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

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

Alison Ross

Language: English

Pages: 176


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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












non-violence as a plausible reading of Benjamin’s Violence essay as well as the dependence of this thesis on Benjamin’s question begging description of the annihilation of Korah as ‘bloodless,’ 132–133. Rather than taking this description at face value, I think it needs to be recognised that Benjamin is assembling all the positive adjectives he can on the side of ‘divine violence’ in order to make palpable a distinction between divine and mythic violence that his essay acknowledges is in fact

cases in which ‘art’ and ‘nature’ compete for attention, which may be seen as analogous to Benjamin’s competing ‘symbol’ (aesthetic form) and ‘allegory’ (anti-aesthetic form). He cites the English philologist and ethnologist, William Marsden who spent a number of years living in Sumatra. Marsden ‘comments,’ Kant writes, ‘that the free beauties of nature there surround the beholder everywhere, so that there is little left in them to attract him; whereas, when in the midst of a forest he came upon

experience. The encasing of the street in steel and glass construction in the arcades provides particularly significant instances of the nineteenth-century life. This reference to the new architectural arrangements established in the arcades may be considered as a model for the aspirations of the project itself, not least in respect to the material it gathers and presents for the ‘perception’ of the nineteenth century. The dialectical image is Benjamin’s theory of the transformation of this

curiosities that he thought constitute the distinctive marks of life in the nineteenth century. He emphasises that in the nineteenth century ‘refuse’ ‘increases at a rate and on a scale that was previously unknown, for technical progress is continually withdrawing newly introduced objects from circulation’ (A [N5, 2], 466). The constant production of new objects generates refuse as one of the distinctive marks of the century. The reason that the nineteenth century has significance as a site for

aesthetic typology of meaning whose ‘end’ is the reassurance that the revolutionary cause has the reality (the urgency of the reality) on its side. Just as Kant uses nature’s sensuous forms to stage claims regarding moral significance and encourage moral motives, so too the approach to history that frames the Arcades Project brings with it aspects of the grammar of modern aesthetics and it uses this grammar to understand history. Does this mean that Benjamin’s polemic against the aesthetic form

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