Drawing on Benjamin’s reflections on the “problem of tradition,” this workshop seeks to challenge our notions of heritage, political legacy, and historical consciousness. How can the experience and tradition of the oppressed be narrated without relying on narratives? What is the fragmentary medium of this transmittability and how can we rethink the concept of heritage if the latter is not limited to official historiography of those who have been and are in power? Who are the oppressed today? Is there a non-space, a utopos, which can articulate the discontinuous tradition of the oppressed?
Category: Materialist Theology
Who Owns Walter Benjamin? On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought Today Walter Benjamin has arrived in the official pantheon of global humanities. His writings belong to the canon of Modern German and European philosophy and literary criticism. There...
First translation of the fragmentary notes “Problem of Tradition I and II” from the paralipomena and notes of Benjamin’s “Theses On the Concept of History”
This international workshop takes its cue from the (un)translatability of the German word Aktualität and proposes a shift of perspective from Benjamin’s contemporaneity, which has been widely discussed already, to the non-contemporaneity of his concept. Benjamin’s concept of Aktualität belongs...
Schweigen, Streiken, Vergessen. Mit Walter Benjamin für eine Dialektik der Aktivierung durch Passivierung
“Die grössten Ereignisse – das sind nicht unsre lautesten, sondern unsre stillsten Stunden.” – Friedrich Nietzsche “durch Passivsein zu siegen. Durch Erleiden Macht zu bekommen.” – Bertolt Brecht Als man Kierkegaard 1843 den Zug zeigte, der ihn nach Berlin...
Taking its cue from Derrida’s late figure of a messianicité sans messianisme, a messianic without messianism, a structural messianism without religion, this article is concerned with a materialist – if not atheist – reading of the messianic. It is in Derrida where we can grasp the paradoxical structure of a messianic promise that can not be reduced to Judeo-Christian theology proper or, as others have argued, a theological turn of deconstructivism. Although messianic thought has its origins in the Jewish tradition, especially in the trends of Jewish mysticism, Derrida’s point of reference is of different nature. It was Walter Benjamin’s peculiar sort of Marxism who enlisted the services of messianic theology undermining – if not suspending – the instrumental logic of master and servant or, as his famous allegory of the chess automaton has it, puppet and dwarf.
Equally repudiated by today’s neo-liberal, left-liberal, and neo-conservative ideologies, the legacy of nihilism takes the position of an “accursed share” (Georges Bataille). Although nihilism as a political, philosophical, and ethical concept can be traced back to the most influential strands of post-Nietzschean thought and modern continental philosophy, it retains a bad name. Contemporary philosophies of agency, creativity, and communitarianism all agree that nihilism eventually leads to defeatism, destruction, or violence. Nihilism thus is mostly associated with destructive anarchism, right-wing or left-wing extremism.
In his compelling essay on the On the Critique of Violence (1921), Benjamin dwells on the dialectic of “mythic violence” consisting of law-preserving and law-constituting violence (Gewalt), which mutually presuppose each other. While the former might be identified with today’s bio-political microphysics of power, the latter refers to the constitutive act of establishing power through violence (terror, war, “original accumulation”). Whereas in the sphere of direct state repression the two forms of mythic Gewalt – law-preserving force and law-constituting violence – are always spectrally conflated and their inherent dialect is concealed, in the realm of the social order mythic violence has almost fully turned into the juridical web of bio-political practices. Against the repetitive cycle of law-preserving and law-constituting Gewalt, Benjamin introduces the term “divine violence” which suspends mythic violence and its legal supplementation. The profane correspondence to divine violence is ‘pure’ or ‘revolutionary violence’ – a paradoxical non-violent violence that de-poses the law and its application to “bare life.” Revolutionary violence as a non-violent “pure means” is not bound to thetical, teleological, or purposive-rationalist acting. Rather, it ‘inoperates’, deactivates the nexus of means and ends within the realm of ethical acting, that is to say, the revolutionary de-posing of law suspends any instrumental use of violence and the violent inscription of bare life into the socio-juridical web of capitalism’s mythic violence.