The legendary correspondence between the critic Walter Benjamin and the historian Gershom Scholem bears indispensable witness to the inner lives of two remarkable and enigmatic personalities. Benjamin, acknowledged today as on of the leading literary and social critics of his day, was known during his lifetime by only a small circle of friends and intellectual confreres. Scholem recognized the genius of his friend and mentor during their student days in Berlin, and the two began to correspond after Scholem’s emigration to Palestine. Their impassioned exchange draws the reader into the very heart of their complex relationship during the anguished years from 1932 until Benjamin’s death in 1940.
The relationship between Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem is surely one of the extraordinary friendships of the twentieth century. It is not only that each—Benjamin as critic, Scholem as historian—was an innovative thinker of the first order, transforming the intellectual horizons of his field, or that they wrestled for twenty-five years over intellectual and spiritual issues that still seem urgent. It is also that, on a human level, the moral fiber of their friendship proved so tough and so resilient despite their drastically divergent paths, and despite the most soul-trying historical circumstances… The letters of Benjamin and Scholem are written out of a loneliness stoically sustained—not quite isolation, but the solitariness of genius pursuing its own way against the grain of the times, making ‘radical demands’ that political reality would not meet.
An immense sadness shadows even the more informal and momentarily optimistic of these letters. They were sent as Europe went into nightmare… And yet this is, in its own way, a book of rejoicing. It celebrates the elixir of intellectual passion—the capacity of the human mind and nervous system to plunge into abstract speculative interests even in, or most particularly in, the face of personal adversity and sorrow.
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
- Introduction by Anson Rabinbach
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