Walter Benjamin's Concept of the Image (Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy)

Walter Benjamin's Concept of the Image (Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy)

Alison Ross

Language: English

Pages: 176


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

In this book, Alison Ross engages in a detailed study of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the image, exploring the significant shifts in Benjamin’s approach to the topic over the course of his career. Using Kant’s treatment of the topic of sensuous form in his aesthetics as a comparative reference, Ross argues that Benjamin’s thinking on the image undergoes a major shift between his 1924 essay on ‘Goethe’s Elective Affinities,’ and his work on The Arcades Project from 1927 up until his death in 1940. The two periods of Benjamin’s writing share a conception of the image as a potent sensuous force able to provide a frame of existential meaning. In the earlier period this function attracts Benjamin’s critical attention, whereas in the later he mobilises it for revolutionary outcomes. The book gives a critical treatment of the shifting assumptions in Benjamin’s writing about the image that warrant this altered view. It draws on hermeneutic studies of meaning, scholarship in the history of religions and key texts from the modern history of aesthetics to track the reversals and contradictions in the meaning functions that Benjamin attaches to the image in the different periods of his thinking. Above all, it shows the relevance of a critical consideration of Benjamin’s writing on the image for scholarship in visual culture, critical theory, aesthetics and philosophy more broadly.

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judgments of sensuous form. For example, he states that certain colours like ‘white’ have a close association with moral ideas, despite his injunction against colour, as a seductive component of an object’s materiality, forming the basis for judgments of taste, which should properly be concerned with form alone. I treat some of the ambiguities in Kant’s account of the purity of aesthetic judgment in A. Ross, The Aesthetic Paths of Philosophy: Presentation in Kant, Heidegger, Lacoue-Labarthe and

more explicitly to the theme of the recollection of the lost power of tradition that is adapted to new revolutionary exigencies when he refers to the respects in which ‘the collective’ is also a body.58 Just like the role of aromas as a trigger for mémoire involontaire, the detection of similarities relies on our corporeal relation to our environment. In this respect, ‘similarity’ bypasses the purposive habit of reflection that undermines the specific kind of ‘forgetting’ that his essays on

the condemnation of the merely external relation to things implied in the concept of ‘similarity’ also references the temporal priority of the paradisiacal state over the Fall. In the Language essay, Benjamin holds that there is a pre-lapsarian relation to things, in which their meaning is transparent to man. Things embody meaning accessible to man in the naming language. This distinction between mute nature and nature named by man and amenable to knowing is fundamental for Benjamin. It belongs

penetrating as well as in more general terms to capture the issues at stake. It is not just ‘politics’ but what Benjamin specifically understands by ‘revolutionary experience’ that is at issue, which defines the principle that governs his selection of such seemingly insignificant material. Benjamin, in other words, chose to cite and display history’s ‘refuse’ in part because he wanted to show that even this material could offer a redemptive, revolutionary experience of history. The marginal and

its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis. That which is original is never revealed in the naked and manifest existence of the factual; its rhythm is apparent only to a dual insight. On the one hand it needs to be recognized as a process of restoration and re-establishment, but, on the other hand, and precisely because of this, as something imperfect and incomplete. There takes place in every original phenomenon a determination of the form in which an idea will

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