27 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Exquisite, entertaining, remarkable.
, 17 Mar. 2002
This review is from: The Arcades Project. (Hardcover)
Walter Benjamin is said to have been a shy and awkward man, yet there was something about him that made people want to take his picture. One of the nicest things about Momme Brodersen's lavishly illustrated biography is that, more than half a century after Benjamin's death, American readers can finally get a good look at his face. His mop of floating hair; his glasses-framed, heavy-lidded, soulful eyes, looking down or aimed into the middle distance (looking not into but past the camera); the hand that forms a V under his chin and gives his face a point; the dangling cigarette that seems to be there not so much to be smoked as to be crushed out -- it all makes us feel that we are in the presence of the most serious man who ever lived.
Some of the most radiant visions of Benjamin emerged late in his life, in his beloved Paris at the end of the thirties, the age of Renoir's Grand Illusion, after the Popular Front broke down, before (but not long before) the Nazis came. In 1937 Gisèle Freund photographed Benjamin at work in the Bibliothèque Nationale. She is one of European culture's grandes dames today, but then she was a fellow German-Jewish refugee, only twenty years younger than Benjamin and living even more precariously. In one shot Benjamin searches through a bookshelf, in another he is writing at a table. As usual, his gaze occludes the camera, though clearly he knows it is there. These library shots are visions of a man wholly absorbed in his work and at one with himself. His aura of total concentration can make the rest of us feel like bumbling fools. Or it can remind us why God gave us these big brains and taught us to read and write.
What was he working on that day? Probably his immense Arcades manuscript, the exploration of nineteenth-century Paris that enveloped his life all through the thirties. (When he crossed the Pyrenees on foot in 1940 to escape from France, he carried it with him and wouldn't let go. Lisa Fittko, his guide, later said she felt the manuscript was worth more to him than his life.) But it might have been one of his great late essays in that distinctively modern genre, Theology Without God. Here is a bit from "Theses on the Philosophy of History".
This is why this book is such amazing pierce of literature. If you never read this book, then you have never completed your fulfilment. For the amount you pay for this book, you easierly recive your money back. Its a small amount to pay for such an fabulous piece of work.
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