Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections
Edited by Hannah Arendt
Schocken Books, 1988
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that “the state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism.
When Jews speak of messianic experience, they are saying the Messiah lives among us, and in manifold ways we are called to messianic existence or to “being-Messiah.”
I read Illuminations first in 1989; this is collection of essays of various lengths, difficulty, and influence. The essays worth rereading are “The Image of Proust” and “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” “The Task of The Translator” may be more interesting to me when I read George Steiner’s After Babel. Also, when/if I ever do a serious reading of Kafka, I can read Benjamin’s two pieces included here (same for the long piece on Baudelaire whom I have never read). The main value here is the practice of a collection of quotations – how Benjaminian! “Unpacking My Library” wasn’t inspiring for me; I was disappointed, expecting (my fault) an unabashed bibliophile’s non-apologetic confession. I prefer Steiner and Bloom’s clarity and accessibility; I suspect I’d hate Adorno! Seriously though, how might I write some theses for these dangerous, dark times, as Iraq is about to be obliterated? What does the Messiah mean now? Aren’t we called to be the Messiah?
— Thursday 23 January 2003