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Early Writings (1910-1917)

Early Writings (1910-1917)

By Walter Benjamin
Edited and translated by Howard Eiland

“In Early Writings, Howard Eiland covers the earliest period of Benjamin’s extant oeuvre that helped form the critical project that dominated his literary and philosophical career. This volume’s range provides a comprehensive account of Benjamin’s development from an ardent advocate of youth and educational reform to a philosophically committed critic of literature.”—David Ferris, University of Colorado at Boulder

“In the introduction, editor and translator Eiland does a wonderful job of explaining how the essays relate to events in Benjamin’s early adult life and to the evolution of his theories…These pieces offer the reader valuable insight into Benjamin’s philosophical thought.”—Scott Duimstra, Library Journal

“This is a valuable addition to the available work in English of one of the seminal Jewish critical thinkers of the 20th century, author of the massive Arcades Project. The mostly lambent translations by editor Eiland and others…help place Benjamin’s later work within the context of his early preoccupations.”—Publishers Weekly

Walter Benjamin became a published writer at the age of seventeen. Yet the first stirrings of this most original of critical minds—penned during the years in which he transformed himself from the comfortable son of a haute-bourgeois German Jewish family into the nomadic, uncompromising philosopher-critic we have since come to appreciate—have until now remained largely unavailable in English. Early Writings, 1910-1917 rectifies this situation, documenting the formative intellectual experiences of one of the twentieth century's most resolutely independent thinkers.

Here we see the young Benjamin in his various roles as moralist, cultural critic, school reformer, and poet-philosopher. The diversity of interest and profundity of thought characteristic of his better-known work from the 1920s and 30s are already in evidence, as we witness the emergence of critical projects that would occupy Benjamin throughout his intellectual career: the role of the present in historical remembrance, the relationship of the intellectual to political action, the idea of truth in works of art, and the investigation of language as the veiled medium of experience.

Even at this early stage, a recognizably Benjaminian way of thinking comes into view—a daring, boundary-crossing enterprise that does away with classical antitheses in favor of the relentlessly-seeking critical consciousness that produced the groundbreaking works of his later years. With the publication of these early writings, our portrait of one of the most significant intellects of the twentieth century edges closer to completion.

Hardcover
320 pages
Belknap Press, 2011
5.3 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
ISBN 9780674049932
Philosophy, Anthology

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