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Illuminations: Essays and Reflections Paperback – January 13, 1969

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Editorial Reviews


"From the evidence of this book I would suggest that Benjamin was one of the great European writers of this century." -- Philip Toynbee Observer "He explained the modern with an authority that fifty years of unpredictable change have not vitiated." -- Frank Kermode New York Review of Books "Like Baudelaire, Benjamin brings the very new into shocking conjunction with the very old...He is in search of a surrealist history and politics, one which clings tenaciously to the fragment, the miniature, the stray citation, but which impacts these fragments one upon the other to politically explosive effect, like the Messiah who will transfigure the world completely by making minor adjustments to it" -- Terry Eagleton The Ideology of the Aesthetic --This text refers to the Digital edition.

Language Notes

Text: English, German (translation)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken Books (January 13, 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805202412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805202410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walter Bendix Schonflies Benjamin (1892 -- 1940) was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, 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 Jewish mysticism as presented by Gershom Scholem.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
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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126 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Dave Shickle on November 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Benjamin is one of the few 20th century philosophers who can convey profound thoughts in language that isn't at all opaque. His sentences are always perfectly clear - no pretentious literary or Marxist jargon (thank God). The only thing that makes it slow reading is that you always want to stop, put the book down, and think about what he's just said.
For example, a passage from his essay on Kafka:
'The definition of it which Kafka has given applies to the sons more than to anyone else: "Original sin, the old injustice committed by man, consists in the complaint that he has been the victim of an injustice, the victim of original sin." But who is accused of this inherited sin - the sin of having produced an heir - if not the father by the son? Accordingly the son would be the sinner. But one must not conclude from Kafka's definition that the accusation is sinful because it is false. Nowhere does Kafka say that it is made wrongfully. A never-ending process is at work here, and no cause can appear in a worse light than the one for which the father enlists the aid of these officials and court offices . . . '
This is not opacity for the sake of being opaque; he is trying to get at something incredibly complex, something that (unlike most literary criticism) actually helps you appreciate Kafka and understand him a little better. Benjamin doesn't peel away layers of an onion to arrive at a single shining insight; he presents a simple idea, expands on it a little, and lets you put on the layers of complexity yourself. Read these essays carefully, and it will be obvious why entire schools of thought have sprung up around single paragraphs, why people have devoted their lives to figuring out the ramifications of a single sentence . . .
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By MK on June 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
I have nothing to add to the reviews below except to note for scholarly interest that the essay 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' included in this collection is not Benjamin's final version. (Neither is this title a good translation of the German: 'Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit'. Zohn's translation in the selected writings is better: 'The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility'.) The text in this collection is the 1935 manuscript, as originally published in 1936; the text collected in the Selected Writings, Vol. 4 is the final 1939 version that, as far as I can tell, was not published in Benjamin's lifetime. The difference between the two texts is slight, consisting mainly of some additional sentences here and there and some changed words. At least one of these revisions is, I hypothesize, the result of Adorno's criticisms of his letter to Benjamin of 18 Mar 1936.

Otherwise, for most purposes, this is the best collection of Benjamin's essays available for an introduction to his thought. This volume collects some of the best of his essays that are otherwise spread throughout the selected writings published by the Harvard U.P.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By benjamin on May 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book primarily for the purpose of reading Benjamin's critically acclaimed essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", as well as for his darkly poetic - and even apocalyptic - "Theses on the Philosophy of History". These essays are among Benjamin's most highly esteemed and are the last two selections in the book; regardless of whether you start with them or with the first essay, "Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting", you are likely to be drawn into Benjamin's literary world quite quickly.

In many ways, Benjamin's writing style is quite unassuming; reading even his most profound insights is like reading a letter from an old friend. His writing comes in layers; one must make time to savor his presence. This book covers a range of subjects, from critical literary essays (the aforementioned "Unpacking My Library", as well as essays on Kafka, Baudelaire and Proust), to more hermeneutical reflections ("The Task of the Translator"), to straight up philosophy/theory ("The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and "Theses on the Philosophy of History").

The 51 page introduction by Hannah Arendt is absolutely fantastic. It does not simply provide an overview of Benjamin's life, but sets that life within the culture of early 20th century Germany, focusing especially on the time between the two World Wars. She notes the influences of Zionism and Communism (and Marxism) on Benjamin's thought, as well as the broader cultural influence of a quasi-secularized Judaism in a culture where non-baptized Jews were still kept out of university teaching posts. Her introduction, like Benjamin's own writing, contains deep touches of the intimately personal (she selected the various essays that make up this volume).
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