Benjamin, Walter

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Benjamin, Walter,

1892–1940, German essayist and critic. He is known for his synthesis of eccentric Marxist theory and Jewish messianism. In particular, his essays on Charles BaudelaireBaudelaire, Charles
, 1821–67, French poet and critic. His poetry, classical in form, introduced symbolism (see symbolists) by establishing symbolic correspondences among sensory images (e.g., colors, sounds, scents).
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 and Franz KafkaKafka, Franz
, 1883–1924, German-language novelist, b. Prague. Along with Joyce, Kafka is perhaps the most influential of 20th-century writers. From a middle-class Jewish family from Bohemia, he spent most of his life in Prague.
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 as well as his speculation on symbolism, allegory, and the function of art in a mechanical age have profoundly affected contemporary criticism. Benjamin was influenced by his close friendship with the historian of Jewish mysticism Gershom Gerhard ScholemScholem, Gershom Gerhard
, 1897–1982, Jewish scholar, b. Berlin. He studied at the universities of Berlin, Jena, Bern, and Munich. Scholem received (1922) his doctorate for a dissertation on the earliest extant kabbalistic work, Sefer ha-Bahir (c.1230).
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. In 1933, he moved to France because of the rise of the Nazis. When the Nazis invaded France, he fled to Spain, was denied entry, and committed suicide.


See collections of his essays ed. by H. Arendt (1968, 1978); his Moscow Diary (1986); The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, 1910–1940 (1966, tr. 1994), ed. by Manfred R. and Evelyn M. Jacobson; G. Scholem, Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship (tr. 1981); biography by H. Eiland and M. W. Jennings (2014); studies by R. Wolin (1982), S. Handelman (1991), and B. Witte (1991).

Benjamin, Walter


Born July 15, 1892, in Berlin; died Sept. 27, 1940. German philosopher, sociologist, and literary critic.

Benjamin lived in Berlin until 1933, when he emigrated to Paris. During an attempt to escape from occupied France he was detained at the Spanish border, where he committed suicide. Characteristic of Benjamin’s thought was the rejection of abstract schematization and a return to the historical concreteness of the individual and the particular; both qualities are evident in his philosophical and historical work Origins of German Tragedy (1928), his numerous essays (for example, “Paris, Capital of the 19th Century”), and his articles. He was one of the first to give a sociological analysis of the changes in social functions and in the meaning of a work of art related to its mass reproduction by technical means and the loss of its “aura”—the aureole of uniqueness and inimitability. Benjamin was a major influence on T. Adorno and his school.


Schriften, vols. 1–2. Frankfurt am Main, 1955.
Ausgewaáhlte Schriften, vols. 1–2. Frankfurt am Main, 1961–66.


Tiedemann, R. Studien zur Philosophie W. Benjamins. Frankfurt am Main, 1965. (Includes bibliography.)
Uber W. Benjamin. Frankfurt am Main, 1968.


References in periodicals archive ?
Benjamin, Walter (1973) "Theses on the philosophy of history".
Benjamin, Walter (1977) The origin of German tragic drama.
Typed MS by Benjamin, Walter Benjamins Archive, 201.