Benjamin, Walter (1892–1940)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC089-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 15, 2024, from

1. Life and works

Benjamin was born into an affluent family of assimilated Berlin Jews. He wrote his doctorate on Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (The Concept of Art Criticism in German Romanticism), and, in 1925 submitted Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama) for the degree of habilitated doctor at the University of Frankfurt. This book is now considered a classic. The application failed, however, and Benjamin abandoned his plans for a university career. After some years as a feuilleton journalist in Berlin, during which he met and worked with Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno and other left-wing intellectuals, Benjamin was forced to flee to Paris in 1933. Under commission from the ‘Institute for Social Research’ (that is, the ‘Frankfurt School’ then in emigration in New York), he devoted himself to a major theoretical and historical project on nineteenth-century Paris (the ‘Arcades Project’). After a financially and personally precarious decade, he was again forced to flee from the Nazis, and eventually took his own life after crossing the Pyrenees in a vain attempt to reach safety in Spain. Benjamin was little known during his lifetime; since 1955, however, under the stewardship of such erstwhile associates as Adorno, his work has been widely published and translated.

Citing this article:
Roberts, Julian. Life and works. Benjamin, Walter (1892–1940), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC089-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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