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Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings [Paperback]

Walter Benjamin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 May 1995
A companion volume to Illuminations, the first collection of Walter Benjamin's writings, Reflections presents a further sampling of his wide-ranging work. Here Benjamin evolves a theory of language as the medium of all creation, discusses theater and surrealism, reminisces about Berlin in the 1920s, recalls conversations with Bertolt Brecht, and provides travelogues of various cities, including Moscow under Stalin. He moves seamlessly from literary criticism to autobiography to philosophical-theological speculations, cementing his reputation as one of the greatest and most versatile writers of the twentieth century. Also included is a new preface by Leon Wieseltier that explores Benjamin's continued relevance for our times.

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Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings + Illuminations + The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Penguin Great Ideas)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc; 1st Schocken edition edition (31 May 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080520802X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805208023
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.2 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"Walter Benjamin is now recognized as one of the most accute analysts of literary and sociological phenomena of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A companion volume to Illuminations, the earlier collection of Benjamin's writings, Reflections presents a new sampling of his wide-ranging work. In addition to literary criticism, it contains autobiograohical narration and travel pieces, aphorisms, and philosophical-theological speculations. Most of Benjamin's writings on Brecht and his celebrated essay on Karl Kraus are included."
Enjoy charming anecdotes like "Hashish in Marseilles" and the sardonic incites of "One-Way Street" (Germans, Drink German Beer!) as you peruse the timeless thoughts of a persecuted man.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars was as described 6 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
a bit used as seller described, but not much. I really needed this for an exam and it arrived quickly and it was cheap :)
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Highly Polished Mind" 29 Dec 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Reflections presents for the reader the great range that Benjamin had as a writer, critic and occidentalist. This collection further demonstrates Benjamin's acute awareness of the literature of his time, as evidenced by his essay on 'Surrealism', which is as fine a reflection on its themes as the manifestos of Andre Breton. Furthermore, his writings and conversations with Bertolt Brecht show Benjamin to be very close to the thinking of the author himself. Also included is his celebrated essay on Karl Kraus,"the Jewish Swift of Vienna". But what I like most about this collection are the amorphisms and autobiographical sketches of 'Marseilles' and 'One-way Street'. In his images of Marseilles Benjamin creates an "exegesis of the city" that is as fine as any poet could offer; spellbinding, acute, and beautiful. As well, his wit and insight into social phenomena is detailed in 'One-Way Street', and also in the piece on Moscow, which lets the western reader experience a rare witnessing of the Russian city in the years after the Revolution in a way that recalls Dziga Vertov. Finally, the inclusion of several pieces of Benjamin's philosophical-theological speculations show that he was a man of great breath and wisedom, and further showcase the wide range of his highly polished mind.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise and witty, with a keen eye for detail 22 Oct 2004
By frumiousb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This collection of Benjamin essays was selected and introduced by Peter Demetz based on an order prepared by Hannah Arendt. It is a companion piece to Illuminations, a siimilar volume prepared and introduced by Arendt in the late sixties. Unlike Illuminations, which focuses on the literary essays Benjamin wrote, Reflections is intended to present a wide variety of subject and style.

In his introduction, Demetz urges the reader to listen to Benjamin in a musical rather than a literary way. Indeed, this book works very well if you approach it as an impressionistic meander through the style and range of thought present in the essays. I would be hard-pressed to describe how to rationally link the autobiographic travel writing of "A Berlin Chronicle" with the aphorisms of "One Way Street" or the Marxist thought in the essays on Brecht. All the same, they feel linked as a reading experience. That linkage may be more on the sound than the subject-- the sound of a very smart man thinking very hard and with great elegance.

Benjamin is never a dry writer. Some other reviewers have remarked on his humor, which definitely exists. It is also worth highlighting his keen eye for detail, his openness to self-examination, his practical advice about writing, and his distinctive turn of phrase which somehow survives through the translation process.

It would be difficult to find a book that I would recommend more highly.
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He was really a pretty funny guy if you give him a chance... 29 Mar 1999
By Hethur Suval - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Walter Benjamin is now recognized as one of the most accute analysts of literary and sociological phenomena of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A companion volume to Illuminations, the earlier collection of Benjamin's writings, Reflections presents a new sampling of his wide-ranging work. In addition to literary criticism, it contains autobiograohical narration and travel pieces, aphorisms, and philosophical-theological speculations. Most of Benjamin's writings on Brecht and his celebrated essay on Karl Kraus are included."
Enjoy charming anecdotes like "Hashish in Marseilles" and the sardonic incites of "One-Way Street" (Germans, Drink German Beer!) as you peruse the timeless thoughts of a persecuted man.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Stroll is to Watch and Judge 20 Oct 2012
By Martin Asiner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In Reflections, editor Peter Demetz has taken eighteen essays by Walter Benjamin written over roughly a decade and has grouped them into four categories. Each category captures an essence of Benjamin's life that he found over-riding at that time. Benjamin's life was a whirlpool of essences that was startlingly far-reaching: the lessening of human values in post-war Europe, the ineffable quality of a work's "aura," the immediacy of memory as a means and mode of consciousness, the interlocking of barbarism and civilization in an eternal spatial and temporal bear hug, the role of Jewish Messianism, the paradoxical discrepancy between the size of a small object and its capacity to encompass the purity of a much larger essence, the greater importance of visual/tactile phenomena over their Platonic abstractions, the observant seemingly idle flâneur who strolls effortlessly amidst crowded Parisian streets, and his obsession with slowing down the pacing of a pulsating urban scene so as to capture its inner essence in the stasis of a pseudo-photograph.

These essays reveal a Benjamin who liked to travel all over Europe. In Section One, he strolls through Berlin in A Berlin Chronicle and assorted areas of interest throughout Germany in One-Way Street. Benjamin's sharp eye for detail reveals how past experiences manifest themselves in memories that are less temporal in nature but more associational in sweep. For him, the act of recalling past details is akin to Wordsworth's images recalled in tranquility though editor Demetz sees a Proustian unraveling of a onion memory at work too. His memory images are charged with a palpable sense of "thing-ness" that over-ride their concomitant abstraction. Further these memories are not simply recalled for their visceral connotation; rather they serve as tenuous links that connect an early version of a callow Benjamin to a more aware more mature version.

In the second section, Benjamin is the flâneur who begins to internalize an incipient Marxist bent as he travels about Europe. He visits Moscow, hoping to see firsthand evidence that Lenin's proletarian revolution had truly brought about the workers' paradise sought after by so many like Benjamin. He is disappointed in the grubbiness and poverty-stricken slums that were Moscow but still remains enchanted by the dream that Communism is the key, perhaps belated, to reaching the full economic potential of mankind. Marseilles in France is only slightly better and it is there that he begins experimenting with hashish. But it is Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century that allows him to play the Flâneur fully as he strolls the city, taking in the streets, the arcades, and the endless boulevards, applying his growing Marxist tenets to allow him to re-configure these sites mentally to fit into a Marxist superstructure. He would fail, of course, but his failure would decades later reach fruition with the next generation of academic Marxists who could see in Walter Benjamin an oracle that spoke many tongues, one of which was directed to the proletariat.

In the third section, Benjamin focuses on conversations with Bertold Brecht, a writer with whom he would share ideas that would tragically be cut short by Benjamin's untimely suicide in 1940. In The Author as Producer, Benjamin espouses ideas that clearly show a growing attachment to Marxist-Leninist dogma. An artist must do far more than produce a work of art; that art had to show what we would today term a politically correct purpose. This purpose had to include resolving the long standing conflict between the content of a work and its form. Traditional Marxist dogma required that the needed changes in social stratification that would elevate the lot of the proletariat could arise only if there were a concomitant change in the means of production. Marx urged and Benjamin concurred that the proletariat had to topple the existing capitalist dominant infrastructure and the part that dealt with art and literature further implied that the artist/writer had to draw a distinction between the attitude of a work and the function of that work. Benjamin indicted the former as being overly fixated on the bourgeoisie tendency to cater to the decadent pleasures of those who cared little for revolutionary change. He lauded those artists and writers who saw a revolutionary purpose to their works. Benjamin details the struggles of one such writer, Sergei Tretiakov, a journalist who decided that his position as one who reports news was insufficiently revolutionary. Tretiakov was relentless in transforming the author into a producer. An author, Tretiakov explained, merely wrote with no desire to radically transform society, but a producer sought to effect a change in others who would ripple-like effect changes in still others. Hence, the distinction between author and reader must necessarily blur with the latter eventually becoming the former. Benjamin further saw a needed change in the way drama was staged. Benjamin had had many conversations with playwright Bertolt Brecht. Benjamin urged that the audiences watching epics of the sort written by Brecht not be content with passively absorbing the unfolding of events on the stage. Instead, they had to become aware of their revolutionary status as active participants who viewed the stage craft as yet one more means to critique a decadent society.

The fourth section saw Benjamin confront issues that tended toward the brute world of harsh philosophy. In Critique of Violence, he ponders whether violence as a means can be used to justify a socially acceptable end. In On the Mimetic Faculty, he considers whether man's ability to create similarities has a worthwhile use.

What emerges from a reading of the essays in Reflections is a man who was denied the right to teach from a sanctioned university pulpit and had to content himself with hectoring a world that refused for years to listen but now thanks to books like this one, we can hear just what he was saying, even if Walter Benjamin himself was more than occasionally fuzzy on some points.
5.0 out of 5 stars Criticism at its best 5 April 2008
By R. Caverly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Benjamin is an extremely powerful writer. I bought this book specifically for Zur Kritik Der Gewalt, but I've enjoyed other essays.
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