less faithfully
... taken some liberty with the tenor of the The existence of numerous translations of
original" (195). Yet, whereas he points out many literary texts attests to the fact that no
that Benjamin does not "push matters" in one correct translation can exist. In expres-
this direction, Derrida seems to push sions such as the "liberty" granted "to
deconstruction in the direction of mysticism. literality" and the "sacredbody,"one cannot
Thus, after digressions into the figure of the but wonder if Derrida retains any notion of
amphora, French copyright law, inten- translation that would in any way describe
tionality in Husserl, and phenomenology, the actual document which the translator
Derrida eventually identifies in Benjamin's approaches, or rather, whether he or she
text a religious code, expressed in terms such should merely pursue a proliferation of
as the "'eternal sur-vival of languages' figures in the search for the "absolute text."
('ewiges Fortleben der Sprachen') or 'the in- For Derrida, then, the pure limit imposed on
finite rebirth [Aufleben]of languages"' (202). the translator in fact liberates him or her to
The religious code becomes for Derrida not seek the sacred language or text "already
426 THE GERMAN QUARTERLY Summer-Fall 1992

given, even here, between the lines" (205). probably most closely aligned with a post-
Thus, Derrida's discourse not only empowers Marxist position) or its author's own profes-
the translator with the freedom to find mean- sional aspirations, seeks to uncover the
ing "between the lines"; he moreover enlists ideologies according to which various criti-
Benjamin's 'Task of the Translator"in order cal discourses rewrite Walter Benjamin.
to defend this endeavor on theological A more complete archaeology would
grounds. It remains only to ask where one is require further research in several areas.
to find in this text the institutional critique The diversity of subjects on which Benjamin
that Derrida elsewhere has demanded of wrote and the conflictual network of dis-
deconstruction?52 courses, from Marxism to Messianism and
beyond, that inform his work suggest a con-
IV vergence in Benjamin of the discourses that
operated within his social context. Further
areas of research would thus include a close
In the case of Walter Benjamin, critics examination of the context of his writings,
select certain texts, emphasize certain con- both sociopolitical and personal (since for
cepts (e.g., allegory, nostalgia, writing, or Benjamin this opposition deconstructs),
translation) and certain definitions of those analysis of the "constitution" of his texts
concepts, for which they can generally find after World War II, and a contextualized
justification in some moment(s) of his study of his emergence and reception as a
writing. Benjamin and his work thus literary figure. Rather than to continue
function as signs around which various dis- theorizing about Benjamin, it seems neces-
courses are constituted. They also function sary now to introduce a radically histori-
as marketable commodities for past friends cized approach, which may be theoretically
or acquaintances of Benjamin, publishers informed, but which will not sever the writ-
and literary critics who have tended to ings from the space of their emergence.
exploit his work for financial or careeristic
reasons. The approaches of critics become
less credible, however, when they seek to Notes
isolate the critical practice, whether Benja-
min's or their own, fromthe realm of ideology 1This argument derives from Foucault's discus-
and seek to remove literary studies into sion of the human sciences in The Order of Things:
some other transcendent sphere. One might "On the projected surface of language, man's behavio-
also question the social value of critical dis- ur appears as an attempt to say something, ... and
courses overly dependent on highly theoret- everything he arranges around him by way of objects,
rites, customs, discourse, all the traces he leaves
ical speculation or linguistic manipulations, behind him, constitute a coherent whole and a system
at the expense of analysis of texts in their of signs." Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New
historical and institutional contexts. Amore York: Random House, 1970) 357.
socially meaningful approach would seek to 2Theodor W. Adorno, "Einleitung" to Walter Ben-
relate texts to the history of their transmis- jamin, Schriften, 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhr-
sion, including their production and their kamp, 1955) I: xxv.
reception, to examine how institutional and 3Bernd Witte, Walter Benjamin (Reinbeck bei
ideological constraints work to structure the Hamburg: Rowoh1t, 1985) 62.
text and our understanding of it. Such an 4Ibid.
5George Steiner, "Introduction" to Walter Benja-
approach might, moreover, seek to discover min, The Origin ofGerman Tragic Drama, trans. John
the responses to these constraints which Osborne (London: Verso, 1977) 11; Witte 62.
texts, writers, and others involved in the 6Witte 23-24.
transmission process may offer. This analy- 7Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin,-die Ge-
sis, itself not free of ideological bias (one schichte einer Freundschaft (Frankfurt am Main:
GROSSMAN: Benjamin 427

Suhrkamp, 1975) 23. present and thus of the subject, of that which is proper
&'If this apocalypticism is for us one of the least to the subject and of his proper name. The concept of
palatable elements of Benjamin's thought, it nonethe- a (conscious or unconscious) subject necessarily refers
less marks a kind of 'negative dialectics' that, for all to the concept of substance-and thus of presence-
its idealism, comes close to the productively pessimi- out of which it is born" (229). Deconstructing the
stic side of historical materialism." Terry Eagleton, notion of the mystic writing pad by which Freud had
Walter Benjamin or Towards a Revolutionary Criti- sought to explain the function of the unconscious,
cism (London: Verso, 1981) 21; cf. Fredric Jameson, Derrida seems to reject all constructions of subjectivi-
Marxism and Form (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971) ty that have any substantial or material basis beyond
61-62, and Witte 62. the "archi-trace." Subjectivity appears as the effect of
9See, e.g., George Steiner's introduction to the the activity of the archi-trace, that is, of the process
English translation and Michael W. Jennings, Walter which enables writing. Writing thus seems to super-
Benjamin's Theory of Literary Criticism (Ithaca and sede all conscious, and unconscious, human input.
London: Cornell UP, 1987) 174; especially n. 11. 26For Foucault, an event is ultimately anything,
10Publication of the Gesammelte Schriften was whether it be a document, a war, or a building, which
hindered by the fact that Benjamin left behind only becomes an object of discourse. Discursive practices
fragments of the Passagen- Werk.There has been con- hence constitute events on the basis of some historical
siderable debate about the order in which they should a priori. See, e.g., Michel Foucault, The Archaeology
appear. ofKnowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (NewYork:
11Adorno, "Einleitung" xii. Pantheon, 1972) 25, 167.
12Adorno, "Einleitung" xiii. 27Hannah Arendt, editor's note in Walter Benja-
13Adorno, "Einleitung" xvii. min, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry
14Theodor Adorno, "an Walter Benjamin," 2 Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1968) 264.
August 1935, letter 263 of Briefe, ed. Theodor W. 28Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination
Adorno and Gershom Scholem, 2 vols. (Frankfuut am (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1973) 16; see also
Main: Suhrkamp, 1966) II: 671-83; here 672. This 197-211 for a discussion of Benjamin's relationship to
letter has been reprinted in English in Aesthetics and the Frankfurt School.
Politics, ed. R. Livingstone, P. Anderson, F. Mulhern 29Arendt, introduction to Illuminations 12. The
(London: Verso, 1977) 110-20. passage from which she takes this quotation reads:
15Adorno, letter 263; II: 673. 'The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be
16Siegfiied Unseld, "Nachbemerkung" to Walter seized only as an image which flashes up at the
Benjamin, Angelus Novus (Frankfurt am Main: Suhr- instant when it can be recognized and is never seen
kamp, 1966) 444. again. "Thetruth will not run away from us': in the
17Jirrgen Habermas, "Consciousness-Raising or historical outlook of historicism these words of Gott-
Redemptive Criticism: The Contemporaneity of fried Keller mark the exact point where historical ma-
Walter Benjamin," New German Critique 17 (1979): terialism cuts through historicism .. ." See Illumina-
32. tions 255.
18Scholem, "Vorrede"to Briefe I: 10. 30Arendt, introduction to Illuminations 46.
19See Scholem's "Vorwort"for an explanation of 31Jameson, Marxism 61.
the recovery of the letters; WalterBenjamin / Gershom 32Ibid.
Scholem: Briefwechsel 1933-1940, ed. Gershom 33Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious
Scholem (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1980) 9. (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981) 71-72.
20Rolf Tiedemann, "Nachwort" to Gershom 341 am indebted to Prof. Andr6 Lefevere for sug-
Scholem, WalterBenjamin und sein Engel (Frankfu-rt gesting to me this auto-genealogical aspect of the
am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983) 211. book, as well as for many other helpful comments and
21Scholem, Geschichte 257. suggestions.
22Adorno, letter 263; II: 672-76, 682. 35RenBWellek, "Walter Benjamin's Literary Crit-
23Scholem, Geschichte 108. icism in His Marxist Phase," Yearbookof Comparative
24Scholem, "Vorwort"12. Criticism XI (1973): 170.
2See Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, 36Wellek 177.
trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978) 196- 37Peter Demetz, editor's introduction to Walter
231. "The last part of the lecture [Derrida's own Benjamin, Reflections, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New
lecture on Freud, being recapitulated in his essay] York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978)
concerned the archi-trace as erasure: erasure of the xli.
428 THE GERMAN QUARTERLY Summer-Fall 1992

38Demetz xliii. 47De Man, "Conclusions" 46.

39Demetz xix. 48Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight (Minnea-
40Steiner 24. polis: U of Minnesota P, 1971, 1983) 213.
41Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory (Minneapolis: 49This position, as Jerome McGann has pointed
U of Minnesota P, 1983) 205. out, rests on an erroneous separation of"the worlds of
42Thetruly materialist version of Benjamin's re- hermeneutic and positive knowledge" and on a
demptive hope will come not through his mentor mistaken belief about positive knowledge with regard
but through his friend Bertolt Brecht." to phenomena which are both acts of mind and facts
Eagleton, Walter Benjamin 22. of nature. For a detailed discussion, see Jerome
4"Benjamin's Messianism is at once the clearest McGann, Social Values and PoeticActs: The Historical
evidence of his idealism and one of the most powerful Judgment of Literary Work (Cambridge, Mass. and
sources of his revolutionary thought." Eagleton, London: Harvard UP, 1988) 95-114; here 102-03.
Walter Benjamin 115; see also 147. 50Wlad Godzich, "The Domestication of Derrida,"
44See the remarks onidealism inMarxist cultural The Yale Critics: Deconstruction in America, ed.
theories, in Eagleton, Walter Benjamin 114-16, and Jonathan Arac, Wlad Godzich, Wallace Martin (Min-
on the various responses to the absence of a revolutio- neapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983, 1987) 39.
nary mass movement, 132-34. 51Jacques Derrida, "Des Tours de Babel," trans.
45Paul de Man, "Conclusions: Walter Benjamin's Joseph F. Graham, Difference in Translation, ed.
'The Task of the Translator'," The Resistance to Joseph F. Graham (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP,
Theory, (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986) 31. 1985) 175.
46De Man, "Conclusions" 37. 52See Godzich 39.