Commentary, Literature, Philosophy

Walter Benjamin (July 15, 1892-September 27, 1940)

Benjamin memorial at Port Bou, Spain
Today, September 27th, is the anniversary of the death of Walter Benjamin. Widely considered to be one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century, Benjamin’s work synthesized Marxist philosophy with Jewish mysticism to produce a unique contribution to the fields of philosophy and literary criticism.
The quintessence of a renaissance thinker and outspoken critic of Fascism, Benjamin’s work was a powerful response to the totalitarian Nazi regime that plagued his native Germany. Through his writing Benjamin sought to expose the futility of the Fascist belief in historical and political progress by destabilizing the various dogmas underlying it. It was his powerful intellectual condemnation of Fascism that would make him a known target of the Nazi gestapo and eventually lead to his death by suicide on September 27, 1940 in a failed attempt to flee the Vichy regime across the French-Spanish border.
An opponent of the static belief systems that eventually condemned him, he might have appreciated the multitude of philosophical and literary works that have since taken him as their subject and the variety of interpretations each one lends to the significance of his life and death. A most recent and welcomed addition to such works is Michael Taussig’s Walter Benjamin’s Grave. Through the marvelous essays included in this book, Taussig once again reawakens the inner spirit of Benjamin’s finest work, resurrecting the significance of this great thinker for the twenty first century.
We have an excerpt from “Walter Benjamin’s Grave”, the title essay about the cemetery where Benjamin was buried, eyewitness accounts of his border travails, and the circumstances of his demise.