Walter Benjamin

The Deadly Jester
December 02, 2008

In Defense of Lost Causesby Slavoj Žižek(Verso, 504 pp., $34.95)Violenceby Slavoj Žižek(Picador, 272 pp., $14)I.Last year the Slovenian philosopher SlavojŽižek published a piece in The New York Times deploring America's use of torture to extract a co

The Man Without Categories
June 11, 2008

The Assistant By Robert Walser Translated by Susan Bernofsky (New Directions, 301 pp., $16.95) I. By now the snapshot of the dead Robert Walser has become one of German literature's most often reprinted and commented-upon photographs, its unstaged, accidental existence only reinforcing the image's iconic charge: the last moments of an almost-forgotten great author in an age of mechanical reproduction. Not surprisingly, descriptions of the photograph all bear a striking resemblance to one another.

The Trials
March 06, 2006

KAFKA: THE DECISIVE YEARS   By Reiner Stach   Translated by Shelley Frisch (Harcourt, 581 pp., $35)           THERE IS A TANTALIZING gap between our increasingly detailed knowledge of Kafka's life and our imperfect understanding of his achievement as a writer. His work seems to cry out for biographical readings and has often been subjected to them, characteristically along psychoanalytic lines. Yet the obvious connections between life and work have not explained much about the work.

Textual Harassment
June 07, 2004

After Theory By Terry Eagleton (Basic Books, 231 pp., $25)   I. When I attended Cambridge in the mid-1980s, "theory" was sickly ripe. What looked like its fiercest flush of life, the red of its triumph, was in fact the unnatural coloring of fever. Paul de Man had just died, Harold Bloom was preparing his second career as a weak misreader of Clifton Fadiman, Roland Barthes was gone, the Yale gang of deconstructionists was breaking up, and much postmodern silliness among the signifiers was just around the corner.

Money and Soul
January 12, 2004

The PatronA Life of Salman Schocken,1877-1959By Anthony David(Metropolitan Books, 451 pp., $ 30)For a year in the early 1960s, not long after finishing college, I had a job working for Schocken Books, a small publishing house in New York. Actually, "small" is something of an overstatement. Schocken consisted at the time of four people working in a two-room apartment on 38th Street and Park Avenue: the editor-in-chief Herzl Rome, two secretaries, and the editorial staff, which was me.

The Limited Circle Is Pure
November 03, 2003

I. Kafka is the novel’s bad conscience. His work demonstrates a purity of intention, a precision of language, and a level of metaphysical commitment that the novel partially comprehends but is unable to replicate without, in the process, ceasing to be a novel at all. Consequently, Kafka makes novelists nervous. He doesn’t seem to write like the rest of us. Either he is too good for the novel or the novel is not quite good enough for him—whichever it is, his imitators are very few. Now, why is that? Where are Kafka’s descendants? Only a handful—Borges, W.G.

The Magician
March 03, 2003

Gershom Scholem: A Life in Letters, 1914-1982 Edited and translated by Anthony David Skinner (Harvard University Press, 512 pp., $35) Click here to purchase the book. I. I. When the Baal Shem Tov had to do something very hard, he went out into the woods, lit a fire, and said a prayer, and the task was done. In the next generation, when his disciple had to do a difficult thing, he also went out into the woods. He could no longer light the fire, but he said the prayer, and that was enough.

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