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A leading German critic of his day and a member of the generation scarred by the First World War, Walter Benjamin's writing career was marked by deep philosophical insights and tumultuous emotional crises. His work has mostly been unavailable in English translations, but this collection marks the first of three proposed volumes of his essays. In his early work, we encounter Benjamin as an idealistic university student and come to see him commenting on the aesthetics of such subjects as morality in children's books, the uses of force and violence, and writers such as Goethe and Dostoyevsky.
From Library Journal
In recent years a small number of Benjamin's works have been translated, including a volume of correspondence (The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910-1940, LJ 4/15/94), but the majority of his work has been unavailable in English. Now this press plans to publish a substantial amount of Benjamin's work in four volumes. This first volume, edited by Bullock (German, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) and Jennings (German, Princeton Univ.), covers the years 1913-26, when Benjamin began to emerge as a major critic in Germany. Included in this volume are essays, reviews, and fragments covering a wide variety of subjects from aesthetics to children's books, many of which were not published in Benjamin's lifetime. Major works included are Goethe's Elective Affinities, The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, and The Task of the Translator. A helpful chronology of Benjamin's life aids the reader in understanding how his critical perspective developed. Benjamin is rarely easy reading, but in their depth and scope his ideas are always rewarding. For academic collections.?Ronald Ray Ratliff, Chapman H.S. Lib., Kan. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
While his work is as important as Barthes, Foucault, or Derrida, or any other critic of the 20th Century, Benjamin's work has a mystical quality, a kind of enchantment, that resonates much more than any other critic I have read. It is always human and sensitive, even despite his determinedly impersonal tone. When I think of Benjamin, I think of Emerson's famous line about Hawthorne - that he was a greater man than any of his works betray. The integrity and character of Walter Benjamin shines through his works, and is an inspiration to anyone who takes literature seriously. This first volume of Bejamin's complete works is very attractive and welcome. Some of my favorite essays are present, such as his essays on children's literature, and the nature of language. I eagerly await the other two volumes.
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Walter Benjamin has progressed over the years from an obscure lesser member of the Frankfurt School to a widely read leading member of that obscure school. Aided by such as Hannah Arendt, who introduced him to a wider audience in her writings (and also to me), readers have come to appreciate Benjamin for the beauty of his writing as well as his sharp insight. This volume, along with its companion, is an excellent introduction to the style and thought of this man who, while out of step with his times, possessed the insight to give those times an original critique. Possessed of a lively style and free from the Marxist bagge that weighs down his Frankfurt School colleagues such as Adorno and Horkheimer (I think Benjamin owes much more to Heidegger than Marx), Benjamin will hook any reader who takes the time to spend an hour or two with this book. From here it's an easy step to purchase other Benjamin writings, a step I can almost guarantee.