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Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings Paperback – March 12, 1986

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An extraordinary collection of writings of a major modern thinker and cultural critic, this is a companion volume to Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt. Here Benjamin evolves a theory of language as the medium of all creation, discusses theater and surrealism, recounts Berlin in the '20s, recalls conversations with Brecht, provides travelogues of various cities, including Moscow under Stalin. PW called this "haunting, brilliant, modern."
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"There has been no more original, no more serious critic and reader in our time."
--George Steiner

"Benjamin is a legitimate ancestor of much that for the moment is most alive in criticism."
--The Nation

"This book is just that: reflections of a highly polished mind that uncannily approximate the century's fragments of shattered traditions." - Time
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; First Edition edition (March 12, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080520802X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805208023
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on December 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Reflections presents for the reader the great range that Benjamin had as a writer, critic and occidentalist. This collection further demonstrates Benjamin's acute awareness of the literature of his time, as evidenced by his essay on 'Surrealism', which is as fine a reflection on its themes as the manifestos of Andre Breton. Furthermore, his writings and conversations with Bertolt Brecht show Benjamin to be very close to the thinking of the author himself. Also included is his celebrated essay on Karl Kraus,"the Jewish Swift of Vienna". But what I like most about this collection are the amorphisms and autobiographical sketches of 'Marseilles' and 'One-way Street'. In his images of Marseilles Benjamin creates an "exegesis of the city" that is as fine as any poet could offer; spellbinding, acute, and beautiful. As well, his wit and insight into social phenomena is detailed in 'One-Way Street', and also in the piece on Moscow, which lets the western reader experience a rare witnessing of the Russian city in the years after the Revolution in a way that recalls Dziga Vertov. Finally, the inclusion of several pieces of Benjamin's philosophical-theological speculations show that he was a man of great breath and wisedom, and further showcase the wide range of his highly polished mind.
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This collection of Benjamin essays was selected and introduced by Peter Demetz based on an order prepared by Hannah Arendt. It is a companion piece to Illuminations, a siimilar volume prepared and introduced by Arendt in the late sixties. Unlike Illuminations, which focuses on the literary essays Benjamin wrote, Reflections is intended to present a wide variety of subject and style.

In his introduction, Demetz urges the reader to listen to Benjamin in a musical rather than a literary way. Indeed, this book works very well if you approach it as an impressionistic meander through the style and range of thought present in the essays. I would be hard-pressed to describe how to rationally link the autobiographic travel writing of "A Berlin Chronicle" with the aphorisms of "One Way Street" or the Marxist thought in the essays on Brecht. All the same, they feel linked as a reading experience. That linkage may be more on the sound than the subject-- the sound of a very smart man thinking very hard and with great elegance.

Benjamin is never a dry writer. Some other reviewers have remarked on his humor, which definitely exists. It is also worth highlighting his keen eye for detail, his openness to self-examination, his practical advice about writing, and his distinctive turn of phrase which somehow survives through the translation process.

It would be difficult to find a book that I would recommend more highly.
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Format: Paperback
In Reflections, editor Peter Demetz has taken eighteen essays by Walter Benjamin written over roughly a decade and has grouped them into four categories. Each category captures an essence of Benjamin's life that he found over-riding at that time. Benjamin's life was a whirlpool of essences that was startlingly far-reaching: the lessening of human values in post-war Europe, the ineffable quality of a work's "aura," the immediacy of memory as a means and mode of consciousness, the interlocking of barbarism and civilization in an eternal spatial and temporal bear hug, the role of Jewish Messianism, the paradoxical discrepancy between the size of a small object and its capacity to encompass the purity of a much larger essence, the greater importance of visual/tactile phenomena over their Platonic abstractions, the observant seemingly idle flâneur who strolls effortlessly amidst crowded Parisian streets, and his obsession with slowing down the pacing of a pulsating urban scene so as to capture its inner essence in the stasis of a pseudo-photograph.

These essays reveal a Benjamin who liked to travel all over Europe. In Section One, he strolls through Berlin in A Berlin Chronicle and assorted areas of interest throughout Germany in One-Way Street. Benjamin's sharp eye for detail reveals how past experiences manifest themselves in memories that are less temporal in nature but more associational in sweep. For him, the act of recalling past details is akin to Wordsworth's images recalled in tranquility though editor Demetz sees a Proustian unraveling of a onion memory at work too. His memory images are charged with a palpable sense of "thing-ness" that over-ride their concomitant abstraction.
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Lincoln said it first: if this is the kind of thing you like, this is the thing you will like. I'm a writer who admires the great critical essayists/philosspher theorists. Benjamin is universally acknowledged to be among the very best.
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"Walter Benjamin is now recognized as one of the most accute analysts of literary and sociological phenomena of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A companion volume to Illuminations, the earlier collection of Benjamin's writings, Reflections presents a new sampling of his wide-ranging work. In addition to literary criticism, it contains autobiograohical narration and travel pieces, aphorisms, and philosophical-theological speculations. Most of Benjamin's writings on Brecht and his celebrated essay on Karl Kraus are included."
Enjoy charming anecdotes like "Hashish in Marseilles" and the sardonic incites of "One-Way Street" (Germans, Drink German Beer!) as you peruse the timeless thoughts of a persecuted man.
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