“There is no world of thought that is not a world of language,” Walter Benjamin remarked, “and one only sees in the world what is preconditioned by language.” In this book, Samuel Weber, a leading theorist on literature and media, reveals a new and productive aspect of Benjamin’s thought by focusing on a little-discussed stylistic trait in his formulation of concepts.
Weber’s focus is the critical suffix “-ability” that Benjamin so tellingly deploys in his work. The “-ability” (-barkeit, in German) of concepts and literary forms traverses the whole of Benjamin’s oeuvre, from “impartibility” and “criticizability” through the well-known formulations of “citability,” “translatability,” and, most famously, the “reproducibility” of “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” Nouns formed with this suffix, Weber points out, refer to a possibility or potentiality, to a capacity rather than an existing reality. This insight allows for a consistent and enlightening reading of Benjamin’s writings.
Weber first situates Benjamin’s engagement with the “-ability” of various concepts in the context of his entire corpus and in relation to the philosophical tradition, from Kant to Derrida. Subsequent chapters deepen the implications of the use of this suffix in a wide variety of contexts, including Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book, his relation to Carl Schmitt, and a reading of Wagner’s Ring. The result is an illuminating perspective on Benjamin’s thought by way of his language—and one of the most penetrating and comprehensive accounts of Benjamin’s work ever written.
Benjamin's -abilities is a landmark work in the study of Walter Benjamin and in all of the many fields in which Benjamin's work has become indispensable. This book marks the culmination of the work of one of the most influential and admired critics writing today, whose work has been profoundly involved in and shaped by an innovative engagement with Benjamin.
Because no single methodology could account for all the textual maneuvers and figurations with which Benjamin saturates his variegated writings, a new book on Benjamin must also offer an entirely new way of seeing and reading-- a tall order. Benjamin's -abilities is just such a book. Sam Weber has long been one of the most significant and original thinkers on the international scene. This book, perhaps Weber's magnum opus, will be of great interest not only to scholars of Benjamin but also to a wide community of readers in the humanities and beyond.
In this demanding book, Weber analyzes Benjaminian theory and its potential, presenting a close reading of Walter Benjamin at his most energetic and complex...Through Benjamin, Weber illuminates what happens between what is written and what is read and the true impossibility of defining any sort of straight line between those two points.
Weber's close readings are illuminating.
In Benjamin's –abilities, Samuel Weber takes an innovative approach to Walter Benjamin's work. In contrast to the burgeoning secondary literature on Benjamin devoted to broad themes (his "messianism," his "Marxism," etc.), Weber, who has achieved academic prominence with scholarship on the Frankfurt School, psychoanalysis, deconstruction and media culture, opens up a fertile avenue of interpretation by paying close attention to a stylistic idiosyncrasy running through Benjamin's oeuvre...[Weber] deftly navigates this labyrinth of interpretations, exhibiting a keen sense of Benjamin's singularly elusive style of thinking and writing.
Not only the best read of 2008 but, with a shelf full of works on Walter Benjamin, the best book on him I've ever read.
- 376 pages
- 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
- Harvard University Press
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