Benjamin, Walter

Benjamin, Walter

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 Baudelaire and Franz Kafka 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 Scholem. 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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Benjamin, Walter (1935/2006) 'Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century', in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, 1935-1938, Volume 3, ed.
BENJAMIN, Walter. A hora das criancas: narrativas radiofonicas de Walter Benjamin.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version." The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Task of the Critic." Translated by Rodney Livingstone.