Access this past course AU $90/$145

Unpacking Walter Benjamin's Library

Lecturer: Heather Contant

Originally Taught: Summer School 2015

11am-1pm | 19-23 Jan

Walter Benjamin’s continued relevance for art in the digital era of the 21st century can be seen in the ongoing quest to translate the entirety of his writings into English. This has made his work accessible to a previously unavailable mass audience. Now, it seems like everyone—from the urban planner to the music critic, tenured professor to first-year undergraduate—can find a quotable statement in Benjamin’s texts and apply it to their own work.

Of course, it is important to remember that Benjamin was a modern man—not the sort of philosopher to romantically isolate himself or his ideas from the impact of the past or from his own contemporary epoch. He saturated his works with direct quotations from literary and philosophical forbearers while also making astute observations about his peers during Europe’s interwar period. This course aims to better understand Benjamin by looking at these influences, which were so essential to the content and construction of his writings.

As an avid book-collector, Benjamin famously unpacked his library of approximately 2,000 books for German radio listeners in 1931. The real treasures of this library were not the canonical heavyweights written by Nietzsche, Hegel and Kant, but little books of art, literature, drama and fairy tales by Baudelaire, Kafka, Proust, Grandville, and Kandinsky. These ‘less serious’ volumes hold the key to unlocking Benjamin’s more complex ideas and texts.

In order to gain a better understanding of this twentieth century figure, we will ‘read’ Benjamin through a historically tinted lens comprised of the books that were literally and figuratively collected in his library. All are welcome! Whether you have translated The Arcades Project or have never heard the name Walter Benjamin, this course will offer you an enlightening perspective on this multi-faceted character and his writings.

On the Concept of History – General introduction to Walter Benjamin and the “alchemical” mixture of Marxism and Jewish Mysticism in his philosophy.

Fragmented Thoughts – A discussion of Benjamin’s early critical pursuits in the academic world, featuring allegory, constellations, catastrophe and language!

The Avant-garde – An examination of Benjamin’s close connections to the German, Soviet, and French Avant-garde and how these movements influenced his work.

Art for Reproduction – An analysis of how Benjamin began to implement his theories as practical exercises during his shortlived radio career.

Urban Experience – Life in the city absolutely fascinated Benjamin. We will conclude by discussing his reflections on the urban microcosm. 




*All links point to WorldCat—so you can check them out from your local library!