Experience and Infinite: Task Knowledge, Language and Messianism in the Philosophy of Walter Benjamin 1786600439, 9781786600431

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Table of contents :
Experience and Infinite Task
Contents
Introduction
1 Philosophy of Language and Critique of Knowledge
2 Messianism and Political Theology
3 The “Constellation” of Capitalism: Walter Benjamin and Max Weber
4 Messianism, Time, Music: Walter Benjamin’s Work of 1916–1925
Bibliography
Index
About the Author
Permission Acknowledgments
Recommend Papers

Experience and Infinite: Task Knowledge, Language and Messianism in the Philosophy of Walter Benjamin
 1786600439, 9781786600431

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Experience and Infinite Task

Founding Critical Theory Series editors: Owen Hulatt, Teaching Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of York Darrow Schecter, Reader in Critical Theory, University of Sussex This series publishes original research on prominent figures, texts, and topics in, and associated with, the first generation of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. The series comprises specialized treatments of topics and thinkers together with new translations of key texts from the period. Emphasis is lent to Critical Theory as an ongoing research project, and both its original research and historical scholarship are articulated in these terms. Critical Theory contains an intrinsic commitment to inter-disciplinary research, and this series attempts to honor this commitment where possible. The Aesthetic Ground of Critical Theory, edited by Nathan Ross. Communication and Expression, Philip Hogh, translated by Antonia Hofstätter Freedom and Negativity in Beckett and Adorno: Something or Nothing, Natalie Leeder Experience and Infinite Task: Knowledge, Language and Messianism in the Philosophy of Walter Benjamin, Tamara Tagliacozzo Walter Benjamin and the Post-Kantian Tradition, Philip Homberg (forthcoming)

Experience and Infinite Task Knowledge, Language and Messianism in the Philosophy of Walter Benjamin Tamara Tagliacozzo

Published by Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26–34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB www.rowmaninternational.com Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd. is an affiliate of Rowman & Littlefield 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, USA With additional offices in Boulder, New York, Toronto (Canada), and Plymouth (UK) www.rowman.com Copyright © 2018 by Tamara Tagliacozzo All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN:

HB 978-1-7866-0041-7 PB 978-1-7866-0042-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Tagliacozzo, Tamara, author. Title: Experience and infinite task: knowledge, language and Messianism in the philosophy of Walter Benjamin / Tamara Tagliacozzo. Other titles: Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin. English Description: Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. | Series: Founding critical theory | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017034249 (print) | LCCN 2017037377 (ebook) | ISBN 9781786600431 (electronic) | ISBN 9781786600417 (cloth: alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Benjamin, Walter, 1892-1940. Classification: LCC B3209.B584 (ebook) | LCC B3209.B584 T3513 2017 (print) | DDC 193—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017034249 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992. Printed in the United States of America

Contents

Introduction1 1  Philosophy of Language and Critique of Knowledge

11

2  Messianism and Political Theology

99

3  T  he “Constellation” of Capitalism: Walter Benjamin and Max Weber

135

4  M  essianism, Time, Music: Walter Benjamin’s Work of 1916–1925

149

Bibliography171 Index185 About the Author

191

Permission Acknowledgments

192

v

Introduction

This study examines the philosophical thought of the young Walter Benjamin in terms of its development in his later work. It delineates a horizon in which the concept of experience as structure, philosophical system, and “infinite task” evolves into a concept of the origin as monad, merging finally into the historical concept as monad and dialectical image. Benjamin’s early reception and critique of Kant, of neo-Kantianism (Hermann Cohen, Ernst Cassirer), and of phenomenology help explain the epistemological structure of the philosopher’s elusive concept of monad and dialectical image. His youthful interpretation and critique of Kant and Cohen is accompanied by a theological and messianic vision of language and history, and a political vision both anarchic and theological-messianic. The concept of experience as structure and symbolic system, derived from Benjamin’s critical interpretation of Kant and neo-Kantianism, develops into a conception of thought founded on a theological language of revelation, in which ideas are revealed by concepts in monadic phenomena of an artistic and historical type. Ideas accede to knowledge in a redemptive temporal dimension, the “now of knowability” (Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit). I This volume, and the first chapter in particular, traces Benjamin’s formulation of a concept of experience as a “continuous and unitary multiplicity of knowledge,” which is pure, independent of sensible intuition, and inclusive of both ethics and aesthetics. This experience coincides with the entire system of philosophy and with the idea of the infinite task as the task of the ideas of the diverse members of a system to serve as guides for the construction of 1

2

Introduction

concepts and their systematic unity, and to indicate the unity of the entire system. This conception of the infinite task arises from the neo-Kantian (and above all, Cohenian) concept of the a-prioritization of experience and the method of purity, and the double task of the thing in itself as infinite task. It distances itself from neo-Kantianism, however, by rejecting the transcendental method’s reference to scientific “facts” (of the natural sciences and law) and envisaging instead an experience that is not exclusively (or analogically) scientific, but rather religious, historical, and artistic, founded on a theological vision of language. Cohen’s concept (shared in part by Paul Natorp) of the infinite task as a task of the “thing in itself” is, in fact, a double task. In the first of these, the transcendental method (or that of purity) establishes experience as a science of nature (a Faktum, of which the critique of knowledge must determine the conditions of possibility) founded upon physical-mathematical principles. Ethics and aesthetics must be founded on a legislation analogous to the science of nature, with the sciences of law and art (though art is not a science but a fact of culture) as “facts” without reference to “givens” of sensibility. The task of the thing in itself is, however, also that of the individuation of a unity of experience as a maxim for a type of research that cannot be founded on those same principles of experience but must refer to an unconditioned. In this sense, Cohen’s concepts of limit-concept (Grenzbegriff) and limit-determination (Grenzbestimmung) in regard to experience must be understood as the “task” of the noumenon and of ideas to limit contingent experience, by referring it to an unconditioned unity, that is, to the concept of experience itself, in its totality, as thing in itself. For ethics and aesthetics as well, the concepts of freedom and purposiveness indicate the unconditioned to that they refer. Between 1915 and 1918, Benjamin developed a strong friendship and deep intellectual bond with Gershom Scholem, a scholar of Judaism, mathematics, and philosophy. In Munich, in 1915–1916, he met Felix Noeggerath, a sui generis neo-Kantian with whom he discussed Kant and mythology. The two formed an intense philosophical rapport, and Benjamin read a small part of Noeggerath’s doctoral thesis, Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie. Ein Beitrag zur Kritik der Antirationalismus (1916), which has remained unpublished and will be briefly analyzed here. The thesis and discussions with its author influenced Benjamin as he composed his essay, “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy” (1917–1918). Noeggerath’s thesis deals critically with the concept of synthesis and system in Kant (in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of the Power of Judgment), responds to Cohen and Natorp, discusses in an original way the neo-Kantian themes of infinite task and the system of philosophy, and delineates a philosophical project that seeks to establish a rationalist philosophy that can broaden knowledge. This



Introduction 3

broader knowledge would encompass not only theoretical objects but also a-theoretical products such as the objects of ethics and aesthetics. Noeggerath goes beyond Kant and distances himself from the “transcendental method” of Cohen and Natorp in their critique of Kant. In December 1917, as part of a research project on “Kant and History,” Benjamin outlined a doctoral thesis on “The Concept of ‘Infinite Task’ in Kant,” and more generally on the question “What does it mean that science is an infinite task?” but he ultimately abandoned the project during the first months of 1918. This choice of topic was fully in harmony with the cultural climate of his time and its philosophical setting. He studied Kant from 1912 to 1919, following neo-Kantian discussions and Cohen’s critique of Kant. From 1912 to 1915 he attended Cohen’s courses and lessons in Berlin, reading part of the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (Logic of Pure Knowledge), the Ethik des reinen Willens (Ethic of Pure Will), and philosophical writings on religion. He acquired the four volumes of Cohen’s System der Philosophie (System of Philosophy) in February 1918, and we know that from 1919 onward he owned a copy of Paul Natorp’s Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (1910) (The logical Foundations of the Exact Sciences). Although he renounced taking up the theme of the infinite task for his dissertation, and gave up studying the third edition of Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (Kant’s Theory of Experience) with his friend Scholem in the summer of 1918, he remained firmly interested in neo-Kantian and Cohenian thoughts into the 1920s. Benjamin presented his thesis project on Kant and history to Scholem in October 1917. His attempt to clarify the relations between philosophy and history, the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of history was an effort to develop the Kantian system in new directions. The project intended also to integrate a messianic conception of Judaism with an interpretation of the historico-messianic and religious thoughts of early romanticism. His (and Scholem’s) reception of Kant was determined by an idea of the philosophy of history that he found not in Kant, but in the Hebraic doctrine of messianism, which involves all philosophy, and includes the theory of knowledge (all philosophy is “pure knowledge”) in a vision of a process oriented toward the redemptive, messianic “resolution” of such a theory into a “doctrine.” Doctrine is a metaphysical religious term that Benjamin and Scholem often identify with the ethical-religious teaching of the Torah and its commentaries. It encompasses and in part transcends philosophy and its system, which tend virtually, in an infinite process, to coincide with Torah. For Benjamin, doctrine is the place of ideas and of the entire system of philosophy. He individuates the “thought” of doctrine in Kant’s system and in Kant’s doctrine of ideas, and intends to maintain the Kantian system (in its trichotomic structure and its “typics”) so as to develop it in new directions, by reworking the theory

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Introduction

of experience and knowledge. In the concept of “infinite task” he adopts from Kant and the neo-Kantians, Benjamin wishes to retrace the seeds—starting from Kant’s vision of the relation between regulative ideas and concepts of the intellect, and from Cohen’s interpretation of this vision and of the thing in itself as task—for the construction of a metaphysical system of concepts and ideas independent of possible experience, and immersed in a historicomessianic vision of the development of knowledge, in the direction of doctrine as a system of philosophy. The disappointment he felt after reading some of Kant’s historical writings (Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim, 1784, and Toward Perpetual Peace, 1795), which he found unsatisfactory as points of departure or subjects for an independent discussion, led him to shift to a less exclusively Kantian theme: the previously mentioned question, “What does it mean that science is an infinite task?” Benjamin’s interpretation of the concept of “infinite task” emerges in a notation with that title made in December 1917, once he had decided to take on this more ample problem. The fragment becomes clear in light of his philosophy of history, according to which the “historical becoming of knowledge”1 is brought to “resolution” (Auflösung) by and in doctrine, where this resolution is never complete, but present virtually, as ideal and “task.” The infinite task that Benjamin sees as posed to “science” (a term with which he seems to define each realm of philosophy, but could also indicate the entire philosophical system) coincides with the concept of the unity of science. This unity presents itself as a systematic idea, and science, for its part, as part of a system of sciences with diverse tasks (cognitive, ethical, aesthetic). Each of these is guided by an idea, and the unity of each one resides in the task that the idea poses to each according to its field of inquiry, such that there is no halt before a given sensible “datum,” but rather an infinite production of concepts. The unity of science consists in the systematic unity pursued by the idea that guides it, while the system as a whole receives its unity from the role of the ideas and their relation to the idea of God. At this point Benjamin has come far from Kant’s regulative vision of the task of ideas, approaching instead a neo-Kantian, idealistic conception. Nevertheless, in his 1918 fragment, “Ambiguity of the Concept of the ‘infinite task’ in the Kantian school,” he criticizes the neo-Kantian concept of “infinite task” (seeming to direct his words to Cohen and Natorp) as “empirical” and linked exclusively to the physical-mathematical experience of the sciences of nature. In another fragment of 1918, “On the Transcendental Method,” he reproaches the neo-Kantians for having sought out their Faktum and their concepts in science rather than in language. The concept of infinite task that Benjamin elaborates is strictly correlated, and in fact coincides, with the concept of experience that he develops in the essay “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy”



Introduction 5

(written in November–December 1917, and completed, with an addition, in March 1918), in relation to the philosophies of Kant, Cohen, and Noeggerath. Starting from a critique of the Kantian concepts of experience and knowledge, in which he refutes the reference to possible experience, Benjamin sees as its possible result a broadened transcendental logic that must contain the forms of intuition and the pure concepts of mechanics, geometry, biology, psychology, the science of language, and many other sciences to which art, history, and law must stand in relation. He intends to elaborate a concept of knowledge amplified to include these other disciplines, but without any reference to the empirical. Not only must scientific experience correspond to this concept of knowledge, but also history, art, and religion. An absolute metaphysical experience must manifest itself as a “unitary and continuous multiplicity of knowledge,” which is pure and coincides with doctrine as a setting for ideas and concepts constructed with their guidance. In the essay, in fact, the continuity of knowledge, together with its “unity,” is connected to the ideas that, Benjamin claims, Kant had already indicated in the “Transcendental Dialectic” section of the Critique of Pure Reason as the foundation of the unity of experience. In Benjamin’s view, ideas constitute the infinite task of the search for the continuous unity of knowledge and metaphysical experience that, no longer merely scientific but now also religious, coincides with the entire system of philosophy in its unity. Like Noeggerath, who recast the relational categories of Kant in terms of the mathematical concept of seriality, Benjamin posits a symbolic relation between ideas and pure concepts, like that of the relation between a regulating principle and the members of the series it generates, as determined by the concept of identity. This concept must be central to a new transcendental logic that places concepts in relation to ideas so that ideas may determine their unity and continuity. Ideas, which are the nexus between concepts and are exhibited by concepts, must, in any systematic setting (as a concept of causality through freedom, concept of freedom, and concept of finality) lead to a systematic unity of concepts, but also to a reciprocal relation of continuity among the diverse systematic realms (logical, ethical, aesthetic). The role of ideas in the unity and continuity of experience as pure knowledge is the fulcrum of Benjamin’s concept of infinite task (and his concept of experience as a unitary system of philosophy, to which the task of knowledge infinitely inclines), which adapts to new uses a Cohenian and generically neo-Kantian interpretation of Kant’s concept of the problem of reason. Benjamin substitutes a conception of the foundation of knowledge and experience on language, of which he has a theological and symbolic vision, for the transcendental neo-Kantian (especially Cohenian) conception of the foundation of experience on pure physical-mathematical principles, and the foundation of ethics and aesthetics on their legislation based on the givens of law and art. He expounds his ideas on language in

6

Introduction

the 1916 essay “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.” In the 1917 fragment “On Perception,” Benjamin in fact states that all “Philosophy is absolute experience deduced in a systematic, symbolic framework as language.”2 That is, he conceives of experience as a unitary and continuous system of knowledge and as the whole realm of philosophy, as well as a symbolic exhibition of the unity of the system of philosophy (the philosophy of ideas) as language. For Benjamin, knowledge and therefore experience must refer to and find their foundation in language. This is true even for the very concept of religion, in which the ideas of philosophy—indispensable for the unity of experience—find their origin, and which is given to philosophy as the setting of doctrine. Even religion is a concept founded, finally, on his theological conception of language, elaborated in contact with Scholem’s mystical Judaism. Benjamin was also deeply interested in aesthetics, as seen in the early essay “Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin” (1914–1915), where he introduces the concept of the “poetized” and analyzes the “law of identity” and the concept of “task.” The young philosopher will return to the “concept of identity” as a fundamental element of a new transcendental logic in certain fragments of 1917–1921, and it will appear implicitly also in “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy.” The Holderlin essay demonstrates a distinct neo-Kantian influence, in particular that of Ernst Cassirer (for the concept of function and for the relation between “sensible” and “spiritual,” as well as the philosophical concept of myth) and of Hermann Cohen (for the concept of task). II The early and the late Benjamin meet in the messianic conception of time. The concept of experience and infinite task as structure and symbolic system, derived from Benjamin’s critical interpretation of Kant and neo-Kantianism and his theological theory of language (that “pure” language is pure in a Kantian, transcendental way), develops into a conception of thought founded on that same theological language of revelation, in which ideas are revealed by concepts in monadic phenomena of an artistic (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1925) and historical type (the dialectical images in the Passage-work, 1933–1940, and in “On the Concept of History,” 1940). The epistemological structure of the “concept of history,” which Benjamin expressed between 1933 and 1940 (but which is found in nuce in the concept of utopic idea in the essay “The Life of Students,” 1915) as a monadic dialectical image, is characterized by a temporal dimension that is neither linear nor progressive, but intensive and ideal, in which the cognitive concept coincides with the ideal (of the good, of justice), characterized by totality and eternity. Here emerges



Introduction 7

the link between the transcendent, ideal theological setting, secretly active in the immanence of redemption, and the immanent setting of the political. The redeemed past summons into present time, for a fugitive moment, the messianic time of the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, thus providing the occasion and direction for praxis, for messianically and theologically motivated revolutionary action, striving for the construction of a society without classes. Political action is made possible precisely by its link to the past, from the cognitive capacity of the historical materialist to restore forgotten moments and bring them to a point of explosion, fuelling the destructive and liberating power of the oppressed classes through the image of their enslaved ancestors. Jacob Taubes emphasized the importance of the thought of Carl Schmitt (author of Political Theology, 1922) on Benjamin’s reflections of the concept of sovereignty and the “state of exception.”3 For Schmitt, sovereignty is a theological concept that has been secularized in political and juridical settings, as when the sovereign places himself above the law and suspends it (a secular analogy with what a “miracle” does with the laws of nature). Benjamin takes up this concept and alters it in text VIII of “On the Concept of History,” where the state of exception is both theological and political, a dimension of messianic temporality, like the Jetzt of revolution and the immanent affirmation of the “theological-political” concept of classless society as the kingdom of justice, the “effectual (wirklichen) state of exception.”4 III Benjamin reflects on capitalism and on its nexus with religion in the fragment “Capitalism as Religion” (1921), written in the same period as the important political essay “Critique of Violence” (1921). “Capitalism as Religion” makes a radical interpretation of Weber’s theory of the relationship between the spirit of capitalism and the protestant ethic: capitalism is not only a product of religion; it is a religion itself. This fragment can be considered as a monad, as the “exposition” (Darstellung) of the “idea” of capitalism divided into four “concepts,” the four aspects of the structure of capitalism: it is a cultual religion; the cult is permanent; the cult brings debt and guilt (there is a connection to the mythical destiny); and its immature God must remain hidden. The affinity of Adorno’s thought with Benjamin’s and Weber’s, and the comparison of their concepts of constellation (in Weber, “cosmos”) as applied to the historical method, allows us to bring Benjamin and Weber together on a gnoseological basis. The Weberian “ideal type” appears to be a methodological instrument structurally similar to the monads of Adorno and Benjamin, but more linked to empirical historical research. Weber also uses

8

Introduction

the term Darstellung, which carries the meaning of the exposition, representation, and exhibition of a structure within a series of concepts of historical phenomena. The ideal type presents itself as a “cosmos of conceptual connections,” a Grenzbegriff (limit-concept), a utopian construction that serves to orient a judgment of imputation and furnish a historical representation with “precisely expressed” linguistic and cultural “instruments.” This is an idea that, as a “genetic” concept (i.e., capable of recognizing causal connections, the origin and development of a historical phenomenon, without classifying it within a genre), comes to be represented by a system of concepts.5 It is evident here that Weber’s method—utilized in particular to define the ideal type, “capitalism,” and more specifically “the spirit of capitalism”—is pragmatically oriented toward heuristic ends. Despite this, the affinities with Benjamin’s historical method are quite visible in the choice of producing concepts guided by a regulating idea and in the renunciation of a deterministic, progressive idea of causal connection. IV Benjamin’s theory of language and knowledge, as knowledge given in the intensive “now of knowability” (Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit), is connected with a messianic theory of music. The basis of language, the “name,” as monadic idea, is reached not by the communication of a content and by knowledge as nexus of a knowing subject and a known object, but by the structure of language itself, as movement, form and expression (pure language) “that communicates itself in itself,” in a way that proceeds from the lament of nature to the redemption of music. In two short essays written in 1916 that anticipate themes of his 1925 dissertation, The Origin of the German Mourning Play (or German Tragic Drama), Walter Benjamin began to elaborate a messianic conception of music. In the essays Trauerspiel and Tragedy and The Meaning of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy, together with the 1922 essay Goethe’s Elective Affinities, music is a central theme, related to a Jewish-Messianic conception of nature, language, and history. In the context of redemption, the temporality of music approaches messianic temporality: the pure feeling (sentiment, Gefühl) achieved in music is a vehicle of redemption through the expression of mourning for nature (as Creation and creature) through the lament (Klage). The mystery of music in the moment of performance achieves redemption in a supersensible excess of mourning. Chapter 4 considers Benjamin’s philosophy of music in terms of his messianic vision, indicating a strong nexus with Scholem’s theory of lament and a possible one with Hermann Cohen’s theories of music and messianism (in Cohen’s Aesthetics of Pure Feeling, 1912).



Introduction 9

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS With deepest appreciation, I wish here to recall the memory of Elio Matassi, my guide in these years, who left us too soon. I thank Peter Fenves for our long “virtual” discussions and his counsel, and Eric Jacobson for having encouraged me to pursue this line of research. I also thank Darrow Schecter and Owen Hulatt for having included this book in their “Founding Critical Theory” series, Isabel Cowper-Coles for her assiduous editing, and Thomas Haskell Simpson and Clemens Ackermann for their translation “in process” and their flexibility. I would further like to thank my friends in the Associazione Italiana Walter Benjamin, with whom I have discussed Benjamin’s work and who have led me to deeper insights. Last but first of all, I thank my family for having put up with such a “committed” mommy. I dedicate this book to the memory of my mother, to my father, to Alberto, and our children. NOTES 1. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 157–171. Here: 167. Engl. trans. “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 100–110. Here: 107 (trasl. amended). 2. “Über die Wahrnehmung,” in GS VI, 33–38. Here: 37–38. Engl. trans. On Perception, in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 93–96. Here: 96. 3. Cf. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie. Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität (1922) (München: Dunker & Humblot, 1934). Engl. trans. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985, 2005) 4. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 694. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 392 (trasl. amended). 5. Max Weber, Die “Objektivität” sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis, in ibid. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, ed. v. J. Winckelmann (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1988), 190–191. Engl. trans. “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy” in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, ed. and trans. E. A. Shils and H. A. Finch (New York: Free Press), 90.

Chapter 1

Philosophy of Language and Critique of Knowledge

THE ENCOUNTER WITH KANT, NEO-KANTIANISM, AND HUSSERL In a Curriculum Vitae (CV) written at the beginning of 1928 for unknown purposes, Walter Benjamin indicates Plato and Kant as the foundational reference points for his philosophical formation during his college years, and regards Husserl and the representatives of the Marburg School as the interpreters, continuers, and innovators of the Platonic and Kantian tradition: “In particular, I read and reread Plato and Kant, then the philosophy of Husserl and the Marburg school.”1 In a contemporaneous CV, which served as a model for the first, Benjamin expresses himself in almost the same terms but without naming Husserl,2 while in a still earlier CV, presented to the University of Frankfurt together with his qualifying thesis of 1925,3 he lists representatives of the “Neo-Kantian” and Husserlian schools among the professors under whom he studied in Freiburg, Berlin, Munich, and Bern: “In particular I followed professors Cohn, . . . Rickert . . . in Freiburg, Cassirer, Erdmann . . . and Simmel in Berlin, Geiger in . . . Munich, and Haberlin . . . [and] Herberz . . . in Bern.”4 During the summer semesters of 1912 and 1913 Benjamin studied philosophy at the University of Freiburg, taking courses with Heinrich Rickert and Jonas Cohn,5 and in 1913 he read Husserl’s essay, Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft (1910—Philosophy as rigorous science) in the review “Logos.” Between 1913 and 1915 he studied at the University of Berlin under Ernst Cassirer, Benno Erdmann, and Georg Simmel6 (and attended lessons and talks by Hermann Cohen at the Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin)7 and at the University of Munich, where during the winter semester of 1915–1916 and that of summer 1916, he took the course on 11

12

Chapter 1

Humboldt taught by the Privatdozent (Associate Professor) in Finno-Ugric languages, Ernst Lewy, and lessons on Kant’s Critique of Judgment given by the phenomenologist Moritz Geiger8 (who, along with Rickert and Lewy, will be the only university professors to have an influence on him).9 In the Geiger seminar Benjamin met Felix Noeggerath, a student of philosophy, of India, and of Indo-Germanic languages, who had studied in Marburg, and was completing his doctoral thesis. Together the two frequented the seminar on pre-Colombian civilization in Mexico conducted at the home of the Americanist Walter Lehmann, which the poet Rilke also attended.10 Between November and December, 1915, Benjamin read Geiger’s Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses (Contributions to the phenomenology of aesthetic enjoyment),11 and at the same time “Husserl’s difficult text on the foundations and principles (of his philosophy) [Husserls schwere, prinzipielle Grundlegung],”12 which Scholem identified as the Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie (1913—Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy),13 but which may refer rather to the Logische Untersuchungen (1900–1901—Logical Investigations).14 An unedited manuscript by Benjamin from 1917 to 1920 contains in fact a list of texts, among which are present both Husserl’s Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie and his Logische Untersuchungen.15 This list indicates Benjamin’s interest in phenomenology but also shows that he continued the Kant studies in Munich, which he had begun in 1912–1913 in Freiburg and Berlin. He continued to reflect on the gnoseological principles of Kant’s philosophy, which became important when he met Noeggerath, as the basis for discussions with him on mythology, the philosophy of history, and other philosophical and mathematical problems, with reference to Kant and the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason), which Noeggerath discussed in his doctoral thesis, Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie. Ein Beitrag zur Kritik des Antirationalismus (Synthesis and the Concept of System in Philosophy: A Contribution to the Critique of Anti-Rationalism).16 Benjamin, who in 1918 will ask Scholem to ask the University of Erlangen for his friend’s dissertation,17 was amazed by the vast culture of Noeggerath, whom he considered a “genius,” a culture Benjamin described as “universal,” seeing in his thought a unification and deepening of the mythological thought of George and Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft: In the beginning I was truly amazed by his absolutely universal formation, since he concentrates on the foundation of a philosophical system from a highly meaningful point of view, and simultaneously . . . on philological studies and the proof of Fermat’s theorem . . . [He] has had a philosophical formation in personal contact with George, a contact he maintains to this day, and in Marburg. It is all based on a unification and deepening of the Critique of Pure Reason and



Philosophy of Language and Critique of Knowledge 13

George’s thought. . . . I am busy reading one of . . . [Geiger’s] philosophical works, and also reading Husserl’s difficult text on the foundations and principles [of his philosophy] [Husserls schwere, prinzipielle Grundlegung].18

Benjamin’s reception of Husserl and the Marburg School has been emphasized in recent years by numerous contributors.19 Two scholars in particular, Uwe Steiner and Peter Fenves,20 have put into relief—a novelty in the context of Benjamin studies—the weight of both Kant and Husserl in Benjamin’s early writings on the theory of knowledge, on the theory of language, in his project of taking up and revising Kantian philosophy in his essay On the Program of the Coming Philosophy (1917–1918), and in his subsequent work, even after The Origin of the German Mourning Play. Fenves has furthermore explored the presence, in Benjamin and his friend Gershom Scholem, of themes of mathematical and Fregean logic.21 It must be said, however, that Italian scholars have studied Benjamin’s reception of Kant and Husserl since the beginning of the 1980s.22 Already in 1975, Massimo Cacciari had referred to Husserl in Alcuni motivi di Walter Benjamin (da “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels” a “Der Autor als Produzent”) (Some motifs in Walter Benjamin [from “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels” to “Der Autor als Produzent”]), stressing the link between Benjamin’s formalizing tendencies and contemporaneous tendencies in mathematical logic: The form of the Logical Investigations dominates the Preface to the Ursprung . . . . Subjectivity has intention beyond its own psychic content, giving ideal objectivities, essential necessities that define the space of a precise formal ontology. . . . This pure formalizing tendency, in direct reference to contemporary tendencies in mathematical logic, [is present] . . . in Benjamin’s Preface. It is once again a matter of defining a fixed system of forms, a formal ontology, that encompasses a priori the space of any specific interpretation. Concrete critical work is founded on this ideal syntax. . . . In Husserl, the subjective dimension and the concrete linguistic “act” are understood as correlates of . . . a formal ontology, continuously intending it. . . . [In] Benjamin . . . ideas find their own intentioned psychological correlates in representation and at the same time phenomena are “saved.”. . . Intentionality concerns these forms (of representation) only, not their object (ideas). . . . Philosophical phenomenology defines the transcendental structures of subjectivity in terms of forms intending ideal objectivities.23

To understand the influence on Benjamin of Kant and Husserl, of mathematical logic, of the logical and messianic doctrine of Herman Cohen, and also the Judaic theological doctrine that Benjamin receives from his friend Gershom Scholem, we must examine the essay on language Benjamin wrote at the end of 1916. In November of that year, Benjamin announced to

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Scholem his almost completed “On Language as Such and on Human Language,”24 complaining that he was still not ready to approach the relationship of language with mathematics, and that of mathematics with thought and Judaism: In this essay, it was not possible for me to go into mathematics and language, i.e. mathematics and thought, mathematics and Zion, because my thoughts on this infinitely difficult topic are still quite far from having taken final shape. . . . From the title . . . you will note a certain systematic intent, which, however, also makes completely clear for me the fragmentary nature of its ideas, because I am still unable to touch on many points. In particular, the consideration of mathematics from the point of view of a theory of language, which is ultimately, of course, most important to me, is of a completely fundamental significance for the theory of language as such, even though I am not yet in a position to attempt such a consideration.25

The work is Benjamin’s response, Scholem explains, to a “rather long ­letter” from Scholem to Benjamin: about the relationship between mathematics and language, . . . [in which I had posed] a number of questions on the subject. His long reply to me, which he broke off in the middle, was later reworked into his essay Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen [“On Language as Such and On Human Language”]. . . . He handed me a copy in December 1916 upon his return to Berlin, designating it as the first part, to be followed by two more.26

The essay delineates a theological theory of language linked to JudeoKabbalistic themes that had matured through Benjamin’s exchanges with Scholem, a scholar of philosophy, logic, mathematics, and Judaism (although Benjamin takes up neither logic nor mathematics). Starting in 1916, Scholem often discussed logic with Benjamin (and in 1917, a mathematical theory of truth)27 and spent the winter semester of 1917–1918 at the University of Jena, where he studied mathematics and philosophy and attended courses and seminars given by Bruno Bauch (on the logic of Rudolf Hermann Lotze and on Kant’s Introduction to the Critique of Judgment), by the phenomenologist Paul F. Linke, and by Gottlob Frege. He read Kant (the Critique of Judgment and Prolegomena) as well as texts on Kant, Husserl’s Logical Investigations, Frege’s The Foundations of Arithmetic, writings by Paul Bachmann and Louis Couturat,28 and the Vorlesungen über die Algebra der Logik (Lessons on the Algebra of Logic) by Ernst Schrӧder: Philosophy in Jena was rather irritating to me. . . . On the positive side, I was drawn to two very dissimilar teachers. One of these was Paul F. Linke, an unorthodox pupil of Husserl, who induced me to study a major portion of



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Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen [Logical investigations], about which Benjamin had only an indistinct impression from his Munich period. The other was Gottlob Frege, whose Grundlagen der Arithmetik [Foundations of arithmetic] I was reading along with related writings by Bachmann and Louis Couturat (Die philosophischen Prinzipen der Mathematik). I attended Frege’s one-hour lectures on “Begriffsschrift” [interpreted logical calculus].29

Scholem enthusiastically described to Benjamin the impression that Kant’s Prolegomena made on him but he was not equally satisfied with Bauch’s seminar on Lotze. In a final paper, Scholem described his differences with both Bauch and Lotze regarding mathematical and symbolic logic, ideas Scholem developed as part of an effort to arrive at a pure language of thought, side by side with his reflection on mystical symbology (especially on kabbalistic theories of language): At that time I was greatly interested in mathematical logic—ever since I had discovered Schroeder’s Vorlesungen über die Algebra der Logik [Lectures on the algebra of logic] in a secondhand bookshop in Berlin. These and similar attempts to attain a pure language of thought greatly fired my imagination. The logic of Hermann Lotze, which we read in Baucwh’s advanced seminar, left me cold. For my seminar paper I wrote a defense of mathematical logic against Lotze and Bauch; the latter listened to it in silence. The linguistic-philosophical element of a conceptual language wholly purged of mysticism, as well as the limits of the latter, seemed clear to me. I reported to Benjamin about this, and he asked me to send him my seminar paper.30 In those days I fluctuated between the two poles of mathematical and mystical symbolism—much more so than Benjamin, whose mathematical talent was slight; he was then and for a long time to come an adherent of mystical views of language.31

Scholem’s seminar paper, dedicated to the second book of Lotze’s Logica,32 has been partially published with the title Über den Logikkalkül.33 Scholem himself defines the paper as a “defense of mathematical logic” against Lotze and Bauch, with implicit reference to Frege (who is named and explicitly defended within the paper).34 Benjamin was very curious about Scholem’s research, and the fragment “The Judgment of Designation,” concerning Russell’s paradox, dated to 1916–1917,35 is a result of their discussions about Russell and, naturally, about Frege. Benjamin’s concept of Significance (Bedeutung) is in substance close to Frege’s Sinn, just as the concept of Designation/Denotation (Bezeichnung) is linked to Russell, and therefore to Frege’s Bedeutung.36 According to Peter Fenves, “Benjamin draws an insuperable distinction between ‘judgment of designation’ and ‘judgment of predication.’ Only in the case of the latter can one speak of ‘meaning’ (Bedeutung) in the ‘proper’ (eigentlich) sense

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of the word (6:10).”37 The former is only improperly meaningful, because it means only what it is said to mean: Nothing can be predicated of a sign. The judgment in which a meaning [eine Bedeutung] is subordinated to a sign is not a predicative judgment. Russell conflates judgment of meaning and judgment of predication [Bedeutungs- und Prädikatsurteil].38

Benjamin seeks a solution to Russell’s paradox in his fragment “Attempt at a Solution of Russell’s Paradox” (1916–1917)39 by giving a different interpretation of the concept of the signified. The signifier, as will be seen more clearly at the end of this chapter, is not always (as when it is a sign) linked to the signified by convention. Concepts and words refer to ideas and names, keeping in mind the “immediate” connection of the latter with the “essence of the object,” and this encounter produces knowledge: Language rests on meaning; it would be nothing if it did [not] have meaning. Here, in this double appearance of meaning in logic, there is a rudimentary and indicative reference to the linguistic nature of knowledge, which is clarified in the philosophy of language.40

Benjamin returns to a nonformal conception of language, whose signified is not Frege’s Sinn but is linked to the essence of the thing. He conceives of a vision of language different from Frege and Russell’s project of a logic and logical language that can establish a foundation for mathematics. Benjamin’s vision is inspired by a mystical-kabbalistic theory of language, but is not extraneous to a formalized conception, and is furthermore inspired by mathematical concepts such as an infinitesimal calculus. Frege is never mentioned in Benjamin’s writings of this period, but in his later work, when he defines concepts as “sails,” he recalls an expression of Frege that considers signs as instruments for navigating against the wind: “Signs have for thought the same meaning that instruments invented for sailing against the wind have for navigation.”41 This phrase, found in Frege’s Über die wissenschaftliche Berechtigung einer Begriffsschrift (On the Scientific Legitimation of a Concept-notation), seems to be cited in two places in Benjamin’s PassagenWerk (Arcades Project): What matters for the dialectician is to have the wind of world history in his sails. Thinking means for him; setting the sails. What is important is how they are set. Words are his sails. The way they are set makes them into concepts. . . . Being a dialectician means having the wind of history in one’s sails. The sails are the concepts. It is not enough, however, to have sails at one’s disposal. What is decisive is knowing the art of setting them.42



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The sixth thesis of On the Concept of History also echoes Frege’s “against the wind.” “The historical materialist . . . regards it as his task to brush history against its grain.”43 The fact that he uses concepts from mathematical logic demonstrates how Benjamin makes use of contemporary concepts and theories of logic and philosophy to construct an absolutely original and personal theory of logic, language, and knowledge. This can also be seen in his interpretation of Hermann Cohen and Kant, which we will encounter in other fragments. In 1980, Fabrizio Desideri had already pointed at a possible relationship between Benjamin’s philosophy of language and Fregean logic: Nevertheless something can be inferred regarding a possible relation between Benjamin’s linguistic theory and Frege’s problem of a Begriffschrift (Ideography). While Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, takes a radical approach to Frege’s problem of a logical foundation in natural linguistic propositions, demonstrating—thanks precisely to the distinction made by Frege between Sinn and Bedeutung—that the foundation of the logic of language is the foundation of a language entirely “formalized” within the Ratio, that is, by its self-establishment through analytical reflection on the “elements” of its form, which is therefore a tautology. Benjamin excludes a priori the possibility of a “formal ontology,” as an ontology of this type would presuppose the primacy of the Ratio over language, over languages. This is precisely what is absent in Benjamin’s perspective: thought does not correlate with truth.44 And the truth, any truth—as he will write some years later45—abides in language; it therefore cannot be thought because it itself “thinks.” Thought as such can be thought only as an “abstraction” from this truth. To assert a particular identity for thought “would be an absolute tautology.”46 As a place for the identification of thought, tautology is also the place of its visibility.”47

Desideri is responding here to Liselotte Wiesenthal, who in 1973, in her book Zur Wissenschaftstheorie Walter Benjamins (On Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Science),48 derives Benjamin’s concept of function from the corresponding concept in Frege, a thesis supported by a letter to her from Scholem dated December 17, 1971, which confirms that Scholem was studying mathematical logic and knew of Frege’s work during the period from 1915 to 1919, and that he had discussed logic, as well as his seminar paper for Bauch’s course, with Benjamin.49 Desideri takes up and critiques also the parallel Wiesenthal asserts between Benjamin’s philosophy of language and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory in the Tractatus: The “name” is—as Wiesenthal justly observes—the structural relation that is identical in things and in language. Certainly, in this sense, Benjamin’s concept of “Mitteilung” (“communication”) is nothing but a “paraphrase” to signify

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“the structural identity of language and phenomenal reality”50 and here the Sprachphilosophie of the Tractatus coincides with the Sprachtheologie of Benjamin.51 But this similarity—and Wiesenthal fails to see this—coincides only with the Russellian aspects of the Tractatus, which lead in their logical “unfolding” into unresolvable aporie. If (as we believe we have demonstrated) in the essay we are examining Benjamin’s theory of language not as an “Abbildtheorie” but as a theory of the translation of that which has no name in the name, then not even the “Theory” of the Tractatus can be defined in these terms, since the analysis of the concept of Bild found there leads to the crisis of that which can be defined as an initial hypothesis, a demonstrandum. Rather than seeking a facile “logical” identity beyond the theological aspect of Benjamin’s approach, we think it is useful here to underline the fundamentally theological character of his linguistic theory.52

The linguistic theory elaborated by Benjamin, founded on a vision of the world created by the divine word and known through the language of man in a continuous movement of translation, is a theological one that seeks to establish knowledge, and to this end utilizes epistemological concepts, transferring them from their original logical-mathematical, Kantian, Cohenian, Cassirerian, Husserlian context into a Judeo-Kabbalistic theological setting— acquired through the mathematical kabbalist Scholem—characterized by a pronounced formalism. According to the interpretation of Peter Fenves, Benjamin, like Husserl, wishes to overcome the natural approach and theory of knowledge as the relation between a knowing subject and a known object,53 but its “reduction” is a messianic one that can be produced not by the consciousness, by the philosopher, but only by a “higher power” in a mathematical sense (an integral). This is the messianic power that expresses itself in the tension directed toward the “messianic,” between the nondirectionality of time and the unidirectionality of history, and in the sphere of neutrality, where, by a theory of mathematical infinity (the transfinite), a messianic conception of history is unified with a theological-messianic conception of language:54 What Benjamin says about the structure of messianicity in the opening sentence of his so-called “Theologisch-Politisches Fragment” (Theological-political fragment), which was probably written in the early 1920s, goes for the structure of the reduction as well: just as the one who “turns off” the “natural” attitude is alone capable of establishing what has thus been accomplished, so, according to Benjamin, “the messiah alone . . . first redeems, completes, creates the relation [of every historical event] to the messianic (GS, II:203).” The reduction is messianic for this reason: only the unity of a higher “power” than that of consciousness or community can accomplish [the historical event] . . . discovering the tension between the nondirectionality of time and the unidirectionality of history. . .: “toward the messianic” (GS, VI, 124).55



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As Desideri notes, it is precisely in the theological theory of the language of names that Benjamin distances himself both from neo-Kantianism and from Husserl. As a power that itself shapes the empirical world, and that shapes it in the act of ideas presenting themselves as names, the truth is for Benjamin the death of intentionality: It is thus by virtue of this twofold direction of the name and of names, as the intimate limit of language in which ideas give themselves, that these cannot be reduced to a content within a transcendental consciousness or an objective correlative of an intentional act. Here Benjamin distances himself explicitly both from the Neo-Kantianism of his era and from the phenomenological program of Husserl.56

“THE INFINITE TASK IN KANT”: “ON THE PROGRAM OF THE COMING PHILOSOPHY” AND THE FRAGMENTS ON THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE (1916–1923) In the essay On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, written in 1917 and completed with an Addendum in 1918, which takes up Kant’s philosophy with the intention of using its system to develop a program for a “coming” philosophy, Benjamin asserts that in order to retrace the sources and thus the unity and continuity of experience, a theory of knowledge must make reference to a Faktum, a “fact,” just as Kant had done when seeking the origins of knowledge and experience in physics and mathematics. Benjamin claims that this Faktum will be the science of language: Just as Kantian theory itself, in order to find its principles, needed to be confronted with a science with reference to which it could define them, modern philosophy will need this as well. The great transformation and correction which must be performed upon the concept of knowledge, oriented so one-sidedly along mathematical-mechanical lines, can be attained only by relating knowledge to language, as was attempted by Hamann during Kant’s lifetime.57 For Kant, the consciousness that philosophical knowledge was absolutely certain and a priori, the consciousness of that aspect of philosophy in which it is fully the peer of mathematics, ensured that he devoted almost no attention to the fact that all philosophical knowledge has its unique expression in language and not in formulas or numbers. This fact, however, might well ultimately prove to be the decisive one.58

Benjamin’s conception of the relationship of experience and knowledge to language declares his distance from neo-Kantianism, which had not recognized “that not science, but language gives the concepts that ought to be

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examined.”59 The reference to a Faktum of science (in this case the science of language) as a point of departure from which to retrace a path to transcendental origins is the foundation of Cohen’s transcendental method.60 The fact that any philosophical knowledge must find its expression “exclusively” in language allows Benjamin to affirm “the systematic supremacy of philosophy over all science as well as mathematics,”61 in contrast to Scholem, who saw in mathematics the possibility for unmediated contact with the very center of Judaism, with God.62 For Benjamin a “concept of knowledge gained from reflection on the linguistic nature of knowledge will create a corresponding concept of experience that will also encompass realms that Kant failed to truly systematize” and among these “the realm of religion should be mentioned as the foremost,”63 as a place founded upon the linguistic expression of revelation. In the Program, religion, as doctrine (Lehre), is the place of ideas (also called Dasein, existence), necessary for the unity of experience and given to philosophy by religion only as doctrine (Lehre), as “knowledge of religion,”64 therefore exclusively in their epistemological role as “integral,”65 as a unitary foundation of knowledge in its unitary and continuous multiplicity (experience). Benjamin argues that “philosophy always inquires about knowledge, in relation to which the question of the knowledge of its existence [Dasein, idea] is only a modification . . . of the question of knowledge in general”:66 The transcendental dialectic already displays, in the Kantian formulation, the ideas upon which the unity of experience rests. As already mentioned, however, for the deep concept of experience continuity is almost as indispensable as unity, and the basis of the unity and continuity of that experience which is not vulgar or only scientific, but metaphysical, must be demonstrated in the ideas. The convergence of ideas toward the highest concept of knowledge must be shown. . . . Experience is the uniform and continuous multiplicity of knowledge. [P]hilosophy in its questionings can never hit upon the unity of existence, but only upon new unities of various conformities to laws, whose integral is “existence” [Dasein]. . . . But there is a unity of experience that can by no means be understood as a sum of experiences, to which the concept of knowledge is immediately related in its continuous development as teaching [Lehre]. The object and the content of this teaching, this concrete totality of experience, is religion, which, however is presented to philosophy in the first instance only as teaching. . . . To say that knowledge is metaphysical means in the strict sense that it is related via the original concept of knowledge to the concrete totality of experience—that is, existence [Dasein].67

It should be made clear, however, that in the Program, “Philosophy is based upon the fact that the structure of experience lies within the structure of knowledge and is to be developed from it,”68 and that it is therefore pure



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knowledge without reference to possible experience and sensory intuition, and to a psychological or empirical consciousness: All genuine experience rests upon the pure “epistemological (transcendental) consciousness,” if this term is still usable under the condition that it be stripped of everything subjective. The pure transcendental consciousness is different in kind from any empirical consciousness.69 All of philosophy breaks down into epistemology and metaphysics or, as Kant would say, into a critical and a dogmatic part. . . . All philosophy is thus theory of knowledge, but just that—a theory, critical and dogmatic, of all knowledge. Both parts, the critical and the dogmatic, fall completely within the realm of the philosophical. . . . since it is not true that, for instance, the dogmatic part coincides with that of individual sciences, the question naturally arises as to the borderline between philosophy and individual sciences. The meaning of the term “metaphysical,” as introduced in the foregoing, consists precisely in declaring this border nonexistent, the reformulation of “experience” as “metaphysics” means that so-called experience is virtually included in the metaphysical or dogmatic part70 of philosophy, into which the highest epistemological—that is, the critical—is transformed.71

So-called experience—which in Kant is founded on the possible reference of concepts of the intellect to data of sensory intuition—is, in Benjamin, pure knowledge that develops in the individual sciences and is virtually included, perceived as an infinite task of recovery of concepts and the search for their unity in a totality, in experience as a unitary and continuous multiplicity of knowledge connected by ideas: The original or primal concept of epistemology [der erkenntnistheoretische Stamm- oder Urbegriff] has a double function. On the one hand, this concept is the one which by its specification, after the general logical foundation of knowledge, penetrates to the concepts of specific types of cognition and thus to specific types of experience . . . only in teaching [Lehre] does philosophy encounter something absolute, as existence [Dasein], and in so doing encounter that continuity in the nature of experience. The failing of neo-Kantianism can be suspected in the neglect of this continuity. In a purely metaphysical respect, the original concept [Stammbegriff] of experience in its totality is transformed in a sense quite different from the way it is transformed in its individual specifications, the sciences.72

In On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, Benjamin hopes for a revision of Kant’s theory of knowledge by rendering transcendental his conception of experience and by the construction of a nonempirical and spiritually higher, metaphysical concept of experience, which must derive from the structure of pure knowledge.73 With the revision of Kant’s theory of

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knowledge, Benjamin wishes to eliminate the relation of the categories with sensory intuition and surpass the conception of knowledge as the relation of a knowing subject to a known object. He foresees the insertion of the table of Kantian categories into a more ample “theory of orders”74 and its placement alongside other concepts, or its foundation on more originary concepts,75 or the development of the Kantian table itself to where it forms such a doctrine. This entails a widening of the scope of the categories, which must include not only the “fundamental concepts”76 of mechanics, but also the fundamental concepts of geometry, linguistics, psychology, and biology (beschreibende Naturwissenschaft), in the degree to which they have relations with the categories or with still more originary concepts than the Kantian ones. According to Benjamin, the fields of art, law, and history must orient themselves around the theory of orders, the result of a new transcendental logic, no longer limited to the concept of the understanding or to physical and mathematical concepts, and the problems of truth and error must lead back to this doctrine. The doctrine must include within itself also the forms of space and time, thus to overcome the Kantian division between aesthetics and transcendental logic, with knowledge exclusively directed within the scope of categories. In this sense, Benjamin finds the proper direction in certain results of neoKantian reflection, such as the elimination of the Kantian division between forms of intuition and categories and the concept of the “idea of hypothesis,”77 Cohen’s Ursprung, which, in the Logic of Pure Knowledge, derives knowledge from pure thought and its concepts. He accuses Cohen, however, of having considered knowledge and the experience that derives from it as an exclusively scientific, physical-mathematical knowledge (the transcendental method proceeds, for ethics and aesthetics as well, in analogy with its use in logical contexts). Benjamin attempts to surpass the Kantian conception of experience, with its empirical connotation, and the neo-Kantian conception, and to delineate a system of philosophy wherein experience derives from pure knowledge and is not only physical-mathematical, but also linguistic, biological, historical, artistic, and religious. Cohen posits a continuity between knowledge and experience in pure thought, in scientific experience, and the principle of continuity78 is fundamental for him. Benjamin, who criticizes neo-Kantianism for the lack of any continuity in the system of experience represented as the system of sciences,79 discloses perhaps a lack of continuity among the diverse realms of the system (cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic) due to their common logical-mathematical model, which has a role, by analogy, also in nonscientific realms: every science methodologically generates its own object, and that introduces discontinuity.80 Benjamin instead conceived a system not only of the physical-mathematical sciences, one whose continuity is founded upon ideas and language, that is, on the theological language of names or ideas. The continuity of his system of the sciences appears in the relation between the domains of the knowledge



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of nature, ethics, and aesthetics, to whose principles history must refer (as the “becoming of knowledge”).81 The domains include jurisprudence, art, and other realms, such as those of biological organisms and religion (where ideas originate). The continuity he seeks is also between knowledge and experience. Once having overcome the distinction between forms of sensibility and categories, Benjamin seeks a continuity that does not reduce everything to the logical forms,82 but takes account of the dignity of an experience which in Kant was—in the context of the Enlightenment’s vision of the world—transitory and “low,”83 devoid of meaning, and which Benjamin wishes to fill with metaphysical and religious meaning, seeking, as early German romanticism had done, to found a higher sphere in which history and religion must coincide.84 In the 1917 fragment “On Perception” (Über die Wahrnehmung), he distinguishes between “experience” and “knowledge of experience,”85 between a concept of experience as a system of pure knowledge and the perceptual symbol of this system. This symbolic and linguistic perception (Wahrnehmung)—close to the “reflected perception”86 of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment—has its own temporality, which we will discover to be that of the Jetztzeit, now-time, the temporality of knowledge that will present itself in the symbolic exhibition (Darstellung) of ideas in concepts of origin and dialectic images. In distinguishing between “experience” and “knowledge of experience,” Benjamin maintains the continuity between a logical realm that can furnish concepts for knowledge and a perceptual realm that is not linked to a Kantian type of sensible intuition, a continuity able to account for fields that cannot be reduced to the physical-mathematical model of thought. According to Benjamin, experience must be the unitary system of the continuous multiplicity of pure concepts of knowledge, the principle behind their virtual totality: “Experience is the uniform and continuous multiplicity of knowledge”87 and in this sense it is “the logical place and the logical possibility of metaphysics.”88 Experience presents itself, that is, as a system of pure logical knowledge that establishes—employing the transcendental method of returning from the “given” (Faktum) of the diverse sciences back to its conceptual conditions—the possibility of a metaphysics as a system of sciences (not exclusively connected to the physical-mathematical model) and its dogmatic content, rendered unitary and continuous by the relation of this system with ideas as “integrals” of concepts, in a redemptive vision of the system tending toward an ideal and absolute totality, in the unity of the idea of God.89 Ideas originate in doctrine/teaching, as the philosophical form of religion, which constitutes its content. On October 22, 1917, Benjamin had written to Scholem: The most profound typology of conceiving doctrine [Lehre] has thus far always become clear to me in Kant’s words and ideas. And no matter how great the number of Kantian minutiae that may have to fade away, his system’s typology

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must last forever. To my knowledge, within the realm of philosophy this typology can only be compared with Plato’s. Only in the spirit of Kant and Plato and, I believe, by means of the revision and further development of Kant, can philosophy become doctrine or, at least, be incorporated into it. . . . anyone who does not sense in Kant the struggle to conceive doctrine itself and who therefore does not comprehend him with the utmost reverence, looking in even the least letter as a tradendum to be transmitted (however much it is necessary to recast him afterwards), knows nothing of philosophy.90

The term “typic” (Typik) or “typology” will return in On the Program of the Coming Philosophy. Benjamin’s fundamental intention toward contemporary philosophy will be “to take the deepest intimations it draws from our times and our expectation of a great future, and turn them into knowledge by relating them to the Kantian system.”91 This means that any cognitive experience of the present and any utopian vision of a future of cognitive perfection and ethico-political and social justice must be investigated in its a priori conceptual conditions and ideals, referring these experiences and expectations to the concepts and ideas of the Kantian system, thereby transforming and amplifying this same system. The typic in Kant’s system is identified by Benjamin in the concepts of the intellect, in the ideas of reason and in the principle of the faculty of judgment, and in this faculty’s capacity as a principle of purposiveness of nature, to put the domains of the concepts of liberty and nature into relation one with another through a symbolic exposition.92 Benjamin sees in the ideas of Kantian reason the presence of the dimension of doctrine as a religious field that constitutes itself philosophically in pure principles, in principles that have a gnoseological role in putting concepts in relation one to another, as guides for their systematic unity and symbols of this unity.93 Benjamin seeks to create a bridge between the spheres of religion and philosophy by recuperating the Kantian system and linking it, through “doctrine,” the highest philosophical sphere present in the system itself, to the territory of religion, where ideas have their origin. About Benjamin in 1918, Scholem says, “Sometimes he used the terms system and teaching [Lehre] almost interchangeably,” adding that he made a note about Benjamin that, “He is sailing full speed into the system.”94 Doctrine here is the theological dimension of religion (historically identifiable in Jewish theological doctrine), which can be conceived as philosophy only in its epistemological dimension as an ideal and continuous unitary totality of pure knowledge, and therefore of experience. In the same letter, Benjamin says that doctrine is present in Kant’s system, and that its transformation must be directed toward the radicalization of the purification of the Kant’s theory of knowledge and by transcendentalizing his theory of experience so as to make this dimension emerge. The Addendum to the Program defines all philosophy



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(i.e., also the practical and aesthetic)95 as a theory of a priori knowledge, of which doctrine is the dogmatic content,96 which virtually includes within itself the individual sciences and the possibility of conceiving its totality as knowledge of religion.97 The task Benjamin assigns to the coming philosophy is “to create on the basis of the Kantian system a concept of knowledge to which a concept of experience corresponds, of which the knowledge is the doctrine [Lehre].”98 By studying and developing the Kantian doctrine of the concepts of knowledge and ideas through research into their linguistic foundations, one can, Benjamin feels, arrive at a concept of “absolute” (metaphysical) experience as a system of pure knowledge, founded on language, of all the manifestations of human spirituality and a symbolic exposition of this system.99 Experience coincides with the entire tripartite scope of philosophy and thus of doctrine, and is conceived, in the 1917 fragment Über die Wahrnehmung (On Perception), as “language” (Sprache) in its meaning as a systematic and symbolic structure, a linguistic system, in which perception itself appears as a linguistic phenomenon that exhibits a structural relationship. This is the “experience” that makes the system of the “knowledge of experience” perceptible: Experience as the object of knowledge is the unified and continuous manifold of knowledge. Paradoxical though it sounds, experience does not occur as such in the knowledge of experience, simply because this is knowledge of experience and hence a context of knowledge [Erkenntniszusammenhang]. Experience, however, is the symbol of this context of knowledge and therefore belongs in a completely different order of things from knowledge itself. . . . the “experience” we experience in reality is identical with what we know in our knowledge of experience. Philosophy is absolute experience deduced in a systematic, symbolic framework as language. Absolute experience is, in the view [Anschauung] of philosophy, language—language understood, however, as a systematic, symbolic concept. It is articulated in types of language, one of which is perception. Doctrines of perception, as well as of all immediate manifestations of absolute experience, belong in the “philosophical sciences” in the broader sense. Philosophy as a whole, including the philosophical sciences, is doctrine.100

In 1917, Benjamin chooses as the subject of his doctoral dissertation the theme “the concept of the infinite task in Kant,” suiting his intention (born also from his reading of Scholem’s letters about Kant) to concentrate study on the “terminology” (the tradendum of the teaching)101 and the “letter” of Kant’s system, that is, their logical and linguistic implications toward the development of an immanent interpretation that can lead to a revision of Kant’s epistemological and metaphysical thought. This choice of subject requires studying Kant from a new perspective, passing through

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Cohen’s interpretation of Kant’s thing in itself and the role of ideas in understanding experience, and moving to overcome the transcendental method’s exclusive reference (including by analogy) to the physical and mathematical sciences of nature, the “fact of pure mathematical sciences.” Benjamin instead seeks to distinguish a new concept of knowledge and experience founded on a religious vision of language, one that develops in a redemptive,102 messianic historical path that leads philosophy into a linguistic and metaphysical-religious dimension (characterized by a “magic of language”)103 which he, together with Scholem (and with reference also to the work of Franz Joseph Molitor, representative of a Christian reading of Kabbalah)104 calls “teaching” (Lehre) and which they identify with the Torah (the Hebrew Bible, whose name means “instruction”). The theme of “the concept of the infinite task in Kant” appears in Benjamin’s letter to Scholem dated December 7, 1917, in which Benjamin informs Scholem that he can neither send him the essay he is writing on Kant (On the Program of the Coming Philosophy) because it is still only an outline, nor can he yet discuss Kant with Scholem (having not yet finished reading Kant’s writings on the philosophy of history),105 but he promises that he is making real strides in his knowledge and ability to communicate the epistemological issues he is dealing with in his work with Scholem. He connects the theme of “infinite task” with the need to study Kant’s terminology and the definition of his categories and ideas: As far as I am concerned, our discussion about Kant must continue to be postponed. Yet two points you make in your letter seem credible to me. In fact, one of them is a certainty: namely, it is necessary to begin by being concerned with the letter of Kantian philosophy. Kantian terminology is probably the only philosophical terminology that in its entirety did not only arise but was created. It is precisely the study of this terminology that leads to a realization of its extraordinary potency. In any case, it is possible to learn a lot by expanding and defining immanently the terminology as such. In this regard, I recently came upon a topic that might have something in it for me as a dissertation: the concept of the “infinite task” in Kant (what do you think?).106

In the same letter, after asking Scholem about his thoughts on the project, Benjamin again mentions the theme of the philosophy of history in Kant in regard to the Torah—saying he can only learn from Kant’s reflections on the philosophy of history once he has developed his own regarding history: I have become more familiar with the other point you make in your letter, i.e. that under certain circumstances it is necessary to be a completely independent thinker when it comes to your own thought, above all when ultimate questions are at issue. In any case, there are certain questions, like those related to the



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philosophy of history, that are central for us, but about which we can learn something decisive from Kant only after we have posed them anew for ourselves. . . . No doubt, we can have a real exchange of ideas about the Torah and the philosophy of history only when we are together again.107

According to Scholem, the doctrine is Torah and history. The history of the Torah is the internal history of the world, the historical process unfolds in the development (Entfaltung) of the Torah, and history is the science of the internal laws of the Torah: The equation History = Torah perhaps expresses this essential issue [in which Judaism surpasses myth and magic with history and the Torah]: Torah is History [Historie]. The history [Geschichte] of the Torah is the inner history [Geschichte] of the world,108 with the historical process playing itself out in the unfolding [Entfaltung] of the Torah. Historiography [Geschichte] is the science of the inner laws of the Torah (which is a history, to be sure, yet to be dealt with and explored). Molitor had an inkling of this, but he saw it Christologically, whereas one must see it as a Jew. This would be a genuine ideology of Zionism. It would be the inner relationship between mathematics and history [Historie]— in Zion.109 Otherwise, there is no relationship.110

Concerning doctrine, “which for him,” Scholem says, “included the philosophical realm but definitely transcended it,” Benjamin interpreted the concept “in the original meaning of the Hebrew Torah as ‘Instruction’ . . . about the transcausal connection of things and their rootedness in God.”111 For him religion, which did not coincide with theology, represented a supreme order: the term “order” or “spiritual order” substituted in the exposition of his thought at that time the term “category.”112 In an unpublished manuscript dated 1918, entitled Die drei Teile des Systems der Lehre als Philosophie des Judentums, oder über das Wesen des Messianischen (The Three Parts of the Teaching as a Philosophy of Judaism, or the Essence of the Messianic), Scholem seeks to define his concept of doctrine, which he develops in continuous dialogue with Benjamin, and in which echoes of Cohen (of the Logik) are clearly perceptible: 1. Doctrine as knowledge . . . (law)—judgment 2. Doctrine as history . . . (tradition)—deferral [Aufschub] 3. Doctrine as Language . . . (revelation)—redemption. 1) The concept of medial knowledge [for 1–4]—(What an idea is . . .) 2) Identity and movement (the mystic theory of knowledge) 3) The sequence of knowledge (fundamental part) 4) Dimension and order

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5) Second reflection on knowledge a) as question b) as answer c) as medial (origin. in the limit) (the law) (the judgment) . . .

Transition to Religion113

Here is visible an already developed tripartite system in which the realm of knowledge is associated with the (mythical) dimension of law (Recht) and a logical judgment that acts to judge. The realm of ethics is occupied by a philosophy of history founded on the concept of tradition as the transmission of the problem of the good, of goods, and of justice, and the concept of deferral (Aufschub) or postponement as the Jewish condition of messianic anticipation of the reign of justice. The synthetic moment, the third part of the system of doctrine, is the linguistic realm, where the concepts of revelation and redemption appear, and in which the system finds its unity and continuity. Each realm of doctrine is characterized by a “continuum of the doctrine” itself and by a “passage to religion” (Übergang zur Religion),114 the origin of ideas. The theory of the judgment of God and its diverse categories is the Grenzgebiet (limit-field) of ethics and history with respect to religion (in Scholem, history is the history of the Torah and messianic history, that is, of a redemptive tension toward justice): “The act that became delay is justice as deed (Z’dakah),” he writes in “Über Jona und den Begriff der Gerechtigkeit.”115 In the manuscript, immediately after the section on religion, Scholem defines the “concept of justice . . . [the] second concept of the canonists.” Humanity and the world in the “plan of projection of history” are conceived as “the world as act [Tat],” while the continuum of history, as a second continuum of doctrine, is the “problem of the beginning and the end [Ende]”116 of history in messianic time. The passage to religion for knowledge takes place in the “knowledge of the surface [Fläche]: a) mathematics b) perception c) symbol” (the place of experience as symbolic exposition of the cognitive connection). Therein can be identified the “first concept of the canonists. The world in the plane of projection [Projektionsebene] of knowledge,” while the problem of definition is the “first continuum of the doctrine.”117 There is no further discussion of the systematic realm of language, but there may be a trace of a discussion of language in an indecipherable part of the manuscript that deals with the theme of messianism. A comprehensive doctrine is not possible, Scholem writes, before the advent of the Messiah, and thus “The theory of Judaism will be a prophecy. It is not otherwise thinkable in any era that is not the messianic era. . . . The non-interrogability118 of this system as prophetic system is assured from the beginning.”119 In this period, Benjamin and Scholem read (or intended to read) Kant and Hermann Cohen. Between 1917 and 1918 (but also earlier) Benjamin had been studying the Critique of Pure Reason, the Prolegomena, the Critique of Judgment,120 and probably Cohen’s Logik der reinen Erkennis (Logic of Pure



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Knowledge)121 and Cassirer’s Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff (Substance and Function).122 In June 1917 Benjamin writes to Scholem that, since he is occupied with the study of early romanticism, “Studying Kant, which in some ways would be of paramount importance, must be put off and wait for a more propitious time, because I can deal with him (as well as with [Hermann] Cohen . . .) only in the broadest context, which thus requires large chunks of time.”123 In the summer of 1918 they both read Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (Kant’s Theory of Experience),124 which they criticize harshly.125 The theme of the “concept of the infinite task in Kant,”126 chosen by Benjamin after having decided to work “on Kant and history,”127 is redefined as a “new plan” (perhaps no longer exclusively dedicated to Kant) in a letter to Scholem dated December 23, 1917: “The question can be put something like this: What does it mean to say that science is an infinite task? . . . You only had to become clear in your own mind that the subject is an ‘eternal task’ and not a ‘solution that requires an eternally long time’.”128 This will become a reflection on the theory of knowledge as a process in a state of becoming, which interprets Kant from the perspective of Cohen’s Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (Logic of Pure Cognition). In this work, science, in Benjamin’s view, has the “task” of formulating a system of pure physicalmathematical concepts that remains always open and incomplete.129 The infinite task, however, is also the task of searching for the impossible unity of the system of philosophy, which must depend upon an unconditional ideas. In Benjamin, science is a metaphysics but is not restricted exclusively to a physical-mathematical setting, as he thinks it is in Cohen. Cohen’s transcendental method, which starts from the Faktum of science and traces back to its conditions of possibility, is discovered by logic as the foundation of the science of nature,130 and depends by analogy upon the physical-mathematical realm, even for its ethical and aesthetic rulings. In its exclusively formal methodological procedure, its ordering horizons, science has for Benjamin an “infinite task” in terms of determining a solution (of unity and totality) that always remains internal to itself, “methodical,” soluble tout court,131 the principle of its autonomy is not empirical (it is a priori) and extrinsic (the infinite task cannot be given), conditioning its unity as system. Fragments 30, “Die unendliche Aufgabe” (The infinite Task) and 31, “Zweideutigkeit des Begriffs der ‘unendlichen Aufgabe’ in der kantischen Schule” (Ambiguity of the concept of the ‘infinite Task’ in the Kantian school), dated, respectively, to 1917 and 1918,132 refer to this complex question. The second fragment explicitly critiques the neo-Kantian concept of the “infinite task” because it is “not a priori and completely empty,”133 bound to a “concept of knowledge, oriented one-sidedly along mathematical-mechanical lines.”134 One might propose a later date, perhaps around 1921, for these fragments and others that

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the editors of the Gesammelte Schriften attribute to 1917–1918. In fact, the notepad upon which the fragment Die unendliche Aufgabe was written—not in a spiral notebook, they are loose sheets—is found, or in any case has been catalogued, after the fragment “Kapitalismus als Religion” (Capitalism as religion), which is securely dated to 1921, as it contains a bibliography with books published in 1921.135 This hypothesis allows us to think that these fragments—or at least the “infinite task” fragment—are not merely part of a later-abandoned project, but may indicate a path of thought fully current in 1921, a current concerning the “ideal of the problem” in the essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities (1922). Here, in the concept of the “ideal of the problem,”136 we find the issue of the noninterrogability of the unity of science in the “infinite task” fragment, the question that cannot be formulated on the unity of the system of philosophy. In the fragment itself, in fact, the infinite task is not given as a question. In the essay on Goethe, artworks, in their multiplicity, are, thanks to their affinity with the ideal of the problem, symbolic manifestations (Escheinungen) of the nonformulable question about the unity of the system of philosophy. In a preparatory fragment we read: The unity of philosophy—its system—is, as an answer, of a higher order than the infinite number of finite questions that can be posed. It is of a higher kind and a higher order than that to which the quintessence of all these questions can lay claim, because a unity of the answer cannot be obtained through any questioning. The unity of philosophy therefore belongs to a higher order than any single philosophical question or problem can claim.—If there were questions that nevertheless called for a unified answer, their relation to philosophy would be fundamentally different from that of philosophical problems generally. In response to such problems, there is a constant tendency to ask further questions—a tendency that has led to superficial talk to the effect that philosophy is an infinite task. . . . If such questions—questions that seek a unity—did exist. . . . But no such questions exist; the system of philosophy as such cannot be interrogated. And to this virtual question (which can be inferred only from the answer) there could obviously be only one answer: the system of philosophy itself.137

Works of art do not compete with philosophy as such, but enter into a deep relation to it thanks to their affinity to the “ideal of the problem,” which is the interrogated system of philosophy, the answer of the question on the unity of the system of philosophy. Works of art symbolize this ideal (as transcendent content of the solution of the problem). The manifestation of the ideal in them is their “aura”:138 The ideal of the philosophical problem is an idea that can be called an ideal, because it refers not to the immanent form of the problem but to the transcendent content of its solution, even only through the concept of the problem as the



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concept of the unity of his solution [Antwort]. According to the law that is probably grounded in the essence of the ideal as such, the ideal of the philosophical problem can be represented only in a multiplicity (just as the ideal of pure content in art is to be found in the plurality of the Muses). Therefore, the unity of philosophy can in principle be explored only in a plurality or multiplicity of virtual questions. This multiplicity lies immured in the multiplicity of true works of art, and their promotion is the business of critique. What critique basically seeks to prove about a work of art is the virtual possibility of the formulation of its contents as a philosophical problem, and what makes it call a halt—in awe, as it were, of the work of art itself, but equally in awe of philosophy—is the factual formulation of the problem. . . . Critique makes the ideal of the philosophical problem manifest itself in a work of art, or enter into one of its manifestations; if, however, critique wishes to speak of the work of art as such, it can say only that the artwork symbolizes this ideal.139

The end of the fragment makes explicit the fundamental role of the symbolic relation between concepts of the diverse domains of the system of philosophy, which permits its continuity: “Just as philosophy makes use of symbolic concepts to draw ethics and language into the realm of theory, in the same way can theory (logic) be incorporated into ethics and language in symbolic form. We then see the emergence of ethical and aesthetic critique.”140 The same question about the unity of the system appears in 1925, in the Epistemological Preface to the Origin of the German Mourning Play,141 in the problem of the noninterrogability of the truth as a complex of ideas and the relations among them. The theory of ideas Benjamin delineates in this text takes up again the theme of the infinite task with substantial variations and more pronounced reference to the platonic theory of ideas.142 Truth is represented as “an intentionless state of being, made up of ideas,”143 where “the idea is something linguistic, it is that element of the symbolic in the essence of any word; it is that moment in which it is symbol.”144 But already in 1917–1918, in On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, in addition to repeating the importance of Plato as the last philosopher before Kant to have sought out the justification of knowledge, Benjamin had identified truth with the unity of the system,145 that system which in 1925 had its validity only when its structure was inspired “by the constitution of the world of ideas”: “the great categories which determine not only the shape of the systems, but also philosophical terminology—logic, ethics, and aesthetics . . . acquire their significance . . . as monuments in the discontinuous structure of the world of ideas.”146 The infinite task that Benjamin, in the fragment with that title, sees as entrusted to “science”147—a term he uses to define each separate field of philosophy but also as a whole, following thus the definition Kant gives to

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metaphysics as a “system of pure reason (science)”148—his entire system, coincides for him with the concept of the unity of science. Science is an infinite task with regard to its form and its unity, a task that cannot be given as a question, but is, rather, on a higher level with respect to all questions that can be posed about the world and being; and it is this that determines its autonomy and method: a) As foundation of autonomy: The infinite task is not given (as question). The infinite number of all possible questions about the world and being would not necessitate science. Based on its form (not regarding its matter), science is an infinite task. What does this mean, “an infinite task based on its form”? It does not mean a task with an infinite solution (temporally or otherwise). Infinite is that task that cannot be given. But where lies the infinite task, if it cannot be given? It lies in science itself, or, rather, it is science. The unity of science rests in the fact that it is not the answer to a finite question; it cannot be inquired. The unity of science lies in the fact that its complex [Inbegriff ] has a higher cardinality than the complex of all posable questions that are numerically infinitely finite, that is, given, could demand. This means that the unity of science lies in its being an infinite task. As such one cannot approach it from the outside in the form of a question; it is autonomous. Science itself is nothing but an infinite task. b) As foundation of the method: The unity of science lies in the infinity of its task. This means that science is pervaded by the solvability of its task. The task of science is solvability as such. Assigned to science is that task, whose solution itself always remains within it, that is, whose solution is methodical. The task assigned to science is that of solvability.149

The unity of science appears here clearly as an idea, an integral, an Inbegriff of a power superior to the finite questions (however infinite they may be in number) that can be posed to it (in Cohen, concepts are questions whose answers pose new questions),150 and science can be interpreted as part of a system of sciences with diverse tasks (cognitive, ethical, aesthetic), each guided by an idea, where the unity of each science resides in the infinity of the task that the idea poses to it within its field of inquiry. The unity of each science resides in the unity and totality pursued by its guiding idea, while the whole system receives its unity from the method of autonomy, identical in each of its separate fields—a method that expresses itself in the relation between ideas and concepts, beyond the empirical, and is Benjamin’s interpretation of Cohen’s transcendental method, the method of purity.151 The unity of the system is also given by the relations among the various fields, made possible by the concept of purposiveness of nature,152 by the relations among ideas, and by the idea of God (the “infinite” task of systematic unity, which in Benjamin



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coincides with truth). There is an interesting passage in this regard in a January 31, 1918, letter to Scholem that clarifies the relationship between science and metaphysics, in which ethics is considered an “autonomous” science, because it is a priori, within the orders of the “doctrine”: Metaphysical defines that body of knowledge that a priori seeks to understand science as a sphere in the absolute divine context of order, whose highest sphere is doctrine and whose quintessence and first cause [Inbegriff und Urgrund] is God. It is also knowledge that views the “autonomy” of science as reasonable and possible only within this context. For me, this is the a priori methodological basis for deeming ethics, and any other science, without metaphysics, i.e. outside of this postulated context, to be impossible.153

In this letter the terms Urgrund and Inbegriff refer back to the concept of the transcendental ideal of the Critique of Pure Reason, which includes the terms Inbegriff (“complex,” “epitome,” “quintessence”), Urgrund (original ground), and Urbegriff (original concept),154 revealing a continuous Kantian presence. The term Inbegriff is also present in F. J. Molitor’s writing as a translation of the Hebrew word Kolel. Referring to Molitor, Scholem identifies a link between the mathematical theory of truth and the internal form of the Hebrew language, given by the fact that pure spiritual form is central to both, in the mathematical structure of the first and the linguistic structure of the second, while the empirical content and meaning is not fundamental: The philosophy of language is a science that in every way has yet to be created. I have in fact a very strong affinity for its fundamental thoughts. . . . [one] has to be an extraordinary philosopher to be able to ferret out all the vexing problems from history, mathematics, and a handful of other nonscientific spheres. The philosophy of language will be the only science that can rightfully be characterized as “intuitive.” The task of this philosophy is to examine language as the revelation of the truth [Offenbarung der Wahrheit], thus determining the truth content [Wahrheitsgehalt] of language. In this context, one can say that Wilhelm von Humboldt was a philosopher of language in the pure sense of the word. Perhaps Herr Mauthner . . . is also one. . . . Judaism’s philosophy of language is entirely concealed (yes, entirely) within a disguised core that is always active wherever the Torah is studied and transmitted. It is in the Torah, as a divine book, that the philosophy of language appears least problematic: as the language of God it must necessarily be the language of truth, of every truth. The truth, which is expressed in every verse as a general and specific truth, must perforce be a function of the applied words, with different truths ensuing from different words and circumstances. . . . With complete justice one can say that truth is a constant function of language. . . . It’s still possible to identify a deeper common

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concept underlying both. Necessarily, the second word must express a different truth, though one with a relationship to the first.155

Scholem writes these important notes on the philosophy of language and Torah in reference to Molitor on November 18, 1916, after having sent Benjamin the letter that would inspire the composition of his essay on language: || This investigation can—if one wants to—be made referring to a single letter, as well as to sentences and entire books as complex functions. Here, certain divine laws apply, e.g. the truth of a sentence is greater than the sum of the truths of individual words. This might be what the Kabbalists mean, when they sometimes add the sum total [Inbegriff] of the word or the sentence, the “‫כולל‬ [kolel],” as 1,156 so that, e.g., ‫[ הרות‬tora, Thora] is not 611, but 612, viz. the truth content of the whole, the excess, as it were. The truth of the Torah is greater than the sum of truths of its parts, whichever those may be. . . . || “The letters, which are the expression of spiritual powers, have their roots above” (Molitor I). (Word for word, Hirsch could have written this in his commentary on the Pentateuch!).157 That is to say, the letters’ roots are in the truth (Molitor I.).158 In the spirit of the Kabbalists, one can say that all genuine study of the truth is basically the study of language, by which one investigates the “heavenly alphabet” (Zohar II 130b) along with the spiritual powers that are reflected in it.” The definition of a straight line has to ensue from the word [jaschar, straight] for the Kabbalist as well as for the serious philosopher of language. . . . The book on this topic could be entitled: On the Mathematical Theory of Truth. Or: “On the Inner Form of the Hebrew Language.”159

The term Inbegriff, which Molitor uses to translate the Hebrew Kolel, is interpreted by Scholem as a whole, a mathematical integral, an ideal dimension of value greater than the sum of its elements, as truth. This is the same meaning that the concept of the infinite task assumes in Benjamin as the place of the unity of science: “The unity of science lies in the fact that its complex [Inbegriff] is of a higher cardinality than the complex of all numerically infinite finite, i.e. given, posable questions may demand.”160 Cohen’s and Cassirer’s concepts of Inbegriff and function play a role both for Scholem and Benjamin. Cassirer’s Inbegriff (often translated as “totality”)161 means a comprehensive series ordered according to a fundamental generating relation, following a principle that regulates the mutual dependence of the variable terms of the series. Cohen defines the thing in itself as a complex (Inbegriff ) of scientific knowledge.162 The recognition of the concept of “infinite task” in Benjamin necessarily leads us back to the reflection on this theme by Hermann Cohen and the Marburg school. In Cohen, “thinking as task [Denken als Aufgabe]”163 is the task in which thought, as the logic of the pure origin of knowledge developed by the idea of (platonic) hypothesis, is determined beginning from nothing as judgment that works with infinitesimal realities164 and produces the categories



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that form the content of the mathematical science of nature.165 In Cohen’s Logik, the idea of the scientific hypothesis is central, developing in the logical judgment of the origin (Ursprung),166 as a methodical, ordering task of infinite pure formal production, never concluded in its categorical determinations. The issue of hypothesis is discussed in Benjamin’s fragment of 1918 entitled Versuch eines Beweises, dass die wissenschaftliche Beschreibung eines Vorgangs dessen Erklärung voraussetzt (fr. 22—Attempt at a proof that a scientific description of a process presupposes its explanation),167 cited in the Addeundum to On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, as an exemplification of the virtual presence of so-called experience in the dogmatic or metaphysical part of philosophy, formed by particular fundamental concepts (besonderen Grudbegriffe).168 For Cohen, the judgment of the origin, as the methodological premise of thought, hypothesis, and foundation, guides knowledge in the infinite pure determination of its conceptual categories. As the “sum of the categories,”169 they never come to completion, but form an open system, the “system of truth.”170 The idea of hypothesis, from which the logic of origins develops, is the methodological center and foundation, just as it is of the entire system of philosophy.171 The “task of logic”172 determines the centrality of the concept of “function” (but not “substance”) as the fundamental method of the mathematical science of nature, in knowledge.173 In Hermann Cohen and Paul Natorp, the concept of the task of knowledge—which is infinite because it will never come to a definitive solution—articulates itself in two senses: the foundation of experience on physical-mathematical principles, and, in parallel, the identification of a unity of experience as a maxim for a form of study that cannot be founded on the same principles of experience, but needs to rely upon something unconditional. Regarding the first of these senses, in Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (The Logical Foundations of the Exact Sciences), Natorp speaks of the “object as infinite task,”174 while Cohen, in the Logik, speaks of “thinking as task”175 that works, through separation (Sonderung) and unification (Vereinigung), toward the conservation (Erhaltung) of the object of knowledge by using categories, a task that can never be completed.176 Regarding the second sense, the definitions of concept-limit (Grenzegriff) and determination-limit (Grenzbestimmung) of experience emerge in the first edition of Cohen’s The Kantian Foundation of Ethics (1877) and the second and third editions of The Kantian Theory of Experience (1885, 1918),177 with strict reference to Kant. Cohen expresses the task of the noumenon and of ideas to limit contingent experience by referring it to an unconditional unity, and to give access to this unconditional—intelligible contingency—in criticism:178 But nevertheless, an inevitable scheme of our thinking tempts this transfer of concepts of experience to the concept of experience itself. So it seems as though every category has its own special problematic background. . . . Accordingly,

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the background limits the region of experience. . . . This basis, however, is not objectively given; but it is the inevitable task of reason and . . . the eternally insolvable yet still insuppressible task: granting the intelligible contingency the profound admission to critique.179

For Cohen, the “thing in itself is put forth as a task for the category”180 and finds its meaning “in the limitation” “but it is the Punktreihe [series of points], in which the objects of experience end in their limits.”181 Here the Kantian theme of the noumenon is taken up and discussed as a task and problematic concept, the concept-limit (Grenzbegriff) “an object for an entirely different intuition and an entirely different understanding than our own, which is thus a problem itself.”182 For Kant, in fact, “The concept of the noumenon is . . . not the concept of an object, but rather the problem, unavoidably connected with the limitation of our sensibility, of whether there may not be objects entirely exempt from the intuition of our sensibility.”183 In the Introduction to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant presents these “unavoidable” issues, “these unavoidable problems [Aufgaben] of pure reason itself [which] are God, freedom and immortality,”184 and declares that “the science whose final aim in all its preparations is directed properly only to the solution of these problems is called metaphysics.”185 From these ideas derive “all those problems [that] . . . can be solved, since reason certainly can and must be held fully accountable for its own proceedings.”186 These are “psychological, cosmological, and theological ideas,”187 pure concepts of reason that cannot be given in any experience and that guide the intellect as it proceeds into experience with “maxims” that lead its use toward fulfillment and synthetic unity in obtaining a systematic unity of knowledge. Ideas express the destination proper to reason of being “a principle of the systematic unity of the use of the understanding.”188 This unity of the mode of knowledge is “only regulative, . . . in order to bring experience in itself as near as possible to completeness (i.e., to have its advance constrained by nothing that cannot belong to experience).”189 In Cohen there is a shift with regard to Kant’s concept of experience: experience comes to be identified with a physical-mathematical science that constructs itself in its concepts in an open and potentially infinite system, and no longer depends upon the data of the senses. It is experience itself as totality, unreachable by scientific knowledge, conceived as thing in itself and infinite task.190 Kant does not speak of “infinite task” but of “tasks” of pure reason, while in Cohen, in the third edition of Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, the theme of the infinity of the thing in itself is made explicit: The thing in itself . . . the scientific complex [Inbegriff] of knowledge . . . is accordingly not an object but rather a limiting task [Begrenzungsaufgabe]. . . .



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All our knowledge is fragmentary, only the thing in itself is whole, since the task of all research is infinite.191

Cohen’s regulating concept of Grenzbegriff and his concept of the Ursprung192 as a formal task of thought for the pure production of concepts of knowledge must have influenced Benjamin, at least as regard the form, in the determination of his conception of knowledge and experience. THE CONCEPT OF IDENTITY AND THE SYMBOL Between February and April 1917 Benjamin and Scholem discuss at length the problem of identity. Probably in 1916 Benjamin writes some Theses on the concept of identity193 in a notebook that he gives to Scholem, asking him to preserve it.194 At the end of December, Benjamin writes Scholem from Bern (although the letter will arrive only in May 1918) concerning the identity “a = a” as a designation of the identity of thought, that is, of truth itself (not of a thought or an object). Benjamin seeks to establish the sphere of knowledge beyond the subject-object relation, overcoming the conception of an empirical consciousness that knows objects, distinguishing instead a nonsynthetic relation of identity among concepts and ideas, in which truth, as the unity of the system and ideas, and a criterion of certainty,195 is given as an nonintentional unity, and concepts gather like constellations around guiding ideas that represent the constellations symbolically, thus representing also the truth.196 He relates this question to his reflection on the relation between eidos and the concept, the subject of a fragment of 1916, “Eidos and Concept”:197 I would appreciate having a copy of the thesis on identity, if possible with your observations. . . . Regarding the question of the problem of identity there is no doubt that we could make real progress only in conversation. I therefore do not attribute any absolute certainty to the following sentences. Nevertheless the question appears to me as follows: I would deny that there can be identity in thinking, whether identity of one particular “object” of thinking or of one particular instance of “what is thought,” because I dispute that any “thinking” is the correlate of truth. The truth is “thinkish” (I have to coin this word because none is available to me). “Thinking” as an absolute may somehow be only an abstraction of the truth. The assertion of identity in thinking would be the absolute tautology.198 The illusion of “thinking” arises only through tautologies. No more than the truth is thought, does it think. In my opinion, “a equals a” characterizes the identity of what is thought or, to express it better (in the only correct way), of truth itself.199 At the same time, this proposition designated no other identity than that of what is thought. The identity of the object, assuming

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there were such a thing in absolute terms, would have another form (forms of imperfect identities which, perfected, turn into one form of the type “a equals a”). By concrete object, I understand everything that is not the truth itself and is not concept. For example, the concept is a concrete object. The concept of the concept is an abstract one. This in fact probably leads to the eidos doctrine.200

On January 13, 1918, Benjamin writes to Scholem: “for my part, I am discontinuing our written discussion of the problem of identity: in fact, as we both constantly affirm, progress on this issue can be made only in conversation,”201 and at the end of January: “You do have the small philosophical book containing the theses on identity in your safekeeping, don’t you?”202 The booklet of which Benjamin speaks here has been lost, but Scholem had made a copy of the “theses.” In the Program, Benjamin defines the concept of identity, a concept capable of “founding the sphere of knowledge autonomously, beyond subjectobject terminology”: The fixing of the concept of identity, unknown to Kant, will likely play a great role in transcendental logic, inasmuch as it does not occur in the table of categories yet presumably constitutes the highest of transcendental logical concepts and is perhaps truly suited to founding the sphere of knowledge autonomously beyond subject-object terminology . . . The convergence of ideas toward the highest concept of knowledge must be shown.203

The concept of identity constitutes the supreme concept of a logicaltranscendental table, the highest concept of knowledge that permits the relation between the infinite concepts that it produces (the specification of knowledge) and the ideas that permit the concrete unity of experience: The original or primal concept of epistemology has a double function. On one hand, this concept is the one which by its specification, after the general logical foundation of knowledge, penetrates to the concepts of specific types of cognition and thus to specific types of experience. This is its real epistemological significance and simultaneously the one weaker side of its metaphysical significance. However, the original and primal concept of knowledge does not reach a concrete totality of experience in this context, any more than it reaches a concept of existence (Dasein). There is a unity of experience that can by no means be understood as the sum of experiences, to which the concept of knowledge as teaching is immediately related in its development. The object and the content of this teaching, this concrete totality of experience, is religion, which, however, is presented to philosophy in the first instance only as doctrine. . . . In a purely metaphysical respect, the original concept of experience in its totality is transformed in a sense quite different from the way it is transformed in its individual specifications, the sciences.204



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The relationship between concepts and ideas cannot, however, be inverted, and when the relation of identity (the truth itself) is understood as judgment, tautology is born: 6) The relation of tautology to the problem of identity can be thought of differently. It arises with the attempt to conceive of the identity-relation as a statement. 7) The identity-relation cannot be grasped as a statement, since the first A of the sentence A = A is no more a subject than the second is a predicate, for otherwise something other than the second A would be predicable of the first A, and the latter would be ascribable to something other than the first. 8) The identity-relation is not reversible. This assertion remains to be proved. Nevertheless it can be made plausible, for example, by the linguistic distinction between “I” and “self.” The expression “I myself” emphasizes the identity of the “I,” or if not precisely that, then at least an analogue in the sphere of the person. At the same time, this “I myself” is itself not reversible; the “myself” is, so to speak, only the inner shadow of the “I.” 9) We may therefore formulate the problem of identity by saying that a nonreversible relation exists that is not made logically possible by any of the three categories of relation (substance, causality, or reciprocity).205

Already in The Program of the Coming Philosophy, the concept of identity represents the possibility of “a certain non-synthesis of two concepts in another”206 and the possibility of putting the parts of the system in relation with one another—while maintaining the three-way partition among them— by distinguishing the three guiding ideas united by the shared transcendental method (that can develop from the concept of causality through liberty) that sees the ideas as nonsyntheses of the concepts of their settings, beyond the three categories of relation:207 . . . the trichotomy of the Kantian system is one of the great features of that typology [Typik] which is to be preserved, and it, more than any other, must be preserved. One may well ask whether the second part of the system (quite apart from the difficulty of the third) must still be related to ethics or whether the category of causality through freedom might have a different meaning. The trichotomy, whose metaphysically deepest aspects are still undiscovered, has its decisive foundation within the Kantian system in the trinity of the relational categories. . . . The formalist dialectic of the post-Kantian system, however, is not based on the definition of the thesis as categorical relation, the antithesis as hypothetical relation, and the synthesis as disjunctive relation.208 But besides the concept of synthesis, another concept, that of a certain non-synthesis of two concepts in another, will become very important systematically, since another relation between thesis and antithesis is possible.209

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It is important to remember that the judgment of identity is one of the Denkgesetze (laws of thought) of Cohen’s Logik, which determine the truth as an affirmation of the identity of the content of the judgment of the origin,210 and also to note the influence of Felix Noeggerath, the friend and colleague of Benjamin in Munich who had recently discussed his doctoral thesis on Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie, in 1916, in Erlangen. Benjamin’s concept of identity is close to Noeggerath’s concept of “disequation” (Ungleichung)211 among ideas and series of concepts. Disequation is a nonequality (a relation that holds between two values when they are different) in which one or more unknown quantities appear, which can be resolved only by opportune values (included in one or more intervals) of a variable. Noeggerath recasts the relational categories of Kant in terms of the mathematical concept of seriality.212 His influence is important also for Benjamin’s concept of the infinite task. In the introductory pages of his dissertation, the discussion of “infinite tasks” (ideas) as systematic members is linked to the three modes of relation (categorical, hypothetical, and disjunctive) and briefly touches also on the concept of disequation: 1.  The system of philosophy has as many reciprocally independent members as there are modes of relation, or rather—if we content ourselves with quantity (we conceive (. . .) as quantity the particular mode of the articulation of the object)213—as there are modes of the “infinite tasks” as forms of this infinite itself: thus three, neither more nor less. The fact that with this we conceive the idea of task in an objective way as a synthetic connection (synthetisches Verknüpfsein) and not in a genetic-psychological or historical manner derives from the fact that we link it not only with the particular infinity of the series (for which it could only be interpreted as pathway and execution). We substitute it next for the level of quantity with the still temporarily problematic concept of disequation (Ungleichung), for the level of relation with synthesis and similitude. Proof is founded on the nexus between synthesis and relation and on the possibility of differentiating the ideas at the base of the three settings of objects, in their form in the sense of schemas of relation. The series of members is a) ethics, b) logic, and c) aesthetics.214

Benjamin’s concept of identity is also fruit of intensive dialogue with Scholem and their discussion of the Thesen über das Identitätsproblem, which were already a product of this dialogue and Benjamin’s own reflection on the law of identity (the synthetic unity of the functions of the senses and ideas)215 in his essay on Hölderlin: In this way, the poetized will come to light as the precondition of the poem, as its inner form, as artistic task. The law according to which all apparent elements of sensation and ideas come to light as the embodiments [Inbegriff] of essential,



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in principle infinite functions is called the Law of Identity. This term describes the synthetic unity of functions.216

In some annotations of July 11, 1916, Scholem imagines a mechanicalmathematical law, founded on differential calculus and capable of comprehending the process of the world, brought by the Messiah as a mysticalmathematical being, coming from the idea of the mystical (from Zion) and coinciding with the Torah (as an idea of the mathematical). This law, Scholem imagines, could be the same as mathematician Edgar Zilsel’s law of “great numbers.”217 Zilsel, in his book On application: A philosophical essay on the law of great numbers and induction, claims that a priori and a posteriori probabilities coincide when the number of cases becomes infinite:218 What would ultimately be desirable is that the mechanistic new worldview can be utterly deduced from a ‘metaphysic’ assumption, just like Euclidean elements, so that no contradiction is possible, unless against the one postulate. Maybe it is possible to establish the law of the great numbers as this starting and crucial point, which in turn can be understood as the basis of the knowledge of the world. Maybe! This law states that a priori and a posteriori probability are congruent, if the number of cases becomes infinite.”219

In an October 11, 1916, annotation,220 mathematics, considered in a kabbalistic context, is seen to surpass the magic of language and enter directly into God, thus rendering comprehensible the coincidence of nature and mathematical thought, the “problem of application” about which Zilsel speaks: “The irrational, therefore, is given: the rational is not given, but assigned as a task (aufgegeben), reachable only through an infinite process.”221 In a diary page dated October 12, 1916, Scholem remembers a summer conversation with Benjamin about the problem of identity (with reference to Zilsel’s Das Anwendungsproblem), on the Rabbi S. R. Hirsch’s theory of language, and on the figure of the Messiah as the ultimate and first philosopher of language: The theorem of identity A = A only exists because of the “enigma of the universe,” the law of great numbers: that the irrational eventually voids itself.222 A is A, because the interlinks of the calculation, the irrationally incalculable, eventually clears away miraculously. If the world were not governed by the law of great numbers, the theorem of identity would probably be incorrect.223

The coincidence of the rational and irrational, a priori and a posteriori, which can be achieved through an infinite number of cases, could lead to the possible application of a universal mathematical law to reality, so as to demonstrate

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the possibility that the law could be identical with the entire series of empirical variables. For Scholem, this would lead to the asymptotic identity of the real with its possible messianic redemption, in the figure of a mathematical Messiah who is a philosopher of language. In this vision, the mathematical enters directly into God, surpassing the magic of language, but language has the ability—which mathematics lacks—to produce metaphors and symbols. Cassirer’s concept of Inbegriff may also have influenced Benjamin in his elaboration of the law and subsequently the concept of identity, taking the word to mean a comprehensive series ordered by a fundamental generating relation according to a principle that regulates the dependence of the variable terms of the series, and that posits the conditions of inclusion of these terms. This principle presents itself as principle of identity of the variables. This would be a function, an “identity” that in Cassirer224 established the system of relations, which, as a form of the system of philosophy, is maintained as “invariable” with respect to the variable contents of knowledge:225 Thus from this point of view, it also appears that all construction of concepts is connected with some definite form of construction of series. We say that a sensuous manifold is conceptually apprehended and ordered when its members do not stand next to one another without relation but proceed from a definite beginning, according to a fundamental generating relation, in necessary sequence. It is the identity of this generating relation, maintained through changes in the particular contents, which constitutes the specific form of the concept . . . . We represent this systematic totality (Inbegriff) when we substitute for the constant particular “marks” variable terms, such as stand for the possible group of possible values which the different “marks” can assume.226

Cassirer later elaborated a philosophy of symbolic forms (language, myth, scientific knowledge)227 by focusing on the relation between spiritual and sensible expression, in which the influence of Leibniz’s aesthetics, Goethe’s morphology228 (his vision of symbolic Gestalt), and Kant’s theory of the symbol in the Critique of the Power of Judgment are fundamental. This influence is already present in 1916 in his work Freiheit und Form.229 Benjamin followed Ernst Cassirer’s courses in Berlin in 1914 and 1915, and may have partly derived his theory of the symbol from Cassirer. Linked to the “Theses on the problem of identity,” the text “Eidos und Begriff” (Eidos and Concept)230—whose first title was “Begriff und Wesen” (Concept and essence)—was composed, according to both Benjamin and Scholem, in 1916. It was inspired by the essay “Das Recht der Phänomenologie. Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Th. Elsenhans” by Paul F. Linke, written in response to the essay “Phänomenologie, Psychologie, Erkenntnistheorie” by



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Theodor Elsenhans,231 and published in volume 21 of Kant-Studien in 1916, bearing a date of 1917. In 1916 Bruno Bauch, the codirector of Kant-Studien, resigned after having published in the same issue an article, “Vom Begriff der Nation,” which was considered anti-Semitic. “Eidos und Begriff” testifies to Benjamin’s interest in “the essence of phenomenology.” In Edmund Husserl, the eidos is the essence (Wesen) of the object of intuition, and the intuition of essences is the root of the a priori. The eidos is an invariable structure of objects of experience, and this essence of objects is not to be understood in a platonic sense, but in a precisely phenomenological one. The essence appears entirely in experience; in fact, the capacity to individuate these invariable (or eidetic) structures constitutes the condition of possibility of the denomination of objects and concepts, and thus of language itself. They are universal and necessary possible propositions—which is to say, a priori—in that the terms upon which they are based are essences rather than facts. What is true of an essence is true, always and everywhere, of any individual in which that essence is actuated. All activities of thought and knowledge tend toward certain objects and toward certain states of things. When the intuition is directed toward the essence, the logical form of these objects, this essence is identifiable only as the unity of a multiplicity of acts of thought, or of significations. The identity of the signified constitutes for Husserl a purely ideal and unreal objectivity, which can be found neither outside of knowledge nor in real acts of consciousness, but rather in consciousness as an intentional act. The intuition grasps the necessary and irrepressible structure of an objectivity. Each objectivity refers to a form, to a corresponding essential type, which is defined as a constitutive form with respect to this objectivity. The eidos, in its character as specific generality, is a type that summarizes all past experiences and anticipates future ones. In his December 23, 1917, letter to Scholem, Benjamin connects the reference to phenomenology and Linke232 to the discussion on the problem of identity: By concrete object, I understand everything that is not the truth itself and is not concept. For example, the concept is a concrete object. The concept of the concept is an abstract one. This in fact probably leads to the eidos doctrine. Apropos: as far as I know, Linke’s reputation is not very great in the rigorously phenomenological school; this of course does not mean anything. I also read Husserl’s logos essay several years ago;233 just as, at that time, I read Linke’s dispute with Elsenhans in Kant-Studien, after which I seized the opportunity to write my essay on concept and essence as a corrective to it. If I remember correctly, you know this essay.234

Paul Ferdinand Linke was a “heterodox pupil of Husserl,”235 with whom Scholem had studied in Jena, and from whom he had received in 1918 the

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proposal (which he could not accept, as he departed for Bern) to write a degree thesis on the philosophical foundations of mathematical logic.236 In September 1917, Benjamin had written to Scholem: As far as I know, Linke is not highly esteemed in phenomenological circles; but I am indebted to one of his essays for some information on the nature of phenomenology, or what he considers it to be. The essay is a polemic against an uncomprehending critique of phenomenology by Elsenhans, and it is in the 1916 issue of the Kant-Studien.237

Benjamin announces that he will send a copy of his text to Scholem in a letter of January 13, 1918 (in which he explains that he still cannot send another text, which was “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy”), and he soon sends the text with a new, definitive title, “Eidos und Begriff,” together with a letter, on February 10, 1918:238 Attached, I am sending you the note on “Eidos and Concept” that I wrote in 1916. I now regret that I mentioned it in our correspondence, since now—so as not to disappoint your expectations—I have to send it to you; I enjoy it very little. To be sure, I am convinced to this day that in it, I advocated for something correct: Linke’s view that no theory of concepts is necessary, since concepts are given eidetically is—at least in this form—utterly unsustainable. Furthermore, it is crucial to point out that there are concepts of the kind that I took as the basis for my note (of the blotter), and finally, to emphasize the infinite formal capacity for regression within the sphere of the concept (concept of the concept of the concept etc.). But the »connecting text« of these three remarks is improvised, indistinct, and the things would have to be examined in much greater detail. It is especially important to mind that there are no concepts that are not linked to a relational context, e.g. the concept of a so and so conditioned blotter—which is discussed in the note—is the concept of the content of a corresponding imagination of a blotter. The note did not pay attention to this, yet an important difference between concept and essence might be based on this relational character of the concept, while the essence appears to be of a rather absolute nature. But I do not want to try to burden our correspondence with such carefully to be conducted research: because, given the stadium of my insights, I cannot treat this in written form.—So please understand “Eidos and Concept” as a mere incentive, of which you will make a lot, if you make something better out of it.239

Benjamin wishes to maintain the substantial difference between concepts (for which relation is fundamental) and ideas (as essence, of absolute nature)240 in a concept of identity founded upon “nonsynthesis” and “disequation.” “Both, concept and essence—even if they—as it is indeed always the case but in cases such as in the example discussed—refer to the same—are themselves, i.e. according to their essence, of a completely different structure.”241



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Since 1917–1918, the task of knowledge for Benjamin is to liberate phenomena (e.g., a perception or an action) from the empirical condition by conceptualizing them, dividing them, and rendering them pure, but simultaneously, and through this very action of division and classification, they are fragmented and inauthentic,242 devoid of their phenomenal totality. Benjamin wishes to load them with a symbolic valence that renders them capable of exhibiting an idea, which will be the idea of the “hypothesis”243 for the physical and biological sciences, the idea of freedom for action, the idea of art, for works of art.244 This fragmentation and attribution of a symbolic valence takes place in a nonprogressive, theological type of temporal dimension, redemptive and messianic, which already in about 1920 Benjamin is calling the “now (Jetzt) of knowability.”245 This is a moment of concentration of the processes of thought and knowledge that anticipates and exemplifies the redemptive moment of the “state of the fulfilled world,”246 where the phenomena themselves will be once again authentic and entire, at a higher level of symbolism: Acts, like perception, enter only disjointedly, inauthentically and without reality into the now of knowability. They become authentic and unbroken in the perfected state of the world. . . . They enter disjointedly, in symbolic concept, into the now of knowability, for this now is filled and governed exclusively by knowability.247

Just as with the schematism of Kant, “an application of the category to appearances becomes possible by means of the transcendental timedetermination,”248 thus for Benjamin the moment of knowledge, in which a conceptualized phenomenon comes to exhibit the idea that gathers it, together with others, into a virtual totality, takes place in a redemptive temporal dimension, the Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit (now of knowability), defined in 1917 as “logical time, which has to replace that of timeless validity.”249 Benjamin substitutes Kantian schematism with a symbolic process, and the exposition of the concept in an intuition with the exposition of an idea in a phenomenon no longer empirical, but linguistic, which has become knowledge and symbolic concept,250 perhaps linking itself with paragraph 59 of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, “On beauty as symbol of morality.” Here, the symbolic intuition is an indirect exhibition (hypotyposis, Darstellung)251 of the concept of reason, and in this the faculty of judgment proceeds by means of an analogy, in the sense that it applies the concept to the object of the sensory intuition and then applies the simple rule of reflection to a completely different object, the concept of which cannot have an adequate intuition, and whose first object is the symbol. The possibility, inherent to the power of judgment, of the symbolic exposition in nature, by analogy, of the idea of moral law,252 renders possible, in Benjamin’s interpretation of Kant, the passage from the domain of the concept of nature to the domain of the concept of liberty, and

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thus to the unity of the system of philosophy. In the “Introduction” to the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant lays out the unifying role of the power of judgment: the power of judgment provides the mediating concept between the concepts of nature and the concept of freedom, which makes possible the transition from the purely theoretical to the purely practical, from lawfulness in accordance with the former to the final end in accordance with the latter, in the concept of a purposiveness of nature; for thereby is the possibility of the final end, which can become actual only in nature and in accord with its laws, cognized.253

The concept of identity, which must make possible, in a symbolic exposition, the unity of the intuitive-conceptual dimension of the phenomenon within the setting of ideas, is an aesthetic concept with an epistemological role. Epistemological efforts in Benjamin are always tied to a theological, messianic aspiration toward totality and perfection, to wholeness, that expresses itself in a redemptive and messianic vision of knowledge itself and its temporality. Precisely to take account of this totality in the philosophical system, which in this period he would like to make “systematic,” the symbol has a fundamental and mediating role. The totality in the system is for Benjamin the “truth” that, as will become clear in the Epistemological Preface to The German Mourning Play, is formed of ideas and constitutes itself in the relation among them. This “truth”—which is “whole in the now of knowability”254—puts into relation within the system the symbolic concepts that take form during the cognitive process of conceptualization of phenomena and their attribution of a symbolism that exposes the idea, which is the “infinite task” of knowledge: The truth (Wahrheit)255 of a given circumstance is a function of the constellation of the true being of all other circumstances. This function is identical with the function of the system. The true being (which as such is naturally unknowable) is part and parcel of the infinite task. However, we have to ask about the medium in which truth and true being are conjoined. What is the neutral medium?256

This neutral Medium is a symbol that mediates the relation between the being-true (the product of one of the two tasks of knowledge, that of its specification) of a phenomenon that, in its fragmentation, comes to exhibit an idea, and the truth as a systematic function of the constellation of its being-true and of the being-true of all other phenomena and their ideas (the infinite task of knowledge). In another, slightly earlier fragment of 1917, “Zum verlornen Abschluss der Notiz über die Symbolik in der Erkenntnis” (On the lost conclusion of the note on the symbol in knowledge) Benjamin thinks that “the task of ontology is to charge cognitions with symbolic intentions in such a



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way that they lose themselves in truth or doctrine, are taken up in it; however, without reasoning them, since their justification is revelation, language.”257 In fact, “all cognition—by way of its latent symbolic content—has to be the carrier of an enormous symbolic intention, which it integrates into the system itself—whose decisive category is doctrine, also truth, not cognition—under the name of ontology.”258 The truth is not formed of pieces of knowledge, but rather is located at a higher level, “it is based on the relation of ontology to the other two links of the system” and “[is] a symbolic intention (that of its consecutive system-links).”259 It is therefore the functional and structural relation, founded on a symbolic capacity, that holds the system together and puts into relation its diverse settings. Here the reference to the Kantian system is clear, and Kant is explicitly cited.260 This reference joins with the intention of an ideal systematic unity that must go beyond conceptual pieces of knowledge and must be the synthetic and systematic unity of these pieces of knowledge, which are the result of the action of the concepts on phenomena. These forms of knowledge must acquire a symbolic valence that puts them into contact with truth, with the function of their unity and totality (in the idea and with respect to other ideas and other systematic settings). They enter into relation with the truth in exposing (darstellen) this totality in the symbol; they become a part of the system as “symbolic concepts” that represent the same ideas as parts of the system that form, in their relations, the truth. The truth of a phenomenon, once it becomes knowledge and symbolic concept, is this possibility of relation to the entire system. The symbolic concept is identified, in this fragment, with Goethe’s originary phenomenon (Urphänomen—in the Epistemological Preface it will become the Ursprungsphänomen) defined as a systematic-symbolic concept just as language is a systematic-symbolic concept in the fragment “On Perception.”261 In the fragment of 1920–1921, “Truth and Truth [Wahrheiten] Knowledge and Knowings,” Benjamin defines truth as “the quintessence [Inbegriff] of knowings as symbol”262 and declares that it is expressed within the system or in its conceptual denomination [Titel].263 For him, “knowledge and truth are never identical; there is no true knowledge and no known truth. Nevertheless, certain pieces of knowledge are indispensable for an account [Darstellung] of the truth.”264 Here the pieces of knowledge dissolve, representing it, in truth or in doctrine as a symbolic intention that unifies all the members of the system of philosophy. Doctrine, which is also experience as a cognitive nexus (system) and symbol of this nexus,265 is established not by pieces of knowledge but by revelation and language, by the language of revelation. In the symbol and in language is overcome “the false disjunction: knowledge is either in the consciousness of a knowing subject or else in the object (alternatively, identical with it).”266

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One can find a possible relation between Kant’s theory of the symbol and Benjamin’s theory of language, not only in his reading of § 59 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, but also in his subsequent reception of the Kantian concept of “sound understanding” (gesunden Menschenverstand) or “common sense.” In Paragraph 40 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, sensus communis is interpreted as the idea of a communal sense (gemeinschaftlichen Sinn), as the capacity of thinking from a universal standpoint.267 This idea identifies with the aesthetic faculty of judgment, and for Kant is the basis of the universal communicability of aesthetic (and linguistic) contents. “ON LANGUAGE AS SUCH AND ON THE LANGUAGE OF MAN” AND THE FRAGMENTS ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE (1916–1927) The spheres of religion and language, which come together in On the Program, are already closely linked in the 1916 essay “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.”268 Inspired by the first chapter of Genesis and kabbalistic theory,269 Benjamin illustrates in this essay a theological conception that sees in language the origin of all the spiritual manifestations of mankind.270 As the language of names and things, language originates from the word of God, which creates the world. According to Benjamin, language is not limited to humans; rather, “all communication of spiritual content is language,”271 not only communication through human vocal and written language (upon which the languages of jurisprudence and law are based), but also animal communication and the mute communication of things. Language extends to all animate and inanimate nature, “for it is in the nature of all to communicate their own spiritual content (geistiger Inhalt).”272 Language is understood by Benjamin not as a vehicle of contents that language transmits, but as the immediate expression of spiritual content, a spiritual essence (Wesen),273 which in the degree to which it is communicable, identifies itself with language itself. For this reason language is defined as “medium,” as an immediate expression of the spiritual dimension of man, of God, and of things in their purity. The mediality of language is language itself as a formal and conceptual structure, and this mediality, as the “immediacy of any spiritual communication, is the fundamental problem of linguistic theory.”274 This immediacy of language—in On the Program,275 immediacy characterizes the relation (free of any empirical connotation) between the knowledge of concepts and the idea of the totality and unity of knowledge (metaphysical experience)—is called by Benjamin, as it is by Scholem, “magic.” The magic of language is therefore, like immediacy and “infinity” (because what delimits the confines of language is not its content but its linguistic essence), the



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originary and fundamental problem of language. In his vision of the magic of language, Benjamin connects himself with the kabbalistic conception of the Torah, which sees, in the combination and pronunciation of letters and words of the sacred text, a means to come into contact with the divine and exercise a power both over nature and the divine itself. Benjamin is influenced by his discussions with Scholem on the theory of the magic of the divine name of the kabbalist Abraham Abulafia:276 in the combination of its letters, the divine name gives form to creation; from this name the human name and all languages originate. Benjamin develops a theory of “names” in which the spiritual being of man communicates itself to God.277 Names278 contain in themselves “the creative word,”279 which is the seed that knows the things created by God, and completes, in the knowledge of nature, “God’s creation.”280 In the passage that follows, the term identity is used as the place of a nonsynthesis between cognizant name (the symbolic concept?) and divine word, where knowing through words presents itself as a task (Aufgabe) entrusted to man by God: The objectivity . . . is . . . guaranteed by God. For God created things; the creative word in them is the gem of the cognizing name, just as God, too, finally named each thing after it was created. But obviously this naming is only an expression of the identity of the creative word and the cognizing name in God, not the prior solution of the task that God expressly assigns to man himself: that of naming things. In receiving the unspoken nameless language of things and converting it by name into sounds, man performs this task. It would be insoluble were not the name-language of man and the nameless one of things related in God and released from the same creative word, which in things became the communication of matter in magic communion, and in man the language of knowledge and name in blissful mind.281

The divine word is creative and knowing, while man, through words and names—reflections of the creative word that has become, in part, receptive—knows mute nature and gives it voice and sound: With the creative omnipotence of language it begins, and at the end language as it were assimilates the created, names it. Language is therefore both creative and the finished creation, it is word and name. In God name is creative because it is word, and God’s word is cognizant because it is name. . . . The absolute relation of name to knowledge exists only in God, only there is name, because it is inwardly identical with the creative word, the pure medium of knowledge. That means: God made things knowable in their names. Man, however, names them according to knowledge. . . . All human language is only reflection of the word in name. Name is no closer to the word than knowledge to creation. The infinity of all human language always remains limited and analytical in nature in comparison to the absolutely unlimited and creative infinity of the divine

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word. . . . In name the word of God has not remained creative; it has become in one part receptive, even if receptive to language. Thus fertilized, it aims to give birth to the language of things themselves, from which in turn, soundlessly, in the mute magic of nature, the word of God shines forth.282

The names, in which man comes to the knowledge of things through their linguistic essence (the residue of the creating word)283 must not reference empirical semantic content but,284 rather, be pure and formal “media” of communication and pure knowledge. In Benjamin, names are the reflection of the divine creating word and the place of connection of language with religion, in the “concept of revelation,”285 in representing the purely spiritual, a-semantic, and creative power of the divine word. Names determine the giving-of-themselves of the ideas of philosophical knowledge and indicate the place of the unity of knowledge.286 Religion—identified by Benjamin historically with the Torah and its Talmudic commentaries and with the Judaic tradition of Kabbalah—is in his interpretation the source of that absolute that gives itself to philosophy only as a dimension of ideas in doctrine: these ideas give themselves as names, exhibited symbolically by concepts (by words), in the theological and symbolic language of revelation.287 Words represent the level of language at which it becomes communication of extrinsic contents, and it liberates itself from this content only in abstraction (in logic, in pure a priori concepts). In Benjamin there is a play between the term “judgment” (Urteil) in terms of law (richtendes Wort or richterlichen Urteil) and judgment in terms of grammar and logic (which is founded on abstraction), where it has the meaning of proposition: That is really the Fall of language-mind. . . . For in reality there exists a fundamental identity between the word that, after the promise of the snake, knows good and evil, and the externally communicating word. The knowledge of things resides in the name, whereas that of good and evil is, in the profound sense in which Kierkegaard uses the word, “prattle,” and knows only one purification and elevation . . . : judgment [Urteil]. . . . In the Fall, since the eternal purity of names was violated, the sterner purity of the judging word [des richtenden Wortes] arose. For the essential composition of language the Fall has a threefold significance. . . . In stepping outside the pure language of name, man makes language a means (that is, a knowledge appropriate to him), and therefore also, in one part at any rate, a mere sign [Zeichen]; and this later results in the plurality of languages. The second meaning is that from the Fall, in exchange for the immediacy of the name damaged by it, a new immediacy arises, the magic of judgment, which no longer rests blissfully in itself. The third meaning that can perhaps be tentatively ventured is that the origin of abstraction, too, as a faculty of language-mind, is to be sought in the Fall. For good and evil, being unnamable, nameless, stand outside the language of names [ . . . ].288



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Having its own immediacy and linguistic root, abstraction289 can have for Benjamin a positive distancing role toward the empirical, for example in the theory of knowledge, as a critical moment in the foundation of general concepts, and in mathematics, whose writing, Benjamin says, is the sign: {Mathematics speaks in signs.} The language of mathematics is the doctrine/Its script is the sign. The signs of mathematics also find themselves so to speak in the sky: only there, they are read signs—and in mathematics, written signs.290

Words determine the foundation of concepts of the system of philosophy. The connection between the concept and the name is established in the word;291 the connection makes the word into a symbolic concept, the link to the essence of objects, whose knowledge it determines as concept. In “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” Benjamin asserts that man communicates his spiritual essence (as a faculty of knowledge) in his language, which is the language of words and names. Thus, he communicates “his own spiritual content (insofar as it is communicable) by naming all other things.”292 Only man has denominating language, so that “[ . . . ] the linguistic being of man [is] to name things,”293 and he names them by knowing them, communicating in this way his spiritual essence as a faculty of philosophical knowledge. The things of nature communicate with man in their knowability. Man communicates his spiritual essence, his cognitive and philosophical faculty in the names he gives to things, names that are linguistic elements in direct relation with the essence of things, determining the knowledge of them. Benjamin distinguishes between signifying word and name: the name is considered something that comes from the object of knowledge, in relation with its essence, thus permitting the human word (the name is the most intimate nucleus of the word) to position itself in a relation of intentional immediacy with the object: The Ground of intentional immediacy that is part and parcel of every signifier, most notably the word, is the name within. The relations among the word, name, and object of intentions are as follows: 1. Neither the word nor the name is identical with the object of intention. 2. The name is something inherent in the object of intention (an element of it) that can be detached from it. For this reason, the name is not fortuitous. 3. The word is not the name, but the name occurs in the word bound to another element or elements. (Which? Signs?) . . . The pure name (refers to substance or essence. Does not signify, but is something inherent in the object that refers to its essential nature).294

Intentionality is the relation of meaning (and knowledge) established between the object of the act of signifying and the word that signifies

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it: the first is an object whose objecthood is a priori, a nonempirical object, constituted by its own spiritual essence and the knowing name.295 The name connects itself immediately, without mediation, to the essence of the object, but it is not that object itself. For the concept of intentionality in his philosophy of language, Benjamin is probably thinking of the Husserlian discourse; Benjamin links to this in his extraneousness from empirical linguistics without, however, sharing the conception of the conventionality of the sign. Fabrizio Desideri expresses it in this way: Here [in Husserl’s first and fourth Investigations] the separation between being-of-language and being-of-things is perfect, as the necessary presupposition of an a priori clarification of the Erlebnisse of thought and their connections. The signified coincides in this way with the object that an “act of thought” intends, but it does this without reference to the empirically existent object.296 Any act of thought, as such, signifies an object, but the objectivity of the intended object is entirely a priori. The signified is not a “reflected image” of the empirical object. The linguistic sign expresses only that which the act of thought wishes to signify. . . . Thus the fundamental question of Husserl’s investigations is the description of the “a priori constitution” of the laws of thought, of the categorical connections as a “morphology of signifieds,” laws that determine a priori the possible forms of appearance of what is signified, the possible expressions, as significant signs. It is the problem of a “universal grammar” as a “purely logical grammar,” of the “a priori of the form of the signified,” “ideal framework” of the existent and possible historical languages.297

Within the word is a name, linked to a sign, as a basis for the signifying intention toward the signified object, as an ideal structure of its cognition, and within this the name is bound to a concept, such as to determine, in the relation between name and concept, the a priori structure (categorical and ideal) of the signified, recognized object.298 As Benjamin says in a fragment of 1916–1917, The word, the knowledge of an object is constituted only in relation with the constituting sphere of language, in the sphere of its signifying elements, and logic is therefore constituted and fulfilled in the sphere of the signifiers, of words: Logic has as its fundamental hypothesis: every signified (every object) is cognizable (exists for cognition) only through its correlate with the sphere of the signifier. Logic is the analysis of signification. In the sphere of the signifier, all logical fundamental categories are being completed.299

Logic, as a dimension of categories, of pure concepts of knowledge, which Benjamin in another fragment will call “ontology,”300 develops from objects in a relation of derivation that is nonempirical,301 but exclusively



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logical-linguistic and pure in meaning (the concept derives, descends from the object and is akin to it), which is in relation to the signifier, with the word as fundamental linguistic element. This puts the concept in relation with the name (the idea), which constitutes the relation with the essence (Wesen) of the object. The concept is founded upon the word: The word is a linguistic component of incomparable simplicity and highest significance. The theory of the concept has to be grounded in the assumption that the word, in one sense or another, is his basis. From that starting point the concept accumulates extraordinary powers, highly significant relations of its logical function to metaphysics.302

“In the word lies truth,” as a relation between concepts and ideas (names), which gives the metaphysical truth (as a systematic unity). In the concept, instead, there is “the intention or at most knowledge, but under no circumstances the truth,”303 because in the theory of knowledge, the concept represents the step of the critical foundation, to be completed in relation to the metaphysical setting of the ideas. In the linguistic dimension of knowledge “where the signifier both points to the signified (das Bedeutete) and simultaneously is based on it,”304 the linguistic sphere constitutes knowledge but at the same time is founded on the signified object, in the dimension, however, of the modus essendi of the signified, which is always determined in the linguistic setting, in the Sprachliches: According to the theory of Duns Scotus, references to certain modi essendi are founded on what these references mean [bedeuten]. If that is so, then this naturally invites the question of how it is possible to separate out a more general and formal element of the signified and thereby of the modus essendi of the signifier, which might then function as the foundation of the signifier. And furthermore, how it might be possible, with regard to this question of foundation, to abstract from the total correlation between signifier and signified in such a manner as to avoid the vicious circle in which the signifier both points to and is based on the signified.—This problem must be solved by reflection on the realm of language. To the extent that the linguistic [Sprachliches] can be separated out and gleaned from the signified, the latter should be regarded as the modus essendi of that knowledge and therewith as the foundation of the signifier. The realm of language extends as a critical medium between the realm of the signifier and the signified. We may say, therefore, that the signifier points to the signified and simultaneously is based on it, insofar as its material determination is concerned—not in an unlimited manner, however, but only with regard to the modus essendi that is determined by language.305

If the reality of the signified is exclusively linguistic, logic is immanent to language and “the function of language is thus essential to the formation

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of the signified.”306 Language is the domain from which knowledge cannot exit; the word, and within it, the name, refer to an object that is not outside of language, but constituted within it: Benjamin directs his energies against this “accidentality” of the expression, this indifference of the word-sign, this pure “physicality” and “inessentiality” of the phonetic complex . . . [expressed by Husserl in his refutation of a necessary nexus between signified and sign]—bitterly criticizing Heidegger’s book Die Kategorien und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus, which, in its orientation, depends entirely on Husserl’s theories. But what seems very interesting is that Benjamin criticizes this Husserlian-Heideggerian orientation not in view of the unity of word and thing, but of the relation of sign and signified. . . . The “truth of the signified”—as “knowledge of the object”307—is given in the relation of foundation between modus significandi and modus intelligendi, as the last of these is nothing but the form of apprehending, on the part of consciousness, of the modus essendi [“as empirical reality immediately given sub ratione existentiae”]. . . . But once the originary circularity with the modus intelligendi has been established . . . and thus its “dependence” upon a conscious act, a linear relation of foundation is given between modus essendi—modus intelligendi and modus significandi. At the base of this teleological-intentional line—quite similar to that of Husserl—stands the sphere of linguistic expression.308

According to Desideri, Benjamin criticizes Heidegger’s resolution of Scotus’s perspective within the problem of subjectivity and his resolution of the subject-object relation in the structure of judgment: Benjamin turns Scotus’s perspective upside down, criticizing it’s resolution, which Heidegger effects in his conclusion, within the problem of subjectivity and of the subject-object relation in the structure of judgment. It is precisely the autonomization of the signified outside the setting of its linguistic execution, and from the setting of signified reality, that lets the linguistic sphere emerge as essential to the execution in a “signified” of the signifying intentions. If the return of the “signs” to certain modus essendi is founded upon that which these signs signify, it is that “something more general and more formal” that splits off from the signified to constitute its “modus essendi” and thus that of the signifier. This for Benjamin is the setting, the linguistic sphere, the Sprachliches. . . . If the linguistic element is thus the modus essendi of the signified, the logic of language is radically immanent to it and cannot abstract itself from its own historicity. The function of language is essential therefore to the formation of the signified, it carries out a fully active role toward it.309

In Benjamin the concept is distinguished from the name by the fact that it is not an intention, but an object of a cognizant and signifying intention. The concept is founded on the signifying word; its logical function is in relation



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with the word. The word, having within itself the dimension of the name as foundation for its intentional relation with the essence of the signified object, permits the concept to enter into relation with the name (idea) and thus acquire from its link to the word a relation with metaphysics.310 The concept has no intentional, signifying relation with the object (a relation which the word does have, thanks to the name), but a relation of derivation and affinity, and it prepares assertions on “originary objects [Urgegenstände]”311 that take place in judgments, not in concepts, since concepts are subsumed (aufgehoben) into judgment (judgment is linked to the object through the concept, which identifies the object for knowledge). The name, instead, puts itself in direct relation with the essence of the object; it is “the analogue of the knowledge of the object in the object itself,” and designates “the relation of the object with its essence.”312 On the basis of the consideration of man as speaker of the language of names, in which language coincides absolutely with its spiritual essence, with the faculty of knowledge (as functional and systematic nexus of ideas and concepts), Benjamin poses the problem of the identity between spiritual and linguistic being, considering it a problem “of the highest metaphysical importance,”313 because it concerns the question of the role of language within the setting of pure spirituality, the setting of religion. He also raises the question of the identity between the dimension of ideas and the possibility of expressing them in concepts/words in knowledge. He asks, “whether spiritual essence—not only of man (for that is necessary) but also of things, and thus spiritual essence as such—can, from the point of view of linguistic theory, be described as of linguistic nature.” If spiritual essence is identical with linguistic essence, then a thing becomes “in its spiritual essence, a medium of communication, and what is communicated in it is—in accordance with its mediating relationship—precisely this medium (language) itself.”314 That is, it becomes the vehicle for language itself, which is its spiritual essence. Languages (of man, of things) distinguish themselves as media of varying substance and linguistic (communicative) and spiritual levels, due to a greater or lesser capacity to communicate their spiritual essence, with respect to the substance of the communicator and that which is communicated, which are in constant correspondence with one another, while the two spheres coincide completely in the name. The language of things is material. The language of man has sound as an absolutely spiritual dimension,315 thus its level is higher, and can address the spiritual field of religion, which expresses itself as revelation.316 We can note here a deeper formulation of the concept of identity, which expresses the correspondence and the state of possible nonsynthesis, as an asymmetrical relation or noncomplete coincidence, between the linguistic and spiritual dimensions.

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Spiritual essence is situated from the beginning as communicable, “or, rather, is situated within the communicable.”317 As a formal and absolute dimension, communicability is the same spiritual dimension of all beings, beyond all content, the same form the spirit takes in its expression. In fact, “There is no content in language; as communication, language communicates a spiritual being, that is, pure and simple communicability.”318 This communicability is the formal dimension of spirituality (which in man is knowledge) as a purely relational structure, characterized by no empirical content. In a fragment dated circa 1916–1917, considering the meaning of the word “tower,” Benjamin says: If one now says, the word “tower” signifies “tower” (not319: designates “tower”), one means two things, because the meaning exists only under two conditions, whose fulfillment makes them possible. One means first that the word “tower” communicates something, second that it symbolizes something. But, neither the communicated nor the symbolized itself are “tower,” “tower” is solely the signified. The word “tower” primarily communicates the communicability of itself. As a word, it communicates that it is communicable and this “it” is a spiritual being. It is something original and a word thus communicates that a certain, original spiritual being is communicable. With only that, however, it does not signify anything. It communicates something, indeed, something very specific and final, viz. a communicability, but it does not communicate that of which it communicates the communicability, that it designates. And, in order to determine the object of a designation, another virtus within the word is required than the communicating one.320

For Benjamin, “linguistic formations [Gebilde], and thus also the word [Wort], communicate a communicability and symbolize a non-communicability”;321 the word communicates that a spiritual essence is communicable but does not communicate the thing that it apparently designates; instead, it communicates what the word itself in fact signifies.322 To determine what it signifies, the essence of an object, other than requiring communicability, the word requires the intervention of the name, which ties it, as the foundation of its intentional immediacy, to the essence of the object, and presents itself connected to a symbolic sign:323 [Language] has for objects only words within which names lie concealed. By the power of names, words have their intention toward objects; they participate in objects through the name. The name does not exist in them in a pure form, but is bound to a sign . . . . Re Section IV. Communication, symbol, sign, and name in the word. From these four elements the word is constituted.324

In the word, language communicates the communicability of a spiritual essence, but represents of it the content that transcends it (an ideal content, the essence linked to the name) in a symbolic form.



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The reality of language and of the spiritual essence is pure functionality and mediality (as pure and simple communicability), beyond any content, and this is the characteristic that Benjamin attributes to philosophical knowledge. The empirical contents are not determinative; rather, the pure functional relation between pure concepts and ideas of metaphysics is determinative, where idea and concepts are relational functions and not substantial elements.325 Man “cognizes within language” and “through the linguistic essence of things, . . . we reach their linguistic cognition,” Benjamin avers. “Only a complete cognition of things through language, not according to their spiritual being in thinking [is] possible for us.”326 Because things are mute and dominated by matter, their spiritual essence is neither completely communicable nor communicated. In order to express their spiritual essence, things require the linguistic mediation of the language of human knowledge. But the spiritual essence of man is in fact his language: “In his language, his spiritual being communicates itself completely, and this is expressed in the fact that man knows in language.”327 Language and the system of knowledge coincide. Knowledge in fact is possible only in that sphere “in which spirit communicates itself in language.”328 Things cannot know because their spiritual essence cannot be entirely communicated, while that of man can be. Benjamin considers mathematics, which thinks itself and things and speaks in “signs” (his “language . . . [is] the doctrine/its script is the sign”),329 one of the cognitive steps toward the knowledge of nature, without empirical contents. Benjamin schematizes the cognitive process beginning from the “Nature Doctrine (physics)” and from the doctrine that constructs itself through “linguistic and mathematical designation [Bezeichnung]” until it comes to a knowledge that consists in the “denomination [Benennung] of natural science [(]Biology[)],”330 the knowledge of the setting of not-purely-mathematical natural knowledge, of biological knowledge, which is a Benennung because the idea of the purposiveness of nature, and thus a name, is present in it. God does not communicate his spiritual essence in language: “His name is no longer of linguistic nature [sprachhaft].”331 God creates through the Word [Wort], in which language is the language of Creation, but his Name cannot be pronounced or known in human language. Benjamin considers the language of names, linked to the conceptual language of words (which have in them a reference to the name, which they represent symbolically), the pure structure of all knowledge and the foundation of experience as a unitary place of knowledge and philosophy. Names are connected like ideas to concept-words (but the word is not only concept) to synthesize them, to grant them a symbolism, which makes them represent both names and ideas, ordering them in the system of philosophy as knowledge: All cognition—by way of its latent symbolic content—has to be the carrier of an enormous symbolic intention, which it integrates into the system itself—whose

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decisive category is doctrine, also truth, not cognition—under the name of ontology. The task of ontology is to charge cognitions with symbolic intentions in such a way that they lose themselves in truth or doctrine, are taken up in it; however, without reasoning them, since their justification is revelation, language.332 Philosophy is absolute experience deduced in a systematic, symbolic framework as language. Absolute experience is, in the view [Anschauung] of philosophy, language—language understood, however, as systematic, symbolic concept. It is articulated in types of language, one of which is perception. Doctrines of perception, as well as of all immediate manifestations of absolute experience, belong in the “philosophical sciences” in the broader sense. Philosophy as a whole, including the philosophical sciences, is doctrine [Lehre].333

Experience is philosophy itself as the systematic unity of knowledge, “the uniform [einheitliche] and continuous multiplicity”334 of knowledge that orders itself in the system with the aid of ideas, in a symbolic relation with them. Experience is specified in “modes of language, one of which is perception.”335 In perception as a mode of language, experience gives itself singularly (as experience experienced) as a perceptual symbol of the multiple unity of knowledge, as symbol of the idea—for example of the idea of God, which has its origin in religion and the theological language of revelation— which gives itself in the name.336 All the philosophical sciences are part of experience and philosophy, and are included in their totality within the “doctrine.”337 Doctrine is for Benjamin and Scholem the theological place that coincides historically with the tradition and interpretation of the Torah. According to certain kabbalistic readings, God created the world with the Torah, which coincides with the letters of his name: This mystical structure of the Torah as a sequence of names of God also explains . . ., why every letter in it is of importance . . . the Torah does not only consist of the name of God, but that, as a whole, it virtually forms the name of God. However, this is no longer a magical thesis, but a purely mystical one. . . . But the same thesis appears already in the probably completely independent Sefer hachajim by the Kabbalists of Gerona, which was written in the first third of the 13th century, and was taken up again by the author of the Zohar.338 . . . With this and far beyond the older conception, a thesis reaching still further is being layed down, according to which the Torah encompasses the secret laws and the harmonic order, from which everything that is created is being governed and pervaded—viz. it forms the law of the cosmos absolutely. In pursuing this thesis, all concrete histories of meaning of the Torah as the language of the name present merely a relativization of the absolute, which is—in the realm of language—the name of God. These relativizations themselves may open up profound truths regarding the Creation and the life of man—ever deeper ones on every level of sense—but ultimately, they are merely a calculation of



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the absolute word that is the Name. . . . [The] process of the manifestation of God . . . [can] be understood as . . . an activity of the language of God, of the self-differentiating word of Creation or of the differentiating Name of God—.339

Doctrine is founded on “revelation, language,”340 the theological, a-semantic, purely formal and spiritual language of the divine creating word, of knowledge and names, and it includes all philosophy as experience, and pure knowledge systematically connected. For Benjamin, doctrine is specifically the philosophical dimension of religion as “knowledge of religion,”341 in which ideas are given, but it is also the whole setting of philosophy (and, as religion, a potentially still larger one). Doctrine is thus the theoretical place of all metaphysical experience, which has in religion the fount of ideas for its unity, founded on the language of names and revelation. Benjamin can thus formulate in these terms the demand he makes of the coming philosophy: “to create on the basis of the Kantian system a concept of knowledge to which a concept of experience corresponds, the knowledge of which is the doctrine [Lehre].”342 The linguistic transformation of Kant’s system and concept of knowledge would lead to a metaphysical and religious experience, which would have cognitive status as doctrine. Experience would coincide with knowledge itself in its unitary continuity, connected in a system of conceptual nexuses and linguistic-symbolic ideas, in a “uniform and continuous multiplicity of knowledge,”343 where continuity would come from the common origin of all knowledge in language. This would be experience in its religious (perceptual) unitary symbol and—as knowledge of experience and religion—doctrine. Such a philosophy would be designated generally as “theology,” or, to the degree to which it contained those “historically philosophical elements”344 that determine knowledge becoming doctrine, theology would be subordinate to it. Thus theology would be a part of philosophy, becoming one with philosophy and founding itself on the language of names, an instrument of knowledge originated by the creating word of God. In the context of the philosophy of history, philosophy as pure knowledge finds its messianic redemption in doctrine and theology. NOTES 1. Walter Benjamin, “Lebenslauf (III),” in Gesammelte Schriften (GS), Vol. VI, ed. R. Tiedemann and H. Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1991), 218. Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin, “Curriculum Vitae (III),” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1927–1934. Vol. 2, ed. Michael W. Jennings, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 77.

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2. Walter Benjamin, “Lebenslauf (II),” Ibid. 216. Modified Engl. trans. “In particular, and in ever-renewed reading, during the period of my studies I occupied myself with Plato and Kant, and consequently with the philosophy of the Marburg School.” 3. Walter Benjamin, “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels,” in GS I.1, 203–430. Engl. transl. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, introd. Georg Steiner, transl. John Osborne (London: Verso, 1998). 4. Walter Benjamin, “Lebenslauf (I),” in GS VI, 215. Engl. transl. “Curriculum Vitae (I),” in Selected Writings, Vol. I, transl. Rodney Livingstone, ed. Michael W. Jennings et al. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 422. 5. See T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin (Experience and Infinite Task in the Philosophy of Early Benjamin) (Quodlibet, Macerata, 2003, 2nd ed. 2013). Esp. Part One, 17–128. Esp. 19–52. 6. Ibid. 53–128. 7. See the testimony by his friend Gershom Scholem: “Both Benjamin and I, in different moments, attended courses [Vorlesungen] or single talks by Cohen during the era when he, already elderly, lived in Berlin, and we had a consideration for his person bordering on reverence.” (Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1993) 78. Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin: The Story of a Friendship, transl. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), 59.) As found in the 1913 report on “Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums,” Cohen conducted a course in Berlin in the winter semester 1912–1913 on the concept of religion, and a seminar on Spinoza’s Theologicopolitical treatise. Hartwig Wiedebach, “Einleitung zu H. Cohen, Kleinere Schriften V. 1913–1915,” in Werke XVI, ed. Hermann-Cohen-Archiv, under the direction of H. Holzhey (Hildesheim et al.: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977–), XVII. 8. Moritz Geiger (1880–1937), a student of Husserl, taught in Munich beginning from 1915 as an adjunct professor of philosophy. Benjamin followed his lessons on psychology and on Kant (Critique of Judgment) and Descartes. (Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe Vol. I. 1910–1918, ed. Ch. Gödde and H. Lonitz (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1995), 294.). 9. The Curriculum Vitae was written by Benjamin at the end of July 1940 at the request of Adorno, who was attempting to help Benjamin go to America, to join the Institut für Sozialforschung: “Lasting influence was exercised by the lessons of the Munich philosopher Moritz Geiger and by those of Ernst Lewy, adjunct professor of finno-ugric languages, in Berlin. The lectures, given by the latter on Humboldt’s essay On the Structure of Human Languages (here Benjamin probably refers to the essay Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues) and the concepts articulated in the essay On the Language of Late Goethe, reawakened my interest in the philosophy of language.” (Walter Benjamin, “Curriculum Vitae (VI),” in GS VI, 225. Engl. trans. Edmund Jephcott, “Curriculum Vitae (VI),” in Selected Writings, Vol. 4, 381.) On Lewy, cf. also Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 33 (Engl. trans. 22). Benjamin will read Ernst Lewy’s Zur Sprache des alten Goethe. Ein Versuch über die Sprache des Einzelnen. Berlin, 1913. On Rickert see Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer



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Freundschaft, 24: “Benjamin said that Rickert had disappointed him: yes, he was acute, but he lacked depth.” (Engl. trans. 15) 10. Cf. Benjamin to Fritz Radt, 4-XII-1915. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, Vol. I. Briefe 1910–1918, 300. Walter Benjamin, “Curriculum Vitae VI,” in GS VI, 226. Engl. trans. 381. See also Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 47. Engl. trans. 15. 11. Moritz Geiger, “Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses,” in Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung. Vol. I.2. In collaboration with M. Geiger, A. Pfänder, A. Reinach, M. Scheler. Ed. E. Husserl. Halle a.d.S., 1913. 567–684. Benjamin to Fritz Radt, 4-XII-1915. In Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 302 and 304–305. See also T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin. Esp. chap. 14, 253–295. 12. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 302. 13. Ibid. 305. See Edmund Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie, Buch I: Allgemeine Einfürung in die reine Philosophie. Nachwort (1930) (Text nach Husserliana III/1 und V. — 1992), in Gesammelte Schriften Vol. II. ed. E. Ströker (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1992). Engl. transl. Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy: First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. Daniel Dahlstrom (Indianapolis: Hackett Publ. Co., 2014). Scholem’s hypothesis seems to be confirmed in the entry Benjamin wrote in November 1929 for l’Encyclopedia Judaica (Vol. V, Berlin 1930), entitled Juden in der deutschen Kultur. In GS II.2, 807–813. Here Benjamin refers to—explicitly in section I: In den Geisteswissenschaften, in the passage on Husserl in the section on Jewish philosophers—the Ideen I and to the aesthetics and the phenomenological mathematics of Moritz Geiger (ibid. 810). The article, whose original version is lost, was altered by the editors. Mortiz Geiger’s mathematical writings are “Methodologische und experimentelle Beiträge zur Quantitätslehre,” in Psychologische Untersuchungen (25, 1907), 325–522 and the later Die philosophische Bedeutung der Relativitätstheorie (Halle: Niemeyer, 1921), and Systematische Axiomatik der euklidischen Geometrie (Augsburg: Filser, 1924.) 14. Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Vol. I and II (Text nach Husserliana XVIII, XIX/1, and XIX/2), in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. E. Ströker (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1992), Vol. 2, 3, 4; Engl. transl. Logical Investigations, 2 Vols., ed. Dermot Moran, transl. J. N. Findlay (Oxford: Routledge, 2001). 15. Also in this list are texts of the Linke-Elsenhans discussion in “Kant-Studien” of 1916–1917, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff by Cassirer, Humboldt’s Über den Sprachbau des Volkes (possibly Über die Buchstabenschrift und ihren Zusammenhang mit dem Sprachbau or Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues), Leibniz’s Begriffssprache and a text by Meinong whose title is indecipherable. Benjamin-Archiv, Ms. 506 varia. 16. F. Noeggerath, Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie. Ein Beitrag zur Kritik des Antirationalismus, with two excursus: “Über den Urteilscharakter der Metageometrie” and “Über den Platonischen Begriff der Metaxù,” Diss. (Erlangen 1916), (typescript, University of Erlangen). On Benjamin and Noeggerath’s relationship, see Gershom Scholem, “Walter Benjamin und Felix Noeggerath,” in Gershom

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Scholem, Walter Benjamin und sein Engel. Vierzehn Aufsätze und kleine Beiträge (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983), 78–127. See also T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin. Esp. Part Three, 253–447. 17. Benjamin to Gershom Scholem, 30-III-1918. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 444–445. 18. Benjamin to Fritz Radt, 4-XII-1915. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 301–302. Benjamin to Fritz Radt, 4-XII-1915. Ibid. 304–305, note. As we have seen, Husserl’s text is probably Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie (1913). 19. Important texts on Benjamin’s reception of Hermann Cohen are the essays by Pierfrancesco Fiorato, in particular “Unendliche Aufgabe und System der Wahrheit. Die Auseinandersetzung des jungen Benjamin mit der Philosophie Hermann Cohens.” In Brandt R. and Orlik F., eds. Philosophisches Denken—Politisches Wirken. Hildesheim: Georg Olms 1993, 163–178. See also the first, accurate monograph on this subject by A. Deuber-Mankowsky, Der frühe Walter Benjamin und Hermann Cohen. Jüdische Werte, Kritische Philosophie, vergängliche Erfahrung, Diss. 1999 (Berlin: Vorwerk 8, 2000). See T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin (Experience and Infinite Task in the Philosophy of Early Benjamin) (this discusses the influence exercised on Benjamin by the philosophy of Kant and the Neo-Kantians of the Marburg School, but does not treat the influence of Husserl). See a recent monographic issue of Modern Language Notes (vol. 127, April 2012, n. 3, German Issue, The John Hopkins University Press) edited by Julia Ng and Rochelle Tobias, entitled Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School, with unedited texts by Scholem on Kant and Cohen edited by Julia Ng and with contributions by J. Ng, P. Fenves, P. Fiorato, P. Schwebel, W. Hamacher, and others; and Phillip Homburg, Walter Benjamin and the PostKantian Tradition (Rowman & Littlefield, London), 2017. See also the monographic section of the journal Paradigmi: Tamara Tagliacozzo, Reinier Munk, Andrea Poma, eds. “Critical Idealism and Messianism. From Hermann Cohen to Walter Benjamin and Beyond,” in Paradigmi. Rivista di critica filosofica, XXXV, 1/2017. 20. See in particular: Uwe Steiner, “Benjamin und Kant: The Experience of Modernity,” in Immanuel Kant, German Professor and World Philosopher/Deutscher Professor und Weltphilosoph, ed. G. Lottes, U. Steiner (Saarbrücken: Wehrhahn, 2007), 187–207. Ibid. “Walter Benjamins Husserl-Lektüre im Kontext,” in Internationales Jahrbuch für Hermeneutik (9.2010), ed. G. Figal, 189–258; ibid. Phänomenologie der Moderne. Benjamin und Husserl. In Benjamin-Studien 1, ed. D. Weidner, S. Weigel (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2008), 107–123. By Peter Fenves, see “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in Benjamin Handbuch. Leben-WerkWirkung, B. Lindner in collaboration with T. Küpper and T. Skandies (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2006, 2nd ed. 2011), 134–139. Ibid. “Um Worte verlegen. Zu Benjamins gegenhistorischer Lektüre Hölderlins,” in Walter Benjamin und die romantische Moderne, ed. G. Oesterle and H. Brüggemann (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2009), 465–499. Ibid. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction.Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011). 21. See Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction. Esp. Ch. 5 and Ch. 6., 124–186. Cf. Julia Ng, “Kant’s Theory of Experience at the End of the War: Scholem and



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Benjamin Read Cohen. A Commentary.” In Ng and Tobias, MLN, 127/3, 2012: 462–484; ibid. “Acts of Time: Cohen and Benjamin on Mathematics and History,” in Paradigmi, XXXV, 1/2017: 51–60. 22. See the essay by Fabrizio Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1980), 93–96, and by Bruno Moroncini. Walter Benjamin e la moralità del moderno (Napoli: Guida, 1984), 239–249. See also Edoardo Greblo, Walter Benjamin critico di Husserl e Heidegger, in “Filosofia” (37, 1986): 49–64. 23. Massimo Cacciari, “Di alcuni motivi di Walter Benjamin (di ‘Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels’ a ‘Der Autor als Produzent’),” in Nuova Corrente. Vol. 20, n. 67 (1975): 211–214. English trans. by translator. 24. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 140–157. Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. 1, 62–77. 25. Benjamin letter to Gershom Scholem from 11–11–1916. In Walter Benjamin. Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918. 343–344. Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin. The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin. 1910–1940, ed. Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, transl. Manfred and Evelyn Jacobson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 81–82. 26. Gershom Scholem, Die Geschichte einer Freunschaft, 48. Engl. transl. The Story of a Friendship, 34. One of the two parts that was to follow is the essay On the Program of the Coming Philosophy (1917–1918), a critique of Kant and a systematic philosophical project that considers Kantian doctrine a fundamental point of reference. 27. Ibid. 63. 28. Louis Couturat, Les principes des mathématiques, avec un appendice sur la philosophie des mathématiques de Kant (Paris: F. Alcan, 1905). 29. Gershom Scholem, Die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 65. Engl. transl. The Story of a Friendship, 48. 30. Benjamin to Scholem, 7-XII-1917, in Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. 1: Briefe 1910–1918, 404. 31. Gershom Scholem, Die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 65–66. Engl. transl. The Story of a Friendship, 48–49. 32. Hermann Lotze, Logik. Drei Bücher vom Denken, vom Untersuchen und vom Erkennen, ed. G. Misch (Leipzig, 1912. Reprinted, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1989), 3 Vols. 33. This is a sixteen-page text, of which only the conclusion has been published. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsatzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. 2 Vols., ed. K. Gründer, H. Kopp-Obestebrink, and F. Niewöhner (Vol. II: with the collaboration of K. E. Grözinger), (Frankfurt a.M.: Jüdischer Verlag, 1995–2000), Vol. II: 1917–1923, 109–111. The first two parts are dedicated to the first and second chapters of the second volume of Bauch’s Logik : “Forms of definition” and “Delimiting concepts.” The manuscript and two typed copies of the seminar paper are found at the Scholem Archive, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, ARC 4 1599, 277/10; one of the typed copies is dated November 8, 1917, and must be from the winter semester of 1917–1918, which Scholem spent in Jena.

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34. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. II:1917–1923, 109–110. See also 49–95. 35. Walter Benjamin, “Das Urteil der Bezeichnung (The Judgment of Designation),” in GS VI, 9–11. Cf. Bertrand Russell, The Principles of Mathematics, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), 101–107. The paradox appears in this form: “The set of all sets that are not members of themselves is both a member and not a member of itself.” 36. Gottlob Frege, “Über Sinn und Bedeutung,” in Funktion, Begriff, Bedeutung. Fünf logische Studien, ed. G. Patzig (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2008), 40–65. 37. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 120. Cf. ibid. 125–130. Fenves indicates as sources for Benjamin’s discussion the texts of his maternal uncle, the mathematician Arthur Schoenflies (cf. “Über die logischen Paradoxien der Mengenlehre.” Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung 15, 1906: 19–25), and of Gerhard Hassenberg (Grundbegriffe der Mengenlehre. Göttingen: Vanderhoeck and Ruprecht, 1906). 38. Walter Benjamin, “Lösungsversuch des Russelschen Paradoxons,” in GS VI, 12. Transl. as “Attempt at a Solution of Russell’s Paradox.” Engl. trans. in Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 127. 39. Walter Benjamin, “Lösungsversuch des Russellschen Paradoxons,” in GS VI, 12. 40. Walter Benjamin, “Das Urteil der Bezeichnung (The Judgment of Designation),” in GS VI, 10–11. Engl. trans. in Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 130. Cf. here: “Benjamin presents the circular structure of language as the point of entrance for a well-grounded theory of knowledge. . . . each thing speaks its own language, and knowledge of the thing consists in knowledge of its language, which simply means ‘meaning’ in its own particular way.” 41. Gottlob Frege, Begriffsschrift und andere Aufsätze, 2nd edition. With annotations by E. Husserl and H. Scholz, ed. I. Angelelli (Hildesheim-Zürich-New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1994), 107. Cf. the original text: “Zeichen sind für das Denken von derselben Bedeutung wie für die Schiffart die Erfindung, den Wind zu gebrauchen, um gegen den Wind zu segeln.” 42. Walter Benjamin, “Das Passagen-Werk,” in GS V.1, 592–593; Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project. Transl. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002). 43. Walter Benjamin, “Über den Begriff der Geschichte,” in GS I.2, 696–697. Engl. transl. “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940. Vol. 4. Transl. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 389–400. Here: 392. 44. Letter from Benjamin to Gershom Scholem, December 23, 1917. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1913, 409. 45. Letter from Benjamin to Hofmannsthal, January 13, 1924. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. II: Briefe 1919–1924, 409. 46. Letter from Benjamin to Gershom Scholem, December 23, 1917. Ibid. 409. On the theme of tautology and identity in Benjamin, see Peter Fenves, “Diverging Correspondences Concerning the Problem of Identity: Russell-Wittgenstein and BenjaminScholem,” in Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School, MNL



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127.3 (2012): 242–261. See also P. Gabrielli, Sinn und Bild bei Wittgenstein und Benjamin. (Bern: Peter Lang, 2004.) 47. F. Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme, 83–84. 48. Liselotte Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschaftstheorie Walter Benjamins (Frankfurt a.M.: Athenäum, 1973.) 49. F. Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme, 54: “The Neo-Kantian concept of Inbegriff, Frege’s idea of function and the Gestalt concept of ‘form structured in a pregnant sense’ are uniquely woven together in the ‘theory’ behind Benjamin’s analysis, revealing unexpected epistemological implications.” See also n. 77: “Concerning Frege, Wiesenthal cites a letter to her from Scholem, in which we find that Scholem—who from 1915 to 1919 studied mathematics and logic, as well as Jewish mysticism—often spoke with Benjamin about ‘the language of mathematics’; Scholem also makes reference to a seminar paper in defense of Frege. This would have taken place between 16 and 17; it is therefore probable that Benjamin arrived at the concept of function by another path.” See L. Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschaftstheorie, 27–28: In answer to my question as to whether Benjamin became aware of the concept of function through Frege, Scholem responded in a letter, “Between 1915–1919 I studied mathematics as a fundamental instruction (and completed the courses) and precisely in the first period (around 1916/1917) I had conversations with him (Benjamin, author’s parentheses) about the language of mathematics in Berlin and Seeshaupt (near Munich). At that time I was occupied with mathematical logic (Schroeder’s Algebra der Logik, Frege’s Pasigrafia—I studied with Frege in Jena—and Peano’s Begriffsschrift) and I wrote a paper— which I briefly described to Benjamin—for Bauch’s seminar in Jena, which he never granted any consideration” (letter from Scholem to me, December 17, 1971, my italics). According to Scholem’s account, it is very probable that Benjamin was aware of Frege’s concept of function. Scholem’s letter to Wiesenthal has been published in Gershom Scholem, Briefe, Vol. III, 3 vols. (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1994–1999, 1971–1982), 13–14 (letter n.12). 50. Liselotte Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschaftstheorie, 79. 51. Ibid. 89. (Peter Fenves makes reference to this question, in Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 277, n.6). 52. F. Desideri, Walter Benjamin, 89–90. 53. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 161–163. Engl. transl. On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926, 100–110: “The most important of these elements are, first, Kant’s conception of knowledge as a relation between some sort of subjects and objects or subject and object—a conception that he was unable, ultimately, to overcome, despite all his attempts to do so;. . .” Here: 103. 54. On the theme of language and the related logical-linguistic studies in Benjamin, see: Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction. Esp. ch. 5: “Meaning in the Proper Sense of the Word. ‘On Language as Such and on Human Language’ and Related Logico-Linguistic Studies,” 125–151. On the theme of the tie in Benjamin between history and language in an immanent messianic dimension, see also Gianni Carchia. Nome e immagine. Saggio su Walter Benjamin (Quodlibet: Macerata, 2010).

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55. Peter Fenves, “Introduction: The Course of Argument,” in The Messianic Reduction, 3–4. 56. F. Desideri, M. Baldi, Benjamin (Rome: Carocci, 2010), 15–16. 57. Benjamin refers to Hamann in the 1916 essay “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 147. Transl. “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in One-Way Street and Other Writings, transl. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (New York: Verso, 1979), 107–123. 58. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 168. Transl. “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 100–110. 59. Walter Benjamin, “Über die transzendentale Methode,” in GS VI. Fragment 31, 53. Transl. “On the Transcendental Method,” transl. C.A. 60. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 5: “[that] for which Cohen is doubtless best known, ‘the fact of science’ . . . says very little unless it is recognized that the ‘fact’ in question does not consist in established bodies of knowledge but, rather, serves as a methodological replacement for transcendental subjectivity.” See H. Cohen, “Logik der reinen Erkenntnis,” in Werke Vol. VI, Hermann-Cohen-Archiv, ed. H. Holzhey (Hildesheim—New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977–), 57. 61. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 168. Engl. transl. On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, 108. 62. See the note of October 11, 1916, in G. Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 404: “At a certain point mathematics surpasses the magic of language and enters completely into God, receives (empfängt) an immediate magic, which operating within itself perhaps renders comprehensible the accord between nature and mathematical thought, the ‘problem’ of the application (Anwendungsproblem).” The expression Anwendungsproblem alludes to the book of that title by Edgar Zilsel, Das Anwendungsproblem. Ein philosophischer Versuch über das Gesetz der großen Zahlen und die Induktion (Leipzig, 1916), often cited by Scholem in his diaries. On mathematics and language, see W. Benjamin, Fortsetzungnotizen zur Arbeit über die Sprache, in W. Benjamin, GS VII.2, 788; Transl. “Appendix to ‘On Language as such and on the Language of Man:’ ” “{Mathematics speaks in signs}. The language of mathematics is the doctrine / Its scripture is the sign. This is a passage in preparatory notes for an addition to the essay on language.” 63. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 168. Engl. transl. “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy,” 108. 64. Ibid. 170. Engl. transl. 108. 65. Ibid, 170. Engl. transl. 108. On the concept of “integral” in Benjamin, its role in the unity of experience, and in general on On the Program of the Coming Philosophy, see P. Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 152–186. 66. Ibid. 170. Engl. transl. 108. The term Dasein is kept in the original German. A detailed analysis of On the Program of the Coming Philosophy can be found in T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 333–447. 67. Ibid. 168–170. Engl. transl. 107–110 (amended). 68. Ibid. 163. Engl. transl. 104.



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69. Ibid. 162–163. Engl. transl. 104. 70. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe Vol. III-IV, “Preface to the second edition,” B XXXVI-XXXVII, 36–37. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, transl. and ed. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 119: “Criticism is not opposed to the dogmatic procedure of reason in its pure cognition as science (for science must always be dogmatic, i.e., it must prove its conclusions strictly a priori from secure principles); rather, it is opposed only to dogmatism.” For Kant’s concept of “doctrine” (Doktrin) cf. ibid. B 26, p. 63; Engl. transl. 149–150: “This investigation, which we can properly call not doctrine but only transcendental critique, since it does not aim at the amplification of cognitions themselves but only at their correction, and is to supply the touchstone of the worth or worthlessness of all cognitions a priori, is that with which we are now concerned.” 71. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 169. Engl. transl. “On the Program of the Coming Philosophy,” 108–109. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe Vol. III-IV, B 869, 701– 702. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 696: “Now the philosophy of pure reason is either propaedeutic (preparation), which investigates the faculty of reason in regard to all pure a priori cognition, and is called critique, or, second, the system of pure reason (science), the whole (true as well as apparent) philosophical cognition from pure reason in systematic interconnection, and is called metaphysics . . . . Metaphysics is divided into the metaphysics of the speculative and the practical use of pure reason, and is therefore either metaphysics of nature or metaphysics of morals.” 72. Ibid. 170. Engl. transl. 109–110. 73. Ibid. 163. Engl. transl. 104. 74. Ibid. 166. Engl. transl. 106. See G. Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. II: 1917–1923, 25–26. In the years 1916–1917, Scholem elaborates a mathematical theory of truth and a theory of the orders (categories) defined as a “doctrine of orders,” which he discusses with Benjamin. According to Scholem, mathematics can establish metaphysics, in that it elevates logic to a doctrine of orders and, conceived in a more profound sense than the one accepted today, can gain access to truth as a doctrine of the qualities of being and its relations (the quantities). The orders of mathematics determine certain classes of truth (Wahrheiten) but it is not certain that they determine all of them. In these pages Scholem poses mathematics, truth, and the symbolic in relation one to another, and says that only by starting from symbolic theory (because this tends to surpass the mathematic theory of truth and establish it in a more profound sphere) can history and mathematics have a response. Truth, like being, is represented in language and its symbols. See Tamara Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 265. Cf. ibid. 333–456. 75. A more originary concept is the concept of identity, one of the Denkgesetze (laws of thought) of Cohen’s Logik. Cf. Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen (Turin: Mursia, 1988), 108. 76. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 163. Engl. transl. 104.

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77. H. Cohen, “Logik der reinen Erkenntnis,” in Werke. Vol. VI, ed. HermannCohen-Archiv under the direction of Helmut Holzhey (Hildesheim-New-York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977–), 601. Cf. Phillip Homburg, “Toward a Benjaminian Critique of Hermann Cohen’s Logical Idealism,” in Anthropology & Materialism, Special Issue, 1/2017, 4: “It is this notion of origin that is central to Cohen’s critical idealism. Through his concept of origin, Cohen is able to posit a transcendental unity of consciousness that exists in pure thought prior to any distinction between subject and object. For Cohen, there is a logical origin [Ursprung] prior to any form of judgment based on the distinction between thought and being.” On Cohen’s rejection of Kant’s dualistic claim that knowledge has its origin in both the faculty of the understanding and the faculty of sensibility, see here, 5: “Cohen, therefore, rejects the independent mediating faculty of pure intuition. He is able to overcome the problems that this rejection introduces by incorporating what he calls the ‘fact’ of the pure mathematical science . . . into his logical method . . . [and] is able to subordinate sensibility to the understanding through an extension of the transcendental logic to the forms of sensible intuition.” 78. Cf. Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 106: “The law of continuity is the ‘law-of-thought of knowledge’ (LRE 93), ‘protection against the given’, since: ‘as a law-of-thought of knowledge,’ continuity becomes, first of all, independent of sensation . . . . Therefore, continuity is the law-of-thought of the connection that makes the production of the unity of knowledge, and through it the unity of the object, possible, leading to continuous realization’ (LRE 91–2).” (Engl. transl. The Critical Philosophy of Hermann Cohen, transl. John Denton, State University New York Press, Albany, 1997, 96–97). 79. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 164. Engl. trans. 105: “in the interest of the continuity of experience, representation of experience as the system of the sciences as the neo-Kantians have it is still lacking.” Cf. also ibid. 170; Engl. trans. 109: “The failing of neo-Kantianism can be suspected in the neglect of this continuity.” 80. Cf. P. Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 160. 81. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 167; Engl. trans. 107 (amended). 82. See Phillip Homburg, “Toward a Benjaminian Critique of Hermann Cohen’s Logical Idealism,” 10: “In opposition to the Kantian separation of knowledge and experience, Cohen provides the foundation of the systematic continuity and unity of knowledge through the absolutisation of a genetic conception of pure logical thought. . . . Thus, while Benjamin concurs with the neo-Kantian demand for a continuity of experience and knowledge, he disputes the mathematical and scientific foundation of their epistemology that prioritizes abstract scientific experience and posits the unity of subject and object of experience within pure logical thought. . . . In revising the Kantian theory of knowledge and experience, Benjamin is able to expand the sphere of possible experiences without reducing the object of experience to an object of a specific type of experience.” 83. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 159. Engl. transl. 101.



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84. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1913, 362–363. Engl. trans. Correspondence, 88: “The core of early romanticism is religion and history. . . . [The romantics] tried to produce in their own thought and life the higher sphere in which both spheres had to coincide.” Letter of June 1917 to Scholem. 85. Walter Benjamin, “Über die Wahrnehmung,” in GS VI, 36–38. Engl. transl. “On Perception,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 93–96. Here: 96. 86. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. K. Vorländer (Hamburg: Felix Meyer Verlag 19907), § VII, 28. Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment., ed. and trans. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 76). 87. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 168. Engl. transl. 108. 88. Ibid. 163. Engl. transl. 104. 89. In Cohen, two tasks of the thing in itself are present in all three realms of the system: the form of legality (Gesetzmäßigkeit), in which the a priori forms are methods for the objectification of laws; the teleological vision of the idea that divides into the three modes of the teleological conception of nature (hypothesis), of moral conception (the ideal that poses the question of freedom and considers people as final ends), and of the conception of the aesthetic aims (the idea as task is realized in the work of art). On the common transcendental method of purity and the correlation between logic and ethics as truth in Cohen, cf. Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 136–139; Engl. transl. 126–129. “The method [discovered by logic] can only be acknowledged as common from the point of view of ethics, since ethics alone exhaustively poses the problem of truth, as connection between being and what ought to be. . . . The idea of God guarantees the possibility and the idea of the connection between nature and spirit. . . . The idea of God is truth. . . . It highlights the shift of focus of critical philosophy caused by ethics in respect of logic: from origin to task, from idea as hypothesis to idea as ideal. . . . [From] infinite origin [to] . . . infinite task.” On the truth as system in the Logik see ibid. 102; Engl. trans. 111. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 157. Engl. trans. 100: “future philosophy . . . must struggle for certainty, whose criterion is systematic unity or truth.” 90. Benjamin to G. Scholem, 22-X-1917. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 389. Engl. transl. Correspondences, 97f. 91. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 160. Engl. transl. 100. 92. In Kant the term Typik is used in the Critique of Practical Reason (and here alone) in the paragraph entitled “Von der Typik der reinen praktischen Urteilskraft” (Immanuel Kant, Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. Werkausgabe in 12 Bd. Ed. W. Weischedel (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1977–1988), Here: Vol. VII: Kritik des praktischen Vernunft. Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, 186–191; Engl. trans. modified: Critique of Practical Reason; trans. Werner S. Pluhar; introduction by Stephen Engstrom, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 2002, 89–94) to indicate the symbolic exposition of a concept intelligible to reason, the idea of the morally

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good, where a relation can be determined between the domain of nature and the domain of liberty. Applied to the singular case, no intuition can be subjected to the law of liberty, and thus not even the schema of a singular case according to laws (the concrete exposition of a concept) can be subjected to the imagination for its concrete application, because the will can be determined only by a law (and only in terms of his form) and not by empirical motives: “But for the law of freedom (which is a causality not sensibly conditioned at all), and hence also for the concept of the unconditionally good, there is no intuition and hence no schema that can be laid at its basis for the sake of its application in concreto. Consequently the moral law has no other cognitive power to mediate its application to objects of nature than the understanding (not the power of imagination). What the understanding can lay at the basis—as a law for the sake of the power of judgment—of the idea of reason is not a schema of sensibility but a law, but yet a law that can be exhibited in concreto in objects of the senses, and hence a law of nature, thought only in terms of his form; therefore we can call this law the type of the moral law” (ibid. 188; Engl. trans. 91). Benjamin’s reading of the Critique of Practical Reason, which took place or concluded only in the Spring of 1918 (when On the Program of the Coming Philosophy had already been completed), is documented by a letter to Ernst Schoen in May 1918 (Benjamin to Ernst Schoen, V-1918. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 455) and by the list of Benjamin’s readings (see Verzeichnis der gelesenen Schriften, in Walter Benjamin, GS VII.I, 441). 93. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 386, 332. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 403: “perhaps the ideas make possible a transition from concepts of nature to the practical, and themselves generate support for the moral ideas and connection with the speculative cognitions of reason.” 94. Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 79. Engl. transl. 60–61. 95. Benjamin is convinced that the tripartite division of the Kantian system must be maintained and that in each of these parts (the doctrine of nature, ethics, and aesthetics) the critical and dogmatic moments must be distinguished one from the other, all of them absolutely independent of the empirical (see “Über das Programm der kommen den Philosophie.” In Walter Benjamin, GS II.1, 165 and 169. Engl. transl. 108–110). 96. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B XXXVI-XXXVII, 36–37. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 119: 97. Ibid. 169. Engl. transl. 109. Benjamin concludes the Addendum by defining the relationship between philosophy and religion in terms of an inclusion of the “knowledge of religion” within the system of philosophy (because in philosophy one can speak only of knowledge) but also in terms of a virtual unity and coincidence, which is never achieved because always an ideal and regularized tendency of knowledge and experience toward totality, of religion and philosophy, which is to say of philosophy and teaching (Lehre): “The basic tendency of this definition of the relationship between religion and philosophy, however, is to meet the demands for, first, the virtual unity of religion and philosophy; second, the incorporation of the knowledge of religion into philosophy; third, the integrity of the tripartite division of the system” (110).



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98. Ibid. 168. Engl. transl. 108. 99. In a February 28, 1918 letter to Ernst Schoen, Benjamin writes (Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 437): “for me, the questions of the essence of knowledge, justice, art, are connected with the question regarding the origin of all human expressions of the mind / spiritual expressions from the essence of language.” (transl. C.A.) 100. Walter Benjamin, “Über die Wahrnehmung,” in GS VI, 36–38. Engl. transl. “On Perception,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 93–96. Here: 95 and 96. 101. On the Tradierbarkeit in Kantian terminoloy and his neo-Kantian representaives, see Scholem’s manuscript in the National Library, Jerusalem, ScholemArchiv, Über Kant (ARC 4* 1599/277/I/#14), transcribed and commented by Julia Ng, in Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School, MLN 127.3 (2012): 440–442. Engl. transl. “On Kant,” 443: “Today there are many people who call themselves Kantians, and who profess to have—or actually do have—cognitions in Kantian terminology. Obviously, such terminology is not equivalent to Kantian language. It is out of the question that these people, or even just one of them, understand this terminology. But on what does the possibility of Kantianism depend? It has a spark of genuine mysticism in it. There is nothing transmissible in the Kantian system, for otherwise the system would have to be understandable, which is eidetically not the case. Rather, the system has a kind of transmissibility as such and neoKantianism is based precisely on this. This mysticism is unfruitful, however, for it is only a spark. The comprehension of the tradition in which mysticism is supported does not correspond positively to anything here. Somehow the Kantian system is without a doubt a tremendous matter, but the only possibility of arriving at it is to explicitly turn away from it, until one comprehends the system and can legitimize its transmissibility from a new perspective. Apart from this one spark, neo-Kantianism is the pure cult of a mysticism without an object. . . . The neo-Kantians practice magic, but it is an abusive one because it is external.” See Julia Ng, “Kant’s Theory of Experience at the End of the War: Scholem and Benjamin Read Cohen. A Commentary.” Ibid. 462–484. 102. See Benjamin letter to Gershom Scholem, 22-X-1917. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol I: Briefe 1910–1918, 391. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 98: “This winter I will begin working on Kant and history. From this viewpoint I still don’t know whether I will find, in Kant’s historical writings, the positive content necessary. . . . Since I still haven’t read Kant’s writings on this subject. Beyond certain interesting hints, I now think that the reason that has directed me to this theme is the recognition that the ultimate metaphysical dignity of a philosophical vision that truly wishes to be canonical will be most clearly revealed in its confrontation with history. In my opinion, it is in the philosophy of history that the specific affinity of a given philosophy with the true teaching should be able to come forth with maximum clarity, because it is here that the theme of the historical becoming of knowledge must appear, a knowledge that the teaching will lead to its resolution. But it is not entirely to be excluded that Kant’s philosophy is little developed on this point. . . . Or I may find another subject to work on” (translation modified). Cf. “Über das Programm der

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kommenden Philosophie.” In Walter Benjamin, GS II.1, 168. Engl. trans. 108: “Such philosophy in its universal element would either itself be designated as theology or would be superordinate to theology to the extent that it contains historically philosophical elements.” 103. See Scholem’s observations on Kabhalah, mathematics, and the magic of language in Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. vol. I: 1913–1917, 403–404 (annotations of October 11, 1916). Engl. transl.: Gershom Scholem, Lamentations of Youth. The Diaries of Gershom Scholem, 1913–1919. Ed. and transl. Anthony D. Skinner (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 143 [after “||” transl. C.A.]: “There is an inner center of the soul, which is language, or at least the Hebrew language. And in the connection between Nefesh and Neschama (as the “inner center”) lies the foundation of the magic of language. This magic is hence far removed from translation or rendering into another center || At some point, mathematics [which belongs to Ruach, the intellectual part of the soul] overcomes the magic of language and enters God purely, it receives an immediate magic that—effective in itself—possibly makes the congruency of nature and mathematical thought, the “problem of application” [Anwendungsproblem] understandable. The fact that mathematics is incapable of allegorical [Gleichnishaftig] representation becomes understandable from the sphere of Nefesch, in which it overcomes the linguistic, the allegorical. In the deity—as most real being—there is no possibility. Cf. Molitor II, § 94. Scholem refers to F. J. Molitor, Philosophie der Geschichte oder über die Tradition in dem Alten Bunden und ihre Beziehung zur Kirche des Neuen Bundes mit vorzüglicher Rücksicht auf die Kabbala, 4 Vols. (Theissing: Münster, 1827–1853), part 2, 58: “There is no mere possibility within the deity as most real being, but all possibility is simultaneously also reality.” (Transl. C.A.) At that time Scholem was reading Jean de Pauly’s translation of the kabbalistic text, the Zohar (Sepher de Ha-Zohar (Le livre de spendeur). Doctrine esotérique des Israélites). Transl. Jean de Pauly, ed. É. Lafuma-Giraud. In 6 Vols. (Paris: Leroux, 1906–1911). See the reference to this text in Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923, Vol. I: 1913–1917, 407. And ibid. 185; a note of October 13, 1916. On the philosophy of language and the Torah, see the notes dated November 18, 1916, which he made after having sent Benjamin the letter that may have inspired him to write his essay on language (ibid. 420–422). 104. Benjamin and Scholem read Molitor in 1917. See Benjamin’s May 1917 letter to Scholem in Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 357. And also from June 1917—Ibid. 361—in which Benjamin tells Scholem he has received the four volumes of Molitor’s work. 105. As will be seen, Benjamin will be disappointed at the end of 1917 by his reading of Kant’s essays “Toward Perpetual Peace” (1795) and “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” (1784) and will give up his project “on Kant and history” and on “the concept of ‘eternal task’ in Kant” in favor of the theme, “What does it mean that science is an eternal task?” and will then write his doctoral thesis on early German romanticism. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 400 and 408; Engl trans. Correspondence, 105.



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106. Benjamin to Scholem, 7-XII-1917. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 402–403. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 103f (transl. modified). 107. Ibid. (trans. amended). 108. Cf. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 411 (annotation 27-X-1916). Engl. transl. 143. [after || transl. C.A.]: “the Bible’s divinity [is] rooted . . . in . . . history. Judaism is the embodiment of history, and because Judaism is the absolute truth, it follows that the Bible and the Torah are divine. For this reason, one can employ the Bible as proof. This also means that the Jewish ‘tradition’ is unlike any other tradition. Jewish literature is directed at the ‘truth,’ unlike any other literature. . . . || Why these discussions of the Talmud—if the divine will would not be behind it—would indeed have to determine the existing, the compulsory existing divine truth, even of the smallest things.” 109. On mathematics and Zion, the spiritual center of Judaism from which Torah comes, where mathematics and mysticism meet, see ibid. 407 (annotation13-X-1916); Engl. transl. C.A.: “Some people seek the relation between mathematics and mysticism in a certain occult mathematics. I believe that this is not deep enough, the relation rests some worlds deeper: in Zion. Because the conception that numbers are the letters of the book of the world is by itself not yet the decisive bridge to mysticism. For they claim an allegorical [Gleichnishaftigkeit] nature of mathematics that, on this level, is absolutely wrong. Mathematics is not allegory [Gleichnis], except where it is one for God. But in another sphere that does not seem to be the occult one. Zion is a prophetic category, but not an occult one. With the help of occultism, one might—maybe—misunderstand mathematics. (This might be erroneous, too, I know too little).” 110. Ibid. 405 (annotation 11-X-1916). Engl. trans. 143–144. 111. Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 73. Engl. transl. 55–56. 112. Ibid. 73. Engl. transl. 56. 113. Gershom Scholem, “Die drei Teile des Systems der Lehre als Philosophie des Judentums, oder über das Wesen des Messianischen,” ARC 4o 1599/277 I/22 (Scholem-Archiv, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem) (Transl. C.A.). We thank Suhrkamp—which controls the publishing rights to Scholem’s oeuvre—for its kind permission to quote and use this unpublished manuscript. “Doctrine as Knowledge,” “Doctrine as History,” “Doctrine as Language,” and “Transition to Religion” are underlined in the manuscript. 1 of 2 pages: «1) Die Lehre als Erkenntnis . . . (das Recht)—Urteil  2) Die Lehre als Geschichte. . . (die Tradition)—Aufschub  3) Die Lehre als Sprache. . . (die Offenbarung)—Erlösung.   1) Der Begriff der medialen Erkenntnis [für 1–4]—(Was eine Idee sei. . .)   2) Identität und Bewegung (die mystische Erkenntnistheorie)   3) Die Stufenfolge der Erkenntnis (grundlegender Teil)   4) Dimension und Ordnung

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114. Ibid. 115. Gershom Scholem, “Über Jona und den Begriff der Gerechtigkeit” [Bern, end of 1918], in G. Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. II:1917–1923, 528 (Transl. C.A.). 116. Gershom Scholem, “Die drei Teile des Systems der Lehre als Philosophie des Judentums, oder über das Wesen des Messianischen,” Scholem-Archiv, National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, ARC, 4 1599/277 I/22, 2. 117. Ibid. 1. 118. In Benjamin, as will be seen, noninterrogability is a characteristic of the system of philosophy as an infinite task. 119. Ibid. 2. 120. Certain letters indicate that in 1913 Benjamin is reading the Critique of Judgment and frequenting lectures on this subject in Freiburg, and in 1915–1916 he takes Moritz Geiger’s course on Kant’s teleology (Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 97, 112, 301, 304n, and 324n). Also in 1913 Benjamin reads Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (Ibid. 92), while Scholem tells us that in 1915 Benjamin had read the Critique of Pure Reason as far as Transcendental Deduction (Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 20. Engl. transl. 15). Benjamin’s reading of the Prolegomeni can be traced in the essay On the Program of the Coming Philosophy. In May 1918, Benjamin reads (or rereads?) the Critique of Practical Reason (Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 455), while in the essay “Goethes Elective Affinities” from 1922, he cites the Metaphysic of Morals (Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, 128). 121. On February 10, 1918 Benjamin asks Scholem to order for him the four volumes of Hermann Cohen’s System der Philosophie (Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 429), which includes Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. 122. Ernst Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1911, 19223). Engl. transl. Substance and Function—and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, transl. William Curtis and Marie Collins Swabey (Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1923). Both Benjamin and Scholem take Cassirer’s courses in Berlin between 1915 and 1917. 123. Benjamin to Scholem, VI-1917. In Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910– 1918, 362. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 88. 124. Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 76–79. Engl. transl. Story of a Friendship, 58. 125. For Benjamin’s and especially Scholem’s critique of Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung, see Scholem’s manuscripts in the Scholem-Archiv (National Library of Israel, Jerusalem) “Über Kant” (ARC 4* 1599/277/I/#14) and “Gegen die metaphysische Erörterung des Raumes” (ARC 4*1599/277/I/#11), transcribed and commented by Julia Ng, in Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School, in Modern Language Notes (127, 2012, n. 3), 440–455. And J. Ng, “Kant’s Theory of Experience at the End of the War: Scholem and Benjamin Read Cohen. A Commentary.” Ibid. 462–484.



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126. Benjamin’s letter to Scholem, October 22, 1917. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 403. 127. Ibid. 390–391. 128. Ibid. 408–409; Correspondences, 106. (English translation modified). 129. The central idea of Cohen’s Logik is the scientific “idea of the hypothesis” that he develops in “the judgment and the logic of the origin [Ursprung]” (Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, in System der Philosophie. Werke. Vol. VI, 601.) as a methodological and ordering task for the pure formal production, infinite and always incomplete, of categorical determinations that establish reality itself in thought. For an analysis of the relation between Benjamin’s reflections and Cohen, see Pierfrancesco Fiorato “Unendliche Aufgabe und System der Wahrheit. Die Auseinandersetzung des jungen Walter Benjamin mit der Philosophie Hermann Cohens.” In Philosophisches Denken—Politisches Wirken. Hermann-Cohen-Kolloquium Marburg 1992, 163–178. By the same author, see “Die Erfahrung, das Unbedingte und die Religion: Walter Benjamin als Leser von Kants Theorie der Erfahrung,” in Hermann Cohen’s Philosophy of Religion. International Conference in Jerusalem 1996, ed. S. Mosès and H. Wiedebach (Hildesheim-Zürich-New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1997), 71–84. 130. Cf. Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 135 ; Engl. transl. 125–126: “Thus, truth as the connection between logic and ethics, first of all, means correlation between the two areas of knowledge, where ethics finds its sure grounding as the science of logic. . . . What . . . [the link between logic and ethics] consist of is method.” 131. Walter Benjamin, “Die unendliche Aufgabe,” in GS VI, 52. 132. Ibid. 51–53. Fragment 31 was composed on July 2, 1918 (see Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 263). See on these two fragments Julia Ng, “Acts of Time: Cohen and Benjamin on Mathematics and History,” in Paradigmi, 1/2017, 41–60. Cf. here, 44: “Benjamin’s criticism of the concept of infinity he attributes to the ‘Kantian school’ hinges on a mathematical idea of actual infinity that first made a formal appearance with Georg Cantor’s development of transfinite set theory. Benjamin not only knew of, but worked with Cantor’s discovery that gives a one-to-one correspondence between an infinite set and one of its subsets, both the full set and the subset are ‘countably infinite’ in that they contain the same number of elements ‒ thus making the whole equal to a part of itself, in direct opposition to Euclid’s axiom that the whole is greater than the part.” “Tracking the transformation of ‘filling time’ from its logical to its historical iteration, or from what Cohen called the ‘fundamental acts of time’ in Logik der reinen Erkenntnis to Benjamin’s image of a language of language (qua language touching itself)” Julia Ng “suggests that for Benjamin, moving from 0 to 1 is anything but paradoxical, and instead relies on the possibility for a mathematical function to capture the nature of historical occurrence beyond paradoxes of language or phenomenality” (here, 41). The last represents Benjamin’s own theory of mathematical infinity. Cf. P. Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 169: “The two modes of mathematical infinity to which . . . [Benjamin] refers are presumably the ones upon which Cantor founded transfinite set theory: denumerable point sets such as the aggregate of rational numbers and nondenumerable point set such as the set of all points on the linear continuum.” 133. Walter Benjamin, “Die unendliche Aufgabe,” in GS VI, 53.

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134. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 168. Engl. transl. 107–108. Regarding the relationship of experience and knowledge with language, Benjamin expresses his disagreement with neo-Kantianism, which had not recognized «that not science, but language gives the concepts that ought to be examined.» (Walter Benjamin, “Über die transzendentale Methode,” in GS VI, 53. Engl. transl. C.A.). 135. See the notepad Erster Notizblock. Ms 676–715 and the manuscripts “Die unendliche Aufgabe” (Ms. 715, Blatt 41) and “Kapitalismus als Religion” (Ms. 700, Blätter 26, 27, and 28). Walter Benjamin, “Kapitalismus als Religion,” in GS VI, 100–103 and the “Anmerkungen,” 690–691. Engl. transl. “Capitalism as Religion,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. 1, 288–291. The editors of the Gesammelte Schriften attribute the manuscript to mid-1921. Only a chemical analysis can confirm what remains a hypothesis, which would lead to a later dating also for other fragments written on the same notepad (such as Die transzendentale Methode, Ms. 683, Blatt 9) on the obverse of which is the fragment “Zweideutigkeit des Begriffs der ‘unendlichen Aufgabe’ in der kantischen Schule” (see the “Anmerkungen,” 665–666), fragments which however are found in the notepad before “Kapitalismus als Religion.” 136. Walter Benjamin, “Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften,” in GS I.1, 172. Transl. “Goethe’s Elective Affinities,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 297–360. Here: 333. See P. Fiorato, “L’ideale del problema. Sopravvivenza e metamorfosi di un tema neokantiano nella filosofia del giovane Benjamin,” in Conoscenza, valori e cultura. Orizzonti e problemi del neocriticismo, Quaderni di Discipline Filosofiche, ed. S. Besoli and L. Guidetti (Firenze: Vallecchi, 1997), 361–386. 137. Walter Benjamin, “Theorie der Kunstkritik,” in GS I.3, 833–835, 833. (Transl. “The Theory of Criticism,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 217–219. Here: 217–218. In this preparatory fragment linked to the essay on Goethe but not part of the essay itself, there appears the expression “infinite task” with a negative connotation, critiquing the mode typical of the neo-Kantians “not an a priori, but a completely empty kind of the infinite task.” (transl. C.A.) (Walter Benjamin, “Zweideutigkeit des Begriffs der ‘unendlichen Aufgabe’ in der kantischen Schule,” GS VI, 53.) 138. Ibid. 834; Engl. trans. 218. 139. Ibid. 834; Engl. trans. 218 (amended). 140. Ibid. 835; Engl. trans. 219. 141. Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntniskritische Vorrede” of the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. In Walter Benjamin, GS I.I, 209–210; Engl. trans. 30. 142. In 1915, Benjamin reads the book by Paul Natorp’s student, Elisabeth Rotten, Goethes Urphänomen und die platonische Idee (A. Töpelmann, Gießen, 1913). See Benjamin’s letter to Fritz Radt from November 21, 1915. In Walter Benjamin, Gesam­melte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 292, 295n. Cohen’s interpretation of Plato is important beginning from Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik [1978] (In Hermann Cohen, Schriften zur Philosophie und Zeitgeschichte, 2 Vols., ed. A. Görland and E. Cassirer (Berlin: Akademieverlag, 1928)). See A. Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen (Mursia, Turin, 1988), 43–44: “The importance of the meaning



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of the platonic idea as a hypothesis is explored and developed by Cohen in the works subsequent to Platons Ideenlehre und die Mathematik and becomes the fundamental historical reference for the ‘method of purity,’ theorized by Cohen’s system. ‘. . . The idea becomes the justification of the concept, because in the idea thought gives itself its foundation. . . . And this establishment of the idea signifies and guarantees true being.’ [Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, in Werke VI, 211].” 143. Walter Benjamin, Erkenntniskritische Vorrede to the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 216. Engl. transl. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 36. 144. Ibid. 217. Engl. transl. Ibid. 36 (modified transl.) 145. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 158. Engl. transl. 100. On truth as a system of pure knowledge and as task in Cohen, see A. Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 111: “ ‘In the system of truth we recognize the ultimate goal of knowledge’ (LRE 397). Already in the Logik der reinen Erkenntnis Cohen is aware that the full significance of truth cannot emerge solely from logic, but only in the comprehensive unity of the system, and especially in the relationship between logic and ethics (LRE 610).” 146. Walter Benjamin, Erkenntniskritische Vorrede to the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 213. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 33. 147. See Scholem’s note of January 14, 1917. In Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. I. Halbband 1913–1917, 467. Here, he defines science as an introduction to the Torah, as a doctrine of the spiritual orders (Ordnungslehre) of things, to which mathematical objects also belong (ibid. 467), where he finds himself in disagreement with Benjamin (whose letter-essay on language he had read) concerning the role, for Scholem absolutely predominant, of mathematics in the doctrine of the orders: “mathematical things . . . are part of the doctrine of orders. Mathematics is the doctrine without a name [:] it is knowledge, namely, metaphysical knowledge. This definition is precisely the one necessary and suited for the doctrine of orders. Apropos, Benjamin’s remarks regarding my definition are not correct, because I did not mean it like that. It is the specific, it is the order of mathematics that only it is reverence for thought. Either all doctrine is mathematics, or there exists doctrine that is not reverence for thought, but different. I am not sure about this yet. What is certain, is that the Thora is of a higher order than mathematics itself.” (Transl. C.A.) 148. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe Vol. III-IV, B 869– 870, 701–702. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 698. See chapter III: “Transcendental Doctrine of Method, The Architectonic of Pure Reason.” Ibid. B 860–880, 695–709. Engl. transl. 691–702. Ibid. B 869–870, 701–702. Engl. transl. 696. On science as systematic unity, see also ibid. B 873, 704. Engl. transl. 698: “Thus all pure a priori cognition, by means of the special faculty of cognition in which alone it can have its seat, constitutes a special unity, and metaphysics is that philosophy which is to present that cognition in this systematic unity.” 149. Walter Benjamin, “Die unendliche Aufgabe,” in GS VI, 51. (Transl. C.A.) 150. In Cohen’s Logik, the concept appears as a question (Hermann Cohen, Logik des reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. VI, 378: “The concept is question and remains question, nothing but question. Even the answer it contains, has to be a new question,

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prompt a new question. This is the internal methodological relation that exists between question and answer; that every question has to be an answer itself. This is why every answer can and has to be a question.” (Transl. C.A.) Precisely in this “tendency to ask further questions” (Walter Benjamin, “Theorie der Kunstkritik,” in GS I.3, 833–835) and in the exclusive relationship with the physical-mathematical scientific model (of his time), Benjamin identifies the concept “empty” and a posteriori of the infinite task in neo-Kantianism. “Zweideutigkeit des Begriffs der ‘unendlichen Aufgabe’ in der kantischen Schule.” In Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 53. For the ideal unity of concepts as system and as system of truth, see Cohen’s Logik (Hermann Cohen, Logik des reinen Erkenntnis, 395: “The concepts themselves, the pure presuppositions, the pure cognitions, form a system. No system is closed, like no concept. New tasks spring from the new solutions. But the new solutions also have to grow into the old solutions. That is what the system demands. The law of thought of the system. . . . And in this law of thought of the system we recognize the law of thought regarding the contentual meaning of the concepts that connect themselves in it. This is the difference of the system of truth and the truth of identity.” (Transl. C.A.) 151. On the problem of the unity of the system as task in Cohen and Natorp, see H. Holzhey, Cohen und Natorp. 2 Vols. (Basel/Stuttgart: Schwabe & Co, 1986), Vol. I: Ursprung und Einheit, 308–352. See also H. Holzhey, Erkenntnislogische Grundlegung und Systemkonzeption bei Cohen, in Hermann Cohen, ed. H. Holzhey (Frankfurt a.M. et al.: Peter Lang, 1994), 346–361. 152. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. K. Vorländer (Hamburg: Felix Meyer Verlag, 1990), 34. 153. Benjamin to Gershom Scholem, 31-I-1918. In Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 422 (transl. amended). Engl. transl. Correspondence, 112. The discussion on the theme of ethics is also linked to Benjamin’s wish to read a text by Ludwig Strauß, Die Ethik. Ein Entwurf, conserved in the National Library in Jerusalem in the Nachlaß of Ludwig Strauß (see Benjamin’s letter to Scholem dated September 6, 1917. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I, 381 and 385). 154. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe. Vol. III–IV, B 597– 611, 513–523. Here: 514 (B 602); Engl. trans. Critique of Pure Reason, 551–559. Here: 554: “Now although this idea of the sum total of all possibility, insofar as it grounds everything as the condition of its thoroughgoing determination in regard to the predicates which may constitute the thing, is itself still indeterminate, and through it we think nothing beyond a sum total [Inbegriff] of all possible predicates in general, we nevertheless find on closer investigation that this idea, as an original concept [Urbegriff], excludes a multiplicity of predicates, which, as derived through others, are already given, or cannot coexist with one another; and that it refines itself to a concept thoroughly determined a priori, and thereby becomes the concept of an individual object that is thoroughly determined merely through the idea, and then must be called an ideal of pure reason.” See P. Fiorato, “L’ideale del problema. Sopravvivenza e metamorfosi di un tema neokantiano nella filosofia del giovane Benjamin.” In Conoscenza, valori e cultura. Orizzonti e problemi del neocriticismo, 367, n. 36. 155. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 420–422. Engl. transl. 149f.



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156. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 421, n. 242 (note by Scholem): Franz Joseph Molitor, Philosophie der Geschichte oder über die Tradition, First Part (Münster 1827), 63: “At times, the word itself as a unity is being added to the number of a word, which is called the Colel (the Inbegriff / epitome).” (Transl. C.A.) The square brackets [kolel] are Scholem’s. 157. Both Benjamin and Scholem read the edition of the Pentateuch edited by S. R. Hirsch. Der Pentateuch. Transl., introd., and commentary by S. R. Hirsch, parts I–V, 2nd edition, Rosenzweig (J. Kaufmann: Frankfurt a.M., 1893). On Molitor and Hirsch in Benjamin and Scholem, see Eric Jacobson, Metaphysics of the Profane. The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 85–157. 158. Scholem’s note, ibid. 422 (note 248), recalls F. J. Molitor’s Philosophie der Geschichte oder über die Tradition, part 1, 59. 159. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 420–422. Engl. transl. 149f. Diverse sentences in this citation are translated by C.A. 160. Walter Benjamin, “Die unendliche Aufgabe,” in GS VI, 51. (Transl. C.A.). 161. Ernst Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik. 20, 28f., 40, 44, 52, 56f. Note in these last pages the reference to Leibniz and Frege: “The ‘basis’ of the truth lies, as he [Leibniz] says, never in the symbols but in the objective relations between ideas. . . . Among modern mathematicians, Frege especially has shown in penetrating, detailed criticism that the arithmetic of symbols is only able to keep itself in existence by being untrue to itself.” (Ernst Cassirer, Substance and Function, 43). Cassirer’s book appears in the bibliography of Benjamin’s manuscript, probably 1917–1920, along with texts by Husserl and the Linke-Elsenhans discussion on Kant-Studien from 1916 to 1917 (Benjamin-Archiv, Ms. 506 varia). On Benjamin’s reception of Cohen’s and Cassirer’s concepts of function and Inbegriff: Liselotte Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschafts­ theorie Walter Benjamins, 3, 9–30 (references to H. Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. VI, 70, 93, 129). Wiesenthal, however, mistakenly aligns Benjamin with neo-Kantian positions. See also T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 141–146. 162. Hermann Cohen, Kants Theorie der Erfahrung. Werke. Vol. 1. Part 1.1, 660–662. 163. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. VI, 62. 164. Infinitesimal reality, which originates from the operations of infinitesimal calculus in mathematical judgments—of reality, multiplicity, universality/totality (Allheit)—is the presupposition of the judgment of substance, which exists only as a correlative of movement, where the correlation (as means of maintaining division and unification) is given by energy, which moves from judgment of substance to judgment of the law (Urteil des Gesetzes). The capacity to operate with infinitesimal realities characterizes “function” as a fundamental method of the mathematical science of nature; thus energy, as the capacity to work with infinitesimal realities and determine the correlation between substance and movement, is causality determined in a functional sense, which becomes energy. The

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tendency to put substance together with infinitesimal reality, and then to pass to a functional dimension, is characteristic of the path of science, which tends toward the fulfillment of its history. See Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 589. On the conception of infinitesimal calculus as a mathematical method at the foundation of the mathematical judgment of reality, ibid. 121–143. See also Cohen’s text of 1883, Das Prinzip der Infinitesimal-Methode und seine Geschichte. Ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Erkenntniskritik (in Werke. Vol. 5.1), which marks the passage from the “theory of knowledge” to the “critique of knowledge,” and which illustrates Cohen’s conception of the principle and the history of the infinitesimal method (and its fundamental role in the history of knowledge). 165. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 587: “The logic of judgment furthermore disposes of the vexatious difference between a formal and a factual logic. . . . The origin operated as the infinitesimal origin.” (Transl. C.A.) 166. The methodological premise of the scientific hypothesis qualifies thought purely as “origin of knowledge” and this, developed as the “Judgment and logic of the origin” will be for Cohen central to the unity of the system of philosophy: “The unity of the system demands a center within the fundament of logic. This methodological center constitutes the idea of the hypothesis, which we have developed to(wards) the judgment and to(wards) the logic of the origin.” (Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 601. Transl. C.A.) 167. Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 40–42. 168. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 169; the reformulaton of “experience” as “metaphysics” means that so-called experience is virtually included in the metaphysical or dogmatic part of philosophy, into which the highest epistemological—that is, the critical—is transformed (for examples of this relation in the area of physics, see my essay on explanation and description). Engl. transl. 109. 169. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 399 (Transl. C.A.). 170. Ibid. 395: “The system of concepts is the system of pure cognition. And so, this becomes the highest meaning of the system, which now emerges herein. The concepts themselves, the pure presuppositions, the pure cognitions, constitute a system. No system is concluded, just as no concept. New tasks arise from the new solutions. But the tasks, too, have to grow into the old solutions. This is what the system requests. . . . And in this law of thought of the system, we recognize the law of thought of truth in relation to the substantial meaning of the concepts, which intertwined with her [viz. truth]. This is the difference between the system of truth and the truth of identity” (Transl. C.A.). See the comment by Andrea Poma on this passage: “The last lines of this passage underline the open character of the system, and thus the character of truth as task. . . . With this meaning of truth as system, Cohen’s logic concludes his analysis of critical truth; it is therefore a logic of truth, since at the beginning and the end of knowledge it posits the foundations and guarantees of truth itself: ‘We have started from the judgment of the origin and given it a beginning . . . which has brought to fulfillment its supreme significance in the idea of the system of pure knowledge as system of truth. The system signifies also the purpose. In the system of truth we



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recognize the supreme goal of knowledge ’ (LRE 397)” (A. Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 111). 171. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 601. 172. Ibid. 589. 173. Ibid. 174. Paul Natorp, Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (Leipzig und Berlin: B.G. Teubner, 1910), 16 (Transl. C.A.). 175. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 62 (Transl. C.A.). 176. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 62–64: “The unification is not to be thought as an event, whose execution would have come to a conclusion; but as a task and as the ideal of a task; as only logic may set such a task, set such an ideal. Because the task, which in judgment is set for thinking, may never be perceived as having come to a rest, as concluded.” Here: 64 (Transl. C.A.). 177. On the same dimension of the task in Natorp, see P. Natorp, “Philosophie und Psychologie,” in Logos, 4 (1913): 176–202, esp. 176–183. 178. See on this A. Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 55–57, which distinguishes the two tasks of the thing-in-itself in Cohen, that of being a law of phenomena, as foundation of their objective validity, and that of establishing experience itself, as contingent experience in its totality, that is, as “intelligible contingency” and thing in itself: “The law [as foundation of the objective value of a phenomenon] ‘is only one of the meanings of the thing in itself’ (K[ants] B[egründung der E[thik], 39). . . . The specific role of the thing in itself in Kantian discourse is based, for Cohen, on the recognition of the ‘intelligible contingency’ (intelligible Zufälligkeit) of experience. The principles of the intellect establish the necessity for possible experience, which Cohen identifies with the mathematical science of nature, but such a ‘possible experience,’ although necessarily internally established, is as a whole ‘something entirely contingent.’ [Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe. Vol. III-IV, B 764, 629 (Engl. transl. 642)]. On the difference between “empirical contingency” and “intelligible contingency”: ibid. B 488, 438 (Engl. transl. 494).“Thus it is a matter of the necessity of that which is ‘contingent’ (K[ants] T[theorie der] E[rfahrung] 639). The critical exigency moves reason to overcome the limits of experience to establish experience itself, considered in its totality as a thing in itself: ‘Experience itself thus becomes the thing in itself that was sought’ (KTE 641). . . . This is the meaning of Kant’s ‘limit concept’. . . . It is precisely in the exploration of the transcendental meaning of the idea, with which by now the thing in itself is identified, that Cohen takes up and develops other Kantian concepts linked to that of the ‘idea’: unconditional, regulative principle, purpose. . . . [The idea is considered] as an infinite task, as a direction for systematic research. . . . The idea thus assumes in Kant’s thought the role of ‘hypothesis’ that Cohen had already recognized in the platonic idea: such a role is the theoretical meaning of the idea as task. In this way the idea fully reveals its transcendental function as a logical maxim, that is, as a subjective principle, which has a fundamental ordering function regarding the systematic character of the objective knowledge of nature.”

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179. Hermann Cohen, Kants Begründung der Ethik. Werke. Vol. 1.1, 39–43 (Transl. C.A.). 180. Ibid. 44 (Transl. T.H.S.) (transl. modified according to Tagliacozzo’s transl. into Italian). 181. Ibid. (Transl. C.A.). 182. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe. Vol. III-IV, B 344, 304 (Engl. transl. 380). 183. Ibid. B 344, 304. The difference between Grenzen and Schranken is thematized by Kant in the third chapter of the second book of the «Transcendental Analytic», “On the ground of the distinction of all objects in general into phenomena and noumena.” (Engl. transl. 338ff). 184. Ibid. B 7, 49 (Engl. transl. 139). 185. Ibid. (Engl. transl. 139). 186. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können, ed. K. Vorländer (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1976), §56, 114 (Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, ed. and transl. Gary Hatfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 100). 187. Ibid. 114 (Engl. transl. 100f.). 188. Ibid. 115. Engl. transl.: “the questions that reason puts before us with respect to them (ideas) are not set for us through objects, but rather through mere maxims of reason for the sake of its self-satisfaction, and these questions must one and all be capable of sufficient answer—which occurs by its being shown that they are principles for bringing the use of our understanding into thoroughgoing harmony, completeness, and synthetic unity, and to that extent are valid only for experience. But although an absolute totality of experience is not possible, nonetheless the idea of a totality of cognition according to principles in general is what alone can provide it with a special kind of unity, namely that of a system, without which unity our cognition is nothing but piecework and cannot be used for the highest end (which is nothing other than the system of all ends); and here I mean not only the practical use of reason, but also the highest end of its speculative use.” (101) 189. Ibid. Engl. transl. 101. 190. Hermann Cohen, Kants Theorie der Erfahrung. Werke. Vol. 1. Part 1.1, 658– 661: “[The fortunate expression of Kant] causes the desideratum of the thing in itself to emerge from the totality of experience. . . . The thing in itself is ‘task’.” (transl. C.A.). 191. Ibid. 660–662 (transl. C.A.). 192. Benjamin refers explicitly to the Ursprung of Cohen’s Logik to express his differences with the conception of Ursprung as a logical, rather than a historical, category in the Erkenntniskritische Vorrede to the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. (Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, 226. Engl. transl. 46: “The category of origin is not therefore, as Cohen holds, a purely logical one, but a historical one.”) 193. Gershom Scholem, Walter Beniamin—die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 50. Engl. transl. 36. 194. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol I: 1910–1918, 363, 366. Letter to Scholem June 1917. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 87–89.



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195. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 158. Engl. transl. 100: “The more unpredictably and boldly the development of future philosophy announces itself, the more deeply it must struggle for certainty, whose criterion is systematic unity of truth.” 196. On the role of concepts, see also “Erkenntniskritische Vorrede” to the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. In Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, 213–216: “Phenomena do not, however, enter into the realm of ideas whole, in their crude empirical state, adulterated by appearances, but only in their basic elements, redeemed. They are divested of their false unity so that, thus divided, they might partake of the genuine unity of truth. In this their division, phenomena are subordinate to concepts, for it is the latter which effect the resolution of objects into their constituent elements. . . . Through their mediating role concepts enable phenomena to participate in the existence of ideas. It is this same mediating role which fits them for the other equally basic task of philosophy, the representation of ideas. As the salvation of phenomena by means of ideas take place, so too does the representation of ideas through the medium of empirical reality. For ideas are not represented in themselves, but solely and exclusively in an arrangement of concrete elements in the concept: as the configuration of these elements. The set of concepts which assist the representation of an idea lend it actuality as such a configuration. . . . The significance of phenomena for ideas is confined to their conceptual elements. . . . Ideas are timeless constellations, and by virtue of the elements’ being seen as points in such constellations, phenomena are subdivided and at the same time redeemed. . . . It is the function of concepts to groups [sic] phenomena together, and the division which is brought about within them thanks to the distinguishing power of the intellect is all the more significant in that it brings about two things at a single stroke: the salvation of phenomena and the representation of ideas. . . . Truth is an intentionless state of being, made up of ideas.” (Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Transl. John Osborne (London: Verso, 1998), 33–36) 197. Walter Benjamin, “Eidos und Begriff,” in GS VI, 29–31. “Eidos und Begriff”— whose first title is “Begriff und Wesen”—was composed in 1916. It was inspired by Paul F. Linke’s essay “Das Recht der Phänomenologie. Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Th. Elsenhans”; publ. in vol. 21 of Kant-Studien in 1916, but dated 1917, 163–221. 198. On tautology and identity in Benjamin, see P. Fenves, “Diverging Correspondences Concerning the Problem of Identity: Russel-Wittgenstein and BenjaminScholem,” in Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School, in MLN 127/ 2012, n. 3, ed. J. Ng and R. Tobias, 242–261. See also P. Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 167–169. 199. Author’s note. 200. Benjamin’s letter to Gershom Scholem, 23-XII-1917. In Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, 409–410. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 106. 201. Benjamin letter to Gershom Scholem, 13-I-1918. Ibid. 418. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 111. 202. Benjamin letter to Gershom Scholem, 31-I-1918. Ibid. 423. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 113.

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203. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 167. Engl. transl. On the Program, 107. 204. Ibid. 170. Engl. transl. Ibid. 109f. 205. Walter Benjamin, “Thesen über das Identitätsproblem,” in GS VI, 27–28. Engl. transl. “Theses on the Problem of Identity,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 75–77. Here: 75–76. 206. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 166. Engl. transl. On the Program, 106. 207. See T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 333–447; esp. regarding Felix Noeggerath. 208. On disjuntive judgment and the law of the thought of the excluded third, which appears in the judgment of the concept upon which the third aspect of the truth is based, and truth of the object in Cohen, see Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 110: “But the truth as a relation between knowledge and the object cannot, obviously consist, for pure knowledge in an adaptation to the given object. . . . [T]he object for Cohen is the determined content of the concept as system: it is therefore the system that must be able to guarantee the truth of the knowledge as knowledge of the object. The disjunctive judgment for Cohen is the place of the concept as system (LRE 382 ss.). . . . The principle that guarantees this validity of the system is the principle of the excluded third.” 209. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 166. Engl. transl. On the Program, 106. 210. Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 108: “The truth is not only foundation but also affirmation. . . . The affirmation should therefore be understood as ‘assurance (Affirmatio)’ (LRE 96) of the identity of the content with itself: ‘the judgment of affirmations must not provide for anything other than the assurance of A’ (LRE 97). The affirmation of the identity of the content of judgment is however, at the same time, ‘affirmation of the judgment’ (LRE 97), since there is no true knowledge if the judgments of knowledge do not posit stable and permanent contents. The principle of identity is therefore posed justly alongside that of the origin, as a condition of the judgment itself, since if the judgment of the origin constitutes the origin of judgment (LRE 104), in that it justifies the possibility of the content, the judgment of identity ‘makes the judgment judgment’ (LRE 95), in that it confers on the content of the judgment the stability that distinguishes the judgment of knowledge from simple representation.” (Andrea Poma, La filosofia critica di Hermann Cohen, 108). 211. Felix Noeggerath, Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie, 9, 47–48. See ibid. 47–48. Noeggerath sees the possibility for an amplification of the transcendental method in the Urteile der Denkgesetze of Cohen’s Logik, of which the judgment of identity is a part (Das Urteil der Identität). Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 93–103. 212. Cf. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 113. 213. The parenthetical note is by the author. 214. Ibid. 9–10. See T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 308–312, esp. 309–310: “Noeggerath links the three members of the philosophical system (ethics, logic, aesthetics) to categorical, hypothetical, and



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disjunctive relations, and to the psychological, cosmological and theological ideas of spirit, world and God. He individuates within each setting an infinite task of the idea, a Grenzübergang that unfolds as a ‘synthetic connection’ of the concepts and principle of ‘disequation’ between these and itself.” (310) Noeggerath overcomes the subject-object relation in knowledge in favor of the form-content relation (Felix Noeggerath, Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie, 2, 12–20). 215. On the theme of identity, see the introduction by Fabrizio Desideri to a selection of Kant’s essays, including Orienting Oneself in Thought: “in light of what has been said before on the genetic unity between the thematic of reflective judgment and that of the practical foundation of philosophy, one could therefore say that orienting oneself in thought is thinkable or configurable like a reflection of the idea of liberty; or rather than it is born from a judgment that unifies idea and experience. The unifying judgment plays them together, one might say. Or, if one wishes, one risks in the passage between the two terms (in the internal/external border between transcendental and empirical). In this sense the identity of Kantian thought, beginning at least from the essay on the problem of orientation, is an identity in passage: an Identität im Übergang.” (Fabrizio Desideri, “Introduzione. Orientarsi al confine. La ‘fede razionale’ di Kant tra ontologia e nichilismo,” in Immanuel Kant, Questioni di confine, ed. F. Desideri (Genova: Marietti, 1990), XXXI). 216. Walter Benjamin, “Zwei Gedichte von Friedrich Hölderlin,” in GS II.1, 108. (Engl. transl. “Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin. ‘The Poet’s Courage’ and ‘Timidity,’ in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 18–36. Here: 20.). If we consider that the forms of sensibility appertain to transcendental logic, we see the similarity with the “concept of identity” in On the Program, where concepts (in which phenomena are virtually contained) are in a symbolic relation with ideas, exhibiting them. The Program does not speak explicitly of symbolic exhibition of the ideas through concepts, but about the foundation of knowledge on language. 217. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 351–354, esp. 354 (annotations of July 11, 1916). 218. Cf. Edgar Zilsel. Das Anwendungsproblem Ein philosophischer Versuch über das Gesetz der großen Zahlen und die Induktion (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1916), 1–2. 219. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. I. Halbband 1913–1917, 354 (Tranls. C.A.). 220. Ibid. 404. 221. Edgar Zilsel, Das Anwendungsproblem, 157. Note the link between aufgegeben and Aufgabe task. On the concept of identity, see 34: “I want to define ‘logical identity’: A and B must be logically identical is A c B is as given as B c A. The equilateral triangle and the equiangular triangle are thus identical contents.” The two types of triangles are mentioned in reference to Alois Riehl (Beiträge zur Logik, Leipzig 1912) in fragment 3: “Der Grund der intentionalen Unmittelbarkeit.” In Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 13 (1916–17). Engl. trans. “The Ground of the Intentional Immediacy,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 88. 222. Zilsel, Edgar. Das Anwendungsproblem, 156–157 (note by author). 223. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 405.

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224. Ernst Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik, 20, 40, 44, 52. Cf. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 93ff. 225. Liselotte Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschaftstheorie Walter Benjamins, 24–26. Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis. Werke. Vol. 6, 70, 129. Ernst Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff, 28, 29, 57, esp. 102. 226. E. Cassirer, Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik, Verlag von Bruno Cassirer, Berlin 1910, 19 e 28–29. Engl. trans. Substance and Function and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, trans. William Curtis Swabey and Marie Collins Swabey (Chicago; London: The Open court publishing company, 1923), 15, 22. Electronic Source. 227. Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Ernsten Teil: Die Sprache, Bruno Cassirer, Berlin, 1923 (Transl. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume One: Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955); Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der symbolischen Forme. Zweiten Teil: Das mythische Denken, Bruno Cassirer, Berlin, 1925 (Transl. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume Two: Mythical Thought. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955); Ernst Cassirer, Philosophie der symbolischen Formen. Dritten Teil: Phänomenologie der Erkenntnis, Bruno Cassirer, Berlin, 1929; 2 vols. (Transl. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume Three: The Phenomenology of Knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957). Benjamin reads Ernst Cassirer, Die Begriffsform im mythischen Denken, in “Studien der Bibliothek Warburg” I, Teubner, Leipzig-Berlin, 1922 (cf. GS VII.1, 452). 228. On Cassirer and Goethe cf. J. M. Krois, Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987, 176–180. 229. Cf. Massimo Ferrari, Ernst Cassirer. Dalla scuola di Marburgo alla filosofia della cultura, Leo S. Olschki Editore, Florence 1996, 65. Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Freiheit und Form, Bruno Cassirer, Berlin 1916; reprint in Wissenschaftliche Buchgellschaft, Darmstadt 3rd ed. 1961, 4th ed. 1975, 238. On Benjamin and Cassirer cf. Stephanie Waldow, Der Mythos der reinen Sprache. Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, Hans Blumenberg, Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München 2006. This influence will be explained in greater detail in the next chapter. 230. Walter Benjamin, “Eidos und Begriff,” in GS VI, 29–31. 231. Theodor Elsenhans, “Phänomenologie, Psychologie, Erkenntnistheorie.” KantStudien Vol. 20 (1915): 224–275. 232. Cf. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 49–55. 233. Edmund Husserl, “Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft,” in Logos. I.1911. 234. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: 1910–1918, 409–410. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 106. 235. Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin—Die Geschichte einer Freundschaft, 65. Engl. transl. The Story of a Friendship, 48. 236. Ibid. 68. Engl. transl. Ibid. 51. 237. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I: 1910–1918, 380. Engl. transl. Correspondence, 92. 238. Ibid. 10.2.1918, 427–428.



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239. Ibid. 10.2.1918, 427–428. (Transl. C.A.). 240. Cf. Husserl’s distinction between essence and concept in Edmund Husserl, Ideen, op. cit., Bd 5, Buch 1 § 22, op. cit., 47–49. On Benjamin and Linke cf. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. II.1917–1923, 142: “[Linke’s] standpoint [on Benjamin’s text] is the following: it is fundamental to distinguish between idea and essence. Idea=ideal object, therefore simply a group of determined objects, essence=that which is essential for this object. Concept=the nonintuitively represented object, therefore the object in the intention. Benjamin’s paper concerns only idea and essence, not concept and essence. What Benjamin calls ‘eidos’ is the idea, what he calls concept is essence” (quoted and translated in Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 52). 241. Walter Benjamin, “Eidos und Begriff,” in GS VI, 31 (Transl. C.A.). See Peter Fenves, “The Genesis of Judgment: Spatiality, Analogy, and Metaphor in Benjamin’s ‘On Language as Such and on the Human Language,” in Walter Benjamin. Theoretical Questions, ed. David S. Ferris, Standford University Press, Standford 1996, 75–93. Here: 222 (note 3): “In his notes on Linke’s article, Benjamin attempts to show that all ‘Abstraktionstheorien der Begriffe’ (‘abstraction theories of concepts’) are unacceptable insofar as ‘die eidetishen Gegenstände unmittelbar gegeben sind’ (‘eidetic object are immediately given’). The immediate communicability of ‘spiritual content’ exactly parallels that of eidetic objects, or, to use Husserl’s terms, noemata.” 242. See fragment 25: “Erkenntnistheorie,” in Walter Benjamin GS VI, 46. Engl. trans. “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 276–277. 243. See fragment 22: “Versuch eines Beweises, dass die wissenschaftliche Beschreibung eines Vorgangs dessen Erklärung voraussetzt.” (Attempt at a proof that a scientific description of a process presupposes its explanation.) Ibid. 41. 244. See Walter Benjamin, “Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik,” in GS I.1, 87–109. Engl trans. “The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 155–178. 245. See fragment 25: “Erkenntnistheorie,” in GS VI, 46. Engl. trans. “Theory of knowledge,” ibid. 276–277. Here: 276. 246. Ibid. 46. Engl. trans. 277 (trans. amended). 247. Ibid. 46. Engl. trans. 277. 248. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe. Vol. III, B 178,188. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 272. 249. Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntnistheorie,” in GS VI, 46. Engl trans., “Theory of Knowledge” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 277. 250. See fragment 19: “Über die Wahrnehmung,” ibid. 37–38. Engl. transl. “On Perception,” ibid. 96: “Philosophy is absolute experience deduced in a systematic, symbolic framework as language. Absolute experience is, in the view of philosophy, language—language understood, however, as systematic, symbolic concept.” Only the first part of this fragment remains, entitled Erfahrung und Erkenntnis, while only a few sentences remain of a second, probably untitled part, of which this is an example. 251. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. K. Vorländer (Hamburg: Felix Meyer Verlag 19907), 211. Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of

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Judgment., ed. and transl. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 225: “All hypotyposis (presentation, subjecto sub adspectum), as making something sensible, is of one of two kinds: either schematic, where to a concept grasped by the understanding the corresponding intuition is given a priori; or symbolic, where to a concept which only reason can think, and to which no sensible intuition can be adequate, an intuition is attributed with which the power of judgment proceeds in a way merely analogous to that which it observes in schematization, i.e., it is merely the rule of this procedure, not of the intuition itself, and thus merely the form of the reflection, not the content, which corresponds to the concept.” 252. Cognition according to analogy has in Kant an important epistemological role as guide of reason for the intellect so that the intellect may arrive at the greatest possible systematic coherence in the search for possible experience. In § 58 of the Prolegomena he says: “cognition according to analogy [signifies] . . . a perfect similarity between two relations in wholly dissimilar things. . . . to have the greatest possible use of reason with respect to the world in accordance with a principle . . . that we think the world as if it derives from a supreme reason as regards its existence and inner determination.” (Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik, ed. K. Vorländer (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1976), 124–127. Engl. transl. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, ed. and transl. Gary Hatfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 110). In the same chapter Kant compares the causality of a Being to the causality of human reason in regard to works of art: “the causality of the highest cause is that, with respect to the world, which human reason is with respect to its works of art.” (Ibid.) 253. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, 34. Engl. transl. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 81f. 254. Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntnistheorie,” in GS VI, 45. Engl. trans. “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 277. 255. In the manuscript the second half of the term “truth” (Wahrheit) is underlined, as is, subsequently, “being-true” (Wahrsein) and “task” (Aufgabe). 256. Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntnistheorie,” in GS VI, 45. Engl. trans. “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 276–277. Here: 276. 257. Walter Benjamin, “Zum verlornen Abschluss der Notiz über die Symbolik in der Erkenntnis,” in GS VI, 39. (Transl. C.A.) 258. Ibid. (Transl. C.A.) 259. Ibid. (Transl. C.A.) 260. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, op. cit., 212–213. Engl. trans. Critique of the Power of Judgment, op. cit., 226–227, § 59. 261. Ibid. This will be explained in greater detail in the next chapter. 262. Walter Benjamin, “Wahrheit und Wahrheiten Erkenntnis und Erkenntnisse,” in GS VI, 47. Engl. transl. “Truth and Truths / Knowledge and Elements of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 278–279. Here: 278. 263. Ibid. 264. Ibid. 49. Engl. trans. “Truth and Truths,” 279.



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265. Cf. “Über die Wahrnehmung,” 36. Engl. trans. “On Perception,” 95: “Paradoxical though it sounds, experience does not occur as such in the knowledge of experience, simply because this is knowledge of experience and hence a context of knowledge. Experience, however, is the symbol of this context of knowledge and therefore belongs in a completely different order of things from knowledge itself. The term “symbol” may be an unfortunate choice; it is employed here simply to point to different conceptual realms.” 266. Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntnistheorie,” 46. Engl. transl. “Theory of Knowledge,” 276. 267. See Chapter II. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, § 40, 144 (157); Engl. transl. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 173. See Leonardo Amoroso, Senso e consenso. Uno studio kantiano, Guida, Napoli 1984; Emilio Garroni, Estetica ed epistemologia. Riflessioni sulla “Critica del Giudizio,” Bulzoni, Roma 1976. Cf. on Benjamin and Kant Eli Friedlander, Walter Benjamin. A Philosophical Portrait, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, London, 2012; ibid. Expressions of Judgment. An Essay on Kant’s Aesthetics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, London, 2015. 268. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 140–157. Engl. transl. “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in One-Way Street and Other Writings, transl. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (New York: Verso, 1979), 107–123. 269. As already stated, Benjamin used the edition of the Pentateuch transl. and with commentary by S.R. Hirsch, Der Pentateuch, Parts I–V, Part one (sec. ed. Frankfurt a.M.: Rosenzweig, 1893). 270. Benjamin to Ernst Schoen, 28-II-1918. In Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, Vol. I, 437: “Above all: for me, the questions regarding the essence of cognition, justice / right, art are connected with the question regarding the origin of all human expressions of spirit from the essence of language.” (transl. C.A.) Language, for Benjamin, signifies “the tendency . . . toward a communication of spiritual content” in the diverse settings in which human spiritual life manifests itself. Among these he lists the settings of technique, art, justice and religion, which in On the Program will be included within transcendental logic (religion is not included because it is the place—outside of it—which renders the unity of concepts possible). (Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 140. Engl. transl. “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in One-Way Street and Other Writings,107). [Translator’s note: following Tagliacozzo’s Italian, we have translated as “spiritual content” the term, geistiger Inhalt that Jephcott/ Shorter translate as “mental meanings”]. 271. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 140. Engl. transl. On Language as such, 107. 272. Ibid. 141. Engl. transl. Ibid. 107. 273. On Benjamin’s Wesen (essence) and his connection to Husserl’s thought, see Peter Fenves, “The Genesis of Judgment: Spatiality, Analogy, and Metaphor in Benjamin’s ‘On Language as Such and on the Human Language,’ ” in Walter Benjamin. Theoretical Questions, 222 (note 3): “The immediate communicability of

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‘spiritual content’ exactly parallels that of eidetic objects, or, to use Husserl’s terms, noemata.” 274. Ibid. 142. Engl. transl. Ibid. 109. 275. Cf. the Program: “In a purely metaphysical respect, the original concept of experience in its totality is transformed in a sense quite different from the way it is transformed in its individual specifications, the sciences—that is, immediately, where the meaning of this immediacy vis-à-vis the former mediacy remains to be determined.” (Walter Benjamin. “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 170. Engl. transl. On the Program, 109–110. 276. On Abulafia’s theory of language, see Gershom Scholem, “Der Name Gottes und die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala,” in Judaica 3 (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970), 7–70. Also M. Idel, The Mystical Experience of Abraham Abulafia (New York: State University of New York Press, 1992). On the “magic of language,” see Winfried Menninghaus, Walter Benjamins Theorie der Sprachmagie (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1980). Furthermore, see A. Kilcher, Die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala als ästhetisches Paradigma. Die Konstruktion einer ästhetischen Kabbala seit der frühen Neuzeit (Suttgart—Weimar: J. B. Mezler, 1998). Eric Jacobson, Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 85–151. Daniel Weidner, Gershom Scholem. Politisches, esoterisches und historiographisches Schreiben (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2003). Christoph Schulte, “ ‘Die Buchstaben haben . . . ihre Wurzeln oben.’ Scholem und Molitor,” in Kabbala und Romantik, ed. G. Mattenklott and E. Goodman-Tau (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1994), 143–164. Donatella Di Cesare, Utopia del comprendere (Genoa: Il Melangolo, 2003). Uwe Steiner, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in Benjamin Handbuch. Leben-Werk-Wirkung, ed. B. Lindner (Weimar: Mezler, 2006), 592–603. Anja Hallacker, Es spricht der Mensch. Benjamins Suche nach der lingua adamitica (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2004). Ulrich Welbers, Sprachpassagen. Walter Benjamins verborgene Sprachwissenschaft (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2009). 277. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 144. Engl. transl. On Language as such, 111. 278. For Benjamin “All language communicates itself” (ibid. 142. Engl. transl. On Language as Such, 109), in the sense “that this mental being communicates itself in language and not through language.” (On Language as Such, 108) and it is so immediately because “what is communicable in a mental entity is its linguistic entity” (ibid., 142. Engl. transl. On Language as Such, 109), it is the expression of this being (Wesen) that expresses itself and not the means of a communicative relation. In man, the spiritual being communicates itself in knowledge and in the language of knowledge which for Benjamin is the “language of names” (ibid. 144–145): “in naming the mental being of man [it] communicates itself to God. Naming, in the realm of language, has as its sole purpose and its incomparably high meaning that it is the innermost nature of language itself. Naming is that by which nothing beyond it is communicated, and in which language itself communicates itself absolutely. In naming the mental entity that communicates itself is language. . . . Only through the linguistic being of things can [man] . . . gain knowledge of them from within



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himself—in name. God’s creation is completed when things receive their names from man, from whom in name language alone speaks. . . . Man alone has a language that is complete both in its universality and in its intensivenesss” (GS II, 44–145. Engl. trans. On Language as Such, 111–112). 279. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 151. Engl. trans. On Language as Such, 118. 280. Ibid. 144. Engl. trans. ibid. 111. 281. Ibid. 151. Engl. trans. ibid. 118. 282. Ibid. 148–150. Engl. trans. ibid. 115–116. 283. Ibid. 157. 284. Ibid. 145–146. Engl. trans. ibid. 112: There is no such thing as a meaning of language; as communication, language communicates a mental entity, i.e., something communicable per se. 285. Ibid. 147. Engl. trans. ibid. 113–114: “The highest mental region of religion is (in the concept of revelation) at the same time the only one that does not know the inexplicable. For it is addressed in name and expresses itself as revelation. In this, however, notice is given that only the highest mental being, as it appears in religion, rests solely on man and on the language in him.” 286. See the “Erkenntniskritische Vorrede” to Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels. In Walter Benjamin, GS I.I, 216. Engl. transl. The Origin: “Truth is not an intent [Meinen] which realizes itself in empirical reality; it is the power which determines the essence of this empirical reality. The state of being, beyond all phenomenality, to which alone this power belongs, is that of the name. This determines the manner in which ideas are given. But they are not so much given in the primordial language as in a primordial form of perception [Urvernehmen], in which words possess their own nobility as names, unimpaired by cognitive meaning. . . . The idea is something linguistic, it is that element of the symbolic in the essence of any word.” (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 36.) This text, as we have seen, was completed in 1925 and published in 1928. Benjamin’s conception of ideas in 1925 shows a stronger link with Plato and an apparently weaker connection with Kant, compared to the Programmaufsatz. 287. See fragment 20: “Zum verlornen Abschluß der Notiz über die Symbolik in der Erkenntnis,” in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 39: “The task of ontology is to charge cognitions with symbolic intentions in such a way that they lose themselves in truth or doctrine . . . however, without reasoning them, since their justification is revelation, language.” (transl. C.A.) 288. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 153–154. Engl. transl. On Language as Such, 119–120. The linguistic roots of the concrete elements of the language given by the name and its immediacy are intended in the sense given to them by Molitor. Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. Vol. I: 1913–1917, 422 (annotation November 18, 1916): “The letters, which are the expression of spiritual powers, have their roots above” [F.J. Molitor, Philosophie der Geschichte oder über die Tradition. Part one, 59]. (Word for word, Hirsch could have written this in his commentary on the Pentateuch!) That is to say, the letters’ roots are in the truth. In the spirit

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of the Kabbalists, one can say that all genuine study of the truth is basically the study of language, by which one investigates the ‘heavenly alphabet’ (Zohar II 130b) along with the spiritual powers that are reflected in it.” Gershom Scholem, Lamentations of Youth. The Diaries of Gershom Scholem, 1913–1919, op. cit., 150. 289. Cf. ibid.: “The name, however, with regard to existing language, offers only the ground in which its concrete elements are rooted. But the abstract elements of language—we may perhaps surmise—are rooted in the word of judgment. The immediacy (which, however, is the linguistic root) of the communicability of abstraction resides in judgment [im richterlichen Urteil]. This immediacy in the communication of abstraction came into being as judgment, when, in the Fall, man abandoned immediacy in the communication of the concrete, name, and fell into the abyss of the mediateness of all communication, of the word as means, of the empty word, into the abyss of prattle.” 290. Walter Benjamin, “Fortsetzungnotizen zur Arbeit über die Sprache,” in GS VII.2, 788. (Transl. C.A.). 291. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 150. Engl. tranls. On Language as Such, 116: “Through the word man is bound to the language of things. The human word is the name of things.” Walter Benjamin, “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels,” in GS I.1, 216–217. Engl. transl. The Origin, 36: “The idea is something linguistic, it is that element of the symbolic essence of any word. In empirical perception, in which words have become fragmented, they possess, in addition to their more or less hidden, symbolic aspect, an obvious, profane meaning. It is the task of the philosopher to restore, by representation, the primacy of the symbolic character of the word, in which the idea is given self-consciousness, and that is the opposite of all outwardly-directed communication. Since philosophy may not presume to speak in the tones of revelation, this can only be achieved by recalling in memory the primordial form of perception.” 292. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 143. Engl. transl. On Language as Such, 110 (trans. amended). 293. Ibid. 294. Walter Benjamin, “Der Grund der intentionalen Unmittelbarkeit . . . ” in GS VI, 11–12. Engl. transl. “The Ground of Intentional Immediacy,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 87–88. In this fragment there is an allusion to Alois Riehl (Alois Riehl, Beiträge zur Logik, Sec. revised ed. (Leipzig, 1912), 3): “In Riehl (Beiträge zur Logik, 3) on one hand meaning and concept are used as synonyms; on the other, word and linguistic sign. As Riehl justly claims, two concepts are never identical.” Ibid. 13. 295. Walter Benjamin, “Der Gegenstad: Dreieck . . . ” (1916–17) in GS VI, 14. Engl. transl. “The Object: Triangle,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913– 1926. Vol. I, 90–91: “The name is the analogue of the knowledge of the object in the object itself. The object divides into name and essence. The name is supra-essence [überwesentlich]; it signifies the relation of the object to its essence. (?)” (Here: 90) 296. Cf. Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. Erste Teil: Prolegomena zur reinen Logik (1900; reprint 1913), Max Nemeyer, Halle 1901, vol. II (Fourth Investigation) and I (First Investigation); reprinted 1913. Engl. trans. Logical Investigations,



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trans. J. N. Findlay, London: Routledge, 1973; only the Fourth Investigation is quoted (§§ 10–14). 297. Fabrizio Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme, 93–94. Also Jean Pierre Schobinger, in Variationen zu Walter Benjamin Sprachmeditationen (Basel/ Stuttgart: Schwabe,1979), 102, refers the cognizant dimension of the name, as the foundation of the signifying intentionality of the word, and the signifying dimension that structures reality a priori, to Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen, especially the sixth Investigation, which is connected to the linguistic differentiations of the first and the analysis of intentional experience in the fifth Investigation. Between the perception of reality and its linguistic representation, there is for Husserl the independent act of signifying, and the tenor [Wortlaut], the signified and perception construct the unity of the name, to which a cognizing function is attributed. In Benjamin too, the name has a cognizing function, but upon a theological foundation (Ibid. 102). 298. In fragment 10, “Schemata zur Habilitationsschrift” (In Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 21, 1920–21); the word is presented by Benjamin as the union of concept and essence. The name is found in the word as the foundation of its immediate intentionality. Thanks to the name, the word can refer to the essence of the signified object. See W. Benjamin, “Der Gegenstand: Dreieck . . . ” in GS VI, 14. Engl. transl. “The Object: Triangle,” 90: “The language has words only for those objects within which names lie concealed. By the power of names, words have their intention toward objects; they participate in objects through names.” 299. Walter Benjamin, “Das Wort” (composed between 1916–17 and 1920), in GS VI, 20–21. (Transl. C.A.) 300. Walter Benjamin, “Zum verlornen Abschluß der Notiz über die Symbolik in der Erkenntis,” in GS VI, 39, fragment 20. 301. Walter Benjamin, “Der Grund der intentionalen Unmittelbarkeit” (1916–1917) in GS VI, 13–14. Engl. transl. “The Ground of Intentional Immediacy,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 87–89: “The relation of the concept to the object is not intentional, but a relation of derivation; the concept derives from the object and is related to it.” (89) 302. Walter Benjamin, “Der Gegenstand: Dreieck . . . ” in GS VI, 15 (1916–1917). Engl. transl. “The Object: Triangle,” 91 (transl. modified). 303. Ibid. 304. Walter Benjamin, “Wenn nach der Theorie des Duns Scoto . . . ” [circa late 1920] in GS VI, 22. Engl. transl. “According to the Theory of Duns Scotus,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1913–1926. Vol. I, 227. Here das Bedeutete, which is usually translated in subsequent texts as “that which is signified” or similar terms, is directly rendered with the term “signified” used for Bedeutung (also translatable as “signification”). In 1920–1921, Benjamin declares that he wishes to study the scholastic philosophy of language for his dissertation, which was to deal with the great field of the word and the concept (language and logos). The fact that he began to work on his thesis is witnessed by this fragment. To take up this theme Benjamin reads “Heidegger’s book on Duns Scoto [Martin Heidegger, Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus (Tübingen: Mohr, 1916). In reality, Heidegger discusses De modi significandi of Tommaso of Erfurt, which at the time was

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erroneously attributed to Duns Scoto].” Strongly critical, Benjamin finds it incredible that “someone can get a doctorate with work like this” (Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. II: Briefe 1919–1924, 108). After having begun to study Hebrew: “with regard to the work I had planned, I’ve concentrated recently on an analysis of the concept of truth, which furnishes me with some fundamental ideas [see especially fragments 25 and 26]. When I presented them recently to Ernst Lewy (the man of language), I was very pleased to hear him approve of them, not a metaphysician, but an intelligent man who thinks in a correct way.” (Ibid. 118) Benjamin writes to Scholem in January 1921 (Ibid. 126–127. Engl. transl. The Story of a Friendship, 172): “I know that none of this can be forced. . . . It is often difficult for me because sacrifice [setting aside the study of Hebrew], of course, does not always immediately bring about that for which it was made. As a result, I essentially must patiently lie in wait for my new project. To be sure, I have firmed up certain basic ideas, but since every one of them must be explored in depth, it is impossible for me to have any kind of overview at the beginning. Furthermore, the research I have done to date has caused me to proceed with caution and to question whether it is correct to follow scholastic analogies as a guide, or if it would not perhaps be better to take a detour, since Heidegger’s work reproduces, albeit in a completely unilluminated way, the elements of scholastic thought that are most important for my problem, and the genuine problem can somehow be intimated in connection with this. Thus it may be better first to have a look at some philosophers of language. At the moment, I am planning to read A.F. Bernhardi’s Sprachlehre, which has been written and conceived in a monstrously unclear fashion, however, and seems only sporadically to be at all productive. Furthermore, everything is still in the most preliminary stage while I am waiting to finish my work on politics. . . . ” 305. Ibid. 22–23. Engl. transl. 228. See Peter Fenves, “The Genesis of Judgment: Spatiality, Analogy, and Metaphor” in Benjamin’s “On Language as Such and on the Human Language,” in Walter Benjamin. Theoretical Questions, 224 (note 6); “The correlation of Bedeutende and Bedeutete in the ‘medium’ of language, which defines the locus of investigation, is a statement of Husserl’s noetico-noematic correlation in the ‘medium’ of the logos. This ‘medium’ is the problem to which the first volume if the Ideas is largely devoted.” 306. Fabrizio Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme, 97. 307. Martin Heidegger, Die Kategorien und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus, Mohr, Tübingen 1916. 308. Fabrizio Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme, 94–95. 309. Fabrizio Desideri, Walter Benjamin. Il tempo e le forme, 95–97. According to Desideri, evident here is a reflection on the linguistic philosophy of Humboldt; see Rolf Tiedemann, Studien zur Philosophie Walter Benjamins (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1973), 47. Tiedemann himself stresses the profoundly anti-Husserlian aspects of this fragment and underlines the autonomy and efficacy of language as medium, which he puts into relation with “logical content” and “signifying form” (Ibid. 44). 310. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Der Gegenstand: Dreieck . . . ” in GS VI, 15. “The Object: Triangle,” 91.



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311. Walter Benjamin, “Der Grund der intentionalen Unmittelbarkeit” (1916–1917) in GS VI, 14. Engl transl. The Ground of Intentional Immediacy, 89: “A statement refers to the object via the concept. The concept is employed for the purpose of recognizing the object. . . . The relation of the concept to the object is not intentional, but a relation of derivation; the concept derives from the object and is related to it. It is a related object. Concepts are the objects that facilitate propositions about primal objects. These propositions take the form of statements, not concepts. The concepts are preserved and overcome [aufgehoben] in the statement. (Statements are not intentions either, but objects, sentences in themselves.) Relations between concepts are never the object of statements, but only of definitions.” 312. Walter Benjamin, “Der Gegenstand: Dreieck . . . ” in GS VI, 14. Engl. transl. The Object: Triangle, 90. 313. Walter Benjamin. “Über Sprache uberhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 145. Engl. transl. On Language as Such, 112. 314. Ibid. Engl. transl. Ibid (translation adapted). 315. Ibid. 147. Engl. transl. Ibid. 114 (amended): “The incomparable feature of human language is that its magical community with things is immaterial and purely spiritual, and the symbol of this is sound. The Bible expresses this symbolic fact when it says that God breathes his breath into man: this is at once life and spirit and language.” On language, sound and music in Benjamin, see T. Tagliacozzo, Walter Benjamin und die Musik. “Jewish Studies Quarterly” (13.3, 2006). 316. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache uberhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 146. English transl. On Language as Such, 112. 317. Ibid. Engl. transl. Ibid. 112. 318. Ibid. 145. 319. Author’s footnote in original: “as common theory of language holds.” 320. Walter Benjamin, “Es ist seltsam . . . ” in GS VI, 16 (1920–1921). 321. Ibid. 15. 322. Ibid.: “A word therefore does not communicate the thing it apparently designates [bezeichnet], but that which it truly signifies.” 323. For the conception of the name as foundation of the signifying intention of the word in regard to a signified object (the word would thus have access to the essence of the object itself), see the fragment “Der Grund der intentionalen Unmittelbarkeit . . . ” (1916–1917) in GS VI, 11–14. The name presents itself generally in the word, of which it constitutes the signifying intention, the relation to the essence of the object, linked to a symbolic sign. The signs that refer to names are particular signs, annexed to names, names of a second order, which are not founded, like names, on linguistic sounds, but are scriptural signs and images, not authentic signs but symbols: “(Perhaps there are signs for names. These, however, would be not signs in the true sense but symbols) . . . Symbols are not genuine signs; they cannot even be meaningfully called the signs of names. Instead they are the annexes of names, second-order names—that is to say, such as do not exist in the spoken language in which the first-order names are to be found.” (“Der Grund der intentionalen Unmittelbarkeit. . . .” 11–12. Engl. transl. The Ground of Intentional Immediacy, 87–88.) See also W. Benjamin, “Wenn sich in einer Region . . . ” (If

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in a Region. . .), (1920–1921), 16–17, fragment 7: “If only one existence presents itself in a region as a mere indication, then is this indication not a symbol, but a sign. If in it, a sense fulfills itself in a saturated manner in a mere indication, then is said indication a symbol. Graphik—Language. Does a sense exist inside a region that fulfills itself by way of a mere indication of [Hindeutung auf] the same? A symbol designates a sense within a region that fulfills itself to the point of saturation by way of a mere indication [Hindeutung] to the same. The language is situated above the sphere (truth) in which the sense of its indication fulfills itself. (creative relation?) How is the symbolic character of the system regarding the absolute world of language possible? Wherein lies the symbolic character of the system” (transl. C.A.) Hindeuten auf literally signifies “to indicate, point out with a finger, to presage” and figuratively it means “to allude (to).” The italics (underlined in the original) put into relief the verb deuten auf, which means to interpret (including dreams and premonitory omens) and to presage. 324. Walter Benjamin, “Der Gegenstand: Dreieck . . . ” in GS VI, 14. Engl. transl. The Object: Triangle, 90. (modified transl.) 325. See the law of identity in the essay on Hölderlin that indicates a unity of functions (a unity of the poetized and the Gestalt). Walter Benjamin, “Zwei Gedichten von Friedrich Hölderlin,” in GS II.1, 108. Engl. transl. Two Poems by Friedrich Hölderlin, 20: “In this way, the poetized will come to light as the precondition of the poem, as its inner form, as artistic task. The law according to which all apparent elements of sensation and ideas come to light as the embodiments [Inbegriff] of essential, in principle infinite functions is called the Law of Identity. This term describes the synthetic unity of functions.” 326. Walter Benjamin, “Fortsetzungnotizen zur Arbeit über die Sprache,” in GS VII.2, 786 (Transl. C.A.). The citation is from preparatory notes for the continuation of the essay on language. These notes provide further elements for understanding the essay, with visual outlines for the concepts. 327. Ibid. (Transl. C.A.). 328. Ibid. (Transl. C.A.). 329. Ibid. 788 (Transl. C.A.): “{Mathematics speaks in signs.} The language of mathematics is the doctrine / Its script is the sign The signs of mathematics also find themselves so to speak in the sky: only there, they are read signs—and in mathematics, written signs. The sky is in the heavenly bodies the locus of read signs and of the (heard) music. . . . The word is being heard The sign written The image read} Semiotics Constellation read Sign Mathematics written sign Scripture.” N. B. in a context, where the signs of mathematics, the language of which is part of the religiophilosophical setting of doctrine, are compared to constellations as signs to be read and music as the dimension of sound and listening. On the theme of music in Benjamin, see T. Tagliacozzo, Walter Benjamin e la musica (Roma: Il glifo, 2013). Id. Walter Benjamin und die Musik. “Jewish Studies Quarterly” (13.3, 2006), 278–292. 330. Ibid. 787 (Transl. C.A.). 331. Ibid. 786 (Transl. C.A.): “God does not communicate his spiritual being in language. God is the only one to whom language adheres mediately. His name is no longer of linguistic nature [sprachhaft]. God creates the Word. / The magical circle of



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language is called: God creates >> The thing is called (heißt) >> Mathematics thinks >> Man cognizes.” 332. Walter Benjamin, “Zum verlornen Abschluß der Notiz über die Symbolik in der Erkenntnis,” in GS VI, 39 (Transl. C.A.). 333. Walter Benjamin. “Über die Wahrnehmung,” GS VI, 37–38. Engl. trans. On Perception, 95–96. 334. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 168. Engl. trans. On the Program, 108. 335. Walter Benjamin, “Über die Wahrnehmung,” in GS VI, 38. Engl. trans. On Perception, 95–96 (trans. adapted). On perception as a mode of language that refers to symbols, see W. Benjamin, “Wahrnehmung ist lesen,” in GS VI, 32. Engl. transl. Perception is Reading, 92: “Perception refers to symbols.” Also see fragment 18: “Notizen zur Wahrnehmungsfrage,” (Notes on the Question of Perception) in GS VI, 32–33, in which perception is described as the configured absolute flat surface (an image, taken from Kant, of the complex of experience) which can only be read, in whose form both signs and symbols manifest themselves; perception is further described as the schema, the canon, the condition and the signified of a capacity to signify (while the word is the communication of a communicability). The flat (Fläche) surface represents in Kant the complex [Inbegriff] of all possible objects (of experience). See I. Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe. Vol. III-IV, B 787–788, 645. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 653: “The sum total of all possible objects for our cognition seems to us to be a flat surface, which has its apparent horizon, namely that which comprehends its entire domain and which is called by us the rational concept of unconditioned totality. It is impossible to attain this empirically, and all attempts to determine it a priori in accordance with a certain principle have been in vain. Yet all questions of our pure reason pertain to that which might lie outside this horizon or in any case at least on its borderline.” See also Ibid. B 790, 647. 336. Walter Benjamin, “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels,” in GS I.1, 216–217. See “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in GS II.1, 156. Engl. transl. On language as such, 123: “For language is in every case not only communication of the communicable but also, at the same time, a symbol of the noncommunicable. This symbolic side of language is connected to its relation to signs, but extends more widely, for example, in certain respects, to name and judgment. These have not only a communicating function, but most probably also a closely connected symbolic function, to which, at least explicitly, no reference has here been made.” 337. Walter Benjamin, “Über die Wahrnehmung,” in GS VI, 38. Engl. transl. On Perception, 96. 338. Gershom Scholem, Zur Kabbala und ihrer Symbolik (Zürich: Rhein Verlag, 1960); On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, Foreword by Bernard McGinn, transl. Ralph Manheim, (New York: Schocken Books,1996), 40 (trans. C. A.): “To say that the Torah was in essence nothing but the great Name of God was assuredly a daring statement that calls for an explanation. Here the Torah is interpreted as a mystical unity, whose primary purpose is not to convey a specific meaning, but rather to express the immensity of God’s power, which is concentrated in His ‘Name.’ To say

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that the Torah is a name does not mean that it is a name which might be pronounced as such, nor has it anything to do with any rational conception of the social function of a name. The meaning is, rather, that in the Torah God has expressed His transcendent Being, or at least that part or aspect of His Being which can be revealed to Creation and through Creation. Moreover, since even in the ancient Aggadah the Torah was regarded as an instrument of Creation, through which the world came into existence, this new conception of the Torah must be regarded as an extension and mystical reinterpretation of the older conception. For the instrument which brought the world into being is far more than a mere instrument, since, as we have seen above, the Torah is the concentrated power of God Himself, as expressed in His Name.” 339. Gershom Scholem, “Der Name Gottes und die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala,” in Judaica 3, 28–31 (trans. C.A.). See also Ibid. 20. (trans. C.A.): “The letters of the divine language are those through whose combination everything is created. But, these letters are those of the Hebrew language as original language and language of the revelation.” 340. Walter Benjamin, “Zum verlornen Abschluß der Notiz über die Symbolik in der Erkenntnis,” in GS VI, 39. (Trans. C.A.) 341. Walter Benjamin, “Über das Programm der kommenden Philosophie,” in GS II.1, 170. Engl. trans. On the Program, 109. 342. Ibid. 168. Engl. transl. On the Program, 108. 343. Ibid. 168. Engl. transl. On the Program, 108. 344. Ibid. 168. Engl. transl. On the Program, 108.

Chapter 2

Messianism and Political Theology

MONAD AND DIALECTIC IMAGE In his essay, “Carl Schmitt: Apocalyptic Prophet of the Counterrevolution,” the Jewish philosopher and theologian Jacob Taubes cites a letter Walter Benjamin wrote to Schmitt in December 1930, which is not included in the collection of Benjamin’s letters published by Adorno and Scholem in 1978: Dear Professor, In the next few days you will receive my book The Origin of German Tragic Drama from the publisher. . . . You will quickly notice how much the book owes to your treatment of sovereignty in the seventeenth century. Perhaps I might go beyond that and say that I have also found in your later works, particularly Die Diktatur, a confirmation of my working methods as a philosopher of art deriving from your own approach to the philosophy of the state. If your reading of my book assists in your understanding this feeling, then my intention in sending it to you is fulfilled.1 Just before this letter in his text, Taubes describes a curriculum vitae in which Benjamin explains the affinity between his philosophical method and that of Schmitt, who, “in his analysis of political phenomena has made a similar attempt to integrate phenomena whose apparent territorial distinctness is an illusion,”2 an effort Benjamin recognizes as analogous to his own in The Origin of German Tragic Drama. In a curriculum vitae dated 1928, in fact, Benjamin writes that his intention in his recent production 99

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has been to “open a path to the work of art by destroying the doctrine of the territorial character of art” and to bring about a process of integration in scholarship—one that will increasingly dismantle the rigid partitions between the disciplines that typified the concept of the sciences in the nineteenth century—and promote this through an analysis of the work of art. Such an analysis would regard the work of art as an integral expression of the religious, metaphysical, political, and economic tendencies of its age, unconstrained in any way by territorial concepts.

This type of consideration, Benjamin claims, “is closer to an eidetic way of observing phenomena than to a historical one.”3 In the Epistemo-Critical Prologue (Erkenntniskritische Vorrede) to German Baroque Drama (1925–1928), Benjamin attributed an eidetic dimension to works of art—a relation to the realm of ideas, of essences—because artworks are not exclusively aesthetic but express the “religious, metaphysical, political and economic” tendencies of an era, and therefore offer a unified, integrated pathway for scientific analysis of reality. In the “originary phenomenon” (Ursprungsphänomen), a historical and theological version of Goethe’s Urphänomen,4 linked to kabbalistic tradition and its theory of language, the idea appears as a monad that contains the image of the world, along with the past and future history of its representations: There takes place in every original phenomenon a determination of the form in which an idea will constantly confront the historical world, until it is revealed fulfilled, in the totality of its history. . . . Philosophical history, the science of the origin, is the form which, in the remotest extremes and the apparent excess of the process of development, reveals the configuration of the idea—the sum total of all meaningful juxtapositions of such opposites. . . . The idea is a monad. The being that enters into it, with its past and subsequent history, brings— concealed in its own form—an indistinct abbreviation of the rest of the world of ideas . . . The idea is a monad—that means briefly: every idea contains the image of the world. The purpose of the representation of the idea is nothing less than an abbreviated outline of this image of the world.5

The idea, and with it the entire world, is represented in foreshortened form by a particular being, an originary phenomenon configured in the virtual series of extreme cases that represent it in history. The extremes are, as we shall see, the result of the work of the concepts of knowledge, and have a symbolic charge that represents the idea as totality, as an ideal, virtual unity of the infinite series of its past and future conceptual representations. The structure of the idea, characterized by isolation, is monadological. Benjamin refers here explicitly to Leibniz’s Discourse on Metaphysics of 1689.6 Benjamin declares that the father of Monadology was also the founder of



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infinitesimal calculus, and his method may serve as example for a vision of knowledge as an infinite task of penetration of the real that opens into an objective interpretation of the world, one that recognizes the capacity of concepts to represent ideas.7 Benjamin’s monad has been interpreted as a mathematical expression of the secularization of history, in which temporal infinity comes into finite spatial presence: Benjamin reads the infinitesimal calculus as the mathematical expression of the secularization of history. Benjamin explains the secularization of history as the transformation of the meaning of creation, from a temporal stage on the way of salvation, to the immanent totality of what is. Along these lines, he argues that the novelty of the infinitesimal calculus resides in its transformation of infinity, from endless succession (a temporal notion) to an infinity of detail within (spatial) presence. . . . Monadic perception is both immanent—in that monads express the world only in the intensive configuration of their perceptual states— and transcendent—in that the infinity of a monad’s perceptions exceeds what the finite understanding can apperceive, or cognize.8

Each monad expresses the whole, a universe, by abbreviating it within a finite point of view. The concentration of a universe within a monad suggests an interpretation of finite understanding as concealing a representation of the whole world in its confused perceptions.9 Massimo Ferrari has stressed the importance of Ernst Cassirer’s reflections on Goethe, and on Leibniz’s conception of the symbol and expression, for the development of his thought on symbolic forms, even before 1916. Benjamin followed Cassirer’s courses in Berlin in 1914 and 1915, and may have derived from Cassirer, as well as from Hermann Cohen, his knowledge of Leibniz and Goethe: That of the universal which becomes form—and form is never a pure object of contemplation, but an action—is not opposed to the individual, but rather incorporates the individual into itself as a “concrete symbol” . . . . Cassirer is correct to identify a “decisive moment” in Goethe’s work in his concept of metamorphosis and the idea of the Urpflanze . . . . For Cassirer, it is almost inevitable that upon this basis Goethe should then encounter Kant’s Critique of Judgment. What is, after all, the Urpflanze if not a regulating principle, an ideal form that provides guidance “in the labyrinth of actually existent vegetal forms”?10 The connection in this sense between Goethe and Leibniz is equally important, according to Cassirer: the multiplicity and continuity of living forms, their inexhaustible interweaving and infinite dynamism, are not in fact thinkable without the background of Leibniz.11

Cassirer elaborates his vision of symbolic forms by focusing on the relation between spiritual and sensible expression, in which the influence of Leibniz’s

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aesthetics is fundamental (equally fundamental is Goethe’s morphology,12 his vision of symbolic Gestalt,13 and Kant’s theory of the symbol in the Critique of the Faculty of Judgment). This influence is already present in Freiheit und Form: “in Leibniz, the problem arises from the relation of expression, in which the spiritual and the sensible, spirit and body, universal and individual, find a mediation through a ‘formative energy’ that breaks all dualities and makes sensible signs into representation of a spiritual force.”14 Benjamin develops the theory of ideas as monads in a linguistic sense, keeping in mind Leibniz’s reflections on language.15 The idea is furthermore “something linguistic,”16 it is name, it is that moment in the essence of the word/concept when the idea is “symbol.” The task of the philosopher is to restore, through representation (Darstellung), the primacy of the symbolic character of the word in which the name is revealed and the idea comes to knowledge (self-consciousness). Words must recover their hidden symbolic side, the name within, and represent the idea. Benjamin refers to Platonic ideas considered as verbal concepts, and to Platonic anamnesis, but finally identifies in Adam’s act of naming17 the possibility of recovering in words a primeval perception that goes beyond external communication, which is a sign of the Fall and the expulsion from linguistic paradise.18 Here emerges the kabbalistic theory that characterized the 1916 essay on language, in which the concept of messianic redemption in and through language is explicated as a means to restore an original paradisiacal state of knowledge and justice.19 Still further utopian possibilities may be realized from the will of the Messiah: “redemption signifies a return to a content merely implicit in the original paradisiacal state, whose ultimate eschatological meaning will fully unfold only after . . . the will of the Messiah [has been] realized.”20 The same relationship between phenomena and monadic idea appears later, in the 1940 essay On the Concept of History, in the conception of the historical object as construction, concept, dialectical image, and as monad of materialist historiography, in which the historical materialist recognizes the sign of a messianic interruption in the coming of a “revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past.”21 As a monadic phenomenon, the revolutionary opportunity brings into the present a forgotten zone of the past, and both recognizes and redeems it (saves it) by rendering it present and referring it to an ideal, utopian, theological dimension of redemption and justice: On the elementary doctrine of historical materialism. (1) An object of history is that through which knowledge is constituted as the object’s rescue. (2) History decays into images, not into stories. (3) Wherever a dialectical process is realized, we are dealing with a monad. (4) The materialist presentation of history carries along with it an immanent critique of the concept of progress.



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(5) Historical materialism bases its procedures on experience (Erfahrung), common sense (den gesunden Menschenverstand), presence of mind (die Geistesgegenwart), and dialectics.22

The Arcades Project, the great incomplete project that Benjamin worked on from the end of the Twenties until his death (contemporaneous therefore to the Theses), and which exists today in the form of a rich collection of materials, notes, and citations, contains the delineation of a theory of knowledge of the historical object that emerges in the title of section N (where the above citation appears): Elements of a Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress, (Erkenntnistheoretisches, Theorie des Fortschritts). Knowledge as redemption of the past in the historical object takes place in a moment of interruption of the succession of events, in a messianic temporal dimension, a “now of knowability” (Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit) in which an image of the past becomes legible: “The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash. What has been (das Gewesene) is to be held fast—as an image flashing up in the now of its knowability (im Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit). The rescue (Rettung) carried out by these means—and only by these—can operate solely for the sake of what in the next moment is already irretrievably lost.”23 The present, as the now (Jetzt) of knowability, determines “in the object from the past, to grasp the kernel of it, the point in which the object’s fore-history and afterhistory divide.”24 In this Jetzt, the dialectic between phenomenon and idea comes to light; between the realm of “representation” (Vorstellung) and the ideal realm of the past (Vergangenheit). The last of these must be recognized and saved in memory upon each occasion in turn, presenting a part of itself (that which has been, the Gewesene) in a phenomenon, and must indicate a direction for action that can lead to a classless society, the secularization of the messianic reign of justice. The dialectic is given by positing each historical object as a restoration—because it is the redemption of the past—of the Vergangenheit, and from the presentation of the object as something incomplete, imperfect, and transitory, but also unique. The dialectic pertaining to the image of the past recalls the dialectic of the origin found in the Prologue to The Origin of German Tragic Drama: Origin is an eddy in the stream of becoming, and in its current it swallows the material involved in the process of genesis. . . . On one hand it needs to be recognized as a process of restoration and reestablishment, but, on the other, 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 constantly confront the historical world, until it is revealed fulfilled, in the totality of its history. Origin is not, therefore, discovered by the examination of actual findings, but it is related to their history and their subsequent development.25

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In the thesis On the Concept of History, the “materialist” historian provides a revolutionary opportunity for the past and redeems it in the cognitive, constructive event of thought in which it encounters a constellation of extremes, with past and future historical moments in tension, and crystalizes them suddenly and violently (through a shock, an interruption) in a monad, a historical object. The historical object presents itself in this thought process as a monad in which the historian recognizes the sign of a “messianic” interruption of the succession of events, and thus a possibility of redemption for the “oppressed” past, for the generations of the defeated, who history does not record. The historian makes use of this redemptive opportunity to interrupt the course of history seen as an inevitable, catastrophic progress (progress and catastrophe are historical “concepts”), by making a particular era leap out of the homogeneous, unredeemed course of history. The historian then draws, “a specific life out of the era, a specific work out of the body of work of an author,” in such a way that, “the life’s work (Lebenswerk) is both preserved and sublated in a work (im Werk), the entire era in the single work, and the entire course of history in the era.”26 The historical object contains time within itself, the entire course of history is conserved in the messianic moment of the now: Materialist historiography, on the other hand, is based on a constructive principle. Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts (Gedanken), but their interruption as well. When thinking suddenly comes to a stop in a constellation saturated with tensions, it gives that constellation a shock (Chock), by which thinking is crystallized as a monad. The historical materialist approaches a historical object only when it confronts him as a monad. In this structure he recognizes the sign of a messianic arrest of happening (einer messianischen Stillstellung des Geschehens), or, (to put it differently) a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. . . . The nourishing fruit of what is historically understood contains time in its interior as a precious but tasteless seed (thesis XVII).27

For Benjamin, “Now-time (Jetztzeit) which, as a model of messianic time, comprises the entire history of mankind in a tremendous abbreviation, coincides exactly with the figure which the history of mankind describes in the universe” (thesis XVIII),28 which is to say a very brief moment indeed in cosmic terms. The historical materialist “grasps the constellation into which his own era has entered, along with a very specific earlier one. Thus, he establishes a conception of the present as now-time (Jetztzeit) shot through with splinters of messianic time.”29 Through a phenomenon, through historical “concepts,” the historical materialist grasps the representation of a monadic idea as a constellation of past, unredeemed phenomena, and thus makes possible the messianic redemption of the past: “Benjamin’s monad turns on a particular interpretation of the infinite within the finite. The ‘intensive



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infinity’ within the monad is in excess of any concept. . . . Benjamin reads the infinity within the monad in terms of the secularization of metaphysics [and history] within an immanent, self-enclosed world.”30 The historical fact, as a current phenomenon that the historian represents dialectically, contains within itself both its fore-history and its after-history, the virtual series of moments in which history represents itself. This structure of the historical object appears in the Arcades Project material as well: The fore- and after-history of a historical phenomenon show up in the phenomenon itself on the strength of its dialectical presentation. What is more: every dialectically presented historical circumstance polarizes itself and becomes a force field in which the confrontation between its fore-history and after-history is played out. It becomes such a field insofar as the present instant (Aktualität) interpenetrates it. And thus the historical evidence polarizes into fore- and afterhistory always anew, never in the same way. And it does so at a distance from its own existence, in the present instant itself . . . .31 If the object of history is to be blasted out of the continuum of historical succession, that is because its monadological structure demands it. This structure first comes to light in the extracted object itself. And it does so in the form of the historical confrontation that makes up the interior (and, as it were, the bowels) of the historical object, and into which all the forces and interests of history enter on a reduced scale. It is owing to this monadological structure that the historical object finds represented in its interior its own fore-history and after-history. (Thus, for example, the fore-history of Baudelaire, as deduced by current scholarship, resides in allegory; his after-history, in Jugendstil.)32

KNOWLEDGE AND REDEMPTION: THE CONCEPT OF HISTORY In certain sections of the Arcades Project the “messianic” temporal moment of knowability appears when an image of the past becomes legible and cognizable through concepts. In fact, what permits a dialectical image to become an instrument of knowledge is its construction as concept. For Benjamin, the catastrophe, the critical moment, and progress are all concepts. His Arcades Project notes read, “Definitions of basic historical concepts: Catastrophe—to have missed the opportunity. Critical moment—the status quo threatens to be preserved. Progress—the first revolutionary measure taken.”33 In the Epistemo-Critical Prologue to The Origin of German Tragic Drama, concepts permit the division of phenomena into their basic elements, their

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“redemption” and salvation. Only through the work of abstraction of the concept may phenomena, in their constitutive elements, enter into constellations and thus be saved in the idea—and only in this way may the idea be represented—as phenomena of origin. There, the truth, as a nonintentional state of being not founded upon knowledge, is a gathering, a system of ideas: The significance of phenomena for ideas is confined to their conceptual elements. . . . For ideas are not represented in themselves but solely and exclusively in an arrangement of the concrete elements in the concepts: as the configuration of these elements. . . . It is the function of concepts to group phenomena together, and the division which is brought about within them thanks to the distinguishing power of the intellect is all the more significant in that it brings about two things at a single stroke: the salvation of phenomena and the representation of ideas. . . . Truth is an intentionless state of being, made up of ideas.34

In the Arcades Project the originary phenomenon, both artistic and historical, evolves into a historical concept tout court that may be termed a dialectical image, an image-concept that contains a historical index.35 This index signals not only the belonging of the dialectical images to a determined era, but also the possibility that these images achieve legibility—that they be thus recognized through a perception “[that] refers to symbols”36—in a determined era. In any present in which an image achieves legibility thanks to synchronous images, there is a “now of knowability” and a death of the conceptual intention in the direction of the symbolic, ideal representation of a constellation of concepts in which “what has been” and “the now” (fore- and after-history) are united. The dialectical image does not represent this union between past and present in a temporal process, but in an image in which time offers itself up intensively; it messianically “redeems” the past through the present of the “now” and in the “critical point” of knowability and legibility. The truth in these images presents itself in the intensive, redemptive time of this knowing, which is both conceptual and symbolic. The historical concept represents the synchronous images and their constellation as an ideal truth. This intensive temporality of truth is present both in the object and in the person who knows and makes possible the overcoming of the concept of knowledge as a relation between the transcendental knowledge of a knowing subject and an object to be known. “Resolute refusal of the concept of ‘timeless truth’ is in order. Nevertheless, truth is not . . . a merely contingent function of knowing, but is bound to a nucleus of time (Zeitkern) lying hidden within the knower and the known alike.”37 Husserlian phenomenology had already taken this direction with the concept of reduction,38 that of suspension of the natural attitude in favor of a potential pure receptivity. According to Benjamin, however, the historical indices—their fact of being instruments



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of knowledge in the “now of knowability,” when the concept refers symbolically to the idea—distinguish dialectical images from the “essences” of phenomenology: What distinguishes images from the “essences” of phenomenology is their historical index. (Heidegger seeks in vain to rescue history for phenomenology abstractly through “historicity.”) . . . For the historical index of the images not only says that they belong to a particular time; it says, above all, that they attain to legibility only at a particular time. And, indeed, this acceding “to legibility” constitutes a specific critical point in the movement at their interior. Every present day is determined by the images that are synchronic with it: each “now” is the now of a particular recognizability. In it, truth is charged to the bursting point with time. (This point of explosion, and nothing else, is the death of the intention, which thus coincides with the birth of authentic historical time, the time of truth.) It is not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words: image is dialectics at a standstill. For while the relation of the present to the past is purely temporal, the relation of what-hasbeen to the now is dialectical: not temporal . . . but figural . . . . The image that is read—which is to say, the image in the now of its recognizability— bears to the highest degree the imprint of the perilous critical moment on which all reading is founded.39

The truth—the theological idea of perfection,40 the unconditioned— presents itself in the dialectical image in relation to the concept that indicates it, not as a “timeless verity,” but as the ideal realm of totality corresponding to the concept of a messianic dimension of time that is not extension (which it could be only in the dimension of revelation), but an intensive moment when thought is a fleeting image that exposes, in its very caducity, the messianic world of perfection. Authentically historical time, the time of truth, is gathered into the intensive infinity of the idea as a monad that gives itself up in a fleeting moment. The infinite gathers itself into the finite. Already in 1923, in a December 9 letter to Florens Christian Rang, Benjamin described the work of art as monad and representation—through critique—of the idea, like a star that contains time intensively within itself, in contrast with the extended temporality of revelation (the sun): The same forces (Gewalten) that become explosively and extensively temporal in the world of revelation (and this is what history is), come intensively into the light in the world of closure, of holding-back (Verschlossenheit) (and such are nature and works of art) . . .: ideas are the stars, in contrast to the sun of revelation.”41

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As we have seen, beginning in the period 1917–1920, Benjamin maintained that the task of knowledge is to recuperate phenomena (acts and perceptions) from their empirical condition by dividing them up in concepts, rendering them pure (redeeming them from their phenomenological state through a process of abstraction), but at the same time—precisely because of this action of division and classification—leaving them fragmentary and inauthentic, deprived of their phenomenal totality.42 After the action of division and abstraction, the task of knowledge is then to charge phenomena with a symbolic valence that renders them capable of exhibiting an idea (of hypothesis,43 liberty, or art).44 This fragmentation and attribution of symbolic valence take place in a theological, temporal dimension that is redemptive and messianic, which already in 1920 Benjamin terms the “now (Jetzt) of knowability.”45 This “now” is a moment of concentration of the processes of thought and knowledge—the same as the historical moment—that anticipates and exemplifies the redemptive moment of the “perfected state of the world,”46 where phenomena themselves will once again be authentic and whole at a higher symbolic level, while truth is authentic and nonfragmentary also in the “now of knowability”: Acts, like perception, enter only disjointedly, inauthentically, and without reality into the now of knowability. They become authentic and unbroken only in the perfected state of the world. . . . They enter disjointedly, in symbolic concepts, into the now of knowability, for this now is filled and governed exclusively by knowability.47

The positive meaning of the concept of “infinite task” is reproposed, in the relationship among the virtually infinite series of concepts and ideas, as a place of exposition of the totality that emerged in the analyses in the Program and related fragments of 1917–1918 that critique neo-Kantianism (see chapter 1). In this concept of “infinite task,”48 founded in theological language but composed of concepts drawn from the Kantian tradition, we find in nuce, in the years 1920–1921, the structure of the primeval phenomenon and the dialectical image: The truth of a given circumstance is a function of the constellation of the true being of all other circumstances. This function is identical with the function of the system. The true being (which as such is naturally unknown) is part and parcel of the infinite task. . . . the two tasks facing the theory of knowledge are: 1. The constitution of things in the now of knowability; 2. The limitation of knowledge in the symbol.49

As expressed in the previous chapter, just as in Kant’s schematism, “an application of the category to appearances becomes possible by means of the transcendental time-determination,”50 so for Benjamin the moment of



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knowing—when a conceptualized phenomenon exhibits the idea that gathers it, together with others, into a virtual, potentially infinite totality—takes place in the redemptive temporal dimension of the Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit, the “logical time, which has to replace that of timeless validity.”51 In place of the exhibition of the concept in an intuition, he substitutes the exhibition of an idea in a linguistic phenomenon (the word that contains the name in its symbolic, not communicative, character).52 In Benjamin’s interpretation of Kant, the possibility (belonging to the faculty of judgment) of symbolic exhibition in nature, and by analogy, of the idea of moral law, renders possible the passage from the domain of the concept of nature to the domain of the concept of liberty, and thus to the unity of the system of philosophy.53 In a passage in the Arcades Project, Benjamin writes that “being a dialectician means having the wind of history in one’s sails. The sails are the concepts. It is not enough, however, to have sails at one’s disposal. What is decisive is knowing the art of setting them.”54 The concept of the historical object (the hoisted sail that catches the wind of progress and catastrophe) is a word well-disposed in thought through the “sound understanding gesunden Menschenverstand)”55 or common human understanding (gemeine Menschenverstand). In Paragraph 40 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant will distinguish common human understanding or common sense—usually identified with sensus communis (Gemeinsinn)—from sensus communis interpreted as communal sense (gemeinschaftlichen Sinn): this latter is the capacity for a broad-minded way of thinking (from a universal standpoint).56 This is also the capacity to use the faculty of judgment to find the universal in the particular,57 which dialectic must have: “What matters for the dialectician is to have the wind of world history in his sails. For him, thinking means setting the sails. What is important is how they are set. Words are his sails. The way they are set makes them into concepts.”58 In the messianic now of knowability, the historical concept, as dialectic image, enters into a relation with truth and presents it, rendering an image of the past that thus becomes known and saved, not as a process but in a sudden, fleeting representation: The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash. What has been is to be held fast—as an image flashing up in the now of its recognizability. The rescue that is carried out by these means—and only by these—can operate solely for the sake of what in the next moment is already irretrievably lost. In this connection, see the metaphorical passage from my introduction to Jochmann, concerning the prophetic gaze that catches fire from the summits of the past.59

In the messianic “now of knowability” is the reawakening from a dream and the act of remembering the dream: at the base of the process inherent in the dialectical image, in its internal movement, there is a “dialectical

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schematism”60 of an aesthetic rather than logical or instrumental nature, founded on involuntary, nonintentional remembrance. The experience of reawakening renders the dream image of “what has been” recognizable, and redeems it, making it active in history and political action: “What makes history intelligible, and at the same time possible, is this dialectical movement of the image, this prophecy of the present, that fulfills, through remembrance, what has been.”61 The new dialectical method of doing history is “the art of experiencing the present as waking world, a world to which the dream we name the past refers in truth. To pass through and carry out what has been, in remembering the dream! Therefore, remembering and awakening are most intimately related. Awakening is namely the dialectical Copernican turn of remembrance.”62 MESSIANIC TIME Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history develops continuously across the entire arc of his production, from The Life of Students in 1914/1563 to the late theses in On the Concept of History, in 1940. Throughout, the theological conception of the time of history as Jetztzeit (now-time)64 stands opposed to homogeneous and empty mechanical time, the mathematically measurable time of the natural sciences: Historical time is infinite in every direction and unfulfilled at every moment. This means we cannot conceive of a single empirical event that bears a necessary relation to the time of its occurrence. For empirical events time is nothing but a form, but, what is more important, as a form it is unfulfilled. The event does not fulfill the formal nature of the time in which it takes place. For we should not think of time as merely the measure that records the duration of a mechanical change. Although such time is indeed a relatively empty form, to think of its being filled makes no sense. Historical time, however, differs from mechanical time. . . . Rather, a process that is perfect in historical terms is quite indeterminate empirically; it is in fact an idea. The idea of fulfilled time is the dominant historical idea of the Bible: it is the idea of messianic time.65

This vision considers time not as a process but as an ideal dimension (the historical idea of the Bible) in which a moment exposes a dimension of totality, eternity, and completeness. Benjamin’s vision positions itself in the realm of Judaic messianism as a restorative dimension of history, a return to a reign of justice.66 In the biblical tradition, Justice is the first attribute of God: “Righteous art thou, O Lord; and upright are they judgments . . . Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth”;67 and an attribute of the Messiah, a distinctive sign of the messianic age: “And righteousness shall



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be the girdle of his loins”;68 “the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”69 Messianism is not to be defined as awaiting a personal Messiah, but rather as awaiting a Messianic reign, “an intra-historical but total, radical and universal fulfillment . . . linked . . . [to the] contents clearly indicated by the prophets (starting with Isaiah): peace, justice, happiness.”70 The essential character of messianic expectation, as received by Benjamin from Scholem in an intrahistorical variation, is immanent and neither eschatological nor univocal, but contains within itself two opposed tendencies. On one hand, the restorative aspect brings equilibrium to a condition of disorder; on the other stands a contrary dimension of rupture and radical novelty that is destructive and apocalyptic.71 In the Theses, a revolutionary leap takes place, in immanence, between world history and redeemed history, through memory and the citation and knowledge of the past; a “tiger’s leap into the past”:72 History is the subject of a construction whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time fulfilled by now-time [Jetztzeit]. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with now-time, a past which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome reincarnate. It cited ancient Rome exactly the way fashion cites a by-gone mode of dress. Fashion has a nose for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is the tiger’s leap into the past. The leap, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical leap Marx understood as revolution. (Thesis XIV)73

In Benjamin, the materialist conception of history (before the “Marxist turn” of 1926 we might speak rather of an anarchist, nihilist vision)74 is closely connected to the theological idea of time as Jetztzeit. Through the redemption of the past, by its actualization in the present and the critique of the concept of progress, the historian practices a “weak messianic power”75 and provides a direction for political action. This action is revolutionary and aims at founding a classless society as a secularized Reign, a realm of justice. A thesis (n. XVIIa) found among the preparatory materials for On the Concept of History illustrates these concepts: progress is an infinite, linear process, like the neo-Kantian “infinite task” and democratic socialism, that transforms the representation of the messianic idea as an abrupt realization of the reign of justice in an “ideal,”76 which is to say an unachievable goal. For Hermann Cohen, the Messiah is significant as a metaphysical and moral idea originating in Judaic prophecy, an ideal projected into the dimension of the future of history (and not toward a life beyond the earthly one) where the individual history of humans will disappear. As expressed in the previous chapter, Benjamin individuates two concepts of the infinite task, one negative (attributed to Neo-Kantian epistemology and ethics, especially that of Cohen), and the other positive (and Benjamin’s

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own), that utilizes the neo-Kantian structure of the relation between a regulating idea and a series of concepts, to construct a concept of metaphysical experience, not empty, but full (erfüllt) of spiritual and theological-linguistic content. The time of the infinite task of neo-Kantianism is conceived, on the contrary, as homogeneous—the time of the physical and mathematical sciences—and empty, that is, not full (erfüllt) and accomplished by God and through the power of divine violence/authority (Gewalt):77 In the idea of the classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time. And that was a good thing. It was only when the Social Democrats elevated this idea to an “ideal” that the trouble began. The ideal was defined in Neo-Kantian doctrine as an “infinite [unendlich] task.” And this doctrine was the school philosophy of the Social Democratic party—from Schmidt and Stadler through Natorp and Vorländer. Once the classless society had been defined as an infinite task, the empty and homogeneous time was transformed into an anteroom, so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary situation with more or less equanimity. In reality, there is not a moment that would not carry with it its revolutionary chance—provided only that it is defined in a specific way, namely as the chance for a completely new problem [Aufgabe]. For the revolutionary thinker, the peculiar revolutionary chance offered by every historical moment gets its warrant from the political situation. But it is equally grounded, for this thinker, in the right of entry which the historical moment enjoys vis-à-vis a quite distinct chamber of the past, one which up to that point has been closed and locked. The entrance into this chamber coincides in a strict sense with political action, and it is by means of such entry that political action, however destructive, reveals itself as messianic. (Classless society is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequently miscarried, ultimately [endlich] achieved interruption.) (Thesis XVIIa).78

In the fleeting “slipping away” of a dialectical image, the historian recuperates and recognizes a moment of the past of the oppressed classes, which enters into a constellation with immediate political conditions and makes it explode, providing a direction for praxis. Revolutionary action takes shape through a dialectical leap into the past that takes place in the messianic now—in the “now of knowability” (Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit) that pertains to the “concept of history”: “The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash. What has been (das Gewesene) is to be held fast—as an image flashing up in the now of its knowability. The rescue (Rettung) carried out by these means—and only by these—can operate solely for the sake of what in the next moment is already irretrievably lost.”79 The epistemological structure of the “concept of history,” which presents itself in a monadic dialectical image, is characterized by a nonlinear, nonprogressive but intensive and ideal temporal dimension, in which the cognitive concept and the idea (of the good, of justice, of liberty) characterized by totality



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and eternity coincide. Here emerges the link between the theological realm— transcendental and ideal but secretly active in the immanence of redemption— and the immanent setting of the political. In fact, in a fleeting moment, the redeemed past renders the fulfillment of messianic time, the Reign of God, and provides the occasion and direction for praxis, for a revolutionary action that is messianic and theologically motivated, striving toward the construction of a classless society. Political action is rendered possible specifically by its link to the past, by the cognitive capacity of the historical materialist to recuperate forgotten moments and make them explode, and to fuel the destructive, liberatory power of the oppressed class (the subject, like the historian, of historical knowledge) through images of enslaved ancestors, without projecting the liberation into an infinite future, as does democratic socialism: The subject of historical knowledge is the struggling, oppressed class in itself. Marx presents it as the last enslaved class—the avenger that completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden. This conviction, which had a brief resurgence in the Spartacus League, has always been objectionable to Social Democrats. Within three generations they managed to erase the name of Blanqui almost entirely, though at the sound of that name the preceding century had quaked. The Social Democrats preferred to cast the working class in the role of a redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This indoctrination made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than by the ideal of liberated grandchildren. (Thesis XII)80

Benjamin’s position on the oppressed class as subject of historical cognition can be read, as Sami Khatib writes, against the backdrop of Kant and Marx: Although Benjamin clearly distinguishes the subject of historical cognition from Kant’s non-historical transcendental subject, . . . the epistemo-political scope of Benjamin’s historical materialist concept of history becomes legible only against the dual backdrop of Marx and Kant. If the struggling, oppressed class takes the position of the Kantian transcendental subject, the politicaleconomic standpoint and historicity of this collective subjectivity coalesces with its cognizing vantage point in a transcendental sense.81

The oppressed class takes the place of the Kantian transcendental subject and, through the dialectical image (which contains a historical index, a potential encounter between fore- and after-history, that renders the image legible and usable for political action), overcomes the Kantian vision of knowledge as the relation of a knowing subject to a known object:82 Benjamin maintains the basic structure of Kant’s transcendental argument, yet expands and radicalizes it by grounding transcendentality in a constellation of

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historical time punctuated by class struggle. In this way, historical cognition is not structured by ahistorical transcendental forms but always already imprinted by a ‘historical index’(AP, N 3,1), which is bound to the experience of a political subject at a particular time.83

What is transcendental here is less the subject than the medium of knowledge, a linguistic medium, given that, “the place where one encounters [the images] is language.”84 Language is a medium in that it is not a means of communication but a location of communicability85 in which a cognitive relation is constructed between subject and object, which encounter one another in the now of knowability. When a linguistic, ideal, and messianic image (e.g., that of republican Rome for Robespierre, or the French Revolution, or the messianic realm) becomes legible in the now of knowability, time is contained within it as an intensive, messianic, and infinitely abbreviated “time differential,”86 which is curved rather than linear. This logical time stands against chronological time and the time of Newtonian physics and mathematics, although some interpreters argue that it takes inspiration from the new mathematical theories of the early twentieth century.87 This time is a time of crisis and political decision, a time for revolutionary action, which may entail an interruption and reversal of the course of history, such that the oppressed classes may be both subject of knowledge and political subject. The oppressed classes arrive at a polarized historical moment, represented (dargestellt) in the dialectical image, an instant in present time (Aktualität), and makes it explode into praxis and struggle.88 Subject (the oppressed classes) and object (the image) of historical knowledge unite in the now of knowability, in the constellation of historical concepts that constitute the dialectical image. Both subject and object are not static, but active and involved in the historical events that they undergo and provoke. As we have seen, what permits the dialectical image to become an instrument of knowledge is its “construction” as a concept, that is, as a historical concept. Theory and praxis are deeply interwoven: praxis, provoked by the conditions of the oppressed classes, directs knowledge toward the construction of concepts and the representation of utopian ideals; theory provides direction for praxis, and thus for political action. The concept of messianic time, opposed to the homogenous and empty physical and mathematical time of modern science which is typical of NeoKantianism and democratic socialism—with its vision of the progressive, “infinite” task moving toward the ideal of a classless society—is anticipated here with extraordinary import in the 1914/15 period in the incipit of the essay paper The Life of Students: There is a view of history that puts its faith in the infinite extent of time and thus concerns itself only with the speed, or lack of it, with which people and



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epochs advance along the path of progress. This corresponds to a certain absence of coherence and rigor in the demands it makes on the present. The following remarks, in contrast, delineate a particular condition in which history appears to be concentrated in a single focal point, like those that have traditionally been found in the utopian images of philosophers. The elements of the ultimate condition do not manifest themselves as formless progressive tendencies, but are deeply rooted in every present in the form of the most endangered, excoriated, and ridiculed ideas and products of the creative mind. The historical task is to disclose this immanent state of perfection and make it absolute, to make it visible and dominant in the present. This condition cannot be captured in terms of the pragmatic description of details (the history of institutions, customs, and so on); in fact, it eludes them. Rather, the task is to grasp its metaphysical structure, as with the messianic domain or the idea of the French Revolution.89

As seen here, already in 1915 there is a nexus between the intensive, redemptive time of history, as found in the images of the utopians, and the metaphysical structure as idea, and thus with the epistemological nexus that makes the individuation of the state of perfection and justice (the “final state,” the “messianic reign,” the “French Revolution”) indispensable in the immanence of the present, through the division of phenomena by means of concepts comprehended, in fragments, in the idea.90 In the messianic now of knowability, the concept of the historical object exposes the “truth” (which is an “intentionless state of being, made up of ideas”)91 by presenting an image of the past known and saved in a fleeting flash of representation. The monadic phenomenon is a dialectic image of the messianic reign, the representation and symbolic concept of the state of divine perfection and justice.92 In the “state of fulfillment of the world,” phenomena will no longer be fragmented the way they are in the now of knowability, of immanence, and in history, the conditions of which necessarily entail knowledge and caducity. Revolutionary action inspired by the “hidden” theological-messianic dimension remains conscious of the fact that it produces a transitory political reality not based on an eternal truth. The truth of the past, and the messianic idea of redemption connected to it, is a “fleeting (vergänglich) truth” that appears for a moment and then vanishes, just as the unknown, never-realized past is fleeting: The puppet, called “historical materialism,” is to win all the time. It can easily be a match for anyone if it enlists the services of theology, which today, as we know, is small and ugly and has to keep out of sight. (Thesis I)93 The true image of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image that flashes up at the moment of its recognizability, and is never seen again—“The

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truth will not run away from us”: this statement by Gottfried Keller indicates exactly that point in historicism’s image of history where the image is pierced by historical materialism. For it is an irretrievable image of the past which threatens to disappear in any present that does not recognize itself as intended in that image. (Thesis V)94 If . . . [the image of the past] is authentic, it is due to its fleetingness (Flüchtigkeit). Precisely because this truth is fleeting (vergänglich) and a breath is enough to sweep it away, much depends upon it. Appearance (Schein), in fact, which agrees better with eternity, is ready to take its place.95

MESSIANISM AND POLITICAL THEOLOGY: JACOB TAUBES, INTERPRETER OF BENJAMIN In a course on Benjamin’s theses on the philosophy of history held at the Freie Universität in Berlin during the winter semester of 1984–1985,96 Jacob Taubes focused on Benjamin’s idea that theology must remain hidden and emerge only indirectly through the immanence and intimacy of human transience, in the specific happiness of that which passes away and within the setting of the profane. Theology is concealed in the immanent ethos of revolutionary action: Historical materialism ossifies because it does not enlist the services of theology. There are powers at work in theology that have not even been put to use yet. For Benjamin, theology is messianism/the Messiah. It seems implausible that this is a dream, a myth. Historical materialism should make a pact with it. . . . Not by simply appealing to theology, but by utilizing (Indienstnahme) theology for a theory of history which, however, does not come to light as such; on the contrary, history is to be conceived from the perspective of the end: History must be thought about by starting from its end.97

History must be conceptualized by starting from its end that is by starting with the possibility of redemption that is inherent in its hidden but present theological dimension: Theology is to be made use of [in der Dienst genommen] as theology, without being dissolved. “Theology” signifies a specific tendency: redemption, a word that emerges in the full context of historical materialism. How is theology to be introduced?98

Theology cannot be put directly to use by historical materialism and its radical immanence; otherwise, it would dissolve and never fulfill its redemptive task. Theology acts by placing the immanence of history and of mankind



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front and center, and the possibility, inherent in theology, of going beyond itself in consciousness, in its ethical task, and in political action. Theological examples are not used directly but are built into the ethos, in that which is constitutive of humanity, in revolutionary action. Redemption vibrates also in the representation of happiness, that is, in the most profane human dimension, in the heart of caducity: Benjamin attempts to demonstrate this “enlisting of services” [in den Dienst nehmen] and attempts to develop a concept of theology in accordance with the radical immanence of historical materialism. [He does so] not by presenting a theological treatise, but rather by questioning the immanence of history, by pointing out elements that can be glimpsed only as they “flit by” (Thesis V). The fact that immanence carries the beyond within itself, that it carries entailing elements and possibilities, allows the development of a dynamic that would otherwise remain paralyzed. For Benjamin, paralysis must be resolved. Theological examples are not used directly; rather, they are built into the ethos, in that which is constitutive of humanity (the revolutionary step). In the Arcades Project as well, Benjamin treads with a certain prudence when he approaches theology. . . . In the representation of happiness (which concerns the profane order and its sequence of action), redemption vibrates too.99

In a note in the Arcades Project about a Max Horkheimer letter dated March 16, 1937, Benjamin writes that in a theological dimension (which need not be made explicit) unfulfilled human happiness can be fulfilled, and suffering redeemed, in remembrance (Eingedenken).100 The historiographer’s task is to save and redeem the past in memory, in remembrance: “[The] comparison of the experience of happiness in the individual and collective spheres [im Individuellen und Kollektiven] is directly tied together [verspannt] as history.”101 In the natural experience of happiness realized in memory, “something implicitly theological [ein impliziertes Theologisches] constitutes” itself, which Benjamin then sums up under [the notion of] a “weak messianic power.”102 After asking, “Does ‘weak’ pertain to messianic transcendence generally, or is weakness the messianic as present in human beings?” Taubes concludes that “ ‘weak’ must be read in a Pauline sense: messianic in what is weak [im Schwachen].103 . . . Enlisting the services of theology takes place in secular terms.”104 Weakness, the weak messianic power that is nevertheless capable of redeeming the past, is caducity: What-is-past [das Vergangene] is directed toward the future, toward the present, toward what is awaited . . . . Redemption does not mean a final revolution at the end of history. Here the messianic is distributed across history and the generations. . . . Judgment day is not the spectacle at the end, but is rather possible in every complete memory [Vollerinnerung] . . .: redemption is possible anytime.

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Judgment Day is built into time, rendering thus possible time’s interruption [abbrechen]. . . . Benjamin introduces [Hineinnahme] the idea of the end in time itself. That is to say: a punctiform, lightning-like breakthrough. Not a single day is excluded. The apocalyptic form is therefore embedded in a presentist time . . . Benjamin’s historical materialism can be comprehended [gefasst] in terms of what is revolutionary, in the sense of sudden . . . . Benjamins’s model is thus directed at action.105

Redemption is realized in every moment, in the heart of immanence and in the weakness of the ephemeral, interrupting time and opening the possibility of political action, which for Benjamin is revolutionary. The state of redemption is anticipated in the historical and epistemological “concept” of the historian and the storyteller, in whom the “weak messianic power” is present, allowing the past to be recuperated, saved, and redeemed in the concept, in the citation that shapes memory. According to Taubes, the historian, the storyteller, and the chronicler assume the function of the Messiah, since “only a redeemed humanity receives the full inheritance of its past, which means that only for a redeemed humanity can the past be cited in each of its moments. Each of its lived moments (Augenblicke) becomes a “citation à l’ordre du jour—a day which is, exactly, the day of judgment.”106 Judgment Day is, however, a day of peril: “not only the day of happiness, but also of annihilation,” of revolutionary destruction:107 Every narration anticipates the state of redemption in conceptual terms [im Begriff ]. The transition to a redeemed humanity does not belong to the world of fantasy, because redeemed humanity is not set at the end [of history]. This presupposes or is based on the idea of the coexistence of past, present and future, as in the mind of God; this is what such a concept is based on. . . . The narrator has taken on the function of Messiah. . . . The end is understood as present time. Revolution is thus not bound to a process of maturation. This has decisive epistemological consequences. This understanding of time is based on the fact that presence can be broken-through at any time, and on the process of narrating being granted a high state of salvation. . . . Benjamin does not advocate a messianic futurologism, but rather a messianic actualism. . . . [Starting] from the experience of the “ordre du jour” the service of theology can be enlisted. . . . Judgement Day is the threatening day . . . [which] is the condition [of danger] . . . in which the totality of life is condensed and becomes visible.108

Jacob Taubes stresses the importance of the philosophy of Carl Schmitt in Benjamin’s reflections on the concept of sovereignty and the “state of exception.” Schmitt’s concept of the “state of exception,”109 as a secularized theological concept present in juridical and political settings, in which the sovereign places himself at the limit of law and suspends it (seen analogically as a “miracle” with respect to the laws of nature),110 is found in altered form



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in Benjamin. In thesis VIII in On the Concept of History, the state of exception is a dimension, both theological and political, of messianic temporality, as the Jetzt of revolution and the immanent affirmation of the “theologicalpolitical” conception of a classless society as a realm of justice, the “effectual (wirklichen) state of exception,” or emergency: The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not an exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that accords with this insight. Then we will clearly see that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism. One reason fascism has a chance is that, in the name of progress, its proponents treat it as a historical norm.111

Taubes maintains that the foundation of Schmitt’s totalizing conception of power seeks to reconcile worldly and spiritual identity. By contrast, Benjamin maintains the separation of the profane and the theological.112 This critique highlights the diverse political approaches of Schmitt and Benjamin, one of whom favors maintaining the existent legal and political order, while the other calls for revolutionary messianism. But it also reveals the shared postsecular method of both authors, with the nonexplicit, indirect re(presentation) of theological concepts in political contexts, where the explicit traces have been lost.113 In the “effectual state of exception,” Benjamin negates any immediate, concrete presence of the theological in the worldly and affirms the provisional nature of any political power in the caducity inherent in history. Benjamin’s theology is messianism in service to historical materialism, so that it may produce the relation between historical materialism itself (the political) and theology as redemption, in messianic time, with remembrance as Jetztzeit in a “state of exception” (the suspension of the existing politicaljuridical order) and the action that may flow from such an event. The Theologico-Political Fragment, a youthful text (assigned by editors to 1920) that Benjamin composed in response to Ernst Bloch’s Spirit of Utopia,114 takes up the problem of political theology and nihilism. In this case, the relation between the messianic (the theological) and historical events (the profane order) is determined by the way they position themselves as contrary but complementary directions. The profane order is the order of free humanity that aspires to happiness in its passing and sunset, the “rhythm of messianic nature.” By reiterating the centrality of immanence and transience, and by not positing itself as a total moment of theological and ethical truth, the profane order that strives for happiness (which is linked to memory) reveals its messianic nature, and in this profane order nature defines itself as messianic. With nihilism as a method of global politics whose task is the search for happiness in the natural, sensate dimension of humanity, the

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profane can “promote the coming of the Messianic Kingdom”115 of justice in immanence: If one arrow points to the goal toward which the secular dynamic acts, and another marks the direction of messianic intensity, then certainly the quest of free humanity for happiness runs counter to the messianic direction. But just as a force, by virtue of the path it is moving along, can augment another force on the opposite path, so the secular order—because of its nature as secular— promotes the coming of the Messianic Kingdom. The secular, therefore, though not itself a category of this kingdom, is a decisive category of its most unobtrusive approach. For in happiness all that is earthly seeks its downfall, and only in happiness is its downfall destined to find it.—Whereas admittedly the immediate messianic intensity of the heart, of the inner man in isolation, passes through misfortune, as suffering. The spiritual restitutio in integrum, which introduces immortality, corresponds to a worldly restitution that leads to an eternity of downfall, and the rhythm of this eternally transient worldly existence, transient in its totality, in its spatial but also in its temporal totality, the rhythm of messianic nature, is happiness. For nature is messianic by reason of its eternal and total passing away. To strive for such a passing away—even the passing away of those stages of man that are nature—is the task of world politics, whose method must be called nihilism.116

In Benjamin’s nihilism, caducity (as eternal caducity) is the nonontological foundation of profane history. It is not, however, as close as Taubes believes it is to the Pauline os me as a negation of the terrestrial world and a destructive antinomianism that can absolutely destroy the world, but is, rather an anarchic, revolutionary, positive, and materialist vision.117 That is, Benjamin’s nihilism is an affirmation of the world, nature, and humankind’s needs. Nature and needs await redemption by the Spirit (for Benjamin, the Messiah who, according to the Judaic conception, has not yet come), but obtain that redemption specifically by remaining body: “nature is messianic by reason of its eternal and total passing away,”118 in happiness and memory: the image of happiness we cherish is thoroughly colored by the time to which the course of our own existence has assigned us. There is happiness—such as could arouse envy in us—only in the air we have breathed, among people we could have talked to, women who could have given themselves to us. In other words, the idea of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the idea of redemption. The same applies to the idea of the past, which is the concern of history. The past carries with it a secret index by which it is referred to redemption. . . . If so, then there is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Then our coming was expected on earth. Then like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power on which the past has a claim. Such a claim cannot be settled cheaply. The historical materialist is aware of this.119 (These II)



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The “weak messianic power” is not a negation of the world but its affirmation, in the definition of the political as “the fulfillment of an unimproved humanity.”120 Art, politics, and history are all possibilities for a historical, critical, and redemptive chance; they are conceptual and linguistic locations (with the phenomenon of origin, the dialectical image, and the concept of history) for a redemption of the human that remains faithful to contingency. NOTES 1. Jacob Taubes, “Carl Schmitt: ein Apokaliptiker der Gegenrevolution,” in Ad Carl Schmitt. Gegenstrebige Fügung (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1987), 27. Engl. trans. Jacob Taubes, To Carl Schmitt. Letters and Reflections, trans. Keith Tribe, Introd. Mike Grimshaw (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 16–17 (trans. modified). Cf. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Band III. 1925–1930, ed. Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1997), 558. 2. Walter Benjamin, “Lebensläufe,” in GS, VI, 219. Engl. trans. “Curriculum III,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings. 1927–1930, Vol. 2.1, ed. Michael W. Jenning, Howard Eiland, Gary Smith, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 77–79, here: 78. 3. Ibid. On Benjamin’s relationship to the phenomenological eidos, cf. the previous chapter. Cf. Peter Fenves, “The Genesis of Judgment: Spatiality, Analogy, and Metaphor in Benjamin’s ‘On Language as Such and on the Human Language’,” in Walter Benjamin. Theoretical Questions, ed. David S. Ferris (Standford: Standford University Press, 1996), 75–93. Here: 223 (note 3): “Much of the preface can be read as an attempt to displace and reinscribe the methodological implications of discrete phenomenological research into ‘ideas’ or ‘essences’: in the place of a Wesenschau (‘intuition of essence’), Benjamin proposes something like a Wesensvernehmen (‘primordial listening to essence) in which every essence escapes his otherwise ineluctable phenomenalization (see I: 216). . . . A full exploration of Benjamin’s relation to the phenomenological movement would have to begin with his ‘translation’ of the phenomenological concept of noema (‘the conceived’) into the poetological concept of das Gedichtete (‘the poeticized’) in his 1914 analysis of Hölderlin.” 4. See Walter Benjamin, “Nachträge zum Trauerspiel,” in GS, I.3, 953–955: “my concept of origin in the Trauerspiel book is a rigorous and compelling transposition of this fundamental Goethean concept from the realm of nature to that of history. ‘Origin’: that is the concept of Urphänomen as something . . . theologically and historically living, transposed to the Jewish historical context from the pagan natural context.” Engl. trans. cf. Richard Wolin, Walter Benjamin. An Aesthetic of Redemption (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 87. Cf. also Ch. 2, “The Path to Trauerspiel,” 29–77, and Ch. 3, “Ideas and theory of knowledge,” 79–106. Cf. also Nigel Dodd, “Goethe in Palermo: Urphänomen and Analogical Reasoning in Simmel and Benjamin,” Journal of Classical Sociology 8 (2008): 411–445. On Cassirer, Benjamin, and Simmel’s discussion about Goethe’s concept of Uphänomen as a rich figure, a Gestalt which is also a function and a principle of series for a multiplicity

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that must be ordered, cf. Liselotte Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschaftstheorie Walter Benjamins (Frankfurt a.M.: Athenäum, 1973), 23–24: “For Goethe, the ‘originary phenomenon’ does not testify only to itself. Rather, he writes about his studies in the natural sciences that the observation of nature ‘in general and in particular’ has compelled him to begin from a ‘type’ (Typus) . . . . The type is thus the relation of formal identity (gestaltlich), into which functionally equivalent members of a relation may enter . . . In this sense, the products [which Benjamin calls] ‘extremes’ should be understood as ‘originary phenomena’. While for Goethe the ‘originary phenomenon’ is already ‘concept’, for Benjamin the ‘extreme’ phenomenon constitutes the point of departure for the construction of the concept.” Furthermore, Wiesenthal refers to the Cassirerean concept of Grenzgebild as an ideal limit case of scientific research, which is exhibited in a concrete case to guide scientific research and represent an abstract theoretical law in a concrete experiment. In Benjamin’s “theory of extremes,” scientific concepts would be “exemplified” in ideal concrete cases (cf. Liselotte Wiesenthal, Zur Wissenschaftstheorie Walter Benjamins, 7–33, and Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 210–214). 5. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS. I.1, 226–227. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (New York: Verso, 2009), 45ff. 6. Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Essays, trans. Daniel Garber and Roger Ariew (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1991) (originally publ. as Discours de Métaphysique, 1686). 7. Cf. ibid. 228; Engl. trans. 47–48. 8. Paula L. Schwebel, “Intensive Infinity: Walter Benjamin’s Reception of Leibniz and its Sources,” in Julia Ng and R. Tobias (ed.), “Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School,” Modern Language Notes 127.3 (2012): 589–610. Here: 601–604. Paula Schwebel points out the figure of Hermann Cohen and of Heinz Heimsoeth as an important source for Benjamin’s interpretation of Leibniz. See Hermann Cohen, Das Prinzip der Infinitesimal-Methode und seine Geschichte. Ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Erkenntniskritik (1883), in Werke, vol. 5.1, HermannCohen-Archiv, dir. and ed. H. Holzhey (Hildesheim-New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977-); Heinz Heimsoeth, “Leibniz’ Weltanschauung als Ursprung seiner Gedankenwelt: Zum 200. Todestage des Denkers am 14. November 1916,” Kantstudien (1917): 365–395. For the reference to Heimsoeth, see the list of works read by Benjamin in Walter Benjamin, GS, VII, 443. On Benjamin and Leibniz cf. Fabrizio Desideri, “Intermittency: The Differential of Time and the Integral of Space. The Intensive Spatiality of the Monad, the Apokatastasis and the Messianic World in Benjamin’s Latest Thinking,” Aisthesis 9/1 (2016): 177–187. 9. Cf. Paula L. Schwebel, “Intensive Infinity: Walter Benjamin’s Reception of Leibniz and its Sources,” in Julia Ng and R. Tobias (ed.), “Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School,” Modern Language Notes 127.3 (2012): 589–610. Here: 604. 10. Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Goethe und die mathematische Physik, in Idee und Gestalt: Goethe, Schiller, Hölderlin, Kleist (Berlin 1921, 2nd ed. 1924), reprint of the 2nd ed. in (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971), 49, cf. also Ernst Cassirer,



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Freiheit und Form (1916), Bruno Cassirer, Berlin 1916; reprint in (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 3rd ed. 1961, 4th ed. 1975), 238. 11. Cf. Massimo Ferrari, Ernst Cassirer. Dalla scuola di Marburgo alla filosofia della cultura, (Leo S. Olschki: Florence, 1996), 45–110 and ch. VI, “Fonti leibniziane della ‘Filosofia delle forme simboliche,’ ” 171–190. As Ferrari shows in Il giovane Cassirer e la scuola di Marburgo (Franco Angeli, Milan, 1988), 286, already in Substance and Function (1910), Cassirer puts into relief the function of the symbol for scientific knowledge, that is, the relation between phenomenal representation and ideal dimension, in reference to P. M Duhem’s text, La theorie physique, son objet et sa structure (Paris, 1907). The first reference to the function of the symbol, however, is found in the first volume of Leibniz’s Hauptschriften, edited by Cassirer himself, completed in 1903, and published in 1904 (G. W. Leibniz, Hauptschriften zur Grundlegung der Philosophie, trans. A. Buchenau. Durchgesehen und mit Einleitungen und Erläuterungen hrsg. von E. Cassirer (Hamburg: Meiner, 3rd ed. 1966, 2 vols.)). It is therefore linked to Cassirer’s interpretation of Leibniz. Cf. Massimo Ferrari, “Sources for the History of the Concept of Symbol from Leibniz to Cassirer,” in Massimo Ferrari, ed. Ion-Olimpiu Stamatescu, Symbol and Physical Knowledge: On the Conceptual Structure of Physics (Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer, 2002), 3–32. Cf. Tamara Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, op. cit., 131–170. For more on the relation of Benjamin to Cassirer, cf. Stephanie Waldow, Der Mythos der reinen Sprache. Walter Benjamin, Ernst Cassirer, Hans Blumenberg (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2006). 12. On Cassirer and Goethe, cf. John M. Krois, Cassirer: Symbolic Forms and History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987), 176–180. 13. Cf. Ernst Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit, vol. IV, Die nachhegelianischen Systeme (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer Verlag, 1957), 153; Engl. trans. “The Problem of Knowledge: Philosophy, Science and History Since Hegel” trans. Charles William Hendel Jr., William H. Woglom, (Yale: Yale University Press), 1969: “According to Goethe, there is no relation of logical subsumption between the general and the particular, but rather a relation of ideal or symbolic representation.” (trans. amended) 14. Massimo Ferrari, Ernst Cassirer. Dalla scuola di Marburgo alla filosofia della cultura, op. cit., 65. 15. On Benjamin, Leibniz and language, cf. Paula L. Schwebel, “Constellation and Expression in Benjamin and Leibniz,” in Thinking in Constellations: Walter Benjamin in the Humanities, ed. Nassima Sahraui and Caroline Sauter (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017; forthcoming). 16. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 216; Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 36. 17. Leibniz appeals to Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis in the “Discourse on Metaphysics,” §26. On Leibniz and language and Leibniz’s Adamicism, cf. Hans Aarsleff, “Leibniz and Locke on Language,” American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1964): 165–188; D. P. Walker, “Leibniz and Language,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 35 (1972): 294–307; Jean-François Courtine, “Leibniz et la langue Adamique,” Revue des Sciences philosophiques et theologiques 64 (1980): 373–391;

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Michael Losonsky, “Leibniz’s Adamic Language of Thought,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 30 (1992): 523–543; Marcelo Dascal and Elhanan Yakira, eds., Leibniz and Adam (Tel Aviv: University Publishing Projects Ltd., 1993). 18. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 216; Engl. trans. 36–37. In 1915 Benjamin read Elisabeth Rotten’s Goethe’s Urphänomen und die platonische Idee (Giessen: A. Topelmann, 2013). Rotten was a student of Natorp’s. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, eds. Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz, (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1995), 292, 295. In “Nachträge zum Trauerpiel” (GS I.3, 953–955). Reference is also made to Georg Simmel, Kant und Goethe (Berlin: Marquardt, 1906). 19. Cf. Bram Mertens, Dark Images, Secret Hints. Benjamin, Scholem, Molitor and the Jewish Tradition (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), 133–159; Tamara Tagliacozzo, ed., “Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and Language,” Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 2 (2014). 20. Richard Wolin, Walter Benjamin. An Aesthetic of Redemption, op. cit., 38–39. Here: 39. 21. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in Walter Benjamin, GS I.2, op. cit., 703. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940. Vol. 4. Engl. trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 389–400. Here: 396. 22. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, 595– 596, N 11, 4. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Transl. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 476 (trans. modified). Note the reference to Kant in the mention of gesunden Menschenverstand, and the theory of experience that Benjamin develops in response to Kant in the 1917/18 essay On the Program of the Coming Philosophy. See also a preceding passage in the Passagen-Werk: “In the dialectical image, what has been within a particular epoch is always, simultaneously, ‘what has been from time immemorial.’ As such, however, it is manifest, on each occasion, only to a quite specific epoch—namely, the one in which humanity, rubbing its eyes, recognizes just this particular dream image as such. It is at this moment that the historian takes up, with regard to that image, the task of dream interpretation.” (ibid. 580, N 4, 1. Engl. trans. 473) 23. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, op. cit., 591–592, N 9, 7. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 473. 24. Ibid. 596, N 11, 5. Engl. trans. 476. 25. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, op. cit., 203–430, 226. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 45f. Cf. a passage in The Arcades Project referencing Goethe’s synthesis between phenomenon and idea: “The dialectic image is that form of the historical object that satisfies the requirements that Goethe posits for the object of an analysis: to demonstrate a true synthesis. This is the original phenomenon of history.” (Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, op. cit., N 9a, 4, 592. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 474.)



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26. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in Walter Benjamin, GS I.2, op. cit., 703. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, vol. 4, 389–400. Here: 396. 27. Ibid. Cf. Richard Wolin, Walter Benjamin. An Aesthetic of Redemption, op. cit., 29–90. 28. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in Walter Benjamin, GS I.2, op. cit., 703. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, vol. 4, 396. 29. Ibid. 704. Engl. trans. 397. 30. Paula L. Schwebel, “Intensive Infinity: Walter Benjamin’s Reception of Leibniz and its Sources,” op. cit., 609. 31. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., GS V.1, 587–588, N 7a, 1. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, op. cit., 470. 32. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, op. cit., GS V.1, 594, N, 10, 3. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, op. cit., 475. 33. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, op. cit., GS V.1, 593, N 10, 2. Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, op. cit., 474. 34. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, 203–430. Engl. trans. Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 33–36. 35. Cf. Sami Khatib, “Walter Benjamin and the Subject of Historical Cognition,” in Walter Benjamin Unbound, Special Issue of Annals of Scholarship 21.1/2 (2014): 23–42. Here: 23: “. . . historical cognition is not structured by ahistorical transcendental forms but always already imprinted by a ‘historical index’ (AP: N 3,1), which is bound to the experience of a political subject at a particular time.” 36. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Wahrnehmung ist lesen” [1917], in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 32. Engl. trans. “Perception is Reading,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Volume 1: 1913–1926. Ed. and trans. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1996), 92: “Inability of the masses to distinguish between knowledge and perception. Perception refers to symbols.” 37. Cfr. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, op. cit., 578, N 3,2. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, op. cit., 474. 38. See Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 2–3, 44–78. Here: 3: “The term time in this case [doesn’t refer] . . . to the time of “inner-time consciousness” (Husserl) . . . but, rather, to a ‘plastic’ time, which is shaped in such a way that its course is wholly without direction, hence without past, present, or future, as they are generally understood.” On the critique of the theory of knowledge as a subject-object relation, still present in Kant, cf. above, Chapter I, and Walter Benjamin, On the Program, 103. See also Walter Benjamin, “Theory of Knowledge” [1920–1921], In Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1, 276–278. Here: 276. 39. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V, op. cit., 577–578, N 3,1; The citation has been modified. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 462, 463.

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40. See Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntnistheorie,” in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 45–46. Engl. trans. “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1, op. cit., 276–278. 41. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. II. 1919–1924, eds. Christoph Gödde and Henri Lonitz (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1996), 393–394. Engl. trans. The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin. 1910–1940, ed. and annot. Gershom Scholem and Theodor Adorno, trans. Manfred R. Jacobson and Eveyn M. Jacobson (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994, 2012), 224 (trans. modified). Cf. ibid. the reference to Leibniz: “Philosophy must name ideas the way Adam did with nature, to supersede them—ideas are nature returned. For the determination of ideas, I adopt the concept of monad from the comprehensive conception of Leibniz, the same that you evoke when you say ideas are the same as numbers—since for Leibniz the discontinuity of whole numbers was a decisive phenomenon for the doctrine of monads, which seems to me to represent the synthesis of a theory of ideas: the task of interpretation of works of art is to gather creatural life in the idea. To fix it.” (Engl. trans. 224–225, modified). 42. Cf. Benjamin’s fragment, attributed by editors to the period 1920–1921, ca. “Erkenntnistheorie,” in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 45–46, in particular 46. Engl. trans. “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1., op. cit., 276–277. 43. Cf. the 1918 fragment “Versuch eines Beweises, dass die wissenschaftliche Beschreibung eines Vorgangs dessen Erklärung voraussetzt” (“Effort to demonstrate that the description of a scientific process presupposes its explanation”), ibid. 41. 44. Cf. the section “Die Idee der Kunst” (“The Idea of Art”) in Benjamin’s essay Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik [1919], in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, op. cit., 87–109. Engl. trans. “The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1, 116–200. Here: 165–178. 45. Walter Benjamin, “Erkenntnistheorie” [1920–21], in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 46. Engl. transl. Walter Benjamin, “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Vol. 1, 276–277. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid. 45–46. Engl. trans. ibid. 277. 48. Ibid. 45–46. Engl. trans. ibid. 276. 49. Ibid. 50. Immanuel Kant, Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Werkausgabe. Vol. III, B 178,188. Engl. transl. The Critique of Pure Reason, 272. 51. Walter Benjamin, Erkenntnistheorie, in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 46. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1., op. cit., 276–278. Here: 276. Cf. the same expression in Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, op. cit., 578, N 10, 2. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, op. cit., 475. 52. Cf. the fragment “Über die Wahrnehmug. Erfahrung und Erkenntnis” [1917], in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 37–38. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On Perception,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1., op. cit., 93–96. Here: 96: “Philosophy is absolute experience deduced in a systemic, symbolic framework as



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language. Absolute experience is, in the view of philosophy, language—language understood, however, as systemic, symbolic concept.” Cf. the 1916 essay “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen,” in Walter Benjamin, GS II.1, op. cit., 140–157. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1, op. cit., 62–74. 53. Cf. Chapter I. Cf. Tamara Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 333–447. 54. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, op. cit., 592, N 9, 8. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, op. cit., 473. Electronic source. 55. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Walter Benjamin, GS V.1, op. cit., 595–96, N 11, 4. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 476 (translation modified). 56. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Hamburg: Meiner, 1990), § 40, 144 (157). Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. and trans. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 173. Cf. ibid. the “Preface,” 3. Engl. trans. 56: “nothing other than this very faculty [of the power of judgment] is meant by the name of sound understanding (gemeine Verstand).” Cf. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft wird auftreten können, ed. Karl Vorländer (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1976), 139 (369). Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, ed. and trans. Gary Hatfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 118, electronic source: “For what is sound common sense (gesunde Verstand)? It is the ordinary understanding (gemeine Verstand), insofar as it judges correctly. And what now is the ordinary understanding? It is the faculty of cognition and of the use of rules in concreto, as distinguished from the speculative understanding, which is a faculty of the cognition of rules in abstracto.” Cf. Angela Taraborrelli, Cosmopolitismo. Dal cittadino del mondo al mondo dei cittadini. Saggio su Kant (Trieste: Asterios, 2004), 108–112. 57. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, §IV, 15–16 (XXVI). Engl. trans. 66–67. Here: 67: “If, however, only the particular is given, for which the universal is to be found, then the power of judgment is merely reflecting.” Sami Khatib identifies the origin of Benjamin’s term Teleologie ohne Endzweck (teleology without a final end) in the Kantian term Zweckmäßigkeit ohne Zweck (purposiveness without an end): cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilsktaft (Hamburg: Meiner, 1990), §15, 67. Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, op. cit., 112. Cf. Sami Khatib, Teleologie ohne Endzweck. Walter Benjamins Ent-Stellung des Messianischen (Marburg: Tectum, 2013), 383. 58. Cf. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in GS V.1, op. cit., 591. Cf. ibid. 591, N 9, 3. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 473 (trans. modified): “The concept of ‘rescue’: the wind of the absolute in the sails of the concept (the principle of the wind is the cyclic element). The trim of the sails is the relative.” On the epistemological problems of Benjamin’s philosophy of history, cf. Pierfrancesco Fiorato, “ ‘Zeitlos und dennoch nicht ohne historischen Belang’. Über die idealen Zusammenhänge der Geschichte bei dem jungen Benjamin und Hermann

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Cohen,” MLN 127 (2012): 611–624. For a possible relation between Benjamin and Frege on the conception of sails as concepts/signs/words, cf. above, Chapter I. 59. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in GS V.1, op. cit., 591, N 9. 7. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 473. Electronic source. 60. Ibid. K 1, 3, 491. Engl. trans. 389. 61. H. Hohenegger, “Walter Benjamin. Immagini dialettiche e schematismo storico,” in G. Di Giacomo (ed.), Ripensare le immagini (Milan-Udine: Mimesis Edizioni, 2010), 56. Cf. ibid., 52–54: “From Leibniz’s monad, Benjamin conserves the simultaneous presence of the practical and the cognitive moments, but in Benjamin’s case the simultaneity is not equivocal but dialectical. What emerges on one hand is the primacy of the political in history (of action over representation), because it is precisely the irruption of the present into the past (‘the tiger’s leap into the past’) that renders the past intelligible. On the other hand, it is the dialectical image, as a cognitive claim, that triggers the dormant energies into action. . . . The dialectical image is ‘a true synthesis [eine echte Synthesis]’ (PW 592, N 9a, 4) because it is an irreducible monad of all forces in a logical calculus of the maximization of essence, but most of all a suspension of instrumentality, an aesthetic enchantment, and thus simply an opening into a space of possibility.” On Benjamin’s “dialectical schematism” cf. ibid. 46: “[the dialectical image] illustrates at one and the same time the necessity and impossibility of the union of the universality of the idea with the individuality of a phenomenon . . . . ” 62. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in GS V.1, op. cit., K 1,3, 491. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 389. Electronic source. 63. Walter Benjamin, “Das Leben der Studenten,” in Walter Benjamin, GS II.1, 75–87. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “The Life of Students,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1, op. cit., 18–36. 64. On the genealogy of the term cfr. Fabrizio Desideri, “Ad vocem Jetztzeit,” in Fabrizio Desideri, La porta della giustizia (Bologna: Pendragon, 1995), 153–165. 65. Walter Benjamin, Trauerspiel und Tragödie (1916), in ibid. GS II.1, op. cit., 134. Translation modified. Walter Benjamin, “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 1., 55–57. Here: 55f. 66. Cf. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction, 187–226, chapter 7: “The Political Counterpart to Pure Practical Reason: From Kant’s Doctrine of Right to Benjamin’s Category of Justice.” 67. Psalm, 119; 137 and 142 (King James Version). 68. Isaiah, 11; 5 (King James Version). 69. Isaiah, 26; 9 (King James Version). 70. Cf. Gerardo Cunico, “Ripensare il messianismo. Introduzione,” Humanitas 60.1–2 (2005), op. cit., 5–27, 14. Cunico refers here to J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel from Its Beginning to the Completion of the Mishnah, Engl. trans. W. F. Stinespring (London: Allen & Unwin, 1956). 71. Cfr. Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality (New York: Schocken Books, 1971, 19952). The culminating point of Scholem’s project on messianism is the work that appeared in 1957 in Hebrew and in 1973 in English, Gershom Scholem, Sabbatay S.evi, the Mystical



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Messiah (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973). On the theological and political doctrine of Scholem and Benjamin, see Eric Jacobson, Metaphisics of the Profane. The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). Cf. also Daniel Weidner’s monograph Gershom Scholem. Politisches, esoterisches und historiographishes Schreiben (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003). On Benjamin’s messianism cf. Sami Khatib, Teleologie ohne Endzweck. Walter Benjamin Ent-stellung des Messianischen, op. cit.; Fabrizio Desideri, “Il Messia di Benjamin,” Humanitas 60.1–2 (2005): 278–302. 72. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 70. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, op. cit., 389–400. Here: 395. 73. Ibid. 74. On Benjamin’s “romantic” and messianic anarchism, cfr. Michaël Löwy, “L’anarchisme messianique de Walter Benjamin,” Les Temps Modernes 40 (1983): 772–794, and ibid. Rédemption et utopie. Le judaïsme libertaire en Europe centrale. Une étude d’affinité elective (Paris: PUF, 1988). On the Theses see Dario Gentili, Il tempo della storia. Le tesi “sul concetto di storia di Walter Benjamin” (Napoli: Guida, 2002). See also Michaël Löwy, Walter Benjamin. Avertissement d’incendie. Une lecture des thèses “Sur le concept d’histoire” (Paris: PUF, 2001). 75. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 694. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, 389–400. Here: 390. 76. On the neo-Kantian theme of the “infinite task,” interpreted by Benjamin in ethical-religious terms, cf. Tamara Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, op. cit. On the “ideal” see Hermann Cohen, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (1919) (Wiesbaden: Fourier, 3rd ed. 1988) (a. r. ed. Frankfurt a.M.: Kaufmann, 1929), 291–292. Engl. trans. Religion of Reason Out of the Sources of Judaism, trans. with an Introduction by Simon Kaplan, Introductory essays by Leo Strauss, Introductory essays for the second edition by Steven S. Schwarzchild and Kenneth Seeskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed. 1995) (my translation): 29. “The messianic future is the first conscious expression of opposition to the conception of the empirical sense of moral values. This may be simply designated as the ideal, in opposition to effectual reality . . . the new of a future. . . . Thus arises the notion of history for humanity and its people. . . . Humanity . . . [is] an idea.” Benjamin was reading Cohen’s Religion in 1920 (cf. Benjamin’s letter to G. Scholem, 1-XII-1920, in Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, vol. II (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1996), 107.). For a comparison between Cohen’s and Benjamin’s messianism, see also Hennig Günther, “Der Messianismus von Hermann Cohen und Walter Benjamin,” Emuna. Horizonte zur Diskussion über Israel und das Judentum 5/6 (Nov-Dec. 1974): 352–359. Cf. Pierfrancesco Fiorato, “Notes on Future and History in Hermann Cohen’s Anti-Eschatological Messianism,” in Reinier Munk, ed., Hermann Cohen’s Critical Idealism (Dordrecht: Springer, 2005), 133–160. A possible source of Cohen’s messianism for Benjamin may have been the essay Das Gottesreich, in which Cohen identified the Reign of God and the Reign of the Messiah, published by Cohen in 1913, in Hermann Cohen, Soziale Ethik im Judentum, ed.

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Verband der Deutschen Juden (Frankfurt a.M.: J. Kauffmann, 1913), 120–127 (now in Hermann Cohen, Kleine Schriften V 1913–1915, in H. Cohen, Werke vol 16, op. cit., 41–50). 77. On the divine Gewalt cfr. Walter Benjamin, “Zur Kritik der Gewalt,” in ibid. GS II.1, op. cit., 179–203. Engl. trans. “Critique of Violence,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, vol. 1, 236–252. Cf. on the theme of violence and divine violence in Benjamin in relation to the political philosophy of Kant, Massimiliano Tomba, “La vera politica.” Kant e Benjamin: la possibilità della giustizia (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2006). Cf. also Massimiliano Tomba, “Another Kind of Gewalt: Beyond Law. ReReading Walter Benjamin,” Historical Materialism 17:1 (2009): 126–144. Cf. also his “Justice: Walter Benjamin and the Time of Anticipation,” https://benjaminonjustice.wordpress.com, paper presented at Goldsmith College, London, April 28, 2016. 78. Walter Benjamin, Anmerkungen zu Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.3, op. cit., 1231, Ms 1098v. Engl. trans. “Paralipomena to ‘On the Concept of History,’ ” thesis XVIIa, in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, 401–411. Here: 401–402. 79. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in ibid. GS V.1, op. cit., 591–592, N 9, 7. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 2002, 473. 80. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 700. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, op. cit., 394, thesis XII. 81. Sami Khatib, “Walter Benjamin and the Subject of Historical Cognition,” in Walter Benjamin Unbound, 23. Cf. ibid.: “In the preparatory notes on the Theses, [Benjamin] . . . adds a further clarification: ‘This subject is certainly not a transcendental subject, but the struggling, oppressed class in its most exposed situation. There is historical cognition for them (this class) only and for them only in a historical instant’ [GS, I, 1243].” (my translation) 82. Walter Benjamin, Erkenntnistheorie (1920–1921), in Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 46. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “Theory of Knowledge,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Vol. 1., op. cit., 276: “Two things must be overcome: 1. The false disjunction: knowledge is either in the consciousness of a knowing subject or else in the object (alternatively, identical with it). 2) The appearance of the knowing man (for example, Leibniz, Kant).” 83. Sami Khatib, “Walter Benjamin and Subject of Historical Cognition,” in Walter Benjamin Unbound, 23. 84. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in ibid. GS V.1, op. cit., 577, N 2a, 3. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project., op. cit., 462: “For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of what has been to the now is dialectical: is not progression but image, suddenly emergent.—Only dialectical images are genuine images (that is, not archaic); and the place where one encounters them is language.” For Benjamin’s critique of temporal continuo, cf. Julia Ng, “Acts of Time: Cohen and Benjamin on Mathematics and History,” Paradigmi, XXXV, 1 (2017): 41–60. Cf. Fabrizio Desideri, “Intermittency: the differential of time and the integral of space. The intensive spatiality of the Monad, the Apokatastasis and the Messianic World in Benjamin’s latest thinking,” Aisthesis 1 (2016): 177–184.



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85. Cf. Samuel Weber, Benjamin’s -abilities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 13. 86. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in ibid. GS V.2, op. cit., 1038, Qo 21 (“Erste Entwürfe”). Engl. transl. The Arcades Project., op. cit., 867 (“First Sketches”). 87. Cf. Peter Fenves, The Messianic Reduction. Walter Benjamin and the Shape of Time (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 106–113, 242. Cf. Julia Ng, “Acts of Time: Cohen and Benjamin on Mathematics and History,” Paradigmi 1 (2017). Cf. Sami Khatib, “Walter Benjamin and the Subject of Historical Cognition,” in Walter Benjamin Unbound 39, fn. 18: “Peter Fenves has suggested that this unimaginable shape of time can be conceived mathematically with reference to the so-called ‘Weierstraß function’ and the ‘Koch curve’, which Benjamin was acquainted with.” 88. Cf. Das Passagen-Werk, in ibid. GS V.1, op. cit., 587–588, N 7a, I. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 470: “every dialectically presented historical circumstance polarizes itself and becomes a force field in which the confrontation between its fore-history and after-history is played out. It becomes such a field insofar as the present instant (Aktualität) interpenetrates it.” 89. Walter Benjamin, “Das Leben der Studenten” (1914/1915), in ibid. GS II.1, op. cit., 75. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “The Life of Students,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, vol. 1, 37–47. Here: 37. 90. Cf. “Erkenntniskritische Vorrede,” in Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in ibid. GS I.1, op. cit., 207–237. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 27–56. 91. Cf. ibid. 216. Engl. trans. 36. 92. Cf. M. Tomba, La “vera politica,” op. cit., 206–255, in particular the section Göttliche Gewalt, 251–255. 93. Walter Benjamin, “Über den Begriff der Geschichte” (thesis I), in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 693. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, op. cit., 389–400. Here: 389. 94. Ibid. 695 (thesis V). Engl. trans. 390f. 95. Walter Benjamin, Anmerkungen zu Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.3, op. cit., 1247, Ms 440 (my translation). 96. Transcribed by Josef R. Lawischka, who was present at the seminar, and first edited and translated into Italian with the title “Le Tesi di filosofia della storia di Walter Benjamin” in an Italian collection of Taubes’s writings and his letters to Gershom Scholem, ed. Elettra Stimilli. Cf. Jacob Taubes, Il prezzo del messianesimo. Lettere di Jacob Taubes a Gershom Scholem e altri scritti (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2000), 75–104 (new expanded edition, Quodlibet, Macerata 2017). Cf. Elettra Stimilli, Il messianesimo come problema politico, ibid. 153–202. The German edition, with the writings and letters in the original German, has been available since 2006: cf. Jacob Taubes, “Walter Benjamin; Geschichtsphilosophischen Thesen,” in Der Preis des Messianismus. Briefe von Jacob Taubes an Gershom Scholem und anderen Materialen, ed. Elettra Stimilli (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2006), 67–92. There is also an English version of the seminar: Jacob Taubes, “Seminar Notes on Walter Benjamins ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ ” in Colby

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Dickinson and Stéphane Symons (eds.), Walter Benjamin and Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016), 179–214. In this volume, on the theme of the transitory, fleeting condition of the living as a foundation of Benjamin’s messianism, see Annika Thiem, “Benjamin’s Messianic Metaphysics of Transience,” in Colby Dickinson and Stéphane Symons (eds.), Walter Benjamin and Theology, op. cit., 21–55. On Taubes, see the important monograph by Elettra Stimilli, Jacob Taubes, (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2004). 97. Jacob Taubes, Le Tesi di filosofia della storia di Walter Benjamin, in ibid. Il prezzo del messianesimo, op. cit., 77. Der Preis des Messianismus, 69; Engl. trans. 184 (adapted). 98. Ibid. 78; Der Preis des Messianismus, 70. Engl. trans. 185 (adapted). 99. Ibid. 79; Der Preis der Messianismus, 71. Engl. trans. 186 (adapted). 100. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in ibid. GS V.1, op. cit, 589, N, 8, 1: “Such mindfulness can make the incomplete (happiness) into something complete, and the complete (suffering) into something incomplete. That is theology; but in remembrance (Eingedenken) we have an experience that forbids us to conceive of history as fundamentally atheological, little as it may be granted us to try to write it with immediately theological concepts.” Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 471. Electronic source. 101. Jacob Taubes, Le Tesi di filosofia della storia di Walter Benjamin, in ibid. Il prezzo del messianesimo, op. cit., 81. ibid. Der Preis der Messianismus, 72. Engl. trans. 187 (adapted). 102. Ibid.; Der Preis des Messianismus, 73. Engl. trans. 188. 103. The relation between the theological and political dimensions in the messianic intensity of the Theological-Political Fragment (which we will make mention of later) and then in the Theses is analyzed by Taubes in his comparison of Benjamin with Paul of Tarsus in Jacob Taubes, Die politiche Theologie des Paulus, A. and J. Asmann (eds.) (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1993); English edition, Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, trans. Dana Hollander (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003). Giorgio Agamben makes the same parallel between Benjamin and Paul but goes farther than Taubes, hypothesizing an actual identification of Benjamin with Paul. Cf. G. Agamben, Il tempo che resta. Un commento alla Lettera ai Romani (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2000), 128–135; in particular 129–130: “Actually, I know only one text that explicitly theorizes the weakness of messianic power. That is . . . the passage in 2 Cor. 12, 9–10 . . . where Paul, who has asked the Messiah to free him from the thorn in his flesh, hears the answer . . . ‘power is fulfilled in weakness’ ” Engl. trans. The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005). 104. Jacob Taubes, Le Tesi di filosofia della storia di Walter Benjamin, in ibid. Il prezzo del messianesimo, op. cit., 81. Der Preis des Messianismus, 72. Engl. trans. 187 (adapted). 105. Ibid. 80–83. Der Preis des Messianismus, 71–74. Engl. trans. 186–189 (adapted). 106. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 697. Engl. trans. “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, 390.



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107. Jacob Taubes, Le Tesi di filosofia della storia di Walter Benjamin, in ibid. Il prezzo del messianesimo, op. cit., 86. Der Preis des Messinismus, 76. Engl. trans. 191 (adapted). 108. Ibid. 83–84. Der Preis des Messianismus, 74–76. Engl. trans. 189–191 (adapted). 109. Cf. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie. Vier Kapitel zur Lehre von der Souveränität (1922) (München—Leipzig: Dunker & Humblot, 1934). Engl. trans. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985, 2005) (my translation): “Sovereign is he who decides on the state of exception.” In the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, Benjamin utilizes Schmitt’s text, which links the concept of the state of exception to the seventeenth-century theory of sovereignty, to illustrate the figure of the sovereign in German baroque drama. 110. Cf. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie, op. cit. Engl. trans. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology. Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, op. cit., 36: “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts . . . The state of exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only we can appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries. The idea of the modern constitutional state triumphed together with deism, a theology and metaphysics that banished the miracle from the world. This theology and metaphysics, as it is found in the idea of the miracle, rejected not only the transgression of the laws of nature through an exception brought about by direct intervention, as it is found in the idea of a miracle, but also the sovereign’s direct intervention in a valid legal order.” 111. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in ibid. GS I.2, op. cit., 694. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, 392. 112. Jacob Taubes points to the identity of the worldly and the spiritual in Schmitt’s conception of power, indicating it as the essence of Schmitt’s totalizing conception, and he follows Benjamin in criticizing that claim of identity. Cf. J. Taubes, Ad Carl Schmitt. Gegenstrebige Fügung (Berlin: Merve GmbH, 1987). Engl. trans. Jacob Taubes, To Carl Schmit: Letters and Reflections (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013): “You see what I want from Carl Schmitt: to demonstrate to him that the separation of worldly from spiritual power is absolutely necessary. If this border is not marked out, we won’t be able to breathe. This is what I wanted to get into his soul, against his totalitarian conception.” (my translation). Cf. Udo E. Greenberg, “Orthodox Violence: ‘Critique of Violence’ and Walter Benjamin’s Jewish Political Theology,” History of European Ideas 34:3 (2008): 324–333; Here, 332: “[Benjamin] contradicts Schmitt’s assertion that . . . [all] political questions should be debated in the light of [Christian Theology]. . . . Benjamin used a different model of the relationship between law and theology—that of Orthodox Judaism—according to which the sovereignty of the deity contradicts earthly sovereignty, and thus law contradicts history.” Cf. also Fabrizio Desideri, “Il Messia di Benjamin,” Humanitas, op. cit., 280: “In turning a destructive gesture toward history, which can only be theological, Benjamin corresponds with the establishing precept of Judaism, ‘Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image’ of the Name of God. With this gesture, he distances

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himself . . . from Schmitt’s isomorphism between theological-metaphysical form and political form. An idolatrous image of the divine . . . is incarnated . . . in the equation between history and progress or in its being absolutized historically in a naked matter of process.” 113. Marc de Welde, “Meeting Opposites: The Political Theologies of Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 44.4 (2011): 363–381. Here: 365–366. Cf. also 366: “Political theology in their writing refers not to an identity of theology and politics but to the (re)appearance of theological figures of thought in a political sphere that has become exposed to processes of secularization and neutralization. . . . As a result, it has become inadmissible or even impossible to refer directly to theological categories in the public sphere, even though they continue to haunt our understanding of the political. Here, we have left the sphere of direct and explicit identifications and entered into that of an indirect language, of translations and analogies.” Norbert Bolz analyzes the relation of both authors to Weberian theory: cf. Norbert Bolz, “Charisma und Souveränität: Carl Schmitt und Walter Benjamin im Schatten Max Webers,” in Der Fürst dieser Welt: Carl Schmitt und die Folgen, ed. Jacob Taubes (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1983), 249–262. On the relation between Benjamin and Schmitt, cf. S. Heil, “Gefährliche Beziehungen.” Walter Benjamin und Carl Schmitt (Stuttgart: J. M. Metzler Verlag, 1996). Cf. also D. Gentili, Il tempo della storia, op. cit., 85, 129–140. 114. On the relation between Bloch and Benjamin, cfr. Stefano Marchesoni, Walter Benjamins Konzept des Eingedenkens (Kadmos: Berlin, 2016). 115. Walter Benjamin, “Theologish-politisches Fragment,” in GS II.1, op. cit., 204. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “Theologico-Political Fragment,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Vol. 3: 1935–1938, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge: Belknap, 2006), 305–306. Here: 305. 116. Ibid. 203–204; Engl. trans. W. Benjamin, “Theologico-Political Fragment.” In Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings. Vol. 3: 1935–1938, 305–306. 117. Cf. Phillip Homburg, Walter Benjamin and “Materialism” (PhD diss., University of Sussex, 2015), Electronic source. Cf. Phillip Homburg, Walter Benjamin and the Post-Kantian Tradition (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). 118. Walter Benjamin, Theologisch-politisches Fragment, in GS II.1, op. cit., 204. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin “Theologico-Political Fragment,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Vol. 3: 1935–1938, 305–306. 119. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in GS I.2, op. cit., 693– 694, Thesis II. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings 1938–1940, Vol. 4, 389f. 120. Walter Benjamin, “Welt und Zeit” [Fragment 73, 1919–1920], in GS IV, op. cit., 98–100. Here: 99. Engl. trans. “World and Time,” in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings, Vol. 1, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2004), 226–227. Here: 226.

Chapter 3

The “Constellation” of Capitalism: Walter Benjamin and Max Weber

In the chapter section “Constellation in Science” in Negative Dialectics, Theodor Adorno elucidates his concept of “constellation,” but does not build upon the version of the concept developed by Walter Benjamin in his Prologue to The Origin of German Tragic Drama, which Adorno describes as the fruit of “metaphysical inquiries . . . which take the very concept of truth for a constellation.”1 Instead, Adorno makes very precise use of the theory of “ideal types” illustrated by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Especially in his choice of citations, Adorno puts into relief how in Weber, historical concepts (in this case the “spirit of capitalism”) cannot be defined through abstract generic concepts, but must be gradually composed out of constituent elements taken from historical reality. Inasmuch as historical concepts seek to reconstruct a given phenomenon by exploring its genesis, development, and causal connections, Adorno asserts that the object of historical concepts is to identify “historical individuals” who can be examined in concrete genetic connections of an individual type. The definitive conceptual formulation is therefore found not at the beginning, but at the end of the investigation: When Weber, in his treatise on Protestant Ethics and The Spirit of Capitalism, raised the question of defining capitalism, he—in contrast with current scientific practice—was as well aware of the difficulty of defining historical concepts as previously only philosophers had been: Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche. He explicitly rejected the delimiting procedure of definition, the adherence to the schema genus proximum, differentia specifica,2 and required instead that sociological concepts be “gradually composed out of single elements taken from historical reality. The place of definitive conceptual comprehension cannot, therefore, be the beginning of the inquiry, only the end.”3 135

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Weber’s theory of types is indicated as an example of a historical method in which a spiritual substance, created subjectively, is turned into an objective entity. This method is analogous to that of musical composition.4 The Weberian ideal types are constellations: “They are not mere conceptual fixations. Rather, by gathering concepts round the central one that is sought, they attempt to express what that concept aims at, not to circumscribe it to operative ends.”5 Thus, Adorno simplifies Weber’s method by demonstrating how a constellation of concepts can collect around the still-undefined historical concept of “capitalism,” delimiting and defining it: The concept of capitalism, for instance, which is so crucial in every respect is emphatically set off by Weber from such isolated and subjective categories as acquisitiveness or the profit motive—in a manner similar to Marx’s, by the way. In capitalism, says Weber, the oft-cited profit motive must take its bearings from the principle of lucrativity and from the market chances; organized in the form of free labor, with household and business expenses separated, capitalism necessitates bookkeeping and a rationalistic legal system in line with its pervasive governing principle of rationality at large.6 . . . But the capitalist system’s increasingly integrative trend, the fact that its elements entwine into a more and more total context of functions, is precisely what makes the old question about the cause—as opposed to the constellation—more and more precarious. We need no epistemological critique to make us pursue constellations; the search for them is forced upon us by the real course of history. In Weber’s case the constellations take the place of systematics, which one liked to tax him with lacking, and this is what proves his thinking to be a third possibility beyond the alternative of positivism and idealism.7

Adorno illustrates his vision of the constellation, opposed to that of the concept, by linking it to the capacity of language to represent (darstellen):8 a constellation is a form of knowledge that manages to penetrate, liberate, and actualize—with monadological insistence—the interior of the object, by individuating it as a sedimentation of elements, mindful of its historical function in its relations with other objects: Cognition of the object in its constellation is cognition of the process stored in the object. As a constellation, theoretical thought circles the concept it would like to unseal, hoping that it may fly open like the lock of a well-guarded safedeposit box: in response not to a single key or a single number, but to a combination of numbers.9

This definition of the object of knowledge and the method of its knowability through a constellation of concepts linked to the dimensions of language and history is very close to the conception of epistemology that Benjamin delineates in his “Epistemo-Critical Prologue” to The Origin of German



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Tragic Drama, of 1928, which Adorno cites. Benjamin illustrates his theory (or rather, his critique) of knowledge: ideas are eternal constellations and configurations of concepts, which gather, decompose, and analyze phenomena by reducing them to conceptual elements that are most precisely explicated at their extremes, in the paradoxes of historical reality, and that cannot be ironed down with universal concepts. This mediating role of concepts formed in the intellect permits both for the phenomena to be preserved and for ideas, which are linguistic,10 to be represented (dargestellt). Ideas are that which are symbolic in a word; they are names: Ideas are timeless constellations, and by virtue of the elements’ being seen as points in such constellations, phenomena are subdivided and at the same time redeemed . . . It is the function of concepts to group phenomena together . . . in that it brings about two things at a single stroke: the salvation of phenomena and the representation (Darstellung) of ideas.” . . . The truth is an intentionless state of being made up of ideas.11

The Erkenntniskritische Vorrede outlines the concept of philosophical history as a science of origin—a science of the phenomenology of origin. The originary phenomenon represents (stellt dar) the idea as a virtual review of the concepts that have represented it and will represent it in the future, and comes to define itself as a monad,12 through a path proceeding—still at the end of the 1930s, in the Passagen-Werk (The Arcades Project), and in 1940 in On the Concept of History—from the Ursprungsphänomen to the dialectical image.13 The idea, as a constellation of concepts (or of conceptual elements) virtually contained within it, is a monad (the reference here to Leibniz as the founder of monadology and infinitesimal calculus is explicit)14 that encloses within itself and delineates a foreshortened image of the world that permits a comprehension of the historical being, the phenomenon it intends to penetrate and that represents it. The infinite task of knowledge is carried out in this penetration and representation: “every idea contains the image of the world. The purpose of the representation of the idea is nothing less than an abbreviated outline of this image of the world.”15 The monadic structure of the idea as Ursprungsphänomen, which coincides with what Benjamin calls “dialectical image” in the Passagen-Werk, derives from the conceptual structure that Benjamin defines in 1917–1918 as the “concept of the infinite task.” This clearly neo-Kantian theme, derived in particular from Hermann Cohen, is the subject—its sense shifted, interpreted by Benjamin in a theologically messianic and linguistic key—of the important fragments written in 1917–1918,16 and constitutes, as expressed in the previous chapters, the topic of a doctoral thesis that Benjamin planned but that never saw the light.17 Benjamin sees in the various philosophical sciences

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(logic, ethics, aesthetics) guiding ideas for his search for a constellation of concepts.18 The infinite task is also, however, that of searching for the impossible unity of the philosophical system, which would require reference to an entity beyond conditions; to ideas. As we have seen, Benjamin’s structure of the relation between an idea (of hypothesis, of liberty, of art) and the concepts that collect around it (i.e.,, that are produced under the idea’s guidance) and that represent it (darstellen) is a structure of neo-Kantian origin, utilized and reinterpreted in terms of a theology of language. In Benjamin’s epistemological conception, the monad is a peculiar schema linked to the key term “constellation,” a dialectical image that “illustrates at one and the same time the necessity and impossibility of the union of the universality of the idea with the individuality of a phenomenon . . .[:] only one who possesses a vision that can always reinterpret anew, that is to say only one who knows the art of forming historical and dialectical schema, can think it.”19 The dialectical image that breaks the continuum of history through a cognitive construction presents itself in the “now of knowability” (Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit), in a moment of consciousness in which Benjamin’s “symbolic” schematism20 becomes actualized in an intense messianic moment, the Jetztzeit: The temporal differential [Zeitdifferenzial] in which only the dialectical image is true, is still unknown [to Hegelian dialectic]. . . . In the dialectical image, the temporal moment allows itself to be entirely determined exclusively through the encounter with another concept. This other concept is ‘the now of knowability’.21

In a discussion of the concept of causality in Weber’s essay Roscher und Knies und die logischen Probleme der historischen Nationalökonomie (Roscher and Knies: The Logical Problems of Historical Economics), it may be possible to pick out a formulation in nuce of Jetztzeit in the term Jetzt (“now” or “present” state).22 This would confirm Benjamin’s strong interest in Weber’s work: If one wants the category of causality to retain some meaning in relation to that infinity of concrete occurrences, which can never be comprehensively known, it can only be the idea of “being effected,” in the following sense: What is completely “new” within any time differential “had to” evolve from the past in exactly, and no other, way—which is actually nothing more than pointing out the fact that [the “new element”] in its “present” state [Jetzt] “came into being” purely and simply as something that was absolutely unique, but newertheless had its place within a continuum occurrence.23

As has been noted, Adorno identifies the origin of Weber’s epistemology in the Baden school, specifically in Heinrich Rickert (although he sees in Weber a greater capacity to let him be guided by the object than is found



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in neo-Kantian transcendentalism). Weber had been a colleague of Rickert in Freiburg, and Rickert’s work Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung (The Limits of Concept Formation in the Natural Sciences),24 published between 1896 and 1902, will forever remain an important point of reference for Weber. In 1912–1913, Benjamin also received instruction from Rickert, taking courses from him in Freiburg, in one of which Heidegger was a student at the same time.25 Peter Fenves has written about the meeting between Benjamin and Heidegger during Rickert’s course, “Logik (Grundlagen der theoretischen Philosophie)” (Logic [fundamentals of theoretical philosophy]), held during the summer quarter of 1913: Heidegger and Benjamin became entangled with each other in the summer of 1913, when they both attended the lectures and seminars of the neo-Kantian philosopher, Heinrich Rickert, who framed his newly introduced system of valuephilosophy around two cardinal concepts: “bare life” (bloßes Leben), which is indifferent to values, and “completed life” (vollendetes Leben), in which life acquires its own “lively” sense and direction.26

Benjamin did not have a favorable opinion of Rickert,27 although he certainly received more from him than he wished to admit (it is interesting to find in the transcription of Rickert’s lectures a concept that will become very important for Benjamin, that of bloßes Leben, mere or bare life), while he had the highest esteem, instead, for Hermann Cohen—who he frequented in Berlin—and Cohen’s System der Philosophie. The affinity of Adorno’s thought with Benjamin’s and Weber’s, and the comparison of their concepts of constellation (in Weber, “cosmos”) as applied to the historical method, allows us to bring Benjamin and Weber together. The Weberian “ideal type” appears to be a methodological instrument structurally similar to the monads of Adorno and Benjamin, but more linked to empirical historical research than to the necessity of illustrating metaphysics, as is the case with Benjamin. Weber also uses the term Darstellung,28 which carries the meaning of the exposition, representation, and exhibition of a structure within a series of concepts of historical phenomena. The ideal type presents itself as a “cosmos of conceptual connections,” a Grenzbegriff (limit-concept),29 a utopian construction that serves to orient a judgment of imputation and furnish a historical representation with “precisely expressed” linguistic and cultural “instruments.” This is an idea that, as a “genetic” concept (i.e., capable of recognizing causal connections, the origin and development of a historical phenomenon, without classifying it within a genre), comes to be represented by a system of concepts: This conceptual pattern [offered by syntheses usually designated as “ideas” of historical phenomena, like the ideal framework of the processes that take

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place in a marketplace of goods on the basis of free competition and rigorously rational conduct] brings together certain relationships and events of historical life into a complex [cosmos], which is conceived as an internally consistent system. Substantively, this construct in itself is like a utopia which has been arrived at by the analytical accentuation of certain elements of reality. Its relationship with the empirical data consists solely in the fact that where marketconditioned relationships, of the type referred to by the abstract construct are discovered or suspected to exist in reality to some extent, we can make the characteristic features of this relationship pragmatically clear and understandable by reference of an ideal-type. This procedure can be indispensable for heuristic as well expository purposes. The ideal typical concept will help to develop our skill in imputation in research: it is no “hypothesis” but it offers guidance to the construction of hypotheses. It is not a description (Darstellung) of reality but it aims to give unambiguous means of expression to such a description. It is thus the “idea” of the historically given modern society, based on an exchange economy, which is developed for us by quite the same logical principles as are used in constructing the idea of the medieval “city economy” as a “genetic” concept.30 Thus the causal relationship between the historically determinable idea which governs the conduct of men and those components of historical reality31 from which their corresponding ideal-type may be abstracted, can naturally take on a considerable number of different forms.32

It is evident here that Weber’s method—utilized in particular to define the ideal type of “capitalism” and more specifically “the spirit of capitalism”—is pragmatically oriented toward heuristic ends: despite this, the affinities with Benjamin’s historical method are quite visible in the choice of terms, in the two philosophers’ shared renunciation of already-given concepts (in favor of producing concepts guided by a regulating idea), and in the rejection of a deterministic, progressive idea of causal connection. In Weber the historical phenomenon appears determined by a constellation of causes whose fundamental categories are objective possibility and adequate causality, while in Benjamin the causal link is founded on an encounter, in a monadic phenomenon, between present and past in the messianic moment of Jezt der Erkennbarkeit. Around 1921 Benjamin composed a noted fragment, to which the editors of the Gesammelte Schriften have given the title (found in the second folio of the manuscript) Kapitalismus als Religion.33 In this text he formulates a hypothesis that goes beyond the theory Weber expounds in The Protestant Ethic (which Benjamin cites in his bibliography),34 arguing that capitalism is itself a religion, which he perceives to coincide not with Protestantism but with Christianity as a whole, since, he charges, “capitalism developed in the West—as demonstrated not only by Calvinism but by the other currents of Orthodox Christianity—as a parasite on Christianity, in such



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a way that the story of Christianity is ultimately the story of its parasite, capitalism.”35 A religion may be discerned in capitalism—that is to say, capitalism serves essentially to allay the same anxieties, torments, and disturbances to which the so-called religions offered answers. The proof of the religious structure of capitalism—not merely, as Weber believes, as a formation conditioned by religion, but as an essentially religious phenomenon—would still lead even today to the folly of an endless universal polemic. We cannot draw closed the net in which we are caught. Later on, however, we shall be able to gain an overview of it.36

My hypothesis is that in this fragment Benjamin represents a monadic idea: the idea of capitalism, just as Weber had attempted to do in his Protestant Ethic, but for his exposition of it, his Darstellung, Benjamin uses completely different concepts, while still seeking to delineate capitalism’s ideal type:37 The paradigm (Typus) of capitalist religious thought is magnificently formulated in Nietzsche’s philosophy. The idea of the Übermensch transposes the apocalyptic “leap” not into conversion (Umkehr),38 atonement, purification, and penance, but into an apparently steady, though in the final analysis explosive and discontinuous intensification.39

Benjamin lists four aspects of the structure of capitalism: that it is a purely cultic religion, devoid of dogma or theology; the cult’s permanence, demanding the maximum degree of worship at all times, without respite; that it induces in believers a sense of guilt and indebtedness (verschuldend); and, lastly, the fact that “its God must be hidden from it and may be addressed only when his guilt is at its zenith. The cult is celebrated before an immature deity,”40 which is implicated in its guilt. All these aspects are characterized by a mythical dimension dominated by destiny and impulse, not by ethics, where there remains only fugitive hope for redemption, rendered possible by expiation, purification, and penitence, because, “only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope.”41 One might with some caution venture the hypothesis that Benjamin sees in the dimensions of expiation, purification, and penitence—as possible ways out of the cage of the religion of capitalism—the characteristics of a conception of Judeo-messianic religion42 (which soon transforms into a theological-political vision—later materialistic and revolutionary—founded on nihilism), seen as a salvific, ethical, and divinely transcendent alternative to Christianity tout court: Capitalism is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt (verschuldend), not atonement. In this respect, this religious system is caught up in the headlong rush of a larger movement. A vast sense guilt (Schuldbewußtstein) that is unable to find relief seizes on the cult, not to atone for this guilt but to

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make it universal, to hammer it into the conscious mind, so as once and for all to include God in the system of guilt and thereby awaken in Him an interest in the process of atonement. This atonement cannot then be expected from the cult itself, or from the reformation of this religion (which would need to be able to have recourse to some stable element in it), or even from the complete renunciation of this religion. The nature of the religious movement which is capitalism entails endurance right to the end, to the point where God, too, finally takes on the entire burden of guilt, to the point where the universe has been taken over by that despair which is actually its secret hope. Capitalism is entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction (Zertrümmerung). It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation. God’s transcendence is at an end. But he is not dead; he has been incorporated into human existence. This passage of the planet “Human” through the house of despair in the absolute loneliness of his trajectory is the ethos that Nietzsche defined. This man is the Übermensch, the first to recognize the religion of capitalism and begin to bring it to fulfillment.43

The Typus is illustrated by demonstrating that Nietzsche, with his potentiation of the human, and Freud, with his conviction that repression is the capital to which the hell of the subconscious pays interest, and even Marx (for whom capitalism becomes socialism with simple and compound interest), belong to the priestly domain of this cult, in which the transcendence of God has come to an end. Neither reform nor recantation of the cult can lead to expiation. Capitalism is a religion without dogma and founded on a “mere cult”44 that offers no way out: “The ‘worries’ arise from anguish over the absence of a way out that is communitarian and not individual-material,”45 but spiritual. The ways out that Benjamin identifies but considers no longer practicable are “poverty and (the) . . . monasticism of vagrants and mendicants.”46 An allusion to monastic rule can be found also in the tenth thesis of On the Concept of History,47 where monasticism appears to be capable of furnishing analogies for a development of the historical method, and therefore advancing liberation. It points toward a way out through the secularization of its method, through meditation on the part of the historian, whose reflection has the power to explode moments of the past, making it possible to represent and recognize the moments in monadic constellations, which may lead to a means by which now-impotent political leaders can bring about the redemption of the masses. The subsequent thesis, the eleventh, contains a reference to Weber in the mention of “the old protestant work ethic.”48 In the eighteenth thesis, the last in On the Concept of History, the constellation as a methodological concept for the historian—antithetical with respect to the concept of progress—becomes a place of encounter between the problem of causality in history (which for



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both Weber and Benjamin is not tied to a necessary succession of cause and effect) and the conception of Judaism as the source of a messianic vision of history as remembering (Eingedenken), a technique taught by prayer and by Torah (this too, like that of monastic rule, a technique of meditation). Crystalizing itself into a monad, the past displays itself to the historian in its conceptual structure founded on a constructive principle, “sign of a messianic interruption in the succession of events, or . . . of a revolutionary chance in the fight for an oppressed past.”49 By remembering, we come to recognize and redeem the past, ethically and messianically rendering it justice: Historicism contents itself with establishing a causal nexus between diverse moments of history. But no given situation is, as cause, already therefore historical. It became historical posthumously, through circumstances that may be thousands of years distant from it. . . . [The historian] ceases to let the succession of circumstances run through his fingers like a rosary . . . [and] seizes the constellation in which his era has come to encounter a determined preceding era. In this way it founds a concept of the present (Gegenwart) like that now (Jetzt) which includes, scattered within it, shards of messianic time.50

NOTES 1. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2003), 166. Engl. trans. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialetics, trans. E. B. Ashton (London and New York: Routeldge, 1973), 164. 2. Cfr. Max Weber, Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus (Cologne: Anaconda Verlag, 2009), 36–37. Engl. trans. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis e-library, 2005), 13–14: “In the title of this study is used the somewhat pretentious phrase, the spirit of capitalism. What is to be understood by it? The attempt to give anything like a definition of it brings out certain difficulties which are in the very nature of this type of investigation. If any object can be found to which this term can be applied with any understandable meaning, it can only be an historical individual, i.e. a complex of elements associated in historical reality which we unite into a conceptual whole from the standpoint of their cultural significance. Such an historical concept, however, since it refers in its content to a phenomenon significant for its unique individuality, cannot be defined according to the formula genus proximum, differentia specifica, but it must be gradually put together out of the individual parts which are taken from historical reality to make it up. Thus the final and definitive concept cannot stand at the beginning of the investigation, but must come at the end. . . . This is a necessary result of the nature of historical concepts which attempt for their methodological purposes not to grasp historical reality in abstract general formulæ, but in concrete genetic sets of relations which are inevitably of a specifically unique and individual character.”

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3. Ibid. 36. Engl. transl. 13. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, 166–167; Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 165. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 165–166. 6. See Weber, Die protestantische Ethik, 10ff. Engl. trans. 35. 7. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, 167. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 166. 8. “Where it appears essentially as a language, where it becomes a form of representation, it will not define its concepts. It lends objectivity to them by the relation into which it puts the concepts, centered about a thing.” Adorno, Negative Dialektik, 164. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 162. 9. Adorno, Negative Dialektik, 165. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 163. 10. On knowledge and language in Benjamin, see Werner Hamacher, “Intensive Sprachen,” in Übersetzen: Walter Benjamin, ed. Ch. L. Hart Nibbrig (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2004), 174–235. Engl. trans. “Intensive Languages,” in J. Ng and R. Tobias, “Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem and the Marburg School,” Modern Language Notes 127.3 (2012): 485–541. 11. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1925), in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, op. cit., 212–216. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (New York: Verso, 2009), 34–36. 12. Adorno also speaks of “monadological insistence” in the above-cited passage. 13. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1925), in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, op. cit., 227–228. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 47: “Virtually, because that which is comprehended in the idea of origin still has history, in the sense of content, but not in the sense of a set of occurences which have befallen it.” 14. See H. Cohen, Das Prinzip der Infinitesimal-Methode und seine Geschichte. Ein Kapitel zur Grundlegung der Erkenntniskritik (1883), in Werke, Hermann-CohenArchiv, directed and ed. H. Holzhey (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1977–), Band. 5.1. On Benjamin and Leibniz: P. L. Schwebel, “Intensive Infinity: Walter Benjamin’s Reception of Leibniz and its Sources,” in Modern Language Notes 127.3 (2012): 589–610. Paula Schwebel justly points out the figure of Hermann Cohen as an important source for Benjamin’s interpretation of Leibniz. A second source she identifies is Heinz Heimsoeth, “Leibniz Weltanschauung als Ursprung seiner Gedankenwelt,” in Kant-Studien 21 (1917): 365–395. 15. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, 228. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 48. 16. Walter Benjamin, GS VI, op. cit., 51–53. 17. See here Chapter I. See T. Tagliacozzo, Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin (Macerata: Quodlibet, 20132), 251–447. In Hermann Cohen’s Logik der reinen Erkenntnis the scientific “idea of the hypothesis” is central, developing “in judgment and the logic of the origin (Ursprung).” (Hermann Cohen, Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, in System der Philosophie, in Werke, vol. 6, 1a part, 601) as an ordering methodological task of infinite pure formal production, never completed in its categorical determinations, which establish the real itself in thought.



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18. “Erkenntniskritische Vorrede” to Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels in Walter Benjamin, GS I.1, 213: “The great categories which determine not only the shape of systems, but also philosophical terminology—logic, ethics, and aesthetics, to mention the most general—. . . acquire their significance . . . as monuments in the discontinuous structure of the world of ideas.” Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 33. 19. H. Hohenegger, “Walter Benjamin. Immagini dialettiche e schematismo storico,” in Ripensare le immagini, ed. G. Di Giacomo (Milan-Udine: Mimesis Edizioni, 2010), 46. 20. Cfr. T. Tagliacozzo, “Conoscenza e temporalità messianica in Walter Benjamin,” in Europa e Messia, B@belonline/print (4/2008), 139–150. Here: 145. Cf. here Chapter II. 21. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983), vol. II, 1037–1038, Qo, 21. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 867. 22. Considering the question of the Zeitdifferential and the moment of rupture of historical continuity caused by the appearance of something new—in the Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit (now of knowability)—Hansmichael Hohenegger points out the presence of the term “jetzt” in Weber and suggests that Benjamin may have drawn this term from Weber: “perhaps Benjamin had in mind Max Weber’s Roscher und Knies und die logischen Probleme der historischen Nationalökonomie” (H. Hohenegger, “Walter Benjamin. Immagini dialettiche e schematismo storico,” 48, n. 34). 23. M. Weber, “Roscher und Knies und die logischen Probleme der historischen Nationalökonomie” (1904), in M. Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre (1922) (Tübingen: Mohr, 1988), 1–145. Here: 135. Engl. trans. “Roscher and Knies and the logical problems of historical economics,” in Max Weber, Collected methodological writings, ed. Hans Henrik Bruun and Sam Whimster, trans. Hans Henrik Bruun (London—New York: Routledge, 2014), 3–93. Here: 87. Cf. Edoardo Massimilla, “Lo statuto logico delle scienze storiche della cultura. Weber, Rickert e il ‘primo’ Croce,” in Bollettino filosofico 28 (2013): 218–236. 24. H. Rickert, Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung. Eine logische Einleitung in die historischen Wissenschaften, 5. Aufl. Tübingen 1929 (Memphis: General Books, 2012). Engl. trans. The Limits of Concept Formation in Natural Science, ed. Guy Oakes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986s). Abridged translation of Rickert, 1929a. 25. On the course by Rickert in which Benjamin and Heidegger were simultaneously enrolled, see Peter Fenves, “Vollendung. From Heinrich Rickert to BenjaminHeidegger,” now in print as Peter Fenves, “Entanglement of Benjamin with Heidegger: Heidegger and Benjamin,” in Sparks will Fly: Heidegger and Benjamin, ed. A. Benjamin and D. Vardoulakis (Albany: SUNY Press, 2015), 3–26. I thank Peter Fenves for years ago sending me his unpublished essay and the transcription of the lectures given by Rickert during the course attended by Benjamin and Heidegger during the summer quarter of 2013. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe, in 6 vols., vol. I: Briefe 1910–1918, eds. Ch. Gödde and H. Lonitz, (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1995–2000), 113–114. Selections from the transcription have been published in French: H. Rickert,

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“Extrait du séminaire sur ‘La vie accomplie’,” in Walter Benjamin, Cahiers de l’Herne, ed. P. Lavelle (Paris, 2013), 373–383. See also P. Lavelle, “Figures pour une théorie de l’expérience. Benjamin et Rickert,” ibid. 128–138. 26. P. Fenves, “Vollendung. From Heinrich Rickert to Benjamin-Heidegger,” 3–4 (Peter Fenves, Entanglement—Of Benjamin with Heidegger: Heidegger and Benjamin, 6–7). 27. On Benjamin’s relationship with Rickert and Cohen: T. Tagliacozzo, Espe­ rienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin, 19–128. On Benjamin, Rickert and Weber see the important essay by Alexei Procyshyn, “The Origins of Walter Benjamin’s Concept of philosophical Critique,” in Metaphilosophy 44.5 (October 2013): 656–681. Cf. also “Walter Benjamin’s Concept of Historical Value,” Conference Presentation, 2013. While the influence of Rickert’s epistemology on Weber’s methodology has been much studied, Procyshyn is one of the few to have systematically analyzed the influence of Rickert’s analysis on the concepts of historical knowledge and their limits—and his concept of Darstellung, presentation—on Weber, and on Benjamin through Weber: “I would like to sketch Rickerts value-oriented theory of presentation qua historical concept formation. Second, I would like to show how Weber appropriates Rickert’s theory in order to formulate his idealtypes. Benjamin’s critical approach, I will then show, emerges from a refashioning of ideal types, which Weber sometimes refers to as Gedankenbilder (images or figures of thought)” (“Walter Benjamin’s Concept of Historical Value,” op. cit., 2). 28. Cf. H. Rickert, Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung. Eine logische Einleitung in die historischen Wissenschaften. Engl. trans. 60–62: “the task now is to fix the principles of concept formation in history (historischen Begriffsbildung). . . . the representation (Darstellung) of the individual—and thus of the historical, in the logical sense of this term—is shown to be possible. Moreover, it will be shown that the formation of concepts with an individual content—or individualizing concept formation, as we will call it—takes place only through a theoretical ‘relationship’ (‘Beziehung’) of historical objects to values . . . . To that extent, this sort of concept formation could also be characterized as ‘teleological’. . . . History . . . becomes the science of the unique, real event only by means of a representation of the historical nexus. Concerning this point, it is especially important to note that every individual object is causally linked with other individual objects. The causal connection of history, however, should be scrupulously distinguished from the causal laws of natural sciences. . . . the representation of causal connections simply does not coincide with a generalizing representation of reality as ‘nature’.” 29. The term Grenzbegriff is central in the thought of Heinrich Rickert, as it is in that of Hermann Cohen and Ernst Cassirer. 30. M. Weber, Die “Objektivität” sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis, in ibid. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre, ed. J. Winckelmann (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1988), 146–214. Here: 190–191. Engl. trans. “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy” in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, eds. and trans. E. A. Shils and H. A. Finch, (New York: Free Press, 1949), 50–112. Here: 90.



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31. W. Schluchter, Die Entwicklung der okzidentalen Rationalismus. Eine Analyse von Max von Webers Gesellschaftsgeschichte, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1979): “For Weber there is no way of overcoming the hiatus irrationalis between concept and conceived reality: only the valid ordering of the real by thought exists, as a result of the organization of thought by the concept.” In his adherence to the analytic theory of the Kantian concept and his critique of the emanational interpretation of criticism, Weber follows the theory of the history of philosophy expounded by Emil Lask in his dissertation Fichtes Idealismus und die Geschichte 1902, in Gesammelte Schriften, 3 vols., vol. I (Mohr: Tübingen, 1923). 32. M. Weber, Die “Objektivität” sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozialpolitischer Erkenntnis, 197. Engl. trans. “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy,” in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, 95. 33. Walter Benjamin, Kapitalismus als Religion, in GS VI, 100–103. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion” in Selected Writings I, 1913–1922, eds. and trans. Bullock M., Jennings M.W. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1996), 288–291. On this fragment, see D. Baecker (ed.), Kapitalismus als Religion (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2003). On Walter Benjamin, Hermann Cohen, and Max Weber, see Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, “Critique of State Violence in Walter Benjamin and Hermann Cohen,” in Paradigmi, XXXV, I (2017), 113–127. 34. Walter Benjamin, Kapitalismus als Religion, in GS VI, 102 (the translations are my own). Other than this text, Benjamin must surely have read Weber’s conference paper “Science as Profession” (1917). Walter Benjamin, GS VII.I, 451. In 1921 he also published the essay Zur Kritik der Gewalt in the journal Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, which had been co directed by Weber until his death in 1920. See Walter Benjamin (1996a), “Critique of Violence,” in Selected Writings I, 236–252. 35. Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 102. Engl. trans. 289 (trans. modified). 36. Ibid. 100. Engl. trans. 288. 37. Kant uses the term Typik in the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason) in the chapter section on the “Typic of Pure Practical Judgmental Power” in Immanuel Kant, Werkausgabe, vol. VII, ed. W. Weischedel (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1991). Engl. trans. Critique of practical reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar, intr. Stephen Engstrom (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2002), 89–94: “to indicate the symbolic exhibition of a concept intelligible to reason, the idea of the morally good: Consequently the moral law has no other cognitive power to mediate its application to objects of nature than the understanding (not the power of imagination). What the understanding can lay at the basis—as a law for the sake of the power of judgment—of the idea of reason is not a schema of sensibility but a law, but yet a law that can be exhibited in concreto in objects of the senses, and hence a law of nature, though only in terms of its form; therefore we can call this law the type of the moral law.” (188. Engl. trans. modified, 91.) Benjamin reads the Critique of Practical Reason around 1918. 38. On the use of Umkehr to translate the hebrew term Teshuvà, see Hermann Cohen, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (1919) (Darmstadt: Fourier, 19882), 227. Benjamin had read Cohen’s work, published posthumously in

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1919. See also Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher 1913–1917 (Frankfurt a.M.: Jüdischer Verlag, 1995), 392: “In Judaism . . . only conversion [Umkeher] raises up. In paganism . . . the supreme thing is rights, in Judaism it is justice.” See Astrid DeuberMankowsky, “Critique of State Violence in Walter Benjamin and Hermann Cohen,” in Paradigmi, XXXV, I (2017). 39. Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 101. Engl. trans. “Capitalism as Religion,” 289. 40. Ibid. 41. Walter Benjamin, Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften, in GS I.1, 201. Engl. trans. “Goethes Elective Affinities,” in Selected Writings I, 1913–1926, 356. 42. In Judaism the period between the New Year (Rosh Hashanà) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is the most important of the year, during which one repents one’s sins and reconciles oneself with God, who remits (or pardons) all debts owed to Him (Kol Nidré, the song that initiates Yom Kippur, includes the line “All vows are released. . .”). In Religion der Vernunft, Cohen himself dedicates an entire chapter to the Versöhnung of these days, which Teshuvà (Umkehr) leads to. As Benjamin makes implicit at the beginning of the fragment, there is no question here of a comparison between religions as better or worse; it is a matter rather of their different relation with transcendence and an ethical-political, communitarian action that leads to a rupture in the structure of guilt. 43. Walter Benjamin, GS VI, 100–101. Engl. trans. 288–289. 44. Ibid. 102. Engl. trans. 289 (modified). 45. Ibid. 46. Ibid. 47. Walter Benjamin, Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in GS I.2, 698. Engl. trans. “On the Concept of History,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings IV, 1938–1940, op. cit., 393 (trans. modified): “The themes that monastic rule assigned to the friars for meditation had the purpose of rendering them alien to the world and its affairs.” 48. Ibid. 699 (Engl. trans. 393, modified). 49. Ibid. 703 (Engl. trans. 396, modified). 50. Ibid. 704 (Engl. trans. 397, modified).

Chapter 4

Messianism, Time, Music: Walter Benjamin’s Work of 1916–1925

Reflection on Jewish messianism holds a central position in Walter Benjamin’s thought. In 1916, in the period of his “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” he wrote two brief essays that‑ anticipate his later Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 1925).1 These works, “Trauerspiel and Tragedy” and “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” elaborate a messianic conception of music as part of a consideration of German baroque drama (Trauerspiel, or representation of grief).2 Reflection on music combines with a Jewish messianic conception of nature, language, and history: the temporality of music and messianic temporality are seen as closely related in terms of the concept of redemption. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy” introduces the concept of messianic time fulfilled (the time of the Bible) in contrast with the different temporal conception found in ancient Tragedy (individual time fulfilled) and in the Trauerspiel (the unfulfilled, finite time of repetition):3 Historical time is infinite in every direction and unfulfilled in every moment. . . . For we should not think of time as merely the measure that records the duration of a mechanical change. Although such time is indeed a relatively empty form, to think of its being billed makes no sense. Historical time, however, differs from this mechanical time. . . . the determining force of historical time cannot be fully grasped by, or wholly concentrated in, any empirical process. Rather, a process that is perfect in historical terms is quite indeterminate empirically; it is in fact an idea. This idea of fulfilled time is the dominant historical idea of the Bible;4 it is the idea of messianic time. Moreover, the idea of a fulfilled historical time is never identical with the idea of an individual time. This feature naturally changes the meaning of fulfillment completely, and it is this that distinguishes tragic time from messianic time. Tragic time is related to the 149

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latter in the same way that an individually fulfilled time relates to a divinely fulfilled one.5

For Benjamin, death in Tragedy is an ironic death, and in fact the hero’s death is the origin of tragic irony. In effect the tragic hero dies of immortality, because no human can live in the fulfilled individual time of the guilt into which the hero falls when, through an ethical effort at individuation, he momentarily raises doubts about the dominion of the ancient gods. The time of the tragic hero determines his entire existence; every event of his life befalls as a function of his tragic destiny: A tragic death is an ironic immortality, ironic from an excess of determinacy. The tragic death is overdetermined—that is the actual expression of the hero’s guilt. . . . But everything hinges on the nature of the offense given by individuation.6

In the time of the Trauerspiel in contrast to Tragedy, there is no reference to the single individual, but rather to the collectivity of creatures that live in “a nature deprived of grace,”7 “in the restricted space of earthly existence,” governed immanently by a transcendent “law of a superior existence.”8 In death, creatures have no certainty of a higher life; they play and perform in a representation of earthly existence only to repeat—like specters—the same performance after death: Death in the mourning play is not based on the extreme determinacy that individual time confers on the action. It is no conclusive finality; without the certitude of a higher existence and without irony, it is the metabasis of all life eis allo genos. The mourning play is mathematically comparable to one branch of a hyperbola whose other branch lies in infinity. The law governing a higher life prevails in the restricted space of an earthly existence, and all play, until death puts an end to the game, so as to repeat the same game, albeit on a grander scale, in another world. It is this repetition on which the law of the mourning play is founded. Its events are allegorical schemata, symbolic mirror-images of a different game. We are transported into that game by death. The time of the mourning play is not fulfilled, but nevertheless it is finite. It is non-individual, but without historical universality. . . . The universality of its time is spectral, not mythic. A sign that it is related in its innermost core to the mirror-nature of games is that it has an even number of acts.9

The time of the Trauerspiel, unfulfilled but finite, is founded on repetition of a sort that, in the Preface to The Origin of German Tragic Drama, pertains to originary phenomena, wherein uniqueness combines with repetition in the representation of an idea in immanence. This is founded on the distance— provoked by the fall and expulsion from the paradisal state of language,



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where name and essence were one—between signifier and signified, between the image and its reflection that characterizes allegory (while the symbol seeks the unity of immanence and transcendence): Its characters are royal, as is necessarily the case in the tragic drama (Trauerspiel) because of the symbolic level of meaning. This play is ennobled by the distance which everywhere separates image and mirror-image, the signifier and the signified. Thus, the mourning play presents us not with the image of a higher existence but only with one of two mirror-images, and its continuation is not less schematic than itself. The dead becomes ghosts. The mourning play exhausts artistically the historical idea of repetition. Consequently, it addresses a problem that is completely different from the one dealt with in tragedy.10

In contrast to Tragedy, whose “temporal character is exhaustively shaped in the form of drama,”11 time in the Trauerspiel, as repetition, is intrinsically inconclusive, because its solution can only be found outside the dramatic sphere, in the redemptive, messianic sphere of music: The nature of repetition in time is such that no unified form can be based on it. . . . The mourning play . . . is inherently non-unified drama, and the idea of its resolution no longer dwells within the realm of drama itself. And here, on the question of form, is the point where the crucial distinction between tragedy and mourning play emerges decisively. The remains of mourning plays are called music. Perhaps there is a parallel here: just as tragedy marks the transition from historical to dramatic time, the mourning play represents the transition from dramatic time to musical time.12

“Trauerspiel and Tragedy” concludes by introducing the problem of the time of music and its relation to dramatic form. For Benjamin, the time of music is connected to messianic time, to the redemption of creatural nature through transcendence. This somewhat enigmatic conclusion finds an explanation in the subsequent essay, “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy” (1916), in which Benjamin considers the central role of pure feeling (Gefühl) and music’s capacity to express feeling mediated in the lament (Klage). The tragic is founded on the word, on human discourse, on the pure signified linked to the name, and to ideas, whereas in the Trauerspiel the sentiment of nature mourning (Trauer) is expressed through sound and lament in a manner predominantly nonverbal but nevertheless linked to art.13 “Language in the process of change”—where words purify themselves by developing from the natural sound and lament to the pure sound of feeling, music—“is the linguistic principle of the mourning play.” Beginning from the mute nature of things and the caducity of living creatures, through the

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lamenting song and music, one arrives at the messianic redemption of all nature: How language can fill itself with sadness, how language can express sadness, is the basic question of the mourning play, alongside that other question: How can the feeling of sadness gain entry into the linguistic order of art? When language has an impact by virtue of its pure meaning, that impact is tragic. The word as the pure bearer of its meaning is the pure word. But alongside this, we find a word of another sort that is subject to change, as it moves from its source toward a different point, its estuary. Language in the process of change is the linguistic principle of the mourning play. Words have a pure emotional life cycle in which they purify themselves by developing from the natural sound to the pure sound of feeling. For such words, language is merely a transitional phase within the entire life cycle, and in them the mourning play finds its voice. It describes the path from natural sound via lament to music.14

The grief of mourning spreads through nature when nature, created mute by divine language, is betrayed by language in the effusion of its feelings. The fall and expulsion from paradise brings on the division between signifier and signified, and signifiers become vehicles for the communication of extrinsic matters. Mourning arises when mute nature, instead of being denominated and made known by paradisal naming (which already contains a foretaste of the coming grief), becomes hyperdenominated—in awareness, external communication, and mere chatter—by the human word.15 In human language, the world of the signified and of history is born at the same time, and mankind becomes the bearer and symbol of language that hardens into signifieds. As the crowned king of creation, mankind is maintained within the sphere of feeling and thus of the possible redemption of his creatural nature. Man is the sublime symbol of nature, while nature itself becomes the symbol, like a torso, of the transitory aspect of creation, where nature and language meet: The mourning play is nature that enters the purgatory of language only for the sake of the purity of its feelings; it was already defined in the ancient wise saying that the whole of nature would begin to lament if it were but granted the gift of language. For the mourning play does not describe the motion through the spheres that carries feeling from the pure world of speech out to music, and then back to the liberated sorrow of blissful feeling. . . . Instead, midway through its journey nature finds itself betrayed by language, and that powerful blocking of feeling turns to sorrow. Thus, with the ambiguity of the word, its signifying character, nature falters, and whereas the created world wished only to pour forth in all purity, it was man who bore its crown. This is the significance of the king in the mourning play, and this is the meaning of the Haupt- und Staatsaktionen. These plays represent a blocking of nature, as it were an overwhelming damming-up of the feelings that suddenly discover a new world in language,



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the world of signification, of an impassive historical time, and once again the king is both man (the end of nature) and also the king (the symbol and bearer of significance).16

Language (as joining of signifier and signified) and history (as cycle and repetition) are the nonredeemed places in which the caducity of man and nature is expressed: “History becomes equal to signification in human language; this language is frozen in signification. Tragedy threatens, and man, the crowing pinnacle of creation, is salvaged for feeling only by becoming king: a symbol as the bearer of this crown. And nature in the mourning play remains a torso in this sublime symbol; sorrow fills (erfüllt) the sensuous world in which nature and language meet.”17 Language and history are, however, also the location of the possible redemption of man as creature and the culmination of creation. They are the means (or rather, the medium) of the redemptive task of the philosopher and historian, who, armed with historical knowledge and language, have the task of saving phenomena,18 redeeming nature, and saving the past in memory by recuperating and exhibiting names in the words of communicative language, and by recuperating and exhibiting the originary ideas of cognitive perfection and justice in phenomena, which have been transformed into conceptual constellations. As stated in the Preface to The Origin of German Tragic Drama, this is the double task that requires the philosopher to act in the manner of a scientist, by dividing phenomena into elements through concepts—thus breaking their false totality—and in the manner of an artist, by presenting and exposing (darstellen) the idea in a constellation of such elements. In the words of Jan Sieber and Sebastian Truskolaski, “Language and history thus appear as the media of philosophical thought. In sum: it is the double ‘task of the philosopher’ to engage the empirical world in the manner of the scientist, and—at the same time—to present the world of ideas in the manner of the artist.”19 Two metaphysical principles of repetition weave together as expressions of the feeling of mourning in the Trauerspiel and represent its metaphysical order: one is the cyclical process as a circle of feeling that comes to a close in music, and the other is repetition as a doubling of the word and its meaning, expressed as a contrast between sound and meaning: For it is the circle of feeling that is completed in music, and it is the duality of the word and its meaning that destroys the tranquility of a profound yearning and disseminates sorrow throughout nature. The interplay between sound and meaning remains a terrifying phantom for the mourning play; it is obsessed by language, the victim of an endless feeling . . . This interplay must find its resolution, however, and for the mourning play that redemptive mystery is music—the rebirth of the feelings in a supra-sensuous nature.20

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Music reveals itself to be a redemptive means or medium, the culminating moment of the lament of creatures and of nature, and the revelation of their caducity as eternal transience, and it is also the location of the rebirth of feeling in a supersensible nature.The circle of feeling must close, and representation must find its redemption—the overcoming of mourning on a suprasensuous plane—in the mystery of music. Here we find the same conception of music as redemptive “mystery” (Mysterium) that closes Benjamin’s essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities, promising redemption for the novel’s lovers. The mystery is the moment when dramatic form shifts from a creatural setting to a higher, transcendent plane, which no longer expresses itself in words but in a “musical” representation in which, “sounds are laid out symphonically, and this constitutes the musical principle of its language and the dramatic principle of its breaking up and splitting into characters.”21 The nonfulfilled time of repetition, of meaning and lament of the Trauerspiel transforms itself into the nonsignifying, fulfilled, and messianic time of music. The mystery is the moment when “dramatic time passes into the time of music”22: The mystery is, on the dramatic level, that moment in which it juts out of the domain of language proper to it into a higher one unattainable for it. Therefore, this moment can never be expressed in words but is expressible solely in representation (Darstellung): it is the “dramatic” in the strictest sense. An analogous moment of representation in Elective Affinities is the falling star. The novel’s epic basis in the mythic, its lyrical breadth in passion and affection, is joined by its dramatic crowning in the mystery of hope. If music encloses genuine mysteries, this world of course remains a mute world, from which music will never ring out. Yet what is it dedicated to if not to this world, to which it promises— more than conciliation—redemption? . . . Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope.23

Music (and its mystery as the mystery of hope) situates itself in the moment of the shift in which transcendence reveals itself at the heart of immanence and redeems it. Those without hope are saved; the creature raises a lament of mourning and finds redemption. For Benjamin, in “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” the “necessity of redemption” determines the ludic aspect of Trauerspiel, establishing the basis of its representation in play, as against the irrevocability of the tragic: “every product animated by a feeling (of sorrow) must be called a game (Spiel)”: The mourning play is built not on the foundation of actual language but on the consciousness of the unity that language achieves through (durch) feeling, a unity that unfolds in words. In this process, errant feeling gives voice to its sorrow. But this lament must dissolve (auflösen) itself; on the basis of that



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presupposed unity, it enters into the language of pure feeling (in die Sprache des reinen Gefühles)—in other words, music. Sorrow conjures up itself in the mourning play, but it also redeems itself. This tension and release of feeling in its own realm is a form of play (Darstellung).24

The mourning play is built on the consciousness of the unity that language achieves through feeling, a unity that unfolds in nonsignifying words and in lament. On the basis of that supposed unity, the lament enters into the language of pure feeling and music, and dissolves itself. The unity of language is therefore founded on its formal rather than its signifying dimension, on its role as “medium,”25 as the capacity to communicate a “pure and simple” communicability (Mitteilbarkeit). This capacity is entrusted to pure feeling and refers in a certain way to § 40 (the paragraph on sensus communis) of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment,26 which describes the power of reflecting judgment to require, from all who judge, the concordant feeling of pleasure aroused from any object judged to be beautiful, each according to a singular judgment of taste. The requirement therefore is for communicability and the sharing of a feeling of pleasure due to the harmonic concord of the cognitive faculties (imagination and understanding, the faculties belonging to any knowing subject) in the “reflected perception” of the form of a contemplated object.27 In the Trauerspiel—which is never pure, since mourning is only one note (Ton) in the scale of feeling, but it is not, because of this, inferior to Tragedy— there takes place that moment of transformation and elaboration of the language of art that represents, before and beyond words, in sound and “dramatic” lament, the feeling of mourning that flows to completion in the redemption of music: It is the site of the actual conception of the word and of speech in art; the faculties of speech and hearing still stand equal in the scales, and ultimately everything depends on the ear for lament, for only the most profoundly heard (vernommen) lament can become music. Whereas in tragedy the external inflexibility of the spoken word is exalted, the mourning play concentrates in itself the infinite resonance of its sound.28

In Benjamin, the term vernehmen (to hear) is found in the essay on Goethe29 and in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, where ideas offer themselves up, in the form of words, to philosophical contemplation, through perception (Vernehmen) that restores the original pristine perception of the language of Adam.30 The term indicates in art that acoustic perception of sound and music (not simply as a sense, but with a spiritual valence) that connects to the spiritual and linguistic-symbolic dimension of ideas. The 1919 fragment

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“Analogy und relationship” sees music as the means for the perceptible expression, in feeling, of affinity (Verwandtschaft)31 as a spiritual relationship and principle of unity of concepts. Pure feeling is knowable, and only through pure feeling is music knowable in turn. Only after perceptual knowledge (Kant’s “reflected perception”)32 takes place in pure feeling can music—and through music, spiritual affinity—be comprehended rationally, in terms of universal laws. Pure feeling is the basis of music and music’s knowledge of spiritual affinities: No doubt, music can be comprehended rationally, not indeed through analogy but by universal laws. It is impossible to move from music to an analogue; music recognizes only relationship (Verwandschaft). Pure feeling is related (verwandt) to music; this is knowable, and in it music is, too. The Pythagoreans attempted to understand music by means of numbers. . . . Only where [similarity]33 . . . shows itself superior to analogy . . . can it indicate relationship, which can be directly (unimittelbar) perceived (vernommen) only in feeling (neither in intuition, nor in reason), but can be rigorously and modestly comprehended by reason (ratio).34

Already, in the 1919 dissertation Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik, in relationship to Goethe, Benjamin had expressed his conception of intuition as spiritual perception (das Vernehmen) of the necessity that content which presents itself as pure (not empirical, but conceptual and ideal) in feeling become fully perceptible (wahrnehmbar) and thus capable of being witnessed in an empirical dimension: “In this, the object of intuition (Anschauung) is the necessity that the content, which announces itself in the feelings as pure, become completely perceivable (wahrnehmbar). To grasp this necessity (das Vernehmen dieser Notwendigkeit) is intuition.”35 The concept of Trauerspiel as a sort of play of pure feeling that redeems the creaturely aspect of nature is similar to the aesthetic and musical concept expressed in Hermann Cohen’s 1912 treatise Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (Aesthetics of pure feeling), especially as regards the concept of pure feeling.36 We do not know whether by 1916 Benjamin was aware of Cohen’s aesthetics,37 but it is clear that Benjamin’s reflections on Trauerspiel find a posteriori support in the Jewish conception of lamentation. Benjamin wrote to Gershom Scholem, on March 30, 1918, after having read Scholem’s Über Klage und Klagelied (On Lament and Lamentation):38 After having read your essay, the problem now appear to me as follows: on the basis of my nature as a Jew, the inherent code, the “completely autonomous order,” of the lament and of mourning, became obvious to me. Without reference to Hebrew literature, which, as I know now, is the proper subject of



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such an analysis, I applied the following question to the Trauerspiel in a short essay entitled “The Role of Language in Trauerpiel and Tragedy” . . . . For in German the lament appears in its fully linguistic glory only in the Trauerspiel, which, in terms of what the word suggests, borders on being inferior to tragedy. I was unable to reconcile myself to this and did not understand that this ranking is just as legitimate in German as its opposite probably is in Hebrew. From your essay, I now understand that the question as I posed it and which concerned me at that time, must be asked on the basis of the Hebrew lament. . . . In contradistinction to your point of departure, mine had only the advantage of pointing me, from the very start, to the fundamental antithesis of mourning and tragedy, which, to conclude from your essay, you have not recognized.39

The relation to Jewish culture is fundamental both to Benjamin’s and Cohen’s conceptions of music, especially in terms of the prohibition against creating images of divinity. In Cohen’s Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (The Religion of Reason, Out of the Sources of Judaism), published posthumously in 1919, the second chapter, “The Cult of Images,” which discusses the ban on graven images, stands between the first chapter, on the oneness of God, and the third, on Creation, thus demonstrating the importance of this prohibition to Cohen and to Judaism.40 The commandment guarantees the distinction between monotheism and polytheism, preventing any image of God from divinizing nature or from naturalizing the union of God and nature. The command maintains the difference between God and Creation and reemphasizes their correlation at a distance, and thus divine transcendence. For his part, Benjamin represents the prohibition on images with the concept of the Ausdruckslose, “devoid of expression,” which refers to the divine language of Creation and its action on man as law, moral imperative (“moral word”), name, and idea. The “expressionless (das Ausdruckslose) is the critical power which, if it cannot separate appearance from essence in art, nevertheless prohibits them from mixing together. It possesses this authority as moral word. In the expressionless appears the superior (erhabenen) power of the true, which determines—according to the law of the moral world—the language of the real world.”41 The musical dimension of listening is central to the Ausdruckslose, it is the caesura in the work that becomes perceivable (vernehmbar) as an interruption in the linguistic rhythm.42 Stéphane Mosès reminds us that Benjamin “insisted on the fact that, for him, Ideas are not images but words. As in the biblical tradition, the revelation of truth is not visual but auditory.”43 The perception of truth is linked to the dimension of sound and of listening. In the “Epistemo-Critical Prologue” to The Origin of German Tragic Drama, the truth is seen as a discontinuous

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gathering of ideas (for Benjamin, ideas are names) that resonate among themselves: Truth is an intentionless state of being, made up of ideas. . . . Just as the harmony of the spheres depends on the orbits of stars which do not come into contact with each other, so the existence of the mundus intelligibilis depends on the unbridgeable distance between pure essences. Every idea is a sun and is related to other ideas just as suns are related to each other. The harmonious (tönende) relationship between such essences is what constitutes truth.44

The idea offers itself up, in an originary phenomenon, in one of its historical manifestations and thus incompletely, as a restoration of the Revelation.45 In the work of art, as a primeval phenomenon that represents an idea, Benjamin sees a return that necessarily offers itself beneath the veil of appearances, to the mystery of the moral and divine word. The mystery can never be unveiled because it cannot offer itself in visual images, but it can be revealed, since “truth is not a process of exposure which destroys the secret, but a revelation (Offenbarung) that does justice to it.”46 The mystery of the divine creating word, source of nature and ethics, reveals itself in music. Near the end of The Origin of German Tragic Drama, Benjamin makes an important reference to music, observing that the Trauerspiel transforms itself into opera:47 The phonetic tension in the language of the seventeenth century leads directly to music, the opposite of meaning-laden speech. Like all the other roots of the Trauerspiel, this one too is entwined with those of the pastoral. That which is initially present in the Trauerspiel as a dancing chorus, and with the passage of time tends increasingly to become a spoken, oratorical chorus, open displays its operatic character in the pastoral play. . . . A further operatic impulse was the musical overture, which preceded the plays of both the Jesuits and the protestants. Nor do the choreographical interludes and the—in a deeper sense— choreographical style of the intrigue run counter to this development which, at the end of the century brought about the dissolution of the Trauerspiel into opera. The related ideas which it is the purpose of these observations to call to mind have been developed by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy.48

The transformation and resolution of the Trauerspiel in the form of opera appears to Benjamin, however, as a result of decadence (he refers to Nietzsche’s critique of opera in comparison to musical tragedy). Baroque drama banalizes itself and loses its relation to mourning and to allegory: Just as [in The Birth of Tragedy] every comparison with tragedy—not to mention musical tragedy—is of no value for the understanding of opera, so it is that from the point of view of literature, and especially the Trauerspiel, opera



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must seem unmistakably to be a product of decadence (Verfallsprodukt). The obstacle of meaning and intrigue loses its weight, and both operatic plot and operatic language follow their course without encountering any resistance, issuing finally into banality. With the disappearance of the obstacle, the soul of the work (mourning) also disappears, and just as the dramatic structure is emptied, so too is the scenic structure, which looks elsewhere for its justification, now that allegory, where it is not omitted, has become a hollow façade.49

Although the taste for pure sound may have played a role in the decadence of baroque drama, for Benjamin, “Music [by virtue of its own essence] is something with which the allegorical drama is intimately familiar.”50 This is what was learned from the romantic philosophy of music, connected to the baroque by elective affinity, and it is what Johann Wilhelm Ritter’s51 important observations reveal about the relations among language, music, and writing: Music . . . is something with which the allegorical drama is intimately familiar. This, at least, is the lesson to be derived from the musical philosophy of the romantic writers, who have an elective affinity with the baroque, and whose voice ought to be heeded here. This, and this alone, would at least yield a synthesis of the antithesis deliberately opened up by the baroque, and only through it would the full justification of the antithesis be clear. Such a romantic approach to the Trauerspiel does at least raise the question of how far music has a more than functional, theatrical role in the work of Shakespeare and Calderón. For it surely does. And so, the following account by the brilliant Johann Wilhelm Ritter may be presumed to open up a perspective, the penetration of which we must ourselves forego, for it would be irresponsible improvisation. It could only be accomplished by a fundamental (fundamentalen) discussion of language, music, and script. . . . “In reality the whole of creation is language, and so is literally created by the word, the created and creating word itself . . . But the letter is inextricably bound up with this word both in general and in particular.”52

In Ritter, Benjamin finds expressed a virtual romantic theory of allegory, in which verbal and written language come together and identify dialectically as thesis and synthesis, while music, as a medial term, posits itself as antithesis, the universal dimension (the last universal post-babelic language), which leads to the divine transcendence from which writing develops. For Benjamin, written language—as synthesis—manifests itself in allegory and the division between signifier and signified, while oral language—as thesis—is the mythical, creatural, and transient location of nature and lament. Writing and oral language identify themselves dialectically, that is, through writing and allegory the creatural dimension of lament may undergo a potential reversal and concretization that can actualize the hope of salvation that is realized in music. Thus, the synthetic dimension of writing develops out

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of music as a redemptive, transcendent place of language, antithetical to the created world; it carries an echo of the divine creating word. Music is the last universal language that arose after the Fall, a language devoid of content, one that communicates pure communicability, which does not develop from the sound of lament and from the signifying word. When read, writing does not fall away, as though it were a mere container of content, but remains as image and pattern, a monogram of essence, without being the essence of things themselves. The prehistory of this romantic vision of allegory—akin to the baroque vision of allegory—can be found in the theories of the Christian Kabbalah. With these comments the virtual romantic theory of allegory concludes, on a question as it were. Any answer would have to find a place for this divination of Ritter’s among the concept proper to it; it would have to bring oral and written language together, by whatever means possible, which can only mean identifying them dialectically as thesis and synthesis. This would secure for music (the antithetical mediating link, and the last remaining universal language since the tower of Babel) its rightful central position as antithesis; and it would have to investigate how written language grows out of music and not directly from the sounds of the spoken word. These are tasks which lie far outside the domain of both romantic intuitions and non-theological philosophy. This romantic theory of allegory remains only virtual, but it is nonetheless an unmistakable monument to the affinity of baroque and romanticism. . . . that actual discussions of allegory, such as that in Friedrich Schlegel’s Gespräch über die Poesie, do not possess the same profundity as Ritter’s exposition; . . . With the theory that every image (Bild) is only a form of writing (Schriftbild), he gets to the very heart of the allegorical attitude. In the context of allegory, the image is only a signature, only the monogram of essence, not the essence itself in a mask. But there is nothing subordinate about written script; it is not cast away in reading, like dross. It is absorbed along with what is read, as its ‘pattern’ (Figur). The printers, and indeed the writers of the baroque, paid the closest possible attention to the pattern of the words on the page.53

Here we find the deeply Kabbalist origin in Ritter of his philosophy of language as the language of Creation. At the base of Ritter’s thought, we find an awareness of Kabbalist theories of language, which through the Christian Kabbalah originating from Böhme and Johannes Reuchlin and passing through Franz von Baader would have spread among the romantics, with a learned interpreter in Franz Joseph Molitor. This thought constitutes a significant base for Benjamin’s reflections on language, although the principal source was his friend Gershom Scholem. In 1916–1917, Scholem was reading Baader and Molitor, along with the available editions of the Kabbalist theories of language of Abraham Abulafia. Benjamin read Baader and Molitor,



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and on his own studied the romantics (F. Schlegel, Novalis, Tieck, Schleiermacher, etc.), about whose critical theories of art he would write his doctoral dissertation. Sound and writing are deeply linked in certain Kabbalist theory, since the words of the Torah—Writing per excellence—are formed by the letters of the Name of God, the sounds of which He used to create the world. The rhythmic and melodic pronunciation of the words and letters of the Torah (without relation to the meaning of the words and phrases), and the combinatory techniques of the letters of the sacred text of the Names of God that form it, place man (both mystic and not) is a more intimate embrace with the creative power of God and His unpronounceable Name, and with the presence of God in the world (Schekhinah): For the Kabbalists, of course, linguistic mysticism is at the same time a mysticism of writing. Every act of speaking is, in the world of the spirit, at once an act of writing, and every writing is potential speech, which is destined to become audible. The speaking party impresses, as it were, the three-dimensional space of the word into the Pneuma. . . . The letter is the element of cosmic writing. In the continuous act of the language of the creation the godhead, is the only infinite speaker, but at the same time he is the original archetypal writer, who impresses his word deep into his created works. (Note: According to Molitor, Philosophie der Geschichte oder uber die Tradition, Part I, 2nd edition, 1857, p. 533.]54

Benjamin received many elements of the Kabbalistic tradition not only from his readings of romantic texts on Jewish themes, but primarily from Hermann Cohen himself, who conducted lessons in Berlin at the Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. Benjamin was profoundly influenced by Scholem, whose knowledge of Kabbalah, of Kabbalist linguistic theory (especially that of Abulafia), had a decisive role in the formulation of Benjamin’s 1916 essay, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.” He remained a constant reference point for Benjamin’s knowledge of Judaism and its sources. In “The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbalah” Scholem points out the role of sound and the unpronounceable Name of God in the Creation at the center of Kabbalist theories of language: According to the originally conceived Judaistic meaning, truth was the word of God which was audible both acoustically and linguistically. Under the system of the synagogue, revelation is an acoustic process, not a visual one; or revelation at least ensues from an area which is metaphysically associated with the acoustic and the perceptible (in a sensual context). This is repeatedly emphasized with reference to the words of the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:12): “Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.”55

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On the relation between verbal and written language (in particular in the theory of Isaac the Blind), Scholem writes: Writing, for the philologist, is no more than a secondary and extremely unmanageable image of real and effective speech; but for the Kabbalist it is the real centre of the mysteries of speech. . . . The letter is the element of cosmic writing. In the continuous act of the language of the creation the godhead is the only infinite speaker, but at the same time he is the original archetypal writer, who impresses his word deep into his created works. [Note I: Cf. F.J. Molitor, Philosophie der Geschichte oder über die Tradition, op. cit., vol. I, p. 553.] The letters, which are the configurations of the divine creative force, thus represent the highest forms; and in as much as, in the earthly realm, they take on visible forms, they have bodies and souls, according to Isaac the Blind. Consequently, the soul of each letter is clearly that which lives in it as a result of the articulation of the divine Pneuma. The fact that this “infinite speech” (ha-dibbur be’en-sof), which gives life to and contains everything that is created, found its outcome in the Torah, is an established fact for the Kabbalists. The way in which this outcome of the speech of God in creation and revelation is connected with his name, or respectively with the manifold nature of his names, as indicated by the different modi of his being, is not dealt with by Isaac the Blind, just as he expresses himself with considerable reserve on the subject of the names of God, in particular.”56

According to Scholem, in the Zohar, the voice of God, at first silent, becomes inarticulate sound and then language. For Abulafia, “Creation, revelation and prophecy are phenomena of the world of language: creation as an act of divine writing, in which the writing forms the matter of the creation; revelation and prophecy as acts, in which the divine word is infused into the language of man not just once but in the last analysis over and over again. . . . ”57 The combinatory technique of the letters of the Name of God and music are parallel means of achieving “prophecy.”58 During the religious function in traditional Judaism, the singing of the prayers and the books of the Torah are as central as prayers and Torah are to the mystical tradition: The tradition of the so-called German Hasidim in the 12th century placed, right in the central point of its meditations on prayers, the main consideration on the names which lie behind the words. It is these which are, in reality, evoked from the words of the prayer—one could almost say conjured up by the words of the prayer. By various procedures entailing the numerology, combination and positioning of the words of the prayer, the hidden dimension pertaining to them is discovered. In this dimension the prayer, the appeal to God, is at the same time a disappearing act into this name, an act which does not dispense with the element of conjuring-up. In the Kabbalist teachings on the mystical aspect of prayer these projections have, above all in the Lurianic Kabbalah—right up to the



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latest developments in it—played an important role. The great mystic prayerbooks of Rabbi Schalom Sahr’abi (d. 1777) are complete scores, in which the handed-down text of the principal prayers is accompanied by a graphic, almost (musical) note-like representation of the divine names and their variations; and this is engraved in these words by the meditation of the person praying. In this respect, it is therefore a matter of something like a reversed transformation of the differentiated language of man into the language of the divine names, which is visible in it in a symbolic way.59

Kabbalist scholar Moshe Idel’s monograph on Abraham Abulafia discusses Abulafia’s theory of music as a mystic means of achieving an ecstatic dimension in relation to God. Music is analogous to prophecy and to the combination of the letters of the divine Name, which are pronounced in a determined melodic rhythm: In another work written at the same time, Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi’s commentary to Sefer Yezirah, the entry of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies is also seen as a symbol of mystical experience connected with music: “The letters go out in the ways of the paths through the way of music, and this is the secret of the cantillation accents (te’amim) of the Torah, for they come in and go out with the sound of singing. The secret of this is the golden bell and pomegranate with which the High Priest used to enter the Holy of Holies, so that its sound may he heard. From this you will understand the secret of the Holy Spirit which resides in prophets in the manner of music.”60

Benjamin saw in German baroque drama (and its kindred romantic theories) and in Jewish tradition the same centrality of music and its redemptive role with respect to the transitory world of creatures, whose chance for salvation—in an asymmetrical relation with transcendence—is never a given, and can find refuge only in messianic hope. NOTES 1. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in ibid. GS I.1, 203–430. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London: Verso, 1998). 2. Walter Benjamin, “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 133–137. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 1: 1913–1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 55–58. Walter Benjamin, Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie, in GS II.1, 137–140. Engl. trans. “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” in op. cit., Selected Writings. Vol. 1 1916–1926, 59–61.

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3. On the centrality of music in Benjamin’s thought and his tie to Jewish tradition, cf. Elio Matassi, “Gefühl-Rührung-Geheimnis. Il primato della musica in Benjamin e Bloch,” in AAVV, Il sentimento e le forme, «Quaderni di Estetica e Critica», 2, 1997 (Roma: Bulzoni, 1997), 117–137. Cf. Elio Matassi, “Trauerspiel und Oper bei Walter Benjamin,” in Klang und Musik bei Walter Benjamin, ed. T. R. Klein (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2013), 69–74. Cf. T. Tagliacozzo, “Walter Benjamin und die Musik,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 13.3 (2006): 278–293. 4. Cf. Gershom Scholem, “Zwölf Thesen über die Ordnung der Gerechtigkeit” (1917–1918), in ibid. Tagebücher, op. cit., vol. II, 535: “Die historischen Ideen der Bibel betreffen aber alle den Zeitbegriff der ewigen Gegenwart [als messianische Zeit].” The historical ideas of the Bible, however, all concern the concept of time of the eternal present (as messianic time). 5. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 134. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op.cit., 55–56. 6. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” GS II.1, 135; “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op.cit., 56. 7. Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 260. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 80–81: “The developing formal language of the Trauerspiel (die werdende Formensprache des Trauerspiels) can very well be seen as the emergence of contemplative necessities which are implicit in the contemporary theological situation. One of these, and it is consequent upon the total disappearance of eschatology, is the attempt to find, in a reversion to a bare state of creation (Schöpfungsstand), consolation for the renunciation of a state of grace. Here, as in other spheres of baroque life, what is vital is the transposition of the originally temporal data into a figurative spatial simultaneity. This leads deep into the structure of the dramatic form. Whereas the middle ages present the futility of world events and the transience of the creature (Vergänglichkeit der Kreatur) as stations on the road to salvation, the German Trauerspiel is taken up entirely with the hopelessness of the earthly destiny itself rather than in the fulfilment of a divine plan of salvation.” 8. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 136. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 57. 9. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 136. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 56–57. Cf. Paula L. Schwebel, “Intensive Infinity: Walter Benjamin’s Reception of Leibniz and its Sources,” in MLN 127 (2012): 602: “Benjamin’s interpretation of Leibniz is best approached by examining the relationship that he establishes between a mathematical notion of infinity (loosely understood) and an unfulfilled yearning for redemption that finds no satisfaction in the profane world. The first appearance of this relationship is found in a 1916 fragment on ‘Trauerspiel and Tragedy,’ in which Benjamin describes the form of the mourning as inherently non-unified; it does not achieve its resolution within itself, but has its meaning in relation to a withdrawn or emptied transcendence. This is expressed as an infinite (i.e. unfulfilled) yearning, which repeats itself in the profane world. Benjamin describes the repetitive mirroring in terms of a mathematical function. . . . Thus, Benjamin argues that the infinitesimal calculus is the mathematical equivalent of the secularisation of history at the core of the Baroque Trauerspiel.” Cf. Also the



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expression “metabasis eis allo genos,” which is used quite frequently in the work of Ernst Cassirer. On the reflections on hyperbolic space in Scholem, and his discussions with Benjamin on this topic, see, “On Kant,” in MLN 127 (2012): 443–446; Julia Ng, “Walter Benjamin’s and Gershom Scholem’s Reading Group Around Hermann Cohen’s Kants Theorie der Erfahrung in 1918: An Introduction,” ibid. 433–439; and Julia Ng, “Kant’s Theory of Experience at the End of the War: Scholem and Benjamin Read Cohen. A Commentary,” ibid. 462–484. 10. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 136. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 57. 11. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 136–137. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 57. 12. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 136–137. Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 57. 13. For a theory of the Trauer in Benjamin, see K. H. Bohrer, Der Abschied. Theorie der Trauer (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 19972), 503–603. The essay discusses the theory of Trauer in Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Goethe, and Benjamin. Cf. Scholem’s essay on lament and lamentation of 1917, “Über Klage und Klagelied,” in Tagebücher, op. cit., vol. 2, 128–133. Engl. trans. G. Scholem, “On Lament and Lamentation,” trans. Lina Barouch and Paula Schwebel, with Translator’s Introduction, in Jewish Studies Quarterly 21.1 (2014): 4–12. On lament and lamentation in Scholem and the Jewish tradition and in Benjamin cf. Lina Barouch, “The Erasure and Endurance of Lament: Gershom Scholem’s Early Critique of Zionism and Its Language,” ibid. 13–26; Paula Schwebel, “Lament and the Shattered Expression of Mourning: Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin,” ibid. 27–41, (15); Ilit Ferber, “Lament and Pure Language: Scholem, Benjamin and Kant,” ibid. 42–54; Ilit Ferber, “A Language of the Border: On Scholem’s Theory of Lament,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 21 (2013): 161–186; Lina Barouch, “Lamenting Language Itself: Gershom Scholem on the Silent Language of Lamentation,” New German Critique 37.3 (Fall 2010): 1–25. Cf. also Paula Schwebel, “The Tradition in Ruins: Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin,” in Lament in Jewish Thought: Philosophical, Theological and Literary Perspectives (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014). On music and lament in Benjamin cf. Sigrid Weigel, “Die Geburt der Musik aus der Klage. Zum Zusammenhang von Trauer und Musik in Benjamins musiktheoretischen Thesen,” in Klang und Musik bei Walter Benjamin, ed. T. R. Klein, op. cit., 85–92. 14. “Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 138. Engl. trans. “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” in Selected Writings, op. cit., 59–60. 15. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen” (1916), in GS II.1, 155–156. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings Vol. 1, 1913–1926, 62–74. Here: 72f.: “After the Fall, however, when God’s word curses the ground, the appearance of nature is deeply changed. Now begins the muteness, which is what we mean by the “deep sadness of nature.” It is a metaphysical truth that all nature would begin to lament if it were endowed with language (though “to endow with language” is more than “to make able to speak”). . . . Because she is

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mute, nature mourns. Yet, the inversion of this proposition leads even further into the essence of nature; the sadness of nature makes her mute. . . . “over-naming”—the deepest linguistic reason for all melancholy and (from the point of view of the thing) for all deliberate muteness. 16. “Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 138– 139. Engl. trans. “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” in Selected Writings Vol. 1, op. cit., 60 17. Ibid. 18. Cf. Benjamin’s fragment 22 (February 1918), “Versuch eines Beweises, dass die wissenschaftliche Beschreibung eines Vorgangs dessen Erklärung voraussetzt” (“Attempt at a proof that the scientific description of a process presupposes its explanation”), in GS VI, 40–43, here 41: “The Platonic problem thus always remains valid (gelten) that if we wish to think of a world, we must save the phenomena (ta phainomena sozein).” 19. Jan Sieber and Sebastian Truskolaski, “The Task of the Philosopher. In Place of an Introduction,” in Anthropology & Materialism. A Journal of Social Research, Special Issue I (2017), Discontinuous Infinities, 7. 20. “Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 139; “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 60–61. 21. “Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” GS II.1, 138. Engl. trans. “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 60. 22. “Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 136–137; Engl. trans. “Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 57 (translation amended). 23. Benjamin’s essay on Goethe’s Elective Affinities: “Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften,” in GS I.1, 123–201. Here: 200f. Engl. trans. “Goethe’s Elective Affinities,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings Vol. 1, op. cit., 297–360. Here: 355f. (trans. amended) 24. “Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 139ff. Engl. trans. “The Role Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 61. 25. See Sami R. Khatib, “Messianisches Medium. Benjamins Sprachpolitik,” in RIFL 2 (2014): 155–170. 26. Cf. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Hamburg: Meiner, 1990), §. 40, 144ff. Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment. ed. and trans. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2002, 173ff. 27. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, op. cit., Introduction § VII, 28. Engl. trans. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, op. cit., 76. Cf. Samuel Weber, Benjamin’s Abilities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 11–13. Here: 13: “in the early writing of Benjamin . . . [this] term is Mitteilbarkeit . . . . In the Third Critique, such ‘communicability’ or ‘impart-ability’ is what takes the place of the objective, conceptual universality that defines judgment in the familiar sense, involving the determination of the particular by the general. In the case of what Kant designates as ‘reflecting judgments,’ including the ‘aesthetic judgments of taste,’ the particular is not determined but only experienced as determinable insofar as feelings of pleasure (or displeasure) associated with its apprehension are felt to be immediately and universally communicable. Determinability [Bestimmbarkeit] thus depends on communicability.”



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28. “Die Bedeutung der Sprache in Trauerspiel und Tragödie,” in GS II.1, 140. Engl. trans. “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy,” op. cit., 61. 29. Cf. “Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften,” in GS I.1, 182. Engl. trans. “Goethe’s Elective Affinities,” in Selected Writings Vol. I, 337. Cf. Ibid. 172. Engl. trans. 334: “The work of art does not compete to philosophy itself, it simply enters into the most precise relation to philosophy through its affinity [Verwandtschaft] to the ideal of the problem. . . . [Critique] allows the ideal of the problem to appear in the work of art in one of his manifestations. . . . For critique ultimately shows in the work of art the virtual possibility of formulating the work’s truth content as the highest philosophical problem.” Works of art demonstrate their relation with philosophy through their affinity—their relation and capacity for symbolic exposition—with the ideal of the problem, the unposeable question of the ideal unity of the system of philosophy itself. 30. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 217. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, 37. 31. On the concept of affinity in Kant, cf. Luca Bianchi, Analogia e storia in Kant (Naples: Guida, 2003), 19: “Like the schema of the necessary mediation between the manifold of the sensible and the logical unity of categories, an analogous mediation is indispensable between the manifold of the intellect and the supreme unity of reason. . . . The analogical schematism of ideas therefore permits that supreme unity that unifies the manifold laws of the understanding. Now, the unity of the laws of understanding is guaranteed, on the plane of reason, by the principles of homogeneity, specification and the continuity of forms: ‘Reason thus prepares the field for the understanding: 1. by a . . . law of the affinity of all concepts, which offers a continuous transition from every species to every other through a graduated increase of varieties’ ” (Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, in Werke, op. cit., 574, B 685–686/A 657–658. Engl. trans. Critique of Pure Reason, op. cit., 598).” Cf. ibid. B 690/A 662, 577. Engl. trans. 600–601: “If we transpose the principles we have adduced, so as to put them in an order which accords with their experiential use, then the principles of systematic unity would stand something like this: manifold, affinity, unity, each taken, however, as idea in the highest degree of their completeness.” The concept of affinity is also found in § 49 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, the paragraph that presents the faculty of aesthetic ideas as a faculty inherent to genius: “Those forms which do not constitute the presentation of a given concept itself, but, as supplementary representations of the imagination, express only the implications connected with it and its affinity with others, are called (aesthetic) attributes of an object whose concept, as an idea of reason, cannot be adequately presented.” (Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, op. cit., § 49, 169. Engl. trans. Critique of the Power of Judgment, op. cit., 193.) 32. Ibid. § VII, 28. Engl. trans. 76. 33. Cf. Walter Benjamin, “Lehre von Ähnlichen,” in GS II.1, 204–210. Engl. trans. “Doctrine of the Similar” (1933), in Selected Writing Vol. 2.2, 1931–1934, trans. Rodney Livingstone and others, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 694–698. 34. “Analogie und Verwandtschaft,” in GS VI, 44–45. Engl. trans. “Analogy and Relationship,” Selected Writings Vol. 1, op. cit., 207–209, here: 208.

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35. Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik, in GS I.1, 7–122. Here: 112. Engl. trans. The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism, Selected Writings Vol. 1, 180. 36. H. Cohen, Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (Berlin 1912), in System der Philosophie 3, in Werke (Hildesheim: Olms, 1982), Vols. 8 and 9, Intr. G. Wolandt. On the relation between Cohen’s and Benjamin’s philosophies of music, cf. Tamara Tagliacozzo, “Bildloses Hören: Messianismus und Musik bei Hermann Cohen und Walter Benjamin,” in Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 68.2 (2016): 119–135. Id. Walter Benjamin e la musica (Roma: Il Glifo, 2013); Id. “Walter Benjamin und die Musik,” in JSQ, 13.3 (2006). Cf. also Ilit Ferber, “ ‘Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech’: Scholem, Benjamin and Cohen on Lament,” in Lament in Jewish Thought: Philosophical, Theological and Literary Perspectives, eds. I. Ferber and P. Schwabel (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), 111–130. 37. During the years 1919–1921, he had undoubtedly consulted Cohen’s Aesthetics in preparation for his drafting of the essay dedicated to Goethe’s novel. See the letter of February 10, 1918 (in Walter Benjamn, Gesammelte Briefe Vol. I, 1910–1918, op. cit., 429), where Benjamin asks Scholem to order for him the entire System der Philosophie by Hermann Cohen. In 1919, Benjamin cited Cohen on tragedy in “Schicksal und Charakter,” in GS II.1, 178. Engl. trans. “Fate and Character,” in Selected Writings Vol. 1, op. cit., 206. 38. Cf. G. Scholem, “Über Klage und Klagelied” (1916), in Tagebücher, op. cit., Vol. II, 128–133. This text is not present in the English translation of the two volumes of the Tagebücher: G. Scholem, Lamentations of Youth. The Diaries of Gerschom Scholem, 1913–1919. Engl. trans. A.D. Skinner (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007). On this essay and the relationship between Scholem’s and Benjamin’s philosophy of language and theory of lament, cf. the bibliography in note 13, in particular cf. Paula Schwebel, “The Tradition in Ruins: Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin,” in Lament in Jewish Thought: Philosophical, Theological and Literary Perspectives (De Gruyter, 2014), 1: “Scholem’s ‘creative translation’ both transfigures Benjamin’s philosophy of language and anticipates his later work on the Kabbalah.” 39. Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. I. 1910–1918, op. cit., 442–443. Engl. trans. Walter Benjamin, The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin. 1910–1940, op. cit., 120–121. 40. H. Cohen, Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (1919), op. cit., 58–67. Engl. trans. H. Cohen, The Religion of Reason, Out of the Sources of Judaism, op. cit. 41. Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften, in GS I.1, 181. Engl. trans. “Goethe’s Elective Affinities” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings Vol. 1, op. cit., 340. (my translation) 42. Cf. Ibid. 182. Engl. trans. 341: “Such [expressionsless] power . . . is perceptible (vernehmbar) in tragedy as the falling silent of the hero, and in the rhythm of the hymn as objection.” On the theme of the prohibition on images in Cohen and Benjamin, cf. Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, Der frühe Walter Benjamin und Hermann Cohen. Jüdische Werte, Kritische Philosophie, vergängliche Erfahrung (Berlin: Vorwerk, 2000), especially ch. 1, 8: Bilderverbot und Erkenntniskritik, 96–105. On



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Ausdrucksloses, cf. also B. Menke, Sprachfiguren. Name—Allegorie—Bild nach Walter Benjamin (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1991), 336ff. 43. S. Mosès, The Angel of History: Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 93. Original French edition, S. Mosès, L’ange de l’histoire. Rosenzweig, Benjamin, Scholem (Paris: Seuil, 1992), 135. In a note, Mosès references Scholem’s Der Name Gottes und die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala, in ibid. Judaica 3 (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 19817). 44. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 216ff. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 36f. 45. Cf. a draft passage in the Epistemo-Critical Prologue to The Origin of German Tragic Drama: “the primeval as such makes itself accessible only by the double discernment that recognizes it on one hand as a restoration of the Revelation, and, on the other, precisely because of this, as necessarily incomplete [unabgeschlossen]” in GS I.3, 935; (my translation). It is interesting here to compare the conception of the ideas as the only ones to represent, in their incompleteness, a fragment of Revelation, to Benjamin’s December 9, 1923, letter to Rang [Gesammelte Briefe. Vol. II. 1919– 1924, op. cit., 390–394. Engl. trans. The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin, op. cit., 224.], in which ideas are considered as stars in relation of the sun of Revelation. One might propose an interpretation of truth, which is described as a discontinuous gathering of ideas, as a constellation whose idea-stars, themselves extremely distant suns, represent, in their light and their sonic relations, a distant reverberation of the solar splendor of the Revelation. 46. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 211. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 31. 47. Cf. Eli Friedlander, “On the Musical Gathering of Echoes of the Voice. Walter Benjamin on Opera and the Trauerspiel,” in Opera Quarterly 21 (2005): 631–646. 48. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 384f. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 211f. 49. Ibid. 386. Engl. trans. 212f. 50. Ibid. 387. Engl. Trans. 213. 51. On Benjamin and Ritter cf. Burkhard Meischein, “Zeichen-Deutungen. Walter Benjamin and Johan Wilhelm Ritter,” in Klang und Musik bei Walter Benjamin, ed. T. R. Klein, op. cit., 75–84. 52. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS II.1, 387–388. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 213f. J. W. Ritter, Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers. Ein Taschenbuch für Freunde der Natur (Heidelberg, Mohr und Zimmer, 1810), 242. Cf. the entire series of Benjamin’s citations of Ritter, in The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 213f. Here: 214; Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS I.1, 387–388. Here: 388: “ ‘Their [of word and script] original, and absolute simultaneity was rooted in the fact that the organ of speech itself writes in order to speak. The letter alone speaks, or rather: word and script are, at source, one, and neither is possible without the other . . . Every sound pattern is an electric pattern, and every electric pattern is a sound pattern.’ (J.W. Ritter, Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers. Ein Taschenbuch für Freunde der Natur, op. cit., 227ff.) ‘My aim . . . was therefore to re-discover, or else to find

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the primeval or natural script by means of electricity.’ . . . ‘In reality the whole of creation is language, and so is literally created by the word, the created and creating word itself . . . But the letter is inextricably bound up with this word both in general and in particular.’ . . . ‘All the plastic arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, etc. belong pre-eminently among such script, and developments and derivations of it.’ ” 53. Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels, in GS II.1, 388. Engl. trans. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, op. cit., 214f. trans. modified to correct an error in the Osborne translation, where instead of the correct, “identifying them dialectically as thesis and synthesis,” Osborne has, “identifying them dialectically as thesis and antithesis. . . . ”. 54. G. Scholem, “The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbalah,” publ. in two parts in Diogenes, Fall and Winter 1972, numbers 79 and 80: Fall, 59–80; Winter, 164–194 (cit. 167–168); G. Scholem, Der Name Gottes und die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala, in Judaica 3 (1970): 35–36). 55. G. Scholem, “The Name of God,” Diogenes Num. 79–80 (Der Name Gottes, 7). 56. Ibid. Diogenes, Num. 80,167–169 (Der Name Gottes, 35–37). 57. G. Scholem, “The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbalah (II),” Diogenes 80 (Winter 1972): 164–194 (185); G. Scholem, Der Name Gottes und die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala, in Judaica 3, cit., 58. 58. Cfr. the Kabbalist scholar Moshe Idel, “A. Abulafia. G. Scholem and Walter Benjamin on Language,” in Moshe Idel, Old Worlds, New Mirrors. On Jewish Mysticism and Twentieth-Century Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), 168–175. 59. G. Scholem, “The Name of God and the Linguistic Theory of the Kabbala (II),” Diogenes 80 (Winter 1972): 178; (G. Scholem, Der Name Gottes und die Sprachtheorie der Kabbala, in Judaica 3, 63). 60. Moshe Idel, The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia (Albany NY: State University of New York Press, 1988), 63–64.

Bibliography

ABBREVIATIONS Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, in collaboration with Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, 7 vols. (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp 1974–1989). Abbreviated as GS (followed by volume, number, page number).

BIBLIOGRAPHY Aarsleff, Hans. “Leibniz and Locke on Language,” American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1964): 165–188. Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialektik: Jargon der Eigentlichkeit (1966). Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2003. Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialetics, trans. E. B. Ashton. London and New York: Routeldge, 1973. Agamben, Giorgio. Il tempo che resta. Un commento alla Lettera ai Romani. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2000. Agamben, Giorgio. The time that remains: A commentary on the letter to the Romans. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005. Baecker, Dirk (ed.). Kapitalismus als Religion. Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2003. Barouch, Lina. “Lamenting Language Itself: Gershom Scholem on the Silent Language of Lamentation,” New German Critique 37.3 (Fall 2010): 1–25. Barouch, Lina. “The Erasure and Endurance of Lament: Gershom Scholem’s Early Critique of Zionism and Its Language,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 21.1 (2014): 13–26. Benjamin, Walter. Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, in collaboration with Gershom Scholem and Theodor W. Adorno, 7 vols. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1974–1989. 171

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Index

Abulafia, Abraham, 49, 160 – 63 Adorno, Theodor, 99, 135 – 37, 138 – 39; concept of constellation, 7, 139; Curriculum Vitae and, 60; “historical individuals”, 135; Max Weber and, 135 – 36, 138 – 39; Negative Dialectics, 135 Alcuni motivi di Walter Benjamin (da “Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels” a “Der Autor als Produzent”) (Cacciari), 13 Arcades Project, 103, 105 – 6, 109, 117, 137 Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (Aesthetics of Pure Feeling) (Cohen), 156 Ausdruckslose, 157. See also “devoid of expression” Baader, Franz von, 160 Bach, Bruno, 43 Bachmann, Paul, 14 Bauch, Bruno, 14 – 15, 17 Beiträge zur Phänomenologie des ästhetischen Genusses (Contributions to the Phenomenology of Aesthetic Enjoyment) (Geiger), 12 Benjamin, Walter, 110; Arcades Project, 16, 103, 105 – 6, 109, 117, 137; on capitalism, 7 – 8, 135 – 43;

Curriculum Vitae, 11, 60n9; on intentionality, 19, 51 – 52; philosophy of language, 48 – 59. See also specific works Bible, 73n108, 110, 149 Bloch, Ernst, 119 Böhme, Jakob, 160 Cacciari, Massimo, 13 Calvinism, 140 Cantor, Georg, 75n132 capitalism, 135 – 43; Benjamin on, 7 – 8, 135 – 43; “constellation” of, 135 – 43; Max Weber on, 135 – 43; religion and, 7 – 8, 140 – 42; structure of, 7 – 8 “Capitalism as Religion” (Benjamin), 7, 30 “Carl Schmitt: Apocalyptic Prophet of the Counterrevolution” (Taubes), 99 Cassirer, Ernst, 1, 11, 29, 42, 101; concept of function, 6; on Goethe, 101; Grenzgebild, 122n4; Inbegriff, 34, 42; Massimo Ferrari on, 101; relation between “sensible” and “spiritual”, 6; Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff (Substance and Function), 29; symbolic forms, philosophy of, 42, 101 – 2 catastrophe, defined, 105 185

186

Index

Christianity, 140 – 41 classless society, 7, 103, 111 – 14, 119 Cohen, Hermann, 11, 13, 17, 28, 34 – 35, 62n19, 101, 111, 137, 139, 156 – 57, 161; Ästhetik des reinen Gefühls (Aesthetics of Pure Feeling), 156; conceptions of music, 157; “fundamental acts of time”, 75n132; Grenzbegriff, 37; Inbegriff, 34; infinite task, 2; The Kantian Foundation of Ethics, 35; Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (Kant’s Theory of Experience), 3, 29, 35 – 36; limitconcept (Grenzbegriff), 2, 37; limitdetermination (Grenzbestimmung), 2; Logik der reinen Erkennis (Logic of Pure Knowledge), 3, 22, 29, 35, 40, 75n129; Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums, 157; System der Philosophie (System of Philosophy), 3, 139; transcendental method of, 20, 32; Ursprung, 22, 37 Cohn, Jonas, 11 constellation, concept of, 135 – 43 Couturat, Louis, 14 critical moment, defined, 105 Critique of Judgment (Kant), 12, 14, 28  Critique of Pure Reason (Kant), 28, 33, 36 Critique of the Faculty of Judgment, 102 Critique of the Power of Judgment (Kant), 23, 42, 45 – 46, 109, 155 “Critique of Violence” (Benjamin), 7 culture, 2, 12, 157. See also Jewish culture Curriculum Vitae (Benjamin), 11, 60n9 Das Anwendungsproblem (Zilsel), 41 “Das Recht der Phänomenologie. Eine Auseinandersetzung mit Th. Elsenhans” (Linke), 42 democratic socialism, 111, 113, 114 Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik (Benjamin), 156

Desideri, Fabrizio, 17, 19, 52 – 54 “devoid of expression”, 157. See also Ausdruckslose dialectical schematism, 109 – 10 dialectic image: monad and, 99 – 105; political theology, 99 – 105 Die drei Teile des Systems der Lehre als Philosophie des Judentums, oder uber das Wesen des Messianischen (The Three Parts of the Teaching as a Philosophy of Judaism, or the Essence of the Messianic) (Scholem), 27 Die Grenzen der naturwissenschaftlichen Begriffsbildung (The Limits of Concept Formation in the Natural Sciences) (Rickert), 139 Die logischen Grundlagen der exakten Wissenschaften (The Logical Foundations of the Exact Sciences) (Natorp), 35 Die unendliche Aufgabe, 30 Discourse on Metaphysics (Leibniz), 100 “disequation” concept of, 40 eidos, 37, 42 – 44 “Eidos und Begriff”, 42 – 44 Elective Affinities (Goethe), 8, 30, 154 Elsenhans, Theodor, 42 – 43 empirical contingency, 81n178 Enlightenment, 23 Erdmann, Benno, 11 Erkenntniskritische Vorrede, 137 Fenves, Peter, 13, 15, 18, 139 Ferrari, Massimo, 101 Fiorato, Pierfrancesco, 62n19 “formative energy”, 102 The Foundations of Arithmetic (Frege), 14 Frege, Gottlob, 14; Bedeutung, 15; Sinn, 15 – 16 Freie Universität, Berlin, 116 Freiheit und Form (Cassirer), 42 French Revolution, 114 – 15 Freud, Sigmund, 142



Index 187

Geiger, Moritz, 12, 60n8, 60n9 Genesis, 48 German Baroque Drama, 100, 149, 163 The German Mourning Play, 46 German romanticism, 23 Gesammelte Schriften, 30, 140 Gestalt: concept of “form structured in a pregnant sense”, 65n49; Goethe on, 42, 102 Goethe, 101, 155 – 56; Elective Affinities, 154; on Gestalt, 102 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 8, 30, 42, 47, 100 – 102, 124n25, 154 – 56 Hebrew Bible, 26 Hebrew Kolel, 33 – 34 Heidegger, Martin, 54, 139 Hirsch, S. R., 41 historical materialism, 116 – 19 Horkheimer, Max, 117 Husserl, Edmund, 11 – 19, 43, 52; Logical Investigations, 12, 14; Logische Untersuchungen, 12; Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, 11 Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim (Kant), 4 ideas: as eternal constellations and configurations of concepts, 137; of Kantian reason, 24; knowledge and, 1; linguistic-symbolic, 59; Platonic, 102; pure concepts and, 5; regulative, 4 Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie (Ideas for a Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy) (Husserl), 12 Idel, Moshe, 163 identity: concept of, 37 – 48, 67n75, 85n216; symbol and, 37 – 48 Indo-Germanic languages, 12 infinitesimal reality, 79n164 infinite task, concept of, 19 – 37, 108, 111 – 12 intelligible contingency, 35, 81n178

intentionality, 51 – 52; Benjamin on, 19, 51 – 52; Fabrizio Desideri on, 52 Isaac the Blind, 162 Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit (now of knowability), 1, 8, 45, 103, 109, 112, 138, 145n22 Jewish conception of lamentation, 156 Jewish culture, 157. See also culture Jewish messianism, 149 Judaism, 14, 73n108, 73n109, 143, 148n42, 157, 161 – 62 Judeo-Kabbalistic themes, 14 Judeo-Kabbalistic theological setting, 18 Judeo-messianic religion, 141 judgment of identity, 40, 84n210 Kabbalist linguistic theory, 161 Kant, Immanuel, 11 – 19; Addendum, 19; experience, theory of, 3, 24 – 29; infinite task, concept of, 19 – 37; knowledge, theory of, 19 – 37; sensible intuition, 23, 88n251; symbol, theory of, 42, 48, 102. See also specific works The Kantian Foundation of Ethics (Cohen), 35 Kantian schematism, 45, 108, 110 Kants Theorie der Erfahrung (Kant’s Theory of Experience) (Cohen), 29, 36 Kant-Studien, 43 Kapitalismus als Religion (Benjamin), 140 “Kapitalismus als Religion” (Capitalism as religion), 30 Khatib, Sami, 113 knowledge: becoming of, 23; biological, 57; continuous and unitary multiplicity of, 1, 5; faculty of, 55; historical becoming of, 4; ideas and, 1; linguistic dimension of, 20, 53; not-purely-mathematical natural, 57; philosophical, 57; pure, 3, 21; and redemption, 105 – 10; scientific, physical-mathematical, 22; subjectobject relation in, 37, 54, 85n214;

188

Index

systematic unity of, 58; uniform and continuous multiplicity of, 59 “knowledge of religion”, 20, 59, 70n97. See also religion Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason) (George and Kant), 12 Law of Identity, 96n325 Lehmann, Walter, 12 Lehranstalt für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, 11, 161 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 42, 100 – 102, 137 Lewy, Ernst, 12 The Life of Students (Benjamin), 110, 114 Linke, Paul Ferdinand, 14, 42 – 43 Logica (Lotze), 15 Logical Investigations (Husserl), 12, 14 Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (Logic of Pure Knowledge) (Cohen), 3, 22, 29, 35, 40, 75n129 Logische Untersuchungen (Husserl), 12 Lotze, Rudolf Hermann, 14 – 15 Marburg School, 11, 12 – 13, 34, 62n19 Marx, Karl, 113, 142 messianic time, 110 – 16 messianism, 99 – 121; Jacob Taubes on, 116 – 21; knowledge and redemption, 105 – 10; monad and dialectic image, 99 – 105; music and, 149 – 63; time and, 149 – 63 Molitor, Franz Joseph, 26, 33 – 34, 160 monad: and dialectic image, 99 – 105; political theology, 99 – 105 monotheism, 157 Mosès, Stéphane, 157 music: messianism and, 149 – 63; time and, 149 – 63 Natorp, Paul, 2 – 4, 35, 78n151 Negative Dialectics (Adorno), 135 neo-Kantianism, 1 – 2, 6, 11 – 19, 22 neo-Kantian transcendentalism, 139

Nietzsche, Friedrich, 142, 158 nihilism, 119 – 20. See also political theology Noeggerath, Felix, 2 – 3, 5, 12, 40 Novalis, 161 On Application: A Philosophical Essay on the Law of Great Numbers and Induction (Zilsel), 41 “On Language as Such and on Human Language,” 14, 48 – 59 On the Concept of History (Benjamin), 17, 102, 104, 110 – 11, 119, 137, 142 On the Program of the Coming Philosophy (Benjamin), 13 On the Program of the Coming Philosophy (Kant), 19 – 37 The Origin of German Tragic Drama (Benjamin), 99, 103, 105, 135, 136 – 37, 157 – 58 The Origin of the German Mourning Play (Benjamin), 8, 13, 31 Orthodox Christianity, 140 “Phanomenologie, Psychologie, Erkenntnistheorie” (Elsenhans), 42 – 43 Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft (Philosophy as rigorous science) (Husserl), 11 philosophy of language, 48 – 59 Plato, 11, 31, 76n42, 91n286, 123n17 Platonic anamnesis, 102 Platonic ideas, 102 political theology, 99 – 121; Jacob Taubes on, 116 – 21; monad and dialectic image, 99 – 105. See also nihilism polytheism, 157 pre-Colombian civilization, 12 The Program of the Coming Philosophy, 39 progress, defined, 105 Prolegomena (Kant), 14 – 15, 28



Index 189

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber), 135, 140 – 41 Protestantism, 140 purely cultic religion, 141. See also religion Rang, Florens Christian, 107 redemption: knowledge and, 105 – 10 religion, 3, 5 – 7, 50; capitalism and, 7 – 8, 140 – 42; cultural, 7; as doctrine, 20; highest mental region of, 91n285; ideas and, 23; Judeo-messianic, 141; knowledge of, 20, 59; philosophical dimension of, 59; philosophical writings on, 3; purely cultic, 141; reformation of, 142; renunciation of, 142; theological conception of language and, 6; theological dimension of, 24 – 25. See also capitalism; “knowledge of religion”; purely cultic religion Religion der Vernunft aus den Quellen des Judentums (The Religion of Reason, Out of the Sources of Judaism) (Cohen), 157 Reuchlin, Johannes, 160 Rickert, Heinrich, 11 – 12, 138 – 39 Rilke, R. M., 12 Ritter, Johann Wilhelm, 159 – 60 “The Role of Language in Trauerspiel and Tragedy” (Benjamin), 149, 154 Roscher und Knies und die logischen Probleme der historischen Nationalökonomie (Roscher and Knies: The Logical Problems of Historical Economics) (Weber), 138 schematism: analogical, 167n31; dialectical, 128n61; Kantian, 45, 108, 110; symbolic, 138 Schleiermacher, Friedrich, 161 Schmitt, Carl, 99, 118 – 19 Scholem, Gershom, 12, 13 – 15, 99, 156, 160 – 62 Schroder, Ernst, 14

Sieber, Jan, 153 Simmel, Georg, 11 socialism, 142; capitalism, 142; democratic, 111, 113 – 14 Spirit of Utopia (Bloch), 119 Steiner, Uwe, 13 Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff (Substance and Function) (Cassirer), 29 symbol, concept of identity and, 37 – 48 Synthesis und Systembegriff in der Philosophie: Ein Beitrag zur Kritik des Antirationalismus (Synthesis and the Concept of System in Philosophy: A Contribution to the Critique of Anti-Rationalism) (Noeggerath), 12 System der Philosophie (Cohen), 139 Taubes, Jacob, 99, 116, 118 – 20, 133n112; on messianism, 116 – 21; on political theology, 116 – 21 Theologico-Political Fragment (Benjamin), 119 Tieck, Ludwig, 161 time: messianism and, 149 – 63; music and, 149 – 63 Torah, 26 – 28, 41, 49, 50, 73n108, 73n109, 97n338, 143, 161 – 62 tout court, 106, 141 Toward Perpetual Peace (Kant), 4 Tractatus (Wittgenstein), 17 – 18 “Trauerspiel and Tragedy” (Benjamin), 149 – 51, 153 Truskolaski, Sebastian, 153 “Truth and Truth [Wahrheiten] Knowledge and Knowings” (Benjamin), 47 “Two Poems by Friedrich Holderlin” (Benjamin), 6 Über den Logikkalkül (Scholem), 15 Über die Wahrnehmung (On Perception), 23, 25

190

Index

Über die wissenschaftliche Berechtigung einer Begriffsschrift (On the Scientific Legitimation of a Concept-Notation) (Frege), 16 Über Klage und Klagelied (On Lament and Lamentation) (Scholem), 156 University of Berlin, 11 University of Erlangen, 12 University of Frankfurt, 11 University of Freiburg, 11 University of Jena, 14 University of Munich, 11 Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama) (Benjamin), 149 – 50, 153, 155 Ursprungsphänomen, 137

“Vom Begriff der Nation”, 43 Vorlesungen uber die Algebra der Logik (Lessons on the Algebra of Logic) (Schroeder), 14 Weber, Max, 135 – 36; on capitalism, 135 – 43 Wiesenthal, Liselotte, 17 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 17 Zilsel, Edgar, 41 Zur Wissenschaftstheorie Walter Benjamins (On Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Science) (Wiesenthal), 17

About the Author

Tamara Tagliacozzo is associate professor of moral philosophy at the Università degli Studi Roma Tre, Italy. Among his published works is Esperienza e compito infinito nella filosofia del primo Benjamin (2003, 2nd ed. 2013).

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Permission Acknowledgments

Excerts from: Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. 1. Halbband: 1913–1917. Pp. 403–4, 407, 420–22, 467. © Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1995. Alle Recht bei und vorbehalten durch Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin. Excerts from: Gershom Scholem, Tagebücher nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923. 2. Halbband: 1917–1923. Pp. 142. © Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 2000. Alle Recht bei und vorbehalten durch Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin. Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938–1940, edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, translated by Edmund Jephcott and Others, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Walter Benjamin, The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin. 1910–1940, edited and annotated by Gershom Scholem and Theodor Adorno, translated by Manfred R. Jacobson and Evelyn M. Jacobson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. 97–98, 103–4, 88, 106, 112, 118, 120–21. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, translated by John Osborne. New York: Verso, 2009. Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street and Other Writings, translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter. New York: Verso, 1979. Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913–1926. Gershom Scholem, Die drei Teile des Systems der Lehre als Philosphie, oder über das Wesen ds Messianischen, National Library of Israel, ARC 4* 1599/277 I/22. Tamara Tagliacozzo, “Filosofia del linguaggio e critica della conoscenza nei frammenti giovanili di Walter Benjamin,” in Walter Benjamin, Frammenti II, Conoscenza e linguaggio, translation and introduction by Tamara Tagliacozzo, Milano: Mimesis, 2013, pp. 17–103.



Permission Acknowledgments 193

Tamara Tagliacozzo, “Messianismo e teologia politica in Walter Benjamin,” in Ilana Bahbout, Dario Gentili, Tamara Tagliacozzo, eds., Il messianismo ebraico, Firenze: Giuntina, 2009, pp. 93–105. Tamara Tagliacozzo, “Musica, tempo della storia e linguaggio nei saggi di Walter Benjamin sul Trauerspiel del 1916,” in Tamara Tagliacozzo, Walter Benjamin e la musica, Rome: Il Glifo, 2013. Tamara Tagliacozzo, “Musica, tempo della storia e linguaggio nei saggi di Walter Benjamin sul Trauerspiel del 1916,” in Andrea Pinotti, ed., Giochi per melanconici. Sull’origine del drama barocco tedesca di Walter Benjamin, Milano: Mimesis, 2003, pp. 39–55, Rome: Il Glifo, 2013. “La ‘costellazione’ del capitalismo tra Walter Benjamin e Max Weber,” in Dario Gentili, Mauro Ponzi, and Elettra Stimilli, eds., Il culto del capitale. Walter Benjamin: capitalismo e religione, Macerata: Quodlibet, 2014.