Walter Benjamin and the Re-Enchanted World

Sunday, July 17, 2022
First Aired:
Sunday, July 12, 2020

What Is It

Walter Benjamin was a German Jewish critical theorist, essayist, and philosopher who died tragically during the Second World War. His thoughts about modernity, history, art, disenchantment, and re-enchantment are still discussed today. So who was Benjamin, and what is his intellectual legacy? Why did he believe that Enlightenment values, such as rationality and modernization, brought about disenchantment in the world? Did he think there was a way to find re-enchantment without abandoning these values? And what would he have had to say about social media and its power to distract? The hosts have an enchanting time with Margaret Cohen from Stanford University, author ofProfane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution.



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Monday, July 13, 2020 -- 1:37 PM

Dave See write in during

Dave S. wrote in at the end of Sunday's broadcast with the following:

Greets, with hopes you & yours are, & remain healthy!
Couple questions:
--true that he used a manuscript to roll cigarettes?
--agreed, "aura"has been superseded by the 'net?

Reply from Josh:

For me it’s a yes and no: on the one hand I do think the internet has intensified the situation described by Benjamin, since (among other things) we can now gain access to high-quality digital reproductions of artworks. But on the other hand people are still traveling from all over the world to see the Mona Lisa (the crowds in the Louvre make it an absurd situation) and other paintings, as well as sculptures, buildings, etc. So the original object, in cases where there is one, still exerts at least some pull.

我没听过本杰明抽烟的故事,但我听说过米哈伊尔·巴赫金。(See Michael Holquist'sIntroduction to The Dialogic Imagination, pp. xv-xxxiii.) Fascinating story!

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020 -- 3:44 PM

The Walter Benjamin show was

The Walter Benjamin show was great; thanks! A problem/obstacle to understanding the role of art is that art has been overtaken by entertainment, as in, for example, TED Talks, which should be TAD Talks. People don't seem to want to go deep, be transformed--the effects of art--they want to be distracted--the effects of entertainment. I'm entertained by watching my cat.

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Sunday, July 3, 2022 -- 4:06 PM

Are photography as well as


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Saturday, July 9, 2022 -- 1:15 PM

Remoteness applies to what

Remoteness applies to what isn't there, so that the way things normally are, typical ordinariness, is also the most remote domain from thought-contents, as comprised of what provokes no need for thought and "goes without saying", so to speak. Logic as traditionally understood can be described as an attempt to eliminate the remoteness of the domain of everydayness, with the result that it is brought close to one's explicit consideration and enters into the sphere of practical use.

But what occurs when what is remote is extraordinary, decisively distinct, and unconditionally individual? There come to be two processes of remoteness-removal:
1) accommodate one's body to proximity of the object as an individual;
2) bring a replica of the object to one's area of sensory intake.


Benjamin draws both negative and positive consequences from this state of affairs:
1) Modus tollens:
a) The authority attributed to the object is eliminated and replaced by that of the subject, who sits in judgement upon it according to how the subject is affected, rather than inadequately understanding a meaning of the original in correspondence to which judgement must be suspended.
2) Modus ponens:
a) Photographic reproduction allows contact-recognition with the original, where a plurality of copies resuscitates it in a multiplicity of surrogate subjects.


Most interesting though in Benjamin's analysis of aura-decay is his view that the evolution of photographic reproduction into moving pictures, or film, is characterized as a revolutionary possibility in what in the above post I called a "genre of distractibles", i.e. that being distracted itself becomes the object, resulting in what Benjamin calls "a heightened presence of mind" in order to not be distracted amidst what is maximally distracting, inducing the subjective habit of attention-decisiveness. How would this apply to later developments in distractibilities such as those associated with use of the internet brought up by Josh above? Does one find that, paradoxically, aura-elimination under conditions of maximized distraction results in aura-restoration by induced self-remoteness?

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