Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Illuminations: Essays and Reflections” as Want to Read:
Illuminations: Essays and Reflections
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Illuminations: Essays and Reflections

4.31  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,532 Ratings  ·  159 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
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 13th 1969 by Schocken (first published 1950)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Illuminations, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Illuminations

Illuminations by Walter BenjaminAspects of the Novel by E.M. ForsterThe Western Canon by Harold BloomWhy Read the Classics? by Italo CalvinoThe Art of Fiction by David Lodge
Works of Literary Criticism
1st out of 240 books — 38 voters
The Metamorphosis by Franz KafkaThe Man Without Qualities by Robert MusilSteppenwolf by Hermann HesseThe Trial by Franz KafkaFaust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Best German/Austrian Literature
132nd out of 605 books — 731 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Mar 16, 2012 Szplug rated it really liked it
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 GalaDali

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 Benjamin 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, eve
May 26, 2014 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
For every second of time was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter.

There are hardly enough superlatives for this amazing collection of essays concerning Baudelaire, Proust, Kafka, messianism and the aesthetic tension between the cultic and the exhibitional. I had read Unpacking My Library a half dozen times previously and it still forces me to catch my breath. The thoughts on Kafka explore the mystical as well as the shock of the modern. The shock of the urban and industrial is a
Jun 15, 2009 Geoff rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 02, 2012 Alex rated it it was amazing
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
May 13, 2008 lisa_emily rated it it was amazing
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.
Josh Friedlander
I'd lie if I said that I understood more than - charitably - fifty percent of these essays. Besides for the mountains of literary references and the oblique angles from which Benjamin approaches his subjects, his languid, flâneur-like writing makes it difficult to follow his train of thought. Still, the beauty of such writing, and the tendency toward hyperbole so characteristic of the Frankfurt School, have no doubt played a great role in Benjamin's reputation as a critic.

These essays, selected
Claire Cray
Dec 02, 2012 Claire Cray rated it it was amazing
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
Leonard Houx
Sep 09, 2012 Leonard Houx rated it really liked it
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
Aug 11, 2007 Arielle rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 26, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing
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 04, 2007 Kian rated it liked it
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.
Jul 17, 2015 Xdyj rated it it was amazing
The writings of an interesting literary critic, a sincere and somewhat unorthodox marxist and a leftist mystic whose life will likely be remembered and redeemed on the Judgement Day. Most essays in it are very interesting, although in a few of them Benjamin's argument can get a bit contrived.
May 12, 2015 Drenda rated it it was amazing
Walter Benjamin thought of himself as a literary critic. I found this interesting, since I would not have known how to label his work. After all, his studies and degree were in philosophy, and his many attempts to find a position were in philosophy departments at German universities. But as both Eliand* and Arendt(1) point out, this was mostly to satisfy his father's demand for productive results from his son's education. What Benjamin really wanted was for his father to support him in a life si ...more
Mar 06, 2015 Hadrian marked it as read-parts-of
Only read his Theses on the Philosophy of History from this collection.

Jesus Christ, that is good writing.
Aug 20, 2007 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Marxists; rebels; theological readers; cultural critics
I could have gone nowhere without Walter Benjamin.
Lukas Legend
Mar 20, 2014 Lukas Legend rated it really liked it
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
El Zuco
Dec 30, 2010 El Zuco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 16, 2009 Clint rated it really liked it
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

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
Sep 21, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
"At any rate, nothing was more characteristic of him in the thirties than the little notebooks with black covers which he always carried with him and in which he tirelessly entered in the form of quotations what daily living and reading netted him in the way of "pearls" and "coral." On occasion he read from them aloud, showed them around like items from a choice and precious collection...And this thinking, fed by the present, works with the "thought fragments" it can wrest from the past and gath ...more
May 15, 2013 xDEAD ENDx rated it really liked it
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
Oct 30, 2015 Tilly rated it it was amazing
No time to write proper reviews while studying, but 100% would recommend. Just bear in mind Benjamin's lifelong familial stipend when you're reading and struck by the bourgeois elements of his work. Still a genius, though.
Thomas Armstrong
Jul 12, 2014 Thomas Armstrong rated it really liked it
I'd never heard of Walter Benjamin until he was brought to my attention when I was reading some essays by William Gaddis, who was interested in Benjamin's essay on the impact of mechanical reproduction of art work, a theme which penetrated much of Gaddis' own writing (e.g. his long-proposed book on the player piano, the forgeries in The Recognitions etc.). I found some of the book tough going, and for awhile I was railing inwardly at his ''obscurantism'' and feeling like he was writing this way ...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.
Jan 23, 2010 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
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).
Dec 09, 2008 Emily rated it really liked it
Benjamin has got it going on, even if he is one of those reactionary, mystic-loving defenders of all that is magic in the world. Despite my love of the Enlightenment style of thinking, I hugely enjoyed this book, particularly the essay on the messianic, redemptive power of good history. Bruce Lincoln strikes again with his impeccable reading list.
Sevé Torres
One should have read Kafka, Proust, and Baudelaire to truly glean all that one can from this concise volume. Benjamin shines truly in the last 100 or so pages, especially in the essays "The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and "Theses on the Philosophy of History". I am suprised to find that when Benjamin soars, he is nearly exiting the atmosphere. He can be obscure, but for the most part is incredibly readable. He looks at the "crowd" as a central motif in the work of Baudelai ...more
Jared Colley
May 14, 2007 Jared Colley rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those interested Literary Criticism, Marxism, & German Critical Theory
This is my favorite literary critic. He is a cultural prophet - a sage, a mystic, and a progressive Marxist. This is his best collection of essays, and it is the best starting point for anyone interested in Benjamin's work. It contains his most famous work, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
  • 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)
  • A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
  • Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature
  • Mythologies
  • The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays
  • The Practice of Everyday Life
  • Writing and Difference
  • Marxism and Literature
  • Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays
  • The Production of Space
  • Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life
  • The Theory of the Novel
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 about Walter Benjamin...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“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.” 112 likes
“How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!” 69 likes
More quotes…