Walter Benjamin

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Walter Benjamin (July 15, 1892September 27, 1940) was a German Jewish literary critic and philosopher. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory, and was also greatly inspired by the Marxism of Bertolt Brecht and the Jewish mysticism of Gershom Scholem.

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  • Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method. [...] Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like.
    • Unpacking my Library: A Talk About Book Collecting (1931)
  • There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
    • Theses on the Philiosophy of History, VII (1940; first published, in German, 1950, in English, 1955)
  • A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
    • Theses on the Philiosophy of History, IX (1940; first published, in German, 1950, in English, 1955)
  • Only a thoughtless observer can deny that correspondences come into play between the world of modern technology and the archaic symbol-world of mythology.
    • Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Ed. Roy Tiedemann. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Harvard University: Harvard UP, 1999.

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  • Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom.
  • Each morning the day lies like a fresh shirt on our bed; this incomparably fine, incomparably tightly woven tissue of pure prediction fits us perfectly. The happiness of the next twenty-four hours depends on our ability, on waking, to pick it up.
  • It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us.
  • Like someone performing the giant swing on the horizontal bar, each boy spins for himself the wheel of fortune from which, sooner or later, the momentous lot shall fall. For only that which we knew and practiced at age 15 will one day constitute our attraction. And one thing, therefore, can never be made good: having neglected to run away from home. From 48 hours' exposure in those years, as in a caustic solution, the crystal of life's happiness forms.
  • The more antagonistic a person is toward the traditional order, the more inexorably he will subject his private life to the norms that he wishes to elevate as legislators of a future society. It is as if these laws, nowhere yet realized, placed him under obligation to enact them in advance at least in the confines of his own existence. The man, on the other hand, who knows himself to be in accord with the most ancient heritage of his class or nation will sometimes bring his private life into ostentatious contrast to the maxims that he unrelentingly asserts in public, secretly approving his own behavior, without the slightest qualms, as the most conclusive proof of the unshakable authority of the principles he puts on display. Thus are distinguished the types of the anarcho-socialist and the conservative politician.
  • The only way of knowing a person is to love them without hope.
  • To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without fright.

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