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.