The critical theories of Walter Benjamin

Las teorías críticas de Walter Benjamin

It happens with the authors newly incorporated into the canon that are published each year on them hundreds of articles of essay and research, reviews, monographs, collective books, etc, Walter Benjamin is not only an exception to the rule, but that it embodies perfectly this condition of “new rich” of the philosophical culture of contemporary.

Eduardo Maura suggests four guidelines elementary in the life and work of Walter Benjamin, of which none comes from the original sources of his legacy (Adorno, Scholem, Tiedemann and Schweppenhäuser): 1) We are faced with “an author, an eccentric, unclassifiable and chiaroscuro”. His work draws from diverse sources: philosophy (Kant, Marx, and Klages, Schmitt, Luckács, Adorno), religion (jewish mysticism), literature, art, architecture (surrealism, German expressionism, modernism, architectural, etc). 2) Benjamin is the first theorist that addresses “the emancipatory potential of the work of art in the context of the new culture of the masses”. Special attention was paid to the emergence of new techniques, such as the cinema and the radio, which allowed for major transformations in the production and distribution of cultural of his time. 3) The philosophy of Walter Benjamin is “esoteric and swing”, it’s more like when you walk aimlessly to the system. Her work is a reflection of philosophical models of the “man in the crowd” from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and the flâneur (stroller, street)1 of the Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire. 4) Your thinking is baffling due to the force of his own biographic experience, criss-crossed by bad luck, rejection, secrecy and nazi barbarism. “If there where dwelt his whole life was an exile, his death could only be a suicide”. The death of Benjamin was unique and catastrophic. In the words of Brecht: “the first great loss that Hitler caused the German literature”.

For Maura every one of these guidelines in the life and work of Walter Benjamin contain a time true. However, the combination of the same has contributed to that has a “deformed image of the philosophy of Benjamin”. Maura points out and criticizes deeply two important articles of Hannah Arendt and Jürgen Habermas have been lethal for the understanding of the texts of Benjamin.

The main objective of the book is to shed light on this puzzling picture and dark in the thought of Benjamin. For Eduardo Maura the thought of Benjamin is better understood when it is interpreted in the context of the theoretical work of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer of the thirties of the TWENTIETH century. Maura introduces the critical theory of Benjamin from two global perspectives: 1) their thought belongs to the philosophical current of the time (Simmel, Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, Karl Korsch,…) that he had to live: “the Europe of the early TWENTIETH century, to a side and to another of the Great War, with a particular anchor in the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). 2) The work of Benjamin belongs to the sphere of “critical theory of society”, especially to the alternative to Adorno and himself formed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Although it does not coincide temporally with Horkheimer, he shared with him many parcel of his thought. “The debates between Adorno, Benjamin and Horkheimer confirm a closeness that can only be a symptom of a profound reciprocal influence”. The main concerns of the thought of Walter Benjamin in the thirties of the TWENTIETH century are mainly from “nature of philosophical-social”.

The book is structured in four chapters. In the first, Maura describes the fluctuations of the epistemology of Benjamin “among the critics of the philosophy of consciousness and the critique of empiricism, in the program that encrypts the possibilities of all knowledge in the unveiling of some kind of truth that falls exclusively on the side of the object.” In the second chapter discusses how Benjamin fixed in the allegory the ‘cornerstone’ of the modern experience of the world. Through the process of allegorical, Benjamin situates its object of study, “advanced modernity”, and links it to a theory of experience. In this chapter, Maura puts special attention to Georg Lukács, who had a notable influence on the young Benjamin. The third chapter focuses, among other texts, in the Book of the Passages and in the first essay on Baudelaire. Maura aims to shed light on the relationships that both texts have with the work of Adorno. It also offers some models of reading of the Book of the Passages from the perspective of “the theory of the commodity.” In chapter four, which closes the book, Maura exposes some conclusions on the basis of the most basic: “the materialism of Walter Benjamin can inspire research very fruitful in the present.” To do this, you need to meet two conditions: 1) “a reactivation of the critical studies that reconsider the stereotypes inherited from the ‘invention of tradition benjaminian’, namely, the condition is immeasurable and the aporetic of your thinking”. 2) “a greater attention to the possibilities offered by the method of Benjamin”. This care should be “to confront him, to discriminate and to problematize their writing, challenging those aspects which are not fruitful and, in addition, to complete the integration of Benjamin more plural”.

In summary, the book of Eduardo Maura is intended to be useful in two ways: first, by offering a new framework of thought of Benjamin; in the second place, the face of the traditional image that we have of Benjamin. It is studying his work, making it “unrecognizable”:

Understand to Benjamin resembles too often to do your life’s best work, the experience of recognize the ideas and phrases characteristic of your reception standardized and, ultimately, to find the formula Benjamin. Sometimes this normalcy has distorted your thinking in a way that is considered to be little fruitful for future critical research.

Eduardo Maura is the conviction that “a picture is kind of Benjamin can only stifle the unsettling objectivity of their thought.”

Review about the author

Las teorías críticas de Walter Benjamin

Eduardo Maura (@edumaura) is a professor of philosophy at the University Complutense of Madrid and member of the Society of Studies of Critical Theory (SETC). His work is developed in the fields of critical social theory, social philosophy, aesthetics and political philosophy modern and contemporary. Editor of Critique of violence Walter Benjamin (Madrid, 2010), has published several articles on critical theory and participated in collective volumes. Currently takes care of the extensions, criticisms of the concept of cultural industry.


  1. The word flâneur comes from the French, and it means ‘wanderer’, ‘the street’. The word flânerie (‘loitering bill’, ‘vagrancy’) refers to the activity of the flâneur: a wander through the streets, wander the streets aimlessly, without a goal, open to all the happenings and the impressions along the way. [↩]

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