This book places Benjamin’s writing on revolution in the context of his conception of historical knowledge. The fundamental problem that faces any analysis of Benjamin’s approach to revolution is that he deploys notions that belong to the domain of individual experience. His theory of modernity with its emphasis on the disintegration of collective experience further aggravates the problem. Benjamin himself understood the problem of revolution to be primarily that of the conceptualization of collective experience (its possibility and sites) under the conditions of modern bourgeois society. The novelty of his approach to revolution lies in the fact that he directly connects it with historical experience. Benjamin’s conception of revolution thus constitutes an integral part of his distinctive theory of historical knowledge, which is also essentially a theory of experience. Through a detailed study of Benjamin’s writings on the topics of the child and the dream, and an analysis of his ideas of history, the fulfilled wish, similitude and communist society, this book shows how the conceptual analysis of his corpus can get to the heart of Benjamin’s conception of revolutionary experience and distil its difficulties and mechanisms.
"This is an excellent and original book on Benjamin’s idea of revolution. Ross strives to develop a reading that is philosophically informed and as it were willing to follow Benjamin by clarifying his pronouncements rigorously rather than taking them to be merely suggestive." – Eli Friedlander, Tel-Aviv University
"Alison Ross’ new book is another major contribution to Benjamin scholarship. It shows convincingly that Benjamin’s conceptions of revolution and historical knowledge rely upon an idiosyncratic, theologically-based theory of experience that is not fully consistent in some of its key conceptual features. In turn, as the book illuminates brilliantly, this has major ramifications for contemporary projects in critical social theory." – Jean-Philippe Deranty, Macquarie University
"Alison Ross provides the first comprehensive account of the concept of revolution in Walter Benjamin’s work. A must-read not only for Benjamin scholars, but for everyone interested in radical collective agency today." – Daniel Loick, Goethe-University Frankfurt
"Alison Ross' book brilliantly inquires into Benjamin's conception of politics and experience and their entanglement. As Ross points out, Benjamin’s understanding of revolutionary experience is based in individual experience, and it raises the problem of how the new concrete collective experience and practice he envisages can emerge." – Massimiliano Tomba, University of California, Santa Cruz
Introduction: Revolutionary Experience
1. The Child
2. The Dream Metaphor
3. Meaning and "Complete Security of Existence"
4. Benjamin’s Theory of Historical Knowledge
5. Revolution and Society
Conclusion: The Revolutionary Standstill