Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship (New York Review Books Classics)

Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship (New York Review Books Classics)

Gershom Gerhard Scholem

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 1590170326

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Gershom Scholem is celebrated as the twentieth century's most profound student of the Jewish mystical tradition; Walter Benjamin, as a master thinker whose extraordinary essays mix the revolutionary, the revelatory, and the esoteric. Scholem was a precocious teenager when he met Benjamin, who became his close friend and intellectual mentor. His account of that relationship—which was to remain crucial for both men—is both a celebration of his friend's spellbinding genius and a lament for the personal and intellectual self-destructiveness that culminated in Benjamin's suicide in 1940.


At once prickly and heartbroken, argumentative and loving, Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship is an absorbing memoir with the complication of character and motive of a novel. As Scholem revisits the passionate engagements over Marxism and Kabbala, Europe and Palestine that he shared with Benjamin, it is as if he sought to summon up his lost friend's spirit again, to have the last word in the argument that might have saved his life.

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with him, and he found me suitable as a traveling companion. On the road through the Pyrenees we met Birmann, her sister Frau Lipmann, and the Freund woman from Das Tagebuch. For all of us these 12 hours were an absolutely horrible ordeal. We were totally unfamiliar with the road; some of it we had to climb on all fours. In the evening we arrived at Port Bou and went to the police station to request our entry stamps. For an hour, four women and the three of us sat before the officials crying,

1925, through the good offices of the great English philologist Gilbert Murray, Eisler was named head of the League of Nations’ Section de Coopération Intellectuelle, headquartered in Paris; he had accepted that appointment without first consulting with the government of Austria (whose citizen he was). When I arrived in Paris, Benjamin told me about the scandal this appointment had caused. The Austrian government had lodged an official protest, while Eisler, confident of future official duties,

(as had been discussed in Paris), because he expected to send him in a few weeks his book on tragic drama as well as four of his best essays (these were, in his opinion, the ones on Keller, children’s books, Elective Affinities, and the task of the translator). When he sent his book to Magnes at the end of January, he wrote in his covering letter that he hoped it would “come at a propitious moment ... when its first pages will awaken for you the memory of our Paris conversation, which is uniquely

insistence that he had exhausted his European possibilities; in the course of the next two years I realized this more quickly than he, since he did his best to avoid facing his state of affairs. But his own notes from these same years prove how all this continued to occupy him—deeply, intensely, and altogether productively. Added to this was a matter about which I could gain no truly authentic knowledge from a distance and which he himself tried to pass over in silence—namely, the entanglement

had informed me in strict confidence of the cautious resumption of closer relations between Dora and him. He also had asked me for some “hints” on my thoughts about Kafka (in connection with his projected review of Kafka’s posthumously published volume Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer [The Great Wall of China]), and finally he wanted to hear my opinion of the very tempestuous Zionist Congress in Basel in the summer of 1931. The original of this letter was preserved among his papers, for owing to

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