Illuminations: Essays and Reflections
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Illuminations: Essays and Reflections

4.34 of 5 stars 4.34  ·  rating details  ·  4,263 ratings  ·  131 reviews
Studies on contemporary art and culture by one of the most original, critical and analytical minds of this century. Illuminations includes Benjamin's views on Kafka, with whom he felt the closest personal affinity, his studies on Baudelaire and Proust (both of whom he translated), his essays on Leskov and on Brecht's Epic Theater.

Also included are his penetrating study on...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 13th 1969 by Schocken (first published 1950)
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Illuminations by Walter BenjaminThe Western Canon by Harold BloomAspects of the Novel by E.M. ForsterAgainst Interpretation and Other Essays by Susan SontagThe Art of Fiction by David Lodge
Works of Literary Criticism
1st out of 81 books — 21 voters
The Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaThe Trial by Franz KafkaAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria RemarqueFaust by Johann Wolfgang von GoethePerfume by Patrick Süskind
Best German/Austrian Literature
120th out of 473 books — 421 voters

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The introductory essay by Hannah Arendt—who also did duty as editor of this wonderful collection—serves up her usual insight (and reliably delivered via her rather dense language) in categorizing Benjamin as a poetic mind who approached cultural and literary criticism in a unique manner, one that left a lasting influence upon those who followed in his wake. Benjamin's opening sally, a short piece on the eccentric inner workings of the book collector, resonated in a warmly satisfying way, describ...more
Ian [Paganus de] Graye
I still talk about "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" 30 years after I first read it.
I don't remember it as a purely political tract, even though that is how it is all dressed up.
I think he displayed some degree of sentimentality and attachment to the original work of art. Its uniqueness, its cult value, its authenticity, its ability to "illuminate".
Ironically, the way that we relate to mechanically reproduced books now replicates this sentimentality, even thou...more
Benjamin's writings on Proust, Kafka, Baudelaire and Leskov are really brilliant and engrossing. I was especially taken with his history of the storyteller in relation to Leskov's stories, how the verbal communication that was the initial component of storytelling dissipated after the fragmenting of human experience that came along with the realities of the industrial revolution and the barbarism of World War I, as if history itself killed mankind's ability to actually feel and process experienc...more
Reading Benjamin makes me realize how 98% of the conversations I have are a waste of time. His depth reaches far and his reading spreads vast.
Scary to read this now - relevant and haunting. Beautiful, dark prose. Brilliant and shadowy and mind-blowingly astute. Modern always in its observations and personal experience. His is the experience of all of us in a floating, unstable world. History and the present moment are the same - there is no time in Benjamin - and he tries desperately to teach us something. He listens to the world, the almost inaudible, and writes it faithfully and sadly.
This book is a valuable collection of essays and reflections by the German literary and cultural critic Walter Benjamin. The collection is enhanced by the excellent introduction provided by Hannah Arendt. Of the ten essays in the collection by far the most famous is The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In this essay Benjamin discusses the impact of mechanical reproduction through photography and film on the nature of works of art, even so far as to shape the design of new works...more
These essays are chiefly memorable for:

1) The one about the dwarf that lives under the chessboard.
2) The one about how he has too many books but they are all his children.
3) The one where Kafka has a headache, but everyone keeps asking him for favors.
4) The one where Proust eats a cookie.
5) The one in which they lose the aura.
6) The one where the gang all wear translations as baggy coats.
7) The one where Baudelaire gets lost in a crowd.
8) The one with the Hannah Arendt encomium to Walter Benjami...more
The essays collected here are all good to excellent. However, Harry Zohn's translations are appalling! The piece on translation is garbled into nonsense, basically, and the less said about the rendering into English of the artwork essay the better. Best to stick to the edition put out by Harvard University Press fairly recently.
Claire Cray
Five years ago I discovered Walter Benjamin. I had never been much for theory before, and my initial encounter with his writing was sort of like one of those old 3D puzzle pictures: first, a dense field of mesmerizing psychedelic prose, and then POW! MEANING!

I don't gush over philosophy often, I swear (okay, I don't swear swear, but like, 89% swear) -- but this is love. His haunting theories and beautiful metaphors have stayed on my mind ever since that sunny afternoon in Portland, Oregon when I...more
Walter Benjamin just had that vision to see what was underneth his subject matter. Wonderful writer who can look at each layer of whatever subject matter he's writing about. Cultural critic before there were cultural critics. Now this is a man you would like to sit down and have a glass of wine with him. Alas not here with us anymore, so the second best thing is to have a glass of wine and read this book.
Aug 20, 2007 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Marxists; rebels; theological readers; cultural critics
I could have gone nowhere without Walter Benjamin.
Lukas Legend
While I anticipated "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (located at the back of my version) to be my favourite essay, I worked through "Illuminations" and was more blown away by his essays on Leskov and Kafka. Benjamin's integration of theological language breathes new life into the essayistic form, or perhaps warrants their categorization as "reflections." As a result, Arendt's introduction by comparison can be described as nothing except "dead."

Some great quotations that he...more
El Zuco
I never realized the heights to which literary criticism could soar before I read Benjamin, and his work is worthy of Bolaño's assertion that literary criticism is another valid branch on the literary tree along with the novel, poetry, etc., etc. Comparing Benjamin with the mostly North American criticism I've read, the latter seems to shrink to the status of mere informative journalism, a literary mode Benjamin critiqued for its limits in time and space (the news almost always only addresses th...more

August 2006

Of Benjamin, Dwarfs and Angels

The depth of Benjamin's pessimism has, I think, been underestimated.

"The story is told of an automation constructed in such a way that it could play a winning game of chess, answering each move of an opponent with a countermove. A puppet in Turkish attire and with a hookah in its mouth sat before a chessboard placed on a large table. A system of mirrors created the illusion that this table was transparent from all sides. Actually, a little hunchba...more
I'm not too much a fan of literary criticism, so a good chunk of these essays were uninteresting to me. I really liked the lengthy introduction by Hannah Arendt, and a couple of the literary pieces contained entertaining snippets, but it's Benjamin's philosophical writings that stand out. Both The Work of Art... and On the Concept of History, though incredibly dense, present thoughts that have complicated the way that I think of the world. These two pieces are, without a doubt, some of the best...more
Leonard Houx
me: i started trying to do a heidegger thing. just finished the 'basic writings' book. but am not feeling totally enthused.
William: ugh
why heidegger?
me: i dunno. because he is so central? influential?
it is just a little boring. a little, like: what's the point?
William: seriously
i have to finish up my heidegger-hoelderlin chapter and i'm so bored with heidegger
so stodgy and airless
me: totally
William: in contrast, if you read walter benjamin, from walter you can get interested in a myriad of diffe...more
I've read a significant chuck of this before, in classes and on my own, and quite a few of these essays are total classics. Benjamin's intelligence is quite unusual, and he can work around ideas in ways that normal folks (and for that matter, normal intellectuals) would just approach head on. Instead of writing about Proust's novels or Baudelaire's poems, he dances with them. It's a style I've only seen in Susan Sontag, and it's a style that she largely inherited from him.
I love Walter Benjamin, entering this strange world of his, watching his thinking in ripples about Kafka, Baudelaire, Proust, Leskov and fascism, art, life, history. Not that I understand everything of course, but I find inspiration here. He is what a friend calls a constellation of insights (something of a quote of Benjamin himself in fact, who collects quotations as I do).
Huma Rashid
This book is FANTASTIC. Blew my mind the first time I read it.
In 1940 Walter Benjamin committed suicide at the Franco-Spanish border fearing that he would be unable to escape the grasp of Hitler's regime. He left behind perhaps one of the finest collections of literary theory of his era, complete with lucidly brilliant essays on Kafka, Proust, Baudelaire, and general Marxist theory.

In this wholly excellent collection of essays, a remarkable introduction to Benjamin's life and work is provided by the late philosopher Hannah Arendt, who overviews his politi...more
What the hell was Hannah Arendt smoking in selecting these essays to include in what was to be the definitive Benjamin Reader. Most of these are essays about writers that are totally irrelevant today (with the only notable exception being Kafka). The only essays that are worth reading and rereading in my opinion are the Theses on History and Art in the Mechanical Age of Reproduction (but there are various titles depending on which translation you use).

Only other essay by Benjamin worth reading...more
the two most widely read pieces from this collection are probably "the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction" and "theses on the philosophy of history," both of which are, in my opinion, absolutely necessary works to scrutinize for any student of cultural studies, be it in the guise of film, literature, history, and whathaveyou.

benjamins prose is lean; as with many theorists, there are parts that will leave you scratching your head and reading over and over again to make sense of hi...more
Illuminations, originally published in 1955, is a collection of Walter Benjamin’s essays and other writings compiled by Hannah Arendt. Arendt also introduces the collection. She presents Benjamin as hard to classify: everything he wrote “always turned out to be sui generis” (3). Benjamin “thought of himself as a literary critic” (4), but he was also a “flaneur” (12); a collector of fragments, quotations, and books (8). Arendt depicts Benjamin as stuck in the twentieth century with nineteenth cen...more
The essay, we say, reformed high school students all, is like a building.

First, we lay its foundations. Then, we join together its framework. When all is finally seamless, we paint it and furnish it.

As readers, then, we enter through a doorway, carefully designed to allow such entry, stand on a floor that is sufficiently strong to hold us up, and find ourselves enclosed by walls that keep the elements and other creatures out.

For Benjamin, these rules do not apply. His essays are not built. The...more
This book was heading towards five stars just as quickly as I could read it until I got to the last 2 essays, when Benjamin decides to get really political and Marxist and tries to convince the reader that the cut and paste nature of film reflects the industrialized blah blah blah blah. The first part, actually almost all this book is 5-star material, GREAT, simple, modest essays and thoughts on various aspects of art, books, etc. And I can't wait to read Reflections, but I don't know if I can s...more
Benjamin's essays do not necessarily work within a field of philosophy that builds upon previous theories and drives towards a "greater point" but rather, they work more as conversations. He picks and pulls from various sources that may not seem to relate immediately but still work and assist in the various musings that he explores throughout his essays. He is not so much trying to convince you of anything but rather, in examining the works of Kafka, Baudelaire or epic theater, attempts to pull...more
Sep 29, 2007 Baiocco rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Those Planning The Revolution
Shelves: essays
Walter Benjamin, writing his greatest work while constantly evading Nazi Persecution for being a Jew, was one of the most influential and compassionate cultural critics and intellectual revolutionaries of the Twentieth Century. Illuminations is a series of essays and reflections on some of his literary interests (Kafka, Proust, Baudelaire) as well as some of his most powerful writing about the culture at large (Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction). This essay gave me goosebumps when I rea...more
I'm so eager to grow very old with this book. I read it over a year and more, so can't (sorry) remember it well enough to review. The Proust stuff is freshest in my memory, and most relevant ("regarding proust, i just had to put him down, because albertine died and that's too much for me....." - b) so please just enjoy the romantic excerpts below:

On memory:

"The important thing for the remembering author is not what he experienced, but the weaving of his memory, the Penelope work of recollection....more
Hannah Arendt put these together, the classic collection of his work that American readers are more likely to be familiar with. I recommend to anyone. He had such energy; there is an exuberant joy in his writing about arts, culture, and literature and it is a pleasure to feel oneself in his company for a while. Among his better known writing in this collection are the essay on Kafka (which is also a general, loping meditiation on culture and literature) and the essay on the writer Nicolai Leskov...more
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  • Aesthetics and Politics
  • Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
  • The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought)
  • Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
  • Image, Music, Text
  • The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays
  • History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics
  • Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays
  • Against Interpretation and Other Essays
  • Specters of Marx
  • The Practice of Everyday Life
  • Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition)
  • The Society of the Spectacle
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory and was also greatly inspired by the Marxism of Bertolt Brecht and Jewish mysticism as presented by Gershom Scholem.

As a sociological and cultural critic, Benjamin combined ideas drawn from historical materiali...more
More about Walter Benjamin...
The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media The Arcades Project Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings Berlin Childhood around 1900 One Way Street And Other Writings (The Verso Classics Series)

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“Writers are really people who write books not because they are poor, but because they are dissatisfied with the books which they could buy but do not like.” 81 likes
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