Walter Benjamin

The New Yorker, October 19, 1968.


Essay on Walter Benjamin, a German-Jewish writer, who died in 1940 & has achieved posthumous fame. Benjamin’s position was that of a free-lance writer but his publications were infrequent & he felt that his father should give him a monthly income. His outlook was that of an entire generation of German-Jewish intellectuals The fathers were successful businessmen who did not think highly of their own achievements & dreamed their sons were destined for higher things. His family’s self confidence was inspired by their achievements in the non-Jewish world. Of concern since the 1870’s & 80’s was “the Jewish question” which existed in that form only in German-speaking Central Europe in that period. It was never the concern of anyone except the Jewish intelligentsia. Their own Jewishness played hardly any role in their spiritual lives & yet determined their social lives. An unbearable aspect of Jewish society was that they wished to remain Jews but did not want to acknowledge their Jewishness. Their relationship to Germany was one of unrequited love. Within the middle class there was a lying denial of the very existence of widespread anti-Semitism. For those of Benjamin’s generation the available forms of rebellion were Zionism & Communism. But they found they could not “return” to the Jewish fold as the Zionists proposed because all traditions & cultures and all “belonging” as well, had become questionable in their eyes.

The New Yorker