This collection features original essays that examine Walter Benjamin’s and Theodor Adorno’s essays and correspondence on literature. Taken together, the essays present the view that these two monumental figures of 20th-century philosophy were not simply philosophers who wrote about literature, but that they developed their philosophies in and through their encounters with literature.
Benjamin, Adorno, and the Experience of Literature is divided into three thematic sections. The first section contains essays that directly demonstrate the ways in which literature enriched the thinking of Benjamin and Adorno. It explores themes that are recognized to be central to their thinking—mimesis, the critique of historical progress, and the loss and recovery of experience—through their readings of literary authors such as Baudelaire, Beckett, and Proust. The second section continues the trajectory of the first by bringing together four essays on Benjamin’s and Adorno’s reading of Kafka, whose work helped them develop a distinctive critique of and response to capitalism. The third and final section focuses more intently on the question of what it means to gain authentically critical insight into a literary work. The essays examine Benjamin’s response to specific figures, including Georg Büchner, Robert Walser, and Julien Green, whose work he sees as neglected, undigested, or misunderstood.
This book offers a unique examination of two pivotal 20th-century philosophers through the lens of their shared experiences with literature. It will appeal to a wide range of scholars across philosophy, literature, and German studies.
Corey McCall and Nathan Ross
Part I. Benjamin and Adorno: Literary Themes and Philosophical Debates
1. Against the Reification of History: Benjamin and Adorno on Baudelaire
2. Theatrum Philosophicum: Thinking Literature and Politics with Walter Benjamin
3. Adorno and Beckett: Aesthetic Mimēsis and The Language of ‘The New’
4. Abysmal Humanity: Anthropological Materialism in Georg Büchner and Walter Benjamin
Part II. Kafka: ‘Fairy Tales for Dialecticians’
5. Breaking the Mythic Organization of Life: On Literary Form and Political Tendency in Benjamin’s Reading of Kafka
6. The Virtue or Power of the Useless: Benjamin and Adorno on Kafka
7. Discovering the Truth of Sancho Panza: The Meaning of Comedy in Adorno’s and Benjamin’s Differing Readings of Don Quixote
Part III. Proust: Recovering Experience
8. The Proustian Roots of Adorno’s Idea of Social Criticism
9. Seeing-In, Seeing-Through: Adorno and the Platonism of Proust
Part IV: From Hölderlin to Walser: Poetic Afterlives
10. Hölderlin’s Aesthetic Critique of Modernity
Michael J. Thompson
11. Benjamin on Hölderlin’s Poetic Cosmos
12. Wo bist Du Nachdenkliches! Poetic Determinability in Hölderlin and Walser
13. Robert Walser as an Undigested Literary Phenomenon
Jeffrey A. Bernstein