The Philosophy of Walter Benjamin

December 14, 2012
InC – Goldsmiths Continental Philosphy Research Group, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Lewisham Way
London New Cross
United Kingdom

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The work of the German-Jewish critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) spans a vast array of themes, ranging from the metaphysics of youth  to the Paris arcades. His writings on Goethe and Scheerbart; Kafka and Baudelaire, as well as his work on the relationship between art and technology continue to fascinate and polarize in equal measure. His singular intersection of Marxian and Jewish thought is amply evidenced in the extensive correspondence with Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Bertold Brecht and Hannah Arendt, amongst others. Undoubtedly it is the sheer breadth of Benjamin's interests that accounts for the enduring concern with his often fragmentary work across academic disciplines. That is to say, Benjamin is no longer a stranger at the Academy. Nevertheless, a central aspect of Benjamin's work is all-too-often overlooked when his aesthetic and literary works are treated in isolation. The manifest content of Benjamin's writing is never merely incidental: rather, it is shot through with a burgeoning philosophical project – from the 'Programme of the Coming Philosophy' (1917) to the 'Theses on the Concept of History' (1940). In this regard it appears that recent anniversary of Benjamin's birth in 1892 warrants a re-appraisal of this legacy by asking the question: how can the various strands of Benjamin's work be engaged to illuminate the unfolding of his philosophical position, and – vice versa – how does Benjamin's philosophy illuminate other
aspects of his thought?

This conference aims, then – on the one hand – to explore Benjamin's thought in relation to the various philosophical traditions that inform his project (Leibniz, Kant, Schlegel, Lukács etc.), and – on the other hand – to ask how these influences continue to operate between the lines even where Benjamin is not explicitly concerned with the philosophical canon? In short: how are we to understand the philosophy of Walter Benjamin?


Day One: Friday, 14 Dec

10:00 - 10:45, Howard Caygill (CRMEP, Kingston) 'Keynote Address'

10:45 - 11:30, Paula Schwebel (Potsdam) 'Benjamin's Monadology: From Idealism to Historical Materialism'

11:30 - 12:15, Blair Ogden (Oxford) 'Walter Benjamin's Philosophical Conception of Happiness'

12:15 - 13:00, Jonathan Gray (Royal Holloway) 'Hamann and Benjamin on the Concept of Experience'

13:00 - 14:00, LUNCH

14:00 - 14:45, Djordje Popovic (Minnesota) 'Theology of Hell: Continuity of Thought in Walter Benjamin'

14:45 - 15:30, John Merrick (CRMEP, Kingston) 'Benjamin's Non-Hegelian Dialectics'

15:30 - 16:15, Jan Urbich (Jena/Weimar) 'Under Cover: Hegel's Logic in Walter Benjamin's Epistemo-Critical Preface'

16:15 - 16:45, COFFEE BREAK

16:45 - 17:30, Elise Derroitte (KU Leuven) 'The Critic is the New 'Philosopher of the Spirit'. Comparing Benjamin and Fichte's Conceptions of Critique'

17:30 - 18:15, Sami Khatib (FU Berlin/Jan Van Eyck) 'Teleology Without End - Walter Benjamin's Methodological Nihilism'

18:15 - 19:00, Scott Ritner (New School) 'The God of Negation - Divine Intervention in the Thought of Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille and Simone Weil'

Day Two: Saturday, 15 Dec

10:00 - 10:45, Lea Barbisan (Paris, Sorbonne) 'Körper - Leib - Gestalt: Benjamin's Phenomenology of the Body'

10:45 - 11:30, Lucie Mercier (CRMEP, Kingston) 'Walter Benjamin on Translation: a Strategic Hermeneutics of History?'

11:30 - 12:15, Hanping Chiu (Tamkang, Taipei) 'Translation as Expression: Reinventing Benjamin's Language Philosophy'

12:15 - 13:00, Florian Telsnig (Vienna) 'The Monadological Tendency in Benjamin's Philosophy of the Name'

13:00 - 14:00, LUNCH

14:00 - 14:45, Leena Petersen (Sussex) 'Poetics of the Space in-Between'

14:45 - 15:30, Phil Homburg (Sussex) 'Symbol, Sign and Fetish: Walter Benjamin and the Post-Kantian Concept of the Symbol'

15:30 - 16:15, Maria Andrade (Universidad de los Andes) 'Exiled Between Romantic Absolute and Baroque Allegory'

16:15 - 16:45, COFFEE BREAK

16:45 - 17:30, Ben Noys (Chichester) 'Emergency Brake: Benjamin and the Critique of Accelerationism'

17:30 - 18:15, Tom Allen (Independent) 'Fixed Manifestations: Benjamin, Blanqui and the Caption of History'

18:15 - 19:00, Christian Garland (FU Berlin) 'Redeeming the Past in the Present: Benjamin's Messianic Materialist Philosophy of History'

This event is free and open to all!


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King's College London

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