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Illuminations
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 1998
Walter Benjamin is easily one of the great German prose writers of our century, despite being almost impossible to classify. His subject matter is frequently literary, but he always transcends his subject matter to touch upon issues in philosophy, art, history, Marxism, and Western culture, illuminating (no pun intended) all he discusses. His essays on Proust and Kafka are priceless, and his essays on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and the theses on the philsophy of history, are classic.
But the best reason to read Benjamin is his prose. There are images in his essays on Proust and Kafka that are as superb as anything in Proust and Kafka. That is saying a lot, but it is true. As a philosopher, I value his example which proves that one can write meaningfully on philosophical topics, and yet write well. This collection of his essays, ILLUMINATIONS, is preferable to the second collection to appear in English, REFLECTIONS, though that one is also worth the time and effort.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2001
Walter Benjamin, melancholically described as a Jewish-German philosopher, who anticipated the fate of the modern society, is often regarded as an obscure writer. But this book depicts the map of his thinking very clearly, so that I can understand well the original mind of Benjamin. I was very interested in Benjamin's commentary on Kafka. He described Kafka as the figure in 'the purity and beauty of a failure.' The intimacy between Benjamin and Kafka also frequently quoted as the example saying Benjamin's disposition of mysticism. However, it is not easy to accept that Jewish mysticism influences his account of Kafka more than his own interests in allegory. Although his commentary of Kafka seems to be obscure, his attention to Kafka can be caused not so much by mystical affection but rather by Kafka¡¯s allegorical aspects. The letter to Gerhard Scholem, 'Some Reflections on Kafka', clearly shows what Benjamin originally intends to point out in Kafka¡¯s works: the work of art in which only the products of wisdom¡¯s decay remain. It would do justice to Benjamin that we think his commentary of Kafka to be derived from his interests of allegory. For in allegory, as Benjamin says, truth is just to be a rumor. In this respect, Benjamin¡¯s commentary on Kafka would give a clue by which his project could be unveiled in terms of dialectical thinking. I'd like to recommend this book for whom wants to know one of the most unique cultural and Marxist theorist in 20th century.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2010
In addition to the 'classic' Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction [a must-read essay for all culture vultures, artists and flaneurs]
this volume contains the essay called, 'the task of the translator': which not only theorises about how we make a translation, but identifies that
a translation is in fact a new work in its own right. This is all the more interesting, as this book is a translation, expertly created by Harry Zorn, with a snappy introduction from Hannah Arendt.
Benjamin's work is also crucial [with regard to the above essay], for those interested in Postcolonial theory and the likes of Homi Bhabha.
Another essay that I enjoy reading is 'unpacking my library'. A candid account of Benjamin unpacking his boxes of books and rediscovering old friends and memories through these treasured volumes.
The range of topics covered by Benjamin is vast and his Theses on Philosophy of History has yet to be fully acknowledged as a crucial twentieth century text.
I don't like the front cover - so I choose not to look it.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2008
Only since his death have Benjamin's works, literary essays, general reflections, aphorisms and probings into cultural phenomena, achieved fame outside his native Germany, where a discerning audience had already recognised him as one of the most acute and original minds of his time.

This aptly named collection includes Benjamin's views on Kafka, Baudelaire and Proust, essays on Leskov and Brecht's Epic Theatre, and discussions on art, technology and mass society, transaltion as a literary mode, and the philosophy of history.

In her introduction Hannah Arendt presents the critic's personality and intellectual development as well as placing his life and work in the context of Hitler's Germany.
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5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 1997
Walter Benjamin was an extremely influencial, wonderfully insightful writer and philosopher. Allow this work may seem dated, the underlying concepts and ideas still hold true for us today. It is definetly dense material, but well forth the time and effort required to understand it.
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11 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 23 February 2009
With his love of flâneurs, his intense introspection, his ambiguous relationship with technology and mass society, and his championing of Kafka and Proust, Walter Benjamin ought to be remembered as one of the great minds of the inter-war years. That he is, in fact, barely remembered at all becomes less of a mystery upon reading this collecton of essays.

Whereas other polymaths might delight us with their intelligence and cosmopolitanism, Benjamin's precise texts seem to contain ideas without revealing anything about the man behind them. A peculiar combination of aesthete and literary revolutionary, stylist and solipsist, many of the ideas in Benjamin's prose are perceived rather than explained: the result is statements that can seem flimsily argued and sound rather certain of themselves. History has, alas, not been kind to most of them.

Benjamin's dry, rather abstract modernism is a challenge in its own right. But Harry Zorn's translation does him no favors, complicating his twisting prose with bizarre literalisms and convoluted syntax. The result feels flat and academic and exhausting to read.
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17 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2001
Benjamin tries to turn sociology into a classical language and yet not really turning it away. This is a great book for anyone who wishes to understand the different mediums of expression. For instance, his artistic expression in 'the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction' essay truly opens up my understanding of the unique relationship between image and time.
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5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 1999
This book is a must read for students of literature, philosophy, history, or aesthetics.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2013
Walter Benjamin man. With an intro from Arendt. I mean. Wow. I mean. Ya know? Rather
Also saw someone say he was a member of the Frankfurt School in one of the reviews. He wasn't.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 January 2015
Looks better than one way street. More readable
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