Walter Benjamin

(1892-1940 / Berlin)

Biography of Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin poet

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin (15 July 1892 – 26 September 1940) was a German literary critic, philosopher, social critic, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist. Combining elements of German idealism or Romanticism, Historical Materialism and Jewish mysticism, Benjamin made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory and Western Marxism, and is associated with the Frankfurt School. Among his major works as a literary critic are essays on Goethe's novel Elective Affinities; the work of Franz Kafka and Karl Kraus; translation theory; the stories of Nikolai Leskov; the work of Marcel Proust and perhaps most significantly, the poetry of Charles Baudelaire. He also made major translations into German of the Tableaux Parisiens section of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal and parts of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu.

His turn to Marxism in the 1930s was partly due to the influence of Bertolt Brecht, whose critical aesthetics developed epic theatre and its Verfremdungseffekt (defamiliarisation, alienation). An earlier influence was friend Gershom Scholem, founder of the academic study of the Kabbalah and of Jewish mysticism.

Influenced by the Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815–87), Benjamin coined the term “auratic perception”, denoting the aesthetic faculty by means of which civilization may recover an appreciation of myth. Benjamin's work is often cited in academic and literary studies, especially the essays "The Task of the Translator" (1923) and "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936).

Benjamin committed suicide in Portbou at the French–Spanish border while attempting to escape from the Nazis.

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